Sundance 2021 Review: A Glitch in the Matrix

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

A Glitch in the Matrix starts off by examining an idea that’s been bandied about for years and viewed with varying amounts of skepticism: what if we live in a simulation à la The Matrix? The film heavily features Philip K. Dick’s lecture in 1977 wherein he declares we are, in fact, living in a simulation, a weighty declaration from one of the foremost science-fiction oriented minds. Elon Musk and other bigwigs pop up with soundbites, but A Glitch in the Matrix focuses most of its time on ordinary people—some with families, some without; some with advanced degrees, some with high school diplomas—who happen to subscribe to this theory. 

Director Rodney Ascher playfully obscures the faces of many interviewees with animated, mechanical masks, complete with creaking and scraping sound effects provided by sound designer and composer Jonathan Snipes that toe the line between diegetic and non-diegetic. (The film possesses a level of self-awareness that many within it do not.) We never get to see the expressions of those interviewed, but they lay bare their souls as they describe the metaphysical experiences that led them to believe in the simulation theory. Ascher rarely judges; he simply lets the speakers speak, often accompanied by extensive animations of their narratives and underlaid with appropriately eerie music, though there are moments when the viewers—and speakers—are brought back to reality. At one point, an interviewee’s dogs start barking, completely breaking the immersion and giving a much-needed moment of levity.

The first half of the film is interesting enough, if not that groundbreaking aside from the largely-animated style. The second half, however, examines a question I have not often seen brought up alongside the simulation theory: if we are in a simulation, then our actions should have no real consequences, and so what does that mean for our morality? How do we relate to other people?

Here, the film gets more intriguing and more harrowing, especially as we hear Joshua Cooke speak calmly of murdering his adoptive parents at the age of 19 while believing he was inside the Matrix. Yet many of the others interviewed, strange as it may sound, took the apparent lack of consequences in a simulated world and went in the opposite direction, wanting to “level up” for the person controlling them, concerned more with doing good than running amok. Several admissions turn out to be unexpectedly touching.

This is A Glitch in the Matrix at its best: engaging at a personal level with those interviewed, discussing the why over the what. Unfortunately, this is largely delegated to the back half of the film, but while we have to wait awhile before getting to the heart of the matter, it turns out that the heart, simulated or not, beats quite strongly.

A Glitch in the Matrix Trailer

A Glitch in the Matrix is now available everywhere

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