Is Our Whole World Just a Simulation? Enter A Glitch in the Matrix – Vanity Fair

Posted: February 6, 2021 at 8:22 am

Oh, you tapped out early, filmmaker Rodney Ascher joked with me after his newest documentary, A Glitch in the Matrix, had its virtual Sundance premiere.

Id explained to him that I was so disturbed by an early scene in which an eyewitnessa.k.a. a person who believes we live in a simulated realityvividly describes a dissociative episode that I had to close my laptop and take a Klonopin. (A few days later, I watched the film againthis time beneath a number of comforting afghans.) For a filmmaker devoted to making work about irrational fears, there could be no higher compliment.

In the film, eyewitness Paul Gude tells his story of descending into the Null while rendered (as all eyewitnesses are) as a computerized avatar. He looks sort of like a ThunderCat but with a trick up his sleeve. His terrifying tale comes amid a barrage of wacko talk that shreds the fabric of existence, and the way Ascher slowly lets the pretzel logic buildmoving beyond online denizens with handles like Brother Lo Mystwood to include thinkers like Plato, Ren Descartes, Philip K. Dick, Elon Musk, and Neil deGrasse Tysonhas a cumulative effect. After watching the film, I am not entirely ready to say that we live inside an enormous high-powered computer program. But we all live somewhere, and that place is still pretty weird.

Aschers films, like the books of Philip K. Dick, have a tremendous knack for seeding playful paranoia. His first feature, Room 237, used different interpretations of The Shining to investigate obsessive behavior. The Nightmare, which explored sleep paralysis, had an unforgettable midnight Sundance premiere in which an audience member (who later explained she suffered from the condition) caused a kerfuffle that spread through the crowd, much to the directors glee.

A Glitch in the Matrix, which debuts at virtual cinemas and VOD this Friday, is a serious film about an enormous topic, and includes testimony from the so-called Matrix murderer Joshua Cooke. But its also a movie about nutcases who think we live in a microchip and the planet is inhabited by NPCs (i.e. non-player characters, a term imported from video games). It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make this story work; Ascher is that filmmaker.

Vanity Fair: So you do the research, you have conversations, you replay them 100 times as you edit, you create the trippy visuals. At what point did A Glitch in the Matrix really start to fuck with your head?

Rodney Ascher: It would be a better story to say that it did. But even having conversations with Joshua Cooke about the murder of his parents, I would go home and play with my kid, then fall asleep in front of the TV. Its a day at the office. I like to think that my movies are crazier than I am in person.

What affected me was being in the mix roomwatching it big, hearing the sound design and music that Jonathan Snipes made. Hearing that existential dread at a loud volume does start to work through your lower intestines.

Your movies are always funny, but you seem to go to great lengths to never make fun of your subjects.

I dont have a Dogme 95type list of rules, but its a matter of watching, rewatching, and revising. There are jokes in there, but I hope were never mocking the people were talking to. There are plenty of things people say that I dont necessarily agree with.

Anyone doing a close read of your work would probably never think these are your points of view. There are inconsistencies throughout, anyway. Some of these characters accept that we live in a computer simulation, and are coping with that. Joshua, from prison, is denouncing it.

Both cant be true!

Most of the time you watch and think, Well, this guys nuts. Then someone floats an idea and its Oh, yes, well obviously. This happens time and again in your films. Its your special trick to make something bananas seem palatable. Is this something you do in life? Do you live to make strange arguments?

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Is Our Whole World Just a Simulation? Enter A Glitch in the Matrix - Vanity Fair

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