The job of documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher is to find the idea and the concepts that are embedded in the flesh of our collective subconscious, and to travel in the wound where these cultural and psychological parasites nestle. He neither criticizes nor analyzes: on the contrary, like an ethnographic sociologist, he observes. This approach can be frustrating, especially since it is so methodical. His most famous work to date, Room 237, went into sufficiently laborious detail about a handful of conspiracy theories and savage interpretations of The brilliant, and gave insight into a wild subculture. His follow-ups in this field of study, “The S From Hell” and The nightmare, were more psychological, placing viewers in the tense experiences of people struggling with very personal terrors.
The inner tension of his approach lies in the slow unfolding of the approached theory, the surges and divergences that are built there. It lends itself to some necessary degree of repetition, and if Ascher has learned anything from torpor The nightmare was that this approach requires visual augmentation, something stimulating to take it away from the feeling of a long TED talk. In Room 237, the riffs on Kubrick’s visuals made this easy, and so for A glitch in the matrix it comes close to the ingenuity of the mosaic “The S From Hell”. After all, in a movie about everything being completely wrong, why stick to the rules?
In this selection from Sundance 2021, which arrives on VOD this week, Ascher’s topic is simulation theory: the idea that we all make is part of an elaborate computer program so compelling we can never see. that even we are code. Call it the Matrix fault. These cyberpunk favorite films postulate a future in which humans are kept in vats by machines from which they derive our bioelectric energy, while keeping the human brain distracted by a completely immersive man-made environment.
The problem is, no supposedly sane machine would waste all this time and effort, and effort in finding logical reasons to create a game the size of a universe. The sims founder. Fortunately, Ascher never applies Occam’s razor for the simple fix – that believers can be a combination of smug idiots who think they know better, and morons – because that wouldn’t leave any room for a movie. Instead, he conducts lengthy interviews with a series of talking heads (all masked by elaborate CG disguises) as they explain their epiphany moment. It’s not about whether the simulation theory holds up, as it is never really tested against anything like a rival theory (weak anthropogenic principle for victory!). Instead, he examines what attracts people – all apparently educated, middle-class white men – to fall for a theory that stems from a collision between Philip K. Dick and the ubiquitous. The matrix. Interviewees get maddening after a while, but arguably that’s the point. Through an elaborate mix of CG, archive footage, and recorded interviews, Ascher reveals them as technodudebros with a taste for philosophy and self-mythology that would put Holden Caulfield to shame.
These are the nuances of the difference between each of its anonymous and invisible holders in which Ascher’s thesis really takes place. From the strangely optimistic to the smug enlightened and tragically nihilistic, everyone has a thread to untie, leaving A glitch in the matrix arguably more difficult to handle than it should be. Like code that works but inefficiently, length is both a feature and a bug. Thankfully, Ascher’s most visually original film to date keeps those TED talk blues at bay.
Available in theaters and as a virtual cinema release.