In the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov asserted, not entirely playfully, that “reality” is a word that should only ever have quotation marks around it.
Contemporary technology has enabled thinkers to become more elaborate about the nature of the quotation marks. “A Glitch in the Matrix,” directed by Rodney Ascher — who also made “Room 237,” a 2013 film that gave certain Stanley Kubrick enthusiasts a platform to theorize about “The Shining”; many seemed to have too much time on their hands — explores the notion that we’re all living inside a computer simulation.
This documentary’s jumping off point is a lecture delivered by the writer Philip K. Dick in France in the 1970s. Dick was a genuine artist, and also lived with mental illness; his pained “revelations” about the nature of his reality are moving to hear. Less rewarding are the self-assured cyber-bromides offered by the billionaire C.E.O. of SpaceX, Elon Musk, who comes off like a dorm-room tech-bro bore. The movie also explores how this idea has manifested in popular culture, hardly limited to the “Matrix” franchise.
But “A Glitch” wades only shin-deep into the complex logic that’s attached to this speculation. We’re shown Philosophy 101 stalwarts Plato and Descartes as its pioneers. There’s interview footage with the contemporary philosopher Nick Bostrom, but nothing on his significant forebears W.V. Quine or Alfred North Whitehead.
These ideas have consequences, and these days, they’re sometimes dire. Throughout the movie, Ascher threads in a phone interview with a man who came to believe the world depicted in “The Matrix” was genuine. This belief led him to kill his parents. The director edits the material so that, if the viewer doesn’t already know who this individual is, the end of the account plays as a suspense narrative “reveal.” It’s exploitative and opportunistic. But not atypical of the movie’s slick sensory overload, which doesn’t disguise its fundamentally glib approach.
A Glitch in the Matrix
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Amazon, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.
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