Rodney Ascher's new documentary explores the theory that we are all living in a computer program.

By Clark Collis
January 29, 2021 at 12:48 PM EST
A Glitch in the Matrix
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Are director Rodney Ascher's documentaries fascinating? Yes. Do they concern things that are real? Well, the answer to that is one of the reasons the films are so interesting.

In 2012's Room 237 the filmmaker looked at some arguably fanciful theories concerning Stanley Kubrick's horror movie The Shining. Three years later, in The Nightmare, Ascher showcased the stories of people who are haunted by terrifying apparitions. Now, with A Glitch in the Matrix (which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday), the filmmaker considers the hypothesis that life as we know it is actually a computer program of some sort.

"It's the question of whether the world that you and I are living in is a digital creation inside of some incredibly advanced computer out there someplace, whether it is in the future, or on another planet, or on another plane of reality that we couldn't understand," says Ascher. "More or less The Matrix, or, if you prefer, Existenz, or The Thirteenth Floor, or World on a Wire, or Serenity."

(Uh, sorry, spoilers for all of those movies!)

Below, Ascher talks more about the documentary, how the events of the last twelve months may have made the hypothesis more likely to be true, and whether he's looking forward to the Matrix 4.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What piqued your interest in this subject?
RODNEY ASCHER: There was a strange moment when I was talking to one of the subjects in The Nightmare who thought that the things that he had seen in the heightened state of awareness were actually the real world outside of the simulation. That was the first time I had heard that this was a notion people took seriously outside of science fiction. And then, very quickly, I fell into that rabbit hole.

There are lots of people who believe this. How did you choose your main interviewees?
Well, the four main characters, the ones who are represented by avatars, they found us. We announced the film and set up a place where people could reach us. Then it was a matter of who has the most compelling stories, who is the most interesting interview, and also that they each bring something separate to the table. All these projects — this, The Nightmare, and 237 — none of them are about being the definitive take on the subject so much as the interesting way to think about the question. If this were a murder-mystery, there would be eyewitnesses who are critically important to the story. But since we're talking about a technological, philosophical concept, for me, it's more, who has something interesting to say about it. I always gravitate to people who have skin in the game, folks who went through hell and back on a journey of discovery and can recount it in a way that's really powerful.

A Glitch in the Matrix
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

As you mentioned, the interviewees are represented by these avatars. Was that to ensure their anonymity?
No. One of them wanted to be anonymous, but it was an idea I had before we settled on the folks. It does a couple of things. On the one hand, if they're proposing we're living in a giant video game, representing them as video game characters makes a certain amount of sense. But the cool thing that it lets us do is, as we design those reenactments, we're able to use exactly the same character. We don't have to cast an actor who looks something like the person.

Did they have input into the design of their own avatars?
That would have been the fairer thing to do. [Laughs] But the journey of getting a design that I liked, that the animators could work with, that the producers would sign off on, that was a complicated enough journey that I just asked them to trust me.

Have the events of the last year made it more likely we are living in some twisted simulation?
It's something I've thought about a lot. In a way, I can imagine a part two where it's all it's about. Imagine there's a pandemic outside of the matrix, outside the simulation. Well, you create 1,000 earths that are more or less like the one out there and throw around the variables to see which earth is going to find the cure. I don't know if ours was the one that was the most efficient and successful.

Are you looking forward to the Matrix 4? Keanu's back!
Yeah. I only saw that one image of them flying over some skyscraper in San Francisco. I'm dying to see where they're going to take it.

Magnolia Pictures will release A Glitch in the Matrix in theaters and on demand Feb. 5.

Watch an exclusive clip from the film, below.

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