The concept of “simulation theory” is not new. It’s been around since René Descartes proposed a version of it in a philosophical argument, and possibly even before then.
It holds that everything around us — from the planet we walk on to the societies we live in to the people we encounter — is all part of a broader simulation, much like we saw in 1999 movie The Matrix. As in the film, the modern take on this theory is that we’re all part of a computer simulation, being controlled from the outside by some unknown entity or entities. In the movie, a “glitch” in the matrix takes place when one experiences déjà vu, indicating that the system isn’t functioning properly.
This concept is explored in documentary A Glitch in the Matrix, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film superficially examines the possibility of this theory without delving too deeply into scientific “proof” or “evidence.” Of course, this isn’t something that can be proven in our current time, even if Elon Musk says it’s a distinct possibility. On the flip side, it can’t be disproven, either.
The movie starts out with a broad explanation of the concept, using testimony from experts like Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, alongside “eyewitness” talking head accounts of people in CG avatar forms. These people, who have various connections with the theory, point out coincidences and certain events in their lives that can partially be explained by the simulation hypothesis. Again, there is no tangible proof, but there’s a certain excitement in imagining the possibility.
The movie also uses quite a bit of archival footage of visionary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, writer of such books as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly. The popular novels have a cult following, with Dick’s out-there ideas embraced by simulation believers. Dick talks about how his ideas came to him in dreams or while he was under the influence of drugs, which doesn’t exactly count as ironclad evidence.
The everyday occurrences of déjà vu, or those times when, for example, you keep seeing orange cats everywhere, are the kinds of proof used in the movie. It’s impossible to provide definitive certainty when it comes to simulation theory, but it’s fascinating to attribute life’s weird occurrences to it.
The movie doesn’t do itself any favours once it hits the halfway mark. Perhaps hindered by its own lack of foundation, the doc takes a hard right and dedicates an inordinate amount of time to the case of teenager Joshua Cooke, who murdered his parents in 2003 after becoming obsessed with The Matrix and the idea of living in a simulation.
We hear an extended, unnecessary account of the night they were killed from an imprisoned Cooke directly, who painstakingly describes his actions and attempts to justify them by saying (not in these exact words, mind you) that the movie made him do it. Here, the documentary gets sad, even ugly, as we hear a clearly mentally ill man go over the intricate details of the murder.
What starts out as a fun and mind-bending documentary devolves into a stark story of what can happen in certain circumstances to those suffering from unchecked mental illness. Simulation theory falls by the wayside about midway through A Glitch in the Matrix, replaced by the horrors of the murder, which is only tangentially related to the hypothesis.
It’s a shame, too, because this is a topic that’s fun to explore and get lost in. For now, a déjà vu will have to be just that.
‘A Glitch in the Matrix’ is available to watch on VOD services across Canada. Please check your service provider for more details.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.