Review: ‘A Glitch in the Matrix,’ starring Paul Gude, Alex LeVine, Nick Bostrom, Jesse Orion, Emily Pothast, Brother Laeo Mystwood and Chris Ware

February 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

A scene from “A Glitch in the Matrix” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“A Glitch in the Matrix”

Directed by Rodney Ascher

Culture Representation: The documentary “A Glitch in the Matrix” features a group of people (almost all white males, with one white woman and one African American man) of video game addicts, journalists and academics discussing the concept that life on Earth could be a virtual simulation, not the reality that people think it is.

Culture Clash: Different ways of looking at and defining reality are explored, including how video games influence people’s thoughts.

Culture Audience: “A Glitch in the Matrix” will appeal primarily to people who want to listen to ramblings from several people who admit they’re addicted to video games or some other form of virtual reality.

A scene from “A Glitch in the Matrix” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

In the Oscar-winning 1999 sci-fi film “The Matrix,” Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity character tells Keanu Reeves’ Neo character that his feeling of déjà vu is “a glitch in the matrix.” It’s meant to explain a mistake in the matrix world where the movie’s characters live in a simulated reality. The documentary “A Glitch in the Matrix” talks to several people who are open to believe or actually believe the idea that the world as we know it is not “real” but is actually a simulation controlled by unknown and unseen forces.

If you want to listen to self-admitted geeks drone on and on about this concept, then by all means, waste your time and watch “A Glitch in the Matrix,” which adds nothing new or interesting to this debate. The movie is also very poorly researched. “A Glitch in the Matrix,” which had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, spent more time gathering a variety of film clips than interviewing a variety of people.

Directed by Rodney Ascher, “A Glitch in the Matrix” is truly a case of style of over substance. It cobbles together a lot of clips from sci-fi flicks, edits them together with some animation, and tries to dazzle the viewer into thinking that movie is going to be a cutting-edge documentary. It’s not.

It’s really just a movie that gives a platform to several self-described video game addicts, who ramble on about how they sometimes have a hard time comprehending what’s reality and what is not. The only facts that this documentary really puts forth are that people can get addicted to video games and those with possible mental health issues can actually start to feel like they’re living in a video game. This problem of video game addiction has been common knowledge for decades, but the filmmakers of “A Glitch in the Matrix” try to make this documentary look as if it’s revealing insightful information. Perhaps they’re living in another reality if they think this lazy film is nothing more than a cash grab to appeal to gamers and other people interested in virtual worlds.

Some of the people interviewed in the documentary don’t even want to show their real faces. Instead, their video game avatars are shown on screen as they talk. These self-confessed video game addicts are:

  • Paul Gude, who appears with a creepy red mask surrounded by a ruby-like orb and wearing a samurai warrior outfit.
  • Brother Laeo Mystwood, who appears with an Anibus head and is decked out mostly in purple.
  • Alex LeVine, who appears as a shaman-like robot with an emoji face and a brain suspended in liquid
  • Jesse Orion, who appears as a space alien in an astronaut suit.

They all look like they’re auditioning to be a new character in a “Mortal Kombat” reboot game. And, clearly, all of them have “issues.” Orion describes himself as a video game addict who feels alienated from the world.

Gude says that when he was a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia in the early 1990s, he first became fascinated with the idea that the human brain is a computer that can be hacked into and manipulated. And he comments that he started to feel like his life was really a simulation when, as a child, he moved from Pontiac, Illinois, to the much smaller city of Dorsey, Illinois. He remembers being somewhat freaked out by things such as going to a shopping mall and seeing hardly any people there. He also thinks people are “chemical robots.”

Mystwood (which is obviously not his real name, but maybe it’s his name in the fantasy world he seems to have in his head) talks about having a religious upbringing that he thinks did some damage to his psyche. (Gude, who is the son of a pastor, describes a similar effect that religion had on him.) Mystwood also says that he got a clearer understanding of “alternate reality” when he experienced going into a sensory deprivation tank. Mystwood describes how his head started to pound and he had an out-of-body experience.

And he then came to this conclusion after going through the experience of the sensory deprivation tank: “I am a code … Nothing on me or anyone is real.” The documentary irresponsibly doesn’t include scientific information on how sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations similar to someone taking a psychedelic drug.

Speaking of psychedelics, what the filmmakers fail to ask in this documentary when people spew all of these paranoid theories is, “How often have you taken psychedelic drugs?” Because a lot of their ranting about discovering “alternate realities” just sounds like people who maybe took LSD or other psychedelics too many times. And a few of them sound like they’re in serious need of psychiatric evaluations.

Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk is mentioned as somewhat of a hero to people who think that we live in a simulation, because Musk has publicly expressed this theory too. What the documentary doesn’t mention is Musk’s self-admitted drug use. It seems irresponsible for this documentary to not mention the possibility that drug-fueled hallucinations could be behind many of the theories about simulation that some people believe as gospel.

The closest that anyone will admit that being under the influence of substances (legal or illegal) has a lot to do with how they think about reality is when LeVine describes going on a drunken joyride in Mexico with some friends when he was younger. Everyone in the car, including the driver, was very drunk from alcohol and maybe who knows what other substances that LeVine (a Harvard-educated engineer) might not wanted to admit to on camera. After driving the wrong way on a freeway and narrowly missing a head-on collision, the car eventually flipped over and crashed by itself. The car was completely wrecked.

Luckily, no one was killed or seriously injured. LeVine describes having an out-of-body experience and remembers someone carrying him away from the corrupt federales who were going to demand money from these Americans to not arrest them. LeVine says the fact that no one got killed in this serious car crash was a sign that some other forces were at play.

Actually, it’s not unusual for intoxicated people in a car crash to suffer less injuries than people in the crash who were sober. There are many cases of drunk drivers who killed other people in an automobile crash, but the drunk drivers survived with minor injuries. There’s plenty of information available with the statistics.

Medical experts believe that intoxicated people in a car crash have a better chance of surviving and getting less injured, compared to sober people, because intoxicated people’s reactions and reflexes are slower while under the influence of alcohol or another substance. But course, the filmmakers never both to include this medical/scientific information. In fact, they don’t question or try to debunk any of the hallucinatory stories that are in this movie.

The production notes for “A Glitch in the Matrix” describe the documentary interviewees who believe in simulation theory as “eyewitnesses.” LeVine also mentions that he has Crohn’s disease, which is an odd thing to bring up, because the inner workings of his bowels have nothing to do with what this documentary is all about. That’s an example of some of the irrelevant information in this movie, which was in serious need of better editing and sensible research.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” interviews a few journalists and academics (who appear on camera as their real selves), but they just repeat things that they’ve already written about in essays, books or articles that they wrote years ago. In the documentary’s production notes, these talking heads are listed as people providing “expert testimony.” Among those interviewed is writer Erik Davis, author of the 1998 book “Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information.”

There’s also Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University professor who wrote the 2003 article “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” for Philosophical Quarterly, while he was doing post-doctoral work at Yale University. He believes that there are three possibilities when it comes to simulation disguised as reality: (1) There was extinction before simulation; (2) Simulation technology was abandoned and there are only assets to simulation; (3) Simulation is “real.”

American cartoonist Chris Ware gives a useless interview where he comments on the illustration that he did for The New Yorker’s issue that was dated June 12, 2015. The cover features two girls looking at computers in their bedroom. Ware says that the video game Minecraft inspired the drawing.

Ware also has this to say about Minecraft: “Every time I play it with my daughter, I feel like we’re dead and we’re flying around the world. It’s the only experience that closely approximates what … a disembodied conscience might experience.”

Again. Are these people on drugs? These are the so-called “experts” in this movie.

Also interviewed is Emily Pothast, who wrote a 2019 article on Medium called “The (Deep) Dream of Motivated Reasoning Produces Monsters,” which gives an analysis of how people can be radicalized if they believe that their reality is different from what’s presented by the media. She is the only woman interviewed in this documentary, and she’s the only person in the movie who gives an intelligent cultural context of what can happen when people start to think that their reality is not what most other people think is reality.

Pothast comments, “I do think there’s an inability to separate the real world from digital realities, when you have the [2019 mosque mass-murder] shooter in [Christchurch] New Zealand, livestreaming what he’s doing … and going after people who are Muslims. Or people shooting up synagogues going after people who are constructed as ‘other’ by the media that [these shooters] consume.”

The New Zealand shooter was a white supremacist who appeared to be addicted to social media, such as Facebook, instead of video games. “A Glitch in the Matrix” doesn’t mention that New Zealand subsequently banned video games that were eerily similar to the mosque shootings. And there’s no discussion in this documentary on how substance abuse and/or mental illness play roles in people disconnecting from reality.

The documentary also takes a glib approach when mentioning the 2018 incident of Horizon Air employee Richard Russell stealing a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 plane, with no passengers, from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and doing dangerous tricks in the air. Russell died when he intentionally crashed the plane on the Ketron Island in Puget Sound. During his communication with aircraft control, Russell (who did not have a pilot’s license) said he learned how to fly planes by playing video games. The people in the documentary, such as Orion, who comment on this tragic incident seem to be more impressed with how video games influenced this deadly stunt than caring about what led Russell to commit such a desperate act.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” also shows a clear bias in preference of white men, because all but two people interviewed in the movie fit that description. In addition to Pothast, the only other person interviewed in this documentary who is not a white man is Joshua Cooke, an African American man who was convicted of the 2003 shooting murders of his adoptive parents in Oakton, Virginia. Cooke was 19 when he committed the crime and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He says that he was addicted to “The Matrix” movie and violent video games, and he says that he lost touch with reality. In court, he pled guilty instead of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Cooke was so obsessed with “The Matrix” that he dressed like the movie’s Neo character and bought a gun that’s similar to the one that Neo uses in the movie. Cooke does not appear on camera in “A Glitch in the Matrix,” but his comments are heard in audio voiceover from interviews that the filmmakers did with him from prison. Cooke’s story is included in the documentary’s long segment about the huge influence that “The Matrix” movies (especially the first one in the series) have had on people who believe that life is a simulation. Cooke vividly describes how “The Matrix” took over his life and spilled over into murdering the people he thought were the “enemy.”

What the documentary didn’t mention is that there was a history of mental illness with Cooke’s biological parents: His biological mother was schizophrenic, and his father was bipolar. There are no mental health experts interviewed in this documentary about people who believe that the world we live in isn’t real. That gives you an idea of how careless this documentary is.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” strangely and selectively mentions Cooke and Lee Boyd Malvo (also known as one of the DC Sniper serial killers) as the only two examples of people whose obsession with “The Matrix” and violent video games turned into homicide. Everyone knows that black people are not the vast majority of those who commit mass murders or serial killings of this type. And yet, “A Glitch in the Matrix” filmmakers show an appalling racist bias by only singling out black people as examples of those who’ve committed these violent crimes.

The movie gives a lot of screen time to archival footage of a 1977 speaking appearance given by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who’s cited as another major influence to people who believe that life is a simulation. Several of Dick’s novels and short stories have been adapted into movies, including 1982’s “Blade Runner,” 1990’s “Total Recall,” 2002’s “Minority Report” and 2011’s “The Adjustment Bureau.” The Amazon Prime Video series “The Man in the High Castle” was also based on one of his books.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” includes clips from several movies, such as “The Matrix,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” 1997’s “Starship Troopers,” 1998’s “The Truman Show,” and 2009’s “Avatar.” All of these films have some version of the theme that humans are not as in control of their lives as they think they are because there are outside forces really in control or trying to invade humanity. The documentary also has several eye-catching animation clips, most notably Robert Crumb’s “Plato’s The Cave.”

“A Glitch in the Matrix” spends a lot of time discussing that people who believe that the world is really simulated are those who are usually addicted to video games. And yet, the filmmakers failed to include the perspectives of any video game developers or people who market video games. It’s a glaring oversight that shows how sloppily made and superficial this documentary is.

Some of the movie’s pace tends to drag because the rambling interviews get very boring after a while. The filmmakers also don’t confront a fact which seems pretty obvious from watching the type of people who get hooked on video games: These people have way too much time on their hands, which speaks to larger issues. There’s a certain amount of privilege that someone has to have to be able to spend all that time and money on video games.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” does a woefully inadequate job of addressing these socioeconomic issues. It’s a lot easier to want to escape into a video game world of shootouts and other mayhem if you don’t live in a gang-infested area or a war-torn environment. If any of these video game addicts who think the world isn’t real were taken out of the comfort of their homes and put in an actual war zone, they’d see how “real” the world is.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” doesn’t want to discuss how issues about mental health, substance abuse and socioeconomic status are major factors that link video game addiction to believing that the world isn’t real. The filmmakers just want to present a bright, shiny bubble of a documentary where the perspectives of people in one racial and gender demographic are given more importance over anyone else. And that lack of diversity is anything but what the real world looks like.

Magnolia Pictures released “A Glitch in the Matrix” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.