Friday, October 22

Do we all live in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theory | Documentary films

ROdney Ascher’s new documentary, A Glitch in the Matrix, opens, as many non-fiction films do, with an interview subject settling into the camera settings. In this case, a guy named Paul Gude is on Skype from a background familiar to anyone who’s spent the last year caught up in video chats. He’s sitting in what appears to be a bedroom made to function as an office, the fish-shaped webcam lens catches some dirty laundry, a shelf full of books and decorative toys, some homemade-looking art on the walls. . But the eye is instantly drawn to Gude himself, a computer-generated hyper-real creature with gleaming copper skin, warrior armor, a scar running from his forehead to his cheek, and a mane of shifting polygons in ruby ​​red in tone. jewel that makes your head look like. as a 20-sided die. He could be a distant cousin to Lion-O from the Thundercats, and he’s here to tell us that everything we know may be a lie.

Ascher’s work pays patient and open-minded attention to eccentrics who harbor unusual obsessions, be it with the phenomenon of sleep paralysis (as in his film The Nightmare) or the myriad secrets lurking within the adaptation. by Stanley Kubrick from The Shining (as in his escape Room 237). His latest article looks from every angle on the burgeoning culture of “simulation theory” and its followers, people who believe that the reality we all take for granted is nothing more than a projection that the flimsy human brain perceives as truth. For a subject so necessarily mind-blowing, Ascher embraced animation to a degree never before seen in his filmography, interpreting the narrated experiences as bizarre abstractions in a dream world of digital artifice. It wasn’t long before he realized that the same technique could be applied to animate the otherwise inert footage that he had gleaned from his many personal online encounters. It is an inspired maneuver, a successful formal rhyme with the material and, after months of meetings held via laptop screens, an unexpected parody of the banal isolation of quarantine.

“It’s a strange coincidence, because we actually started filming these interviews in 2019,” Ascher tells The Guardian over the phone as he awaits its premiere at a virtual Sundance. “I thought doing all of this through a digital in-between was in the theme of these stories. As we interacted with each other, in a way, we were just colored pixels and dots and audio output between us. Everything seemed appropriate and to be honest it saved us money. The fact that putting these animated avatars in this box seems like a satire of the Zoom world we’ve been living in for the last 10 months is a strange and fun stroke of luck. These projects have a way of attracting them. “

Although Gude and his enlightened brothers would like us to believe that there is no such thing. The coincidences that we accept as quirks of chance are just imperfections in the system to which we are connected, whatever form it takes. We could be brains in a tub, receiving electrical stimuli through wires manipulated by scientists, or perhaps we are just bytes of data on the hard drive of some intelligent being. Plato postulated that we could be chained in a cave, mistaking the shadows on the wall for the things that cast them. From virtual reality video games to pop culture, any number of metaphors speak to the core concept of a dimension that can be seen by those who know how to look. In the case of the more adventurous psychonauts who accept these figurative ideas as literal fact, some even try to control the illusion.

Ascher’s first impression of simulation theory came through the many science fiction milestones related to it, from the key text The Matrix and the writings of Philip K Dick to bizarre episodes of The Twilight Zone and Lost in. Space. It wasn’t until he came out to promote his own movie The Nightmare that he learned how widespread this hypothesis was and the community organized around it. “One of the guys I spoke to for that movie said that he thought what was happening in the middle of his sleep paralysis experience was seeing the code, the ones and the zeros that Neo can see,” Ascher recalls. “That immediately put it on my radar, and when I started reading everything I could find about it, I noticed more and more popping up around me: news, jokes, tweets, appearances by Elon Musk, Rick and Morty. It was everywhere. After a while, I could hardly see anything more than that. “

Photograph: courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The filmmaker made a call on select corners of the internet for disciples of simulator theory and discovered a thriving community with a complex variety of relationships for its unifying principle. Raised by a pastor, Gude lost contact with God and found a rationally viable alternative; Alex LeVine (speaking through an emoji-faced automaton with a brain suspended in liquid) thought something had to be going after defying death and probability along with that; Brother Laeo Mystwood (a bright-eyed Anubis in a tuxedo) “hacked” the seven-day week and the rest of existence soon followed; Jesse Orion (an ogre in a spacesuit) took refuge from a life with little to offer him in a universe beyond this. The latest witness, a man named Joshua Cooke, spoke to Ascher by phone for reasons that were later heartbreakingly clarified. His sad story unfolds without an avatar, taking us through his break with sanity in a ghostly first-person perspective.

“Because his story ends in such a serious and tragic place, I thought it would be too, I don’t know if simplistic is the word, but it felt too light for what we were portraying,” Ascher explains. Alienating and intimate POV. “It was something quite complicated to put together, requiring a 3D model of the actual location through a photogrammetry process to create a virtual house that we could float through in a ghostly way. One thing I liked about it is that although it is quite eye-catching, it is full of imperfections and holes where the information was not digitized correctly. I appreciated that quality, which felt more like a memory visited so many times that it had started to fray at the edges. “

Cooke’s section illustrates the dangers inherent in rejecting one’s environment as false. Though in less extreme ways, the other testimonials share an animated narcissism, the ego-inflation behind the reasoning that everyone else is so boring that they must be non-playable characters in a game made just for you. Philosophical questions of subjectivity: the old waiting resource “how do we know that what you see as green and what I see as green are the same?” – have traditionally been the realm of smoke-filled bedrooms, but the discourse has been embraced by a sober demographic more interested in avoiding their private dystopia than creating a utopia. “Think about it. Elon Musk is the most capitalist guy on the planet!” Says Ascher. “You can no longer dismiss this as junkies and college hippies. Their willingness to participate went a long way toward incorporating the idea. “

Photograph: courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

A 1977 speech by Philip K Dick in France structures the film and shows the humble beginnings from which simulator theory first entered public consciousness. Since then, the whole thing has spread far beyond a conference room in Metz, as growing factions of conspiracy theorists agree that the society could be an elaborate sham. The paranoia of the QAnon subculture overlaps with much of the credulous cynicism articulated by Ascher’s subjects, a parallel to which he is not blind. “People see any representation of the world from a source they trust and make big assumptions about reality based on it,” he says. “One of the great crises of the 21st century is how many places can we go to get that information. Many of them do not correspond with others, leaving us in these dangerous places of disagreement. I heard him say, “You have a right to your opinions, but not your own facts.” People can’t even find the same premises to start from. “

A viewer can easily imagine Ascher getting lost in the woods as he progresses through production, eventually wondering if these guys (and they are, it’s not insignificant, all of them) could be onto something. But he anchors his non-judgmental inquisition with healthy skepticism. He is a model of curiosity, capable and willing to consider external notions and extend compassion to those who support them, all while remaining firm in his own positions. He knows how to take it all in without being fooled.

“There are two things to say about where my personal journey with simulation theory has ended,” says Ascher. Accepting it as a scientific truth, I’m certainly not closer to that, although that’s not the aspect of the movie that we spend the most time on. Quantum entanglement and Planck’s constant, all of that, trying to prove or debunk. To me, this all seems much more a matter of faith. Simulation theory is a creation myth. As helpful and profound as some of them are, they don’t necessarily affect your daily life that much. Believing that we will live on a computer made by aliens or people in the future does not change the way I raise my child or pay my bills. I still look in my rear view mirror when I drive. “

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