Directed by Rodney Ascher.

Starring Nick Bostrom, Paul Gude, Brother Laeo Mystwood.

Documentary, US, 108 minutes.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray 10th May 2021.


If it wasn’t for toothache, we might not have had The Matrix. For it was during a trip to the dentist in the early nineteen seventies that Philip K. Dick experienced, while recovering from treatment for his wisdom teeth and a dose of sodium pentothal, a vivid recollection of an alternate reality. This vision, or delusion depending on your own scepticism, would go onto define the authors works and life resulting in an appearance in 1978 at a science-fiction convention in Paris where he would detail these experiences to a bemused and confused audience who were seemingly expecting something less revelatory from the author of Martian Time Slip to exclaim; “If you find this world bad, you should see some of the others.” This extraordinary conference is returned to throughout Rodney Ascher’s latest exploration into alternative readings of the world and the culture around us.


Dick arguably led the way into bringing what would become known as simulation theory to the general public who would go on to grasp it fully by the century’s end with the release of THE MATRIX. Whilst the immediate focus seemed to be on the film’s spectacular fight choreography and bullet time photography the films exploration of simulated reality seeped into the public consciousness over a more measured period of time. By the time of the films first sequel the possibility of our lives being ruled over by a vast intelligence was being discussed online, in philosophy papers and discussed seriously by the likes of Elon Musk and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.


Ascher navigates the viewer through a number of realities with the aid of a number of interviewees. Where Ascher has kept his subjects offscreen in his previous films, preferring to let their disembodied voices play out over edited, noiseless scenes of genre films and archive footage he repeats the trick here but with the aid of digital avatars for the three main interviewees. It lends the documentary a sense of disconnection from the immediate environment which is heightened further by their recollections of how they became fully aware to the true reality of the world(s) around them, presented by their narrators in a matter-of-fact style accompanied by a kaleidoscopic style of film clips and various animation styles. Minecraft and Google Earth are just two of the styles evoked in displaying our “true” digital reality, further enforcing the supposed artificiality of our lives.


Of course, a certain kind of cynicism should rise within a number of viewers when being presented with these intoxicating statements that echo Dick’s own fantastical and paranoid fiction. The fact that such suspicions have been around and discussed since the ancient Greeks is remarked upon by a number of philosophers and medical professionals who tell us why such theories gain such traction, especially now in an age of fake news and post truth. Going down such a wormhole and the disturbing toll it can take is also examined with the case of Joshua Cooke whose own disembodied voice, recorded over the phone, details the shocking events triggered by his own obsession with The Matrix.


It is a film that easily grabs the attention, sometimes threatening to overwhelm the viewer with the sheer volume of ideas and themes being discussed, the Mandela Effect, GANS and humans as NPC’s are also thrown into the mix amongst others. Presenting such a large number of head spinning philosophies and ideas with a built-in genre appeal is an astute move on Ascher’s part. A more cynical or literally minded audience will no doubt look on in disbelief while those who are willing to be swept away by the wild ideas and far out theories already explored by the cinema of such films as THE MATRIX and DARK CITY and the works and life of Philip K Dick will find much here to ponder and obsess over in this always absorbing documentary that demands to be seen on repeat, if only to absorb the dizzying amount of information on display here.


Iain MacLeod.


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