This messy but fascinating documentary explores the idea that the world is an artificial pawn in a game played by higher beings

As a documentarian, Rodney Ascher is more comfortable than many with subjectivity. Having previously delved into a host of far-fetched theories about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with Room 237, Ascher now explores “simulation theory”: the belief that the world in which we exist is artificial – a rendered reality; part of a game or experiment controlled by a higher intelligence.

The jumping-off point for this elliptical combination of computer animation, archive footage and virtual interviews is a 1977 lecture by Philip K Dick. But the development of the idea is traced from Plato’s allegory of the cave and numerous religions, through films, literature and computer gaming, to current advocates such as Elon Musk. It’s a messy, mind-blowing collision of philosophy, technology, religion and fruit-loop paranoia which, while it doesn’t exactly make a watertight case, does provide a fascinating, and in one case deeply disturbing, insight into the thought processes of those who believe it.

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