The 2013 film The Institute is one of those rarest of documentaries that manages to replicate the experience it portrays in such a way that you, too, will find yourself exiting with many of the same questions about viewing the film as the subjects of it pose in regard to the actual thing that happens. In capturing the history of an alternate reality game played in real life in San Francisco, The Institute delves into the concept of levels of reality and how the human mind perceives those levels, often giving itself to any given level and defining according to immediate circumstance what exactly constitutes “reality.”
In fact, humans hand themselves over to perceived realities all the time, from political and religious ones to modern iterations of the television show, which with online recaps, discussion, and fanfic, transform the make-believe into a vivid, emotional existence that people cling onto in order to work out their own desires. We live in an unprecedented era for making entertainment a reflection of yourself.
That’s where The Institute comes in, an instance of art entering your life rather than you entering into art’s conceit, and the tales of people making of it what they need it to be, and reacting to its conclusion based on their own expectations.
But by the end, if you give yourself to it, The Institute might have you questioning everything. Reality will become just a layer of perception, and filmed reality with fold into that. What non-fiction can you trust anymore? It’s a brilliant meta-commentary on where we’ve found ourselves and where we’re headed — and whether we can think conceptually at all anymore.