Something is not quite right here...
: Oh. Déjà vu. Trinity
: What did you just say? Neo
: Nothing, just had a little déjà vu. [...] What is it? Trinity
: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.
Alice has everything she ever wanted; success, fortune, found love with Bob, and has even settled down in a nice neighborhood. Heading to the store on a nice evening, she decides to take an alley shortcut, only to stumble upon a strobing green cat, which meows "I need scissors! 61!"
before evaporating. Alice has stumbled on A Glitch in the Matrix
Required to be impeccable on the surface, most false realities are built to trap
(or at least contain) their inhabitants. However, as real life shows
, coding and memory can be rife with conflicts and inconsistencies; as such, you can expect the protagonist is going to spot a few of them and draw some conclusions
. Of course, don't be surprised if noting errors
starts unravelling reality.
Depending on the tone, expect a scale marking of what they do
or do not
notice: Isn't Charlie left handed
? Wasn't there a park here
? When did my children stop having faces?
Often occurs in a Lotus-Eater Machine
. If a particularly blatant glitch is found, or if a Reality-Breaking Paradox
is caused, expect Ominous Visual Glitches
and Word Salads
. Common examples include Too Good To Be True
, Glamour Failure
, or OOC Is Serious Business
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Anime and Manga
- In Paprika, Dr. Chiba realizes that she's still dreaming when the paraplegic Big Bad walks towards her.
- In Gurren Lagann, a couple of these (and the help of one dead guy) allow Simon and Yoko to realize what's going on. It's one of the most tragic parts of the series.
- Fate in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's realizes almost immediately that she's trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine since her dream had her living happily with her older sister Alicia, a detail that simply couldn't be because Fate is Alicia's clone, specifically created by her mother as a Replacement Goldfish after Alicia died.
- In S Cryed Kazuma realizes he's being brainwashed after Unkei flubs characterization in the Lotus-Eater Machine he's trapped Kazuma in, by having the jerkass rival Ryuho act like they're friends after they fight and settle the score. He probably should have known better; Kazuma enjoys the challenge of fighting Ryuho but completely hates his guts for additional unrelated reasons and everyone knows what a dick Ryuho is. Unkei also exemplifies Small Name, Big Ego and is a total hack. His second attempt, on Ryuho this time, goes just about as well and is just as corny.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Jack gets pulled into a Lotus-Eater Machine by Dark Signer Carly, who is attempting to distract him while she wins their duel. He believes it for a while, but realizes something is wrong when he notices that her glasses are still in the same place they were before the duel began.
- Persona 4: The Animation When Yu is dragged into Shadow Mitsuo's Lotus-Eater Machine, he catches on that something is up when he tries to put his hand in the TV and it no longer works. With the deception revealed, Shadow Mitsuo reveals itself and starts giving him one hell of a Hannibal Lecture. In the final episode, he also realizes he keeps returning to the same moment at his farewell party time and time again.
- Examined in The Animatrix, which, in a few shorts, discusses what can happen when errors and holes are found in the matrix.
- World Record centers around an athlete who, by exerting his body to its entire physical capacity during a race, manages to break through a gap in the matrix and wake up in real life. To prevent him escaping again, the agents drug him in real life and physically disable him in the matrix, preventing further attempts.
- Beyond is based around this. Yoko, in search of her cat, enters an abandoned building filled with reality warping errors, like inconsistent time/gravity, indoor weather, and even doors to nowhere. Unable to comprehend it, the kids she speaks with inside shrug it off as a haunted house, which they enjoy playing in until the agents tear it down and rebuild it.
- A Detective Story briefly deals with this as, while following Trinity's trail, Ash finds a detective driven insane by what he found pursuing her. Naturally, it's assumed it involves this trope and the revelation that he's locked in a Lotus-Eater Machine.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion, Homura suspects she's in an illusion. To test it, she and Kyoko try to take the bus to Kyoko's hometown. The bus just loops back.
- In Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu!, Souji figures out he's in a Lotus-Eater Machine when he remembers the real Twirl literally gave up her ability to wear her hair in twintails to give him his powers.
- During Grant Morrison's run on Justice League of America, Batman was able to deduce he and the rest of the League had been placed in a dream state because, while he looked like an active elderly man, he had the vital signs of a younger, unconscious man. Unfortunately, the Genre Savvy villain's evil scheme was built on the JLA escaping the Lotus-Eater Machine.
- In Paperinik New Adventures' second series, the titular character is unwittingly placed in a virtual reality environment. He notices something is amiss when the same background characters begin appearing in very different roles, and his suspicions are confirmed when he finds out that several different packets of potato chips contain the exact same chips, down to the one weirdly shaped like a fish.
- One early Sonic the Hedgehog story has the Freedom Fighters trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine by Robotnik. Not only does it give them a perfect world, but actually alters itself for its victims. This 'user friendly' function causes Sonic to suspect something is wrong when not only is he no longer the groom at Princess Sally's wedding, but his Uncle Chuck shows up, fully-fleshed and unroboticized. (Plus these melting clocks just show up out of nowhere...) Ironically, when Sonic demands for answers, virtual-Chuck gladly gives them, and Sonic is soon able to turn Robotnik's war machines on Robotropolis unless the heroes are freed.
- In one issue of Titans, Roy Harper broke the illusion generated by the Gargoyle by relying on his lack of information on his Missing Mom. The Gargoyle tried to recreate a facsimile of Roy's childhood if he had grown up with his birth parents, but because Roy has such an incredible lack of info on his mom, to the fact that he only knows he had to have one in general, the Gargoyle could only go as far as "your mom is."
- A Captain America story had Cap trapped in virtual reality with Batroc The Leaper. When Cap suspects something is up, he asks Batroc to take off his mask. Batroc protests that it won't prove he's an impostor or not, since Cap has never seen his real face. That turned out to be Cap's plan all along, as he suspected wherever he was was pulling details of his current world from his own memories. Since he had no idea what Batroc looked like, his unmasked face was simply blank.
- In Don Rosa story "A Little Something Special", Scrooge McDuck first realized something was amiss at the contest because the sponsor's shadow was shaped like Flintheart Glomgold. (Magica had disguised him)
- In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Smurfing In Heaven", Empath is taken to an artificial version of Elysium, the Smurf afterlife also known as "the smurfy hereafter", where all his fellow Smurfs were waiting for him after their supposed deaths while traveling through time. The Smurfette in this artificial Elysium glitches in her conversation with Empath, though he doesn't realize where he actually is until later when the Smurfs reveal their true selves in this simulated afterlife.
Smurfette: My smurfness...the glorious feast is about to begin! We're going to be late for it if we don't smurf back there soon!
Empath: Smurfette, how can we be late if we're in heaven? Aren't we supposed to have all the time in the world in heaven, since it exists for all eternity?
Smurfette: Oh. I didn't even realize that…I guess I'm just so used to smurfing in a world of time, I'm still trying to adjust to a world without time!
- In the Pony POV Series, Twilight Sparkle sees through the Cuckoo Nest scenario that Loneliness traps her in when she enters Trixie's mind because the asylum seems like a TV version of one instead of a real one (which she knows because she's been doing volunteer work in one), and the "doctor" makes several mistakes regarding Twilight's history because he only had Trixie's memories to draw on.
- The Cadanceverse: When the Musical 6 enter the Everfree Forest to search for the Elements of Harmony, a leshy traps them in an illusion that they're making progress when they're actually going in a circle. However, Octavia notices that the background noise around them isn't changing, which tips her off to what's going on, and she manages to escape the illusion.
- The Trope Namer is The Matrix. As Trinity explains, Deja Vu is caused by a glitch in the computer simulation, which usually signals that the programs running it have altered some fundamental law. In this case, all the windows and doors have been filled in with bricks. Though for the rebels this is a bad thing as it means the system is aware of their presence and Agents will be on them soon.
: Oh. Déjà vu. Trinity
: What did you just say? Neo
: Nothing, just had a little déjà vu. Trinity
: What did you see? Cypher
: What happened? Neo
: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it. Trinity
: How much like it? Was it the same cat? Neo
) Might have been, I'm not sure. Morpheus
: Switch! Apoc! Neo
: What is it? Trinity
: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix
. It happens when they change something.
- All over the place in Inception. Dreamers build the dream world and can alter it at will, but each alteration from the baseline helps tip off the subconscious that someone's hijacked the dream. This is why it's so important to go in with a complete picture of what the world is supposed to be. Dreamers also carry special totems whose properties are known only to them, to help them discern dreams from reality.
- In The Thirteenth Floor, the boundary of the simulation is located at the end of a long road, where the rendering of the simulation just fades via a wire-frame into nothing.
- In X2: X-Men United, during Jason Styker's initial attempt to trap Xavier within an illusion of the mansion, it doesn't work because Xavier notices that he's standing up. Jason's next attempt has him sitting in a wheelchair.
- Robert A. Heinlein's short story "They". A man realizes that something is wrong with the world when it's raining when he's outside his house, but when he goes upstairs and looks through a window it's clear and sunny.
- In The Wheel of Time, people in the World of Dreams will sometimes notice details change. However, quite often they don't notice, and the change is written in subtly enough that the readers don't notice either.
- In Time Out Of Joint, by Phillip K. Dick, the protagonist believes he lives in an idyllic American town in 1958, but then... strange incongruities begin to occur...
- It is stated in the Hyperion Cantos that any attempt to simulate a human personality in virtual space ends when the mind notices the trope (which seems to always happen even with the best computers). Because at that point, the mind goes mad.
- In the sci/fi novel Resonance obsessive compulsive office messenger Graham Smith has lived his entire life experiencing glitches in the matrix varying in size from street names suddenly changing to a childhood friend's dead parents suddenly never having died, and believes that the universe unravels every time he breaks his OCD routine. It is later revealed that he switches bodies with a parallel universe version of himself every time he makes a decision as a result of being the only person who is exactly the same in every single universe.
- In the Red Dwarf novel "Better Than Life", this occurs. The characters are stuck in a virtual reality simulation of their greatest fantasies. At first they are alerted to their situation by Kryten signalling them from outside, then entering the game himself, which wouldn't qualify as this trope. However, when they decide to leave they wake up on Red Dwarf unharmed by the weeks they have spent effectively comatose, Lister notices that toast always lands face up when dropped, and finally two people are discovered alive and in stasis; Lister's crush Kochanski and Rimmer's living self. Lister realizes that things are still perfect, and that they are therefore still in the game. They wake up for real, and find they are in horrible shape from their experience.
- More Than This: According to Regine's theory, a Tap on the Head causes one and sends you to the real world instead of killing you.
- In Bubble World, more and more of these happen in early chapters until the server crashes, catapulting Freesia into the real world.
Live Action TV
- What tips House off to the fact he's unconscious and hallucinating in the second season finale: first the case gets even more bizarre than usual, then he starts knowing things before the team tells him about them. Finally he starts noticing the scene transitions and time lapses.
- Doctor Who:
- In the episode "Forest of the Dead", this happens constantly when Donna is "saved" in the computer's Lotus-Eater Machine. Because the computer is so short on space (more than 2000 others are stuck in there with Donna), it compensates by skipping any and all transitional material. This results in Donna experiencing "dreamlike" passage of time, in which stating or even thinking of her intention to go somewhere results in her instantly being there, leading to a few seconds of disorientation before false memories of the lost time take effect. However, the glitch that finally clues her in (as pointed out by the Nightmare Face-bearing, formerly dead Miss Evangelista) to the nature of her reality is the fact that, while taking her two children to the playground, she sees that every boy and girl at the park, looks, sounds, and is dressed exactly the same. The effect is unsettling.
- This trope gets parodied in "Amy's Choice", where the Doctor and his companions are attacked by the mysterious 'Dream Lord', who only has control over dreams. The TARDIS team are forced between two realities (Leadworth, where Amy is pregnant and they're being attacked by Killer Old People, or a broken TARDIS where they're dying of hypothermia). The Doctor urges them to try and work out which reality "doesn't ring true". Rory then points out that he's currently in a time-machine with a bow-tie wearing alien, so that might not work very well. Played straight in the end, though. Once they've correctly chosen the TARDIS as the 'reality', the Dream Lord turns the ship back on, saving the characters. Except that the Dream Lord has no physical body, so the Doctor realizes they were both dreams.
- In Lois and Clark, Clark realises he's in a virtual reality after noticing that the crowds are made up of only a few different people, repeated over and over.
- An important aspect flashsideways alternate timeline/afterlife is characters noticing something's up. Jack has a recurring cut on his neck and scar on his side that he can't place—both were suffered during the final battle with Smokey; the latter wound ends up being fatal. Charlie has a flash of Claire while choking on a heroin baggy. Kate gets deja vu when she sees Jack. The flashsideways as a whole serves this purpose for clever viewers who may notice minor characters, locations, or scenarios repeating themselves slightly differently.
- In the series finale, each character has a revelatory montage where they remember their island life. When speaking to Locke, Jack has a brief flash of the two looking down the hatch and freaks out. When he finds Kate, he has a couple flashes of their romance and decides to go with her to learn the ultimate truth: he's dead.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- "Ship in a Bottle". Data realizes that the ship is a holodeck program because Geordi is left-handed in the program, but right-handed in real life. Humorously, Barclay actually says "There must have been a glitch in the matrix [diodes]." when he first began investigating the Holmes holoprogram.
- "Future Imperfect". Commander Riker is trapped inside a Lotus-Eater Machine. First the problems are small, but as he begins to realize more and more things are out of place, he is moved to the "real" world, but the setting has simply changed to a new illusion. It takes him not nearly as long to realize something's still off.
- "Parallels" employs a similar premise. Worf begins to notice that small details are off from how he remembered them — the placement of decorations, the positions where people are standing, and crew members' clothing. As the episode progresses, the differences are magnified to the extent that Picard was killed at Wolf-359, Riker is captain of the Enterprise, and Counselor Troi is Worf's wife. Rather than being trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine, it turns out that Worf is shifting through increasingly divergent parallel universes.
- In a Deep Space Nine episode, Dr. Bashir also realizes that he's in a hologram when "O'Brien" doesn't correctly know how he injured his arm. From this, he realizes that Sloan from Section 31 is playing tricks on him. In another episode, he realizes that he hasn't left Sloan's mind after having entered it with O'Brien after noticing a memory of his cycling back at the limit of his knowledge.
- A Star Trek: Voyager has the crew being put to sleep by a race that prefers to exist in a lucid dream-like state. However, since their bodies are vulnerable in this state, they attack any "waking" race they encounter. Chakotay, being a Magical Native American, has plenty of experience with vision quests and has a device meant to put him into a controlled lucid dream. Before entering the lucid dream to meet the aliens, he conditions himself to see one such glitch, namely the image of Earth's Moon in place of any planet. Tapping a finger on his other hand three times is supposed to bring him out of this state. There are several examples in the episode when Chakotay thinks he's out of the dream... only to see the Moon again. The last time, the tapping trick doesn't work, as the aliens have adapted the dream.
- Referenced in Red Dwarf. After realizing the crew are in an AR simulation, Kryten uses the fact that Cat was able to solve a cryptic clue as proof of that.
- Farscape had three.
- "A Human Reaction": the aliens can only recreate people and environments that John Crichton has seen before. Once he realizes that everything and everyone in the Lotus-Eater Machine of the week is familiar to him, a trip to the ladies' room brings the illusion crashing down.
- "Won't Get Fooled Again": This time Crichton has wised up, and knows it's a hallucination, but the ladies bathroom trick doesn't work. He first realizes that Harvey, Scorpius's neural clone, isn't part of the illusion. Harvey alerts him to the fact that he is a prisoner of the Scarrans, whose intense body heat John can feel through the illusion. The hot flashes therefore function in this episode as "Matrix Glitches."
- "John Quixote": Crichton makes the mistake of playing a buggy VR game based on his own memories; once he leaves, he finds that Scorpius has taken over Moya and is brainwashing the crew against him. However, Crichton eventually realises that he's still playing the game when he finds one of the game's hint vouchers in his pocket. Plus, because the memory copy was made over a year ago, Sikozu and Noranti are nowhere to be seen, and nobody knows anything about Aeryn's pregnancy.
- Sam Tyler tries to invoke this this in the first episode of Life On Mars. Suddenly dropped in 1973, and thinking he must be dreaming, he sets out to walk until his mind runs out of detail.
- Played with in the pilot of Alphas: Hicks begins hearing random people telling him that "it's time to kill" and to "pull the trigger", but while he does think this is strange, he never suspects that he's brainwashed. The real purposes of these phrases is to show the viewers that his mind has been messed with.
- Adam Savage of the MythBusters once (during the "Cabin Fever" myth) told a story of a time he seemed to be piloting a crashing plane:
- In a Smallville episode Clark wakes up to realize he's in Belle Reve and that everything he's gone through over the past few years have been nothing but the hallucinations of a crazy person. But Martian Manhunter goes into Belle Reeve to try to convince Clark this reality is fake. Clark then realizes it too by hearing Shelby's barking.
- Several episodes of Eureka has 21 of the main characters trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine by Beverly and the cabal she works for, simulating them returning to the titular town 4 years after they left. The idea of the time-shift is to avoid any inconsistencies. Additionally, the machine is building the virtual world based on the subjects' own memories and thoughts within the set parameters. However, the machine was designed with 20 people in mind, so, with 21 people hooked up, there's not enough processing power to smooth over any glitches. As such, the characters begin to notice certain things, such as a dragon suddenly appearing when one of them imagines one (the computer couldn't tell it wasn't a real memory). Said dragon then "de-rezzes" for a split-second. A simulator character then walks right through a bar counter, and a wound keeps appearing and disappearing.
- The X-Files, "Kill Switch": Mulder gets trapped into a virtual reality simulator that is operated by AI computer that wants to gain kill switch from him. Mulder realizes that it's not real when Scully saves him from evil nurses, but is not compassionate about his amputated limbs. The reality from his perspective starts to short out, but he's injected with something and passes out.
- There's an episode of Batman: The Animated Series that had the Mad Hatter trap Batman in a Lotus-Eater Machine/dream. The way he realized he was dreaming was that the newspaper he was reading was gibberish. Then he remembered that the brain hemisphere used for dreaming was not the one used for reading. While that's nonsense (both hemispheres are used for dreaming, and he got it the wrong way around about which is used for reading), it is true that dreams typically fail to produce readable text — see the example under Real Life below.
- Codename: Kids Next Door has Numbuh 1 catch on in one episode because Numbuh 4 is at a pool party, in the water, swimming with everyone else, when in reality he can't swim.
- Justice League:
- In "Legends", it had the team realize they were in some sort of illusion, and not a timewarp. A lot of little details to the seemingly 1950's town didn't add up. None of the books had words, the ice cream truck never stops, all the subways were boarded up, and the newspapers reported things that hadn't happened. They note that the world of "heroes" seems a little TOO ridiculous, even for them, such a random bus full of nuns somehow losing control and driving towards a pile of dynamite that just happens to be lying in its path. That and the fact that these random outlandish crisises kept popping up whenever they were about to make any progress figuring out where they were tipped them off that something was amiss.
- In "Paradise Lost", though Lotus-Eater Machine was more of an illusion causing macguffin. Superman and Wonder Woman are magicked into seeing each other as a monster. Eventually during the fight which ensues, Superman discovers Wonder Woman is the monster via her reflection in water. He tries to inform Wonder Woman, but she continues to attack, until he points to his reflection in a mirror.
- There was For the Man Who Has Everything where Superman slowly comes to realize that his idyllic life on Krypton with his son Van-El is false, in a moment that will tear your heart out.
- Invoked in American Dad! when Hayley and Klaus were acting bizarre to convince Steve that he's dreaming, as a prank.
- What's New, Scooby-Doo? has the episode "E-Scream" where the gang is getting attacked by robotic furry creatures. However, during the whole fiasco, Velma notices her friends doing things that they wouldn't normally do (Fred telling the gang to stay together, Daphne being willing to wear mismatched shoes, etc). Near the end, she figures out she's in a holographic video game made by a friend of hers when Shaggy doesn't spout his Catch Phrase right.
- Repeating scenery out a schoolbus window in Invader Zim is how Dib deduces that the bus is not, on fact, taking a really long time to get to the destination of a field trip. (FYI, Dib's eponymous arch-nemesis is sending it to a wormhole.)
- Iron Man: Armored Adventures: The controller had imprisoned Tony Stark into a virtual reality. Tony first noticed that when the simulator failed to show a truck blowing up.
- In Rick and Morty episode "M. Night Shaym-Aliens", Rick and Morty end up having to break the simulation they're trapped in to escape. Jerry, on the other hand, is totally unaware he's surrounded by glitches despite his simulation running at minimum capacity; he fails to notice people mindlessly agreeing with him, the same three pedestrians being duplicated everywhere, or the fact people are strobing and walking through objects.
- In the Steven Universe episode "Rose's Room", the room of the title is able to grant wishes of the person in it. (though everything is made of clouds, so food can't be eaten) When Steven's poorly-worded wish replicates the entire town, things start glitching out because, as Pearl later states, the room can't handle replicating so much. Characters act and move abnormally, repeating the same things over and over again, and more. Eventually the world just begins to fall apart.
- In the Adventure Time episode "King Worm", Finn realizes he's in a dream by noticing that many details of the world are off.
- This is one way to become aware that you're dreaming (lucid dreaming). You learn to notice various details in your dreams that are out of place: common traits are watches or newspapers reading gibberish or changing every time you look at it. One of the weirdest is that your hand often has the wrong number of fingers when you look at it.