There are very few films that I can say with any certainty that changed my life, The Matrix is one of those films. I was sixteen when The Matrix came out in May of 1999, at the same time as Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. I didn’t actually get to see The Matrix in the theater because I was a lame person back then and I only had money to see one film, so obviously, I went to see Star Wars. It didn’t take the internet long to react to the Matrix though and as soon as it was on video, I was all over it. I even managed to talk my local video store into giving me the movie promo poster when they were done with it; I still have it framed on my wall today.
It was the first film I actually read the screenplay for and I used to have the Matrix code as my screensaver for years. When the second and third films came out, I was there opening night for both. I remember that I cried the first time I watched Trinity die. Her death in the story took me by surprise because I desperately wanted her and Neo to have a happy ending after all they had been through.
More than enough articles, books, and Masters thesis papers have been written about the Matrix in the last 19 years. Since the films have so much philosophy and classic storytelling aspects in them, they make for the perfect case study. Moreover, the films were groundbreaking in their development of new filming techniques and technology. You can see elements of the Matrix films in every film that came out from 1999 onward. From the development of the bullet time camera to the rigs used in the fighting sequences, you can see their use in films like Lord of the Rings, the Underworld series, and Avatar – a groundbreaking film in its own right.
The story of the Matrix is a perfect example Joseph Campbell’s analysis of the “Hero’s Journey”. You have Thomas Anderson, who by day is your average Joe working in a tech company but by night, he’s an elite hacker going by the name of Neo, dispensing codes and information out to the highest bidder. Already, you have a character who is setup to go on an adventure and ready to break the rules. Enter the mysterious white rabbit, Trinity, who leads Neo to exactly who he’s been looking for, Morpheus, and the answer to the question: What is the Matrix?
Not only does Neo find out what the Matrix is, he finds out he’s the “Chosen One” and he’s going to save what’s left of humanity from their persecution from the AI Machines. Neo does not believe this is true, he goes so far as to seek answers from an Oracle to confirm that he is not “The One”. After nearly losing all of his friends and mentor, Neo accepts that he is “The One” and saves Morpheus and himself.
Eventually, Neo’s journey leads him to not only saving humanity for the machines but the machines from one of their own, Agent Smith, who became a copy virus which nearly destroyed the Matrix but also 01, the capital city of the machines. Had Agent Smith continued to expand, he would have taken over all of machines and destroyed the world. All that would have been left would have been Agent Smith and even then he would have died because he would not have had an energy source because he would have killed all of the humans in the process.
The deeper philosophies of the film were lost on my as a teenager, I was too wrapped up in the basic plot. Even now, I can’t tell you exactly what it was the drew me into the story. I know it wasn’t the love story or the hero’s journey. It might have been the puzzle of how the machines were able to exert so much control over the humans or all the questions the first film left initially unanswered. Eventually, with the release of the Animatrix as a precursor to the follow up films, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, I finally learned the history behind the war between the machines and humans and how humans eventually became the subjects of the machines.
The Matrix is a warning of what we could end up doing to ourselves if we don’t take better care of ourselves, each other, our world, and our eventual development of artificial intelligence. I have no doubt that humans will one day give birth to artificial intelligence and we will have to face the question of what it means to be real, to be alive. We have already become so dependent on mechanization, it’s not so far of a reach to develop a new “slave labor” force out of machines. After that, it’s just a slippery slope to the world of Blade Runner and self-aware artificial organisms.
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.” – Morpheus
In my university philosophy class, my professor announced to the room, “By taking this class, you are choosing to take the Red Pill”. Those words have stuck with me because I actually think by going to University, I was choosing the Red Pill because once my eyes were open to the realities of our society, they could not be closed again. Even if I wanted to try to feign ignorance of my knowledge of how our society functions and just “go with it”, I can’t. I have been rebelling against the machine that is modern western society since I took my first step into the university.
Everyone, at some level is given the choice to “wake up” or willfully continue to stay asleep to the truth of our reality, our society, and the greater workings of the universe. There’s lots of things that have been developed to keep us asleep; things like the media, consumerism, and distractions like Facebook or video games. They are all there to keep you from realizing your full potential and keep you separated from others. Even the internet, what could be used as a place to free our minds is being used to trap us and control us further.
The Matrix itself is a metaphor for the illusion of our world. If our minds were jacked into a sophisticated interactive virtual environment like that of the Matrix, we too would not know the difference between real and virtual. In a similar view, the ‘real’ is also an illusion created by our minds and in some spiritualities, we can transcend this reality to see the universe for what it truly is – energy.
If you want a real world example of the Matrix, the internet is a good place to start. With unlimited access to basically any information you want or could ever want to know, we should be able to use that for the benefit of all humanity. Instead, it’s being used to spy on other nations, influence the out come of major democratic events such as the US election and Brexit. More over, it’s being used to create new world markets and currencies which should in theory be a benefit for the economy but in reality, it’s causing new black markets to pop up and off set the value of what should be more stable currencies. More over, mobile devices and access to the internet pretty much from anywhere is creating a dependency on this information to the point where it becomes impossible to work without it.
Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
It really wasn’t until after I had finished up my yoga teacher training that I really got the concept of “There is no spoon,” and its significance in regards to transcendence. A simple statement yet incredibly profound. To break it down to its most simplest core, there is no spoon, there is no body – everything is just energy, matter, and density. You are the witness and everything around us is an illusion. There is no spoon and the Matrix isn’t real. This always made me wonder if the “real world” in the films was actually real or if Neo was actually real or is he just another construct?
The films ended with me wondering how things are going to proceed now that the war between machines and humanity is over, or at least paused. Zak Penn, the writer behind the screenplay for Ready Player One and co-writer of The Avengers, announced that he’s in works with Warner Bros to create a new story to add to The Matrix saga. I am a little nervous about this since it’s not going to be worked on by the Wachowskis. I genuinely feel like Penn will not be able to do it justice simply because he’s not one of the original creators and doesn’t have the same philosophical mind that they have. While he’s good at what he does, I don’t think he’s going to have the depth that The Matrix deserves. It’s not about what actors you pick or the technology your invent, it’s about the play between the deeper message and storytelling.
Will I go see a continuation of The Matrix? If it has Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, or Carrie-Anne Moss in it – yes, yes, I will go see it. Because, if it has any of those actors in it, the story continues and maybe I will get my happy ending after all.