::: a special four-part series
The Matrix lies in the fact that, unlike the majority of
what Hollywood puts out, this film does not insult the viewer’s
intelligence. Quite to the contrary, The Matrix has something
to fill your cup whether your mental capacity is that of a thimble
or a bucket. It is a pleasure that increases with time, because
you see more and get more out of it with each viewing. Another recent
film that rose to this level was The Game. In that film,
the purpose of the Game was to discover the purpose of the Game.
In The Matrix, the essential question remains even after
the film is over: What is the Matrix? Executive producer Andrew
Mason explains the intended audience effect best, perhaps, when
he says that "The Matrix is really just a set of questions,
a mechanism for prodding an ignorant or dulled mind into questioning
as many things as possible."
ne of the perpetual pleasures of
To prod us into the questioning mode, the movie presents as the
basis for its plot a world almost completely incomprehensible to
our minds. It is a world in which all reality is nothing but some
electrical signals sent to our brains. It is one thing to have your
9th grade English teacher ask you "If a tree falls in a forest and
there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" It is
something completely different to have to figure out that the Neo
with the socket in the back of his head is the real Neo. We then
make the journey with him to try and understand how to operate within
a world that is purely in his mind. The beauty of the movie is that
it takes us almost as long to figure this out as it takes Neo. If
The Matrix has engaged our imagination, we spend over two
hours with our minds wide open seeking answers to questions we might
never have asked. Having survived the experience, we are now freed
to question other parts of "reality" that always seemed beyond questioning.
Unlike any of the dozens of other films it pays homage to or appropriates
through intertextual reference, The Matrix is doing something
absolutely unique in the history of cinema. It is preaching a sermon
to you from the only pulpit left. It is calling you to action, to
change, to reform and modify your ways. Can a movie successfully
do this? Or is a piece of cinematography, by the codes, conventions,
and conditions of attendance that surround it, also and necessarily
just another part of the Matrix? Jacques Ellul said that the purpose
of one of his books (The Presence of the Kingdom) was to
be "a call to the sleeper to awake." I don’t know the answer
to the question, and it probably ultimately hinges on the individual
viewer’s pre-existing awareness, but if a film can wake us
up, then this is it.
In The Matrix, technological progress is portrayed in its
extremes. Some of the questions this should inspire us to ask are:
Do we have technology or does it have us? The answer, which is
neither absolute nor binding, is in the hands of the audience.
What if we made computers that were so good that they were smarter
than we are? This question has been posed before, but never in such
a unique way. Instead of being destroyed by computers, we become
their puppy dogs.
What if reproductive technology were perfected to the point that
sex and motherhood were no longer necessary? Even the "romance"
in the movie is unerotic (Neo and Trinity are androgynous), as should
be expected in a future where sex was unnecessary. What if people
were bred simply for convenience (ours or the computer’s)
in pods on farms?
What if we progressed so far technologically that it destroyed
us, and all that remained of our technology were the sewer systems?
Although nuclear weapons are never mentioned in the movie, the charred
remains of earth above the ground are a clear allusion to nuclear
winter. Zion is in the core of the earth "where it is still warm".
What if communications technology progressed so far that information
was delivered directly to the brain, bypassing the senses? What
if someone other than ourselves were in control of the information
flow? How different is this from television today?
"What is the Matrix?" is a question that never stops being asked
because it is as old as humanity itself. We have always used technology
to improve our condition in life, yet in the embrace of each technology
we find the classic Faustian bargain, a gaining of one thing at
the expense of another, often unseen thing. And it is the unseen
thing that then comes to dominate our lives, enmeshing us in a network
of technological solutions to technologically-induced problems,
forbidding us to question the technology itself.
What is the Matrix? If you’ve read this far, you deserve