RogerBW's Blog

The Matrix (1999) 01 August 2023

1999 SF, dir. Wachowskis, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne; IMDb / allmovie. What if it were all, like, a simulation, man?

Of course the idea wasn't original. There's Galouye's Counterfeit World from 1964, Jim Hogan put out Realtime Interrupt in 1995 just before he lost it completely, and a fair bit of Philip K. Dick's output indulges in the question of just how you can tell whether you're really in reality.

Which is why I was surprised to see that idea basically missing here: after the initial revelation that the consensus world is a simulation, there's never any doubt, either for the viewer or for the characters, about whether we're in the simulation or in the outer world (and there's no suggestion that there might be more than two layers, either). I realise everything has to be simplified for a film audience, but that seems to me the major interesting question about the idea of learning that you're living in a simulation.

The rest of the film is, for me, an interestiong collision of ideas. From one direction we get, hey ho, You yes You Normal Person are the Chosen One, and you can come and join us in our Cool Sexy People Club (and save the world). You don't have to do anything or make any effort or even take a shower, you're just Special. It's been done to death.

At the same time this came out at about the last date when you could imagine that knowing about the Internet made you at least a little bit unusual.

And alienation is always in fashion. Given that both the Wachowskis came out as trans later, it's tempting to read the feeling inside the simulation that something is wrong, that there must be a better way to live, as an analogy for that; but I think that one reason for the film's broad appeal is that it also stands well as an analogy for almost anything someone might do that isn't following the herd. Being a science fiction or fantasy reader in the 1980s when that stuff was still regarded as Weird rather than in every bookshop. Getting involved in role-playing games or historical reenactment. Learning to program. Joining a cult. For all of these things it's a revelation that there are other people who get it, and who are happy to talk about it, unlike all those boring mundane folks. I think the Men's Rape Apologists worked that out, when they adopted "red pill" as their term for embracing their vision of the world rather than the one in which women are people: it's always appealing to be one of the people with the secret knowledge.

Meanwhile a great deal rests on the actors. Keanu Reeves was still regarded as the Bill & Ted guy, so while he's not bad here I think the contemporaneous praise was mostly for the contrast. Carrie-Ann Moss has surprisingly little to do apart from being competent, though that's a great start. And a great deal falls on Laurence Fishburne's shoulders, which are fortunately broad enough to carry it all.

There's lots of pretentious regurgitated Zen. That's not what makes it work. This story is about ascension to godhood via Nokia 9110.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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See also:
Simulacron-3, Daniel F. Galouye

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 10:00am on 01 August 2023

    There is being clever, and then there is being too clever.

    And here I think you are being too clever. Arguably doing the Red pill thing yourself.

    I choose the blue pill for this argument(that's a joke).

    I remember going to see The Matrix in Santa Rosa with Susan. She was in the States for a job, and I went over to have a holiday with her, and wanting to see The Phantom Menace in America (Star Wars fan).

    That was a disappointment, but we then went to watch this small film that had generated a lot of buzz. That film was The Matrix, and I was blown away.

    I still am blown away every time I re-watch this movie.

    Every scene and every bit of dialogue works to build the world. Trinity is a strong female character. Neo is the character the audience can relate too. Morpheus is our mentor.

    Your 2023 post hindsight presentism , and cynical criticism down playing the films impact is quite frankly appalling.

    If you want to criticize the failing of the film I suggest a more useful approach is to use philosophy to understand society.

    For example, you could start with Guy Debord and The Society of the Spectacle to criticize the film, which would be totally legit.

    Or, if you could see past your emotional reactions, then perhaps Hans-Georg Moeller's philosophy of authenticity and the commodification of self might be a useful tool in your critical toolbox?

    A link:

    Anyway, stay safe, stay well.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 10:41pm on 01 August 2023

    What's often overlooked today is that special effects were split into pre and post The Matrix, in the same way films in general once split into pre and post Tarantino. George Lucas was upset when The Phantom Menace didn't win the special effects Oscar, he was used to Star Wars films winning it. He should instead just have congratulated The Matrix. Bullet Time was revolutionary when it first came out. I remember cheering when the new Doctor Who featured Bullet Time in the Dalek episode, and I was just watching TV at home on my own.

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