Review of The Matrix
The Matrix is a movie that makes its viewers question what reality actually is. The movie tells the story of Thomas Anderson, or Neo, and his transition from his life in the Matrix—an artificial reality of which all humans are connected, to reality—a world in which robots have enslaved the human race and harvest them for energy. While watching this film, the viewer is exposed to gripping visual effects and intense metaphysical quandaries.
The reality in The Matrix is a classic depiction of a dystopia. In the “real world,” humans are bred by the robots, and then put into pods of goo for nutritional sustenance; the goo is actually the liquefied bodies of the dead, showing what an efficient society the robots have created. They are then plugged into the Matrix, which allows the humans to physically sense the program through neural stimulation and perceive it as reality. Once secured in the pods and the Matrix, the humans are then harvested for their body heat and brain activity to use as energy to fuel the robots. The citizens are under a shroud of ignorance where there is nothing seemingly wrong, yet there are terrifying underlying issues administrated by the ruling class, or robots.
The Matrix, while unique, shares many similarities with other utopian works. The robots in the film can be compared to the gold caste in Plato’s Republic, while the humans can be considered the iron or bronze caste. Instead of using the ‘myth of metals’ from Hesiod’s Works and Days, the film uses the Matrix program itself as its ‘noble lie.’ The gold caste (robots) knows that what the iron/bronze caste (humans) believes is a lie, yet they maintain it so society can run smoothly. The Matrix itself is quite unique however, as it uses an entire virtual reality to fool its citizens. While suppression of the population has been used in almost every utopian work, never has it been done in such a convincing way as The Matrix.
While the Matrix is proposed to be a realistic and non-utopian society, for humans at least, the movie mentioned that the first version of the program was designed to be utopian. In the original program, there were no hungry, no poor, no murders, and everything was perfect; however, because of its perfection, many human minds could not process it and thus disconnected from the Matrix, killing the humans, and depriving the robots of their energy. The Matrix had to be revised to allow imperfections in the human’s world so that they find it believable. Because of this, the movie posits that humans need imperfections to live in their utopia, making the Matrix a ‘perfectly imperfect’ utopia.
After Neo was freed from his pod, he joined the other freed humans on a spaceship; the Matrix took place in the late 1990’s, but reality was far into the future. Neo joined a rebellion group of humans who were fighting to destroy the machines and restore humanity. While everyone on the ship shared this goal, there was one member, Cypher, who felt quite differently. After seeing the dismal real world, Cypher regretted ever leaving his comfortable life in the Matrix, and conspired against his crew so that he may return with no memory of escape. During off hours, Cypher plugged himself into the Matrix and made this deal with Agent Smith, the program’s enforcer and overseer. This occurrence makes the viewer ask him or herself this question—would I want to go back into the Matrix?
This is a simple question for some, but a difficult question for many. Entering and exiting the Matrix is comparable to Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave’. Those inside the cave are contempt, but are shown nothing but lies which they perceive as true; however, once one leaves the cave, he/she may wish to abandon society and continue to seek truth, or seek the security and stability of the cave. While Neo and the rest of the crew were members of the first group, Cypher was a member of the latter. If those who exited the cave tried to re-enter in hopes of bringing the others out, the others would oust the freed men and insist he is mad; this is why Cypher wanted no memory of his time out of the Matrix. Cypher chose to believe that ignorance is bliss.
Since so many believe the Matrix is reality, does that in fact make it real? This is the metaphysical component of the movie. Although the Matrix is factually an illusion, it is what the majority of people consider to be ‘real’. Life inside the Matrix is completely believable, and is so realistic that it manages to restrain the entire human race. Because of its perception, the Matrix can certainly qualify as reality, since it is the human’s reality. Similarly to the cave, the people inside insist that what they are seeing is real, and the stories of the freed are false. There is no way to prove that what the freed are saying is real, but unlike the cave, those in the Matrix couldn’t be freed in a manner as simple as undoing shackles.
This is the scariest and most surreal aspect of The Matrix, as we cannot prove that it isn’t actually happening right now. No person can prove we aren’t living in a Matrix, while our real bodies are immersed in the remains of the dead. Nobody can prove that the phones we hold in our hands, or the streets we walk on actually exist. Especially with the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, could this be where we are heading, or has it already happened and we simply aren’t aware?
Aside from the metaphysical aspect of this movie, the true question to takeaway is regarding if the viewer will be a truth seeker, or a cave dweller. Do you want to know the truth, or are you content with being appeased by falsehoods? This is not an easy question to answer, and is exactly why The Matrix is hailed as an all-time movie classic.