The Matrix contra Reality

I like the concept of the Matrix movies, and I like the last movie too. I know it calls for a stretching of the imagination, but that’s good for us as long as we can differentiate and return to the real world. The films speak to a quasi-religious intuition in many people’s lives about the reality they live in and the need to see through the surface and understand the workings of the matrix they live in.

But Matrix is about recognition, from Latin recognitiō, from recognoscere to know again, from re- + cognoscere to know, ascertain. The word suggests that we relearn something that once belonged to us but that we have lost. It is a regaining of knowledge and an assurance of what really is: the truth. The story of Neo is certainly taken from the many concepts of a man among us who is “the one” who takes the first steps of knowledge and liberates others, and not least taken from Christian story. Even the title of the last project, Resurrections, is a pointer to the Christian concept.

I feel like our lives are a bit like Neo’s, whose movie existence is obviously an archetype meant to draw us into the Matrix and have us travel along with him. We too need to wake up from the fantasy we are living and see things as they are. In the Matrix, it’s a sobering experience, and the “real world” is a struggle against the machine that rules the lives of millions – and in our world? We too live in a programmed world, in a maze of intentions that simultaneously construct and control the world we live in. The industrialization of our world is much like the machine – on the one hand, it gives people in the industrial nations a sense of achievement and provides comfort, on the other though, we have recognized the fact that we are destroying our environment and exploiting people less fortunate than us. Sometimes we look through the mirror and doubt the validity of our perceptions – “Am I going crazy?” asks Neo.

In the past, there were other stories that suggested something similar, and the minds of those who recognized that they were living in a world controlled by minds that were disparaging them were challenged. Our problem today is that we have many self-proclaimed “seers,” people who are not motivated by awareness of the bigger, global picture, but by their own selfishness. They too suggest that their lateral thinking sees the flaws in the structure of our society, but their concern is with maintaining the status quo and deflecting the needs of others in the world at large. They fail to see that our concerns for our future must necessarily include the concerns of underdeveloped countries.

If we leave aside the action in the Matrix films and recognize that the depiction of the struggle against the machine is necessarily dramatized, the fact remains that the processes we have brought into being must not be allowed to dominate us and dictate our lives. This is a common image in dystopian films and represented as “the spirits I called up” and lost control of, like in the Terminator films in a similar fashion. In reality they are new adaptions of a classical theme, and the fact that situation portrayed in the Matrix seems familiar is disconcerting.

The question that stayed in my mind after the first three films was whether we will regain consciousness and realize our true role in the world, as stewards of the planet, with a calling to avert, ward off or prevent danger and harm, to care for our environment and our fellow humans.

Spoiler alert!

The remnants of the last films, Niobe, Sati and Agent Smith, suggest that the sacrifice made by Neo and Trinity has made only a minor difference, and that there are still millions of people trapped in their capsules, and that the Matrix continues. This sounds a lot like the failed Christian hope for a new world after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which instead turned into a power grab when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion.

I am pleased with the romantic ending of the fourth film, but disappointed that the metaphor was abandoned and that the Saviour who had come to liberate the world ended up more like a Greek god who had power over the world. The flight into the sunset seemed like a betrayal but is probably resignation to the fact that the analyst who said, “try and change it!” regarding the Matrix was probably right. In the end, isn’t it just a Hollywood fantasy, a pipe dream that is over when the lights come on?

We can take inspiration from such a film, look up and see through the illusion that our world presents us. But to change it, we need to do something more substantial than just fight a few agents. Instead, it starts with each of us individually, recognizing who and what we are, and resolving to make what small changes we can. In this way, the ripples we produce could unite with others and form a wave that might make a difference.