“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
For me, the appeal of the 1999 movie The Matrix is simple. It’s not the shades and black leather outfits; it’s not the ultraviolence. Those I could do without, although I did enjoy the noir style of the beginning, particularly the scene of the black caddy under the bridge in a rainstorm. The movie works for me because I read it as a straightforward condemnation of two powerful forces, corporations and media.
Corporations are the machines, the media the simulation.
In the abstract, and disregarding the fact that I work for one, corporations are similar to Frank Herberts’ sand worms — a gullet with no eyes and no heart. They run on that famous engine called profit, which in turn feeds on the environment, people, anything that will keep it stoked. The intelligence of the corporation is unconnected to the organic systems upon which life depends; their one reason for being is to replicate profits, even if it means the creation of conditions antithetical to human life. They’re less than bright that way.
Only laws built to serve the common good can keep this force in check, yet corporations have wrested law-making authority from the people, governments from their connection to populations. Nearly every top job in the Bush administration, for example, is filled by a former corporate executive previously dedicated to subverting laws that make sense for old-fashioned, organic people, but not for modern corporate entities.
But back to the movie. The artificial intelligence Morpheus speaks of – the beginning of the great calamity – is analogous to the artificial personhood of the corporation and the artificial reality of TV.
It’s no accident that Morpheus’ speech to Neo on how the world was brought to its ghastly state features a blank room with two battered armchairs and a TV set, both circa the 1950s, the era of the birth of broadcast television. It is in this setting that Morpheus speaks of the “birth of AI.” Whether an electronic media mirage or a computer simulation, the end result is greater control, and a collective mind sold on the “wisdom” of machine or corporate rule, as the case may be.
Kurt Vonnegut articulated this modern-day dread in his Clemens Lecture presented in April for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. “We have suffered a technological calamity,” he said. “Television is now our form of government.”
I haven’t seen The Matrix sequel yet, and I don’t see the need for one, except, ironically, its ability to keep the audience plugged in. The ending of the first was perfect, leaving the revolution that would free humanity up to the imagination, underscoring the point Morpheus makes to Neo: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
In other words, it is incumbent upon everybody to wake the fuck up.
“… you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”