Postmodernism in The Matrix

The Matrix is a film bursting with imagery and ideas that attempt to convey the principles of Baudrillard’s postmodern theory. The film begins by tipping off the viewer that something is not quite right with the world when Trinity, discovered in an abandoned hotel by a group of police, proceeds to kill them all with unnatural, inhuman speed and agility. When more police and two agents arrive, Trinity leads them on a chase where she eventually jumps an impossible distance from roof top to roof top, and only the agent can follow as the police gape.

Trinity eventually reaches her destination, a particular phone booth, and once she answers the phone, she disappears. In the next scene, we meet Neo, who anonymously watches a chat room called The Matrix as the occupants debate what the Matrix is. Suddenly, an anonymous message appears, asking, “do you want to know what the Matrix is, Neo?” (Matrix). This leads Neo to attend a party where he comes face to face with Trinity, who explains “I brought you here to warn you, Neo. You are in a lot of danger. . . They’re watching you.

Something happened and they found out about you. Normally, if our target is exposed we let it go. But this time, we can’t do that” (ibid.). Here, we know that the threatening presence she speaks of has something to do with the agents. In regards to the question Trinity asked Neo earlier, she warns him that “no one should look for the answer unless they have to because once you see it, everything changes. Your life and the world you live in will never be the same” (ibid.). The viewer, also in the dark, must wait until Neo comes into this knowledge in order to understand.

The very next day the situation escalates quickly when a cell phone is delivered to Neo at his office and Morpheus warns him that “they’re coming for you” (ibid.). Morpheus, like Trinity earlier, demonstrates an eerie knowledge of what is in the process of happening. Neo attempts to escape from the agents and police, but is taken into custody. Agent Smith offers to dismiss all of Neo’s computer crimes if he helps them catch Morpheus, because “he is wanted for acts of terrorism in more countries than any other man in the world.

He is considered by many authorities to be the most dangerous man alive” (ibid.). This is an instance in which it is clear that the controlling force, the agent, does not want anyone interfering with or going against the system of control. Because Neo will not cooperate, the agents make his mouth seal shut and then insert an animated tracking device which burrows into his navel. But when Neo wakes up in his bed, it is unclear whether this was a dream or reality.

More allusions to the dream world are made when Neo finally meets Morpheus. Morpheus tells him that he has “the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. . . Ironically, this is not far from the truth.” This is because “simulation threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false,’ between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary,” (Baudrillard, Jean. p. 483) and we come to learn that the Matrix is simulation. Morpheus further explains that the Matrix is

“That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me[. . .] The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth[. . .] you, like everyone else, was born into bondage” (The Matrix).

Neo chooses to swallow the red pill and Morpheus, with the help of the other hackers, literally wakes Neo up in the real world. The real world, unfortunately, finds Neo bald and naked in a pod full of gelatinous substance, IVs in his arms and even plugged into the base of his skull. He is surrounded by an endless amount of other humans in pods. We come to learn that a war broke out between man and machine that “raged for generations” and “scorched and burned the sky” (ibid.) The machines, once dependent on solar power, realized that they could use human beings as a source of energy as long as they didn’t know what was happening, “and so they built a prison out of our past, wired it to our brains and turned us into slaves” (ibid.).

Morpheus shows Neo what Chicago actually looks like at present, burned and destroyed, and tells him that he has been “living inside Baudrillard’s vision, inside the map, not the territory” (ibid.). This refers to Baudrillard’s theory that “the territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory” (Baudrillard 482). In other words, the real no longer exists because everything becomes simulated.

However, Morpheus describes the burned Chicago as “the desert of the real” (The Matrix) after welcoming Neo to “the real world” (ibid.) and I contend that this is an incorrect use of the phrase. Indeed, in the case of the film, the people being used as batteries are living in the map, but since “simulation is no longer that of a territory” (Baudrillard 482) it is no longer that of anything real. There is no real world, only the desert of the real. But later, even another character, Cypher, reiterates, “Welcome to the real world!” (The Matrix).

Because the Matrix is “an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real” (Rovira 2) without being real, the Matrix strives to render the real useless; “never again will the real have a chance to produce itself” (ibid.).

The film, however, rescues itself from such a dismal ending by making Neo into “the One,” a Christ like figure who possesses amazing powers within the Matrix. From the beginning, all the characters wonder whether or not Neo is the One. Morpheus explains that:

“When the Matrix was first built there was a man born inside that had the ability to change what he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was this man that freed the first of us and taught us the secret of the war; control the Matrix and you control the future. When he died, the Oracle at the temple of Zion prophesied his return and envisioned an end to the war and freedom for our people. That is why there are those of us that have spent our entire lives searching the Matrix, looking for him” (The Matrix).

Neo proves that he is the One first by completing a dangerous rescue mission to save Morpheus from the agents and then by returning to life after he has been killed inside the Matrix. At the end of the film, Neo informs the super computer that “I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see[. . .] a world without you, a world without rules or controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you” (ibid.).

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