Ideology Reloaded

The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix (1999)

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There is something inherently naïve about taking the “philosophical” underpinning of The Matrix series seriously and discussing its implications. The Wachowski brothers, who wrote and directed the films, are not philosophers, but just two guys who flirt with and exploit, in an often confused way, some “postmodern” and New Age notions in the service of science fiction. But The Matrix is one of those films that function as a kind of Rorschach test, setting in motion the universalized process of recognition, like the proverbial painting of God that seems always to stare directly at you from wherever you look at it—practically every orientation seems to recognize itself in it.

My Lacanian friends are telling me that the authors must have read Lacan. The Frankfurt School partisans see in The Matrix the extrapolated embodiment of Kulturindustrie, directly taking over, colonizing our inner life itself, using us as the source of energy. New Agers see how our world is just a mirage generated by a global Mind embodied in the World Wide Web. Or the series is a baroque illustration of Plato’s cave, in which ordinary humans are prisoners, tied firmly to their seats and compelled to watch the shadowy performance of (what they falsely consider to be) reality—in short, the position of the cinema spectators themselves.

This search for the philosophical content of The Matrix is therefore a lure, a trap to be avoided. Such readings that project into the film refined philosophical or psychoanalytic conceptual distinctions are effectively much inferior to a naïve immersion that I witnessed when I saw The Matrix at a local theater in Slovenia. I had the unique opportunity to sit close to a man in his late twenties who was so engrossed in the film that he repeatedly disturbed other spectators with loud exclamations like: “My God, wow, so there is no reality! So we are all puppets!”

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on June 6th, 2003. (full text).]

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