20 years on - trying to make sense of The Matrix
Posted on 11th June 2019
The other day, I was trying to explain “The Matrix” to someone very old. His view, after I’d described the details of the plot, was that clearly a lot of drugs had been used in coming up with the idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great film: after all, the same accusation has been made (incorrectly) about Walt Disney’s Fantasia and it is regarded as one of the greatest animations ever made.
So why am I writing about The Matrix anyway? Simples – it’s the 20th anniversary of its release and while the film was a sci-fi /fantasy blockbuster, it foresaw some of the ways in which life might change – indeed already is changing today. That said, trying to describe the film to someone who hasn’t seen it is difficult. For example, this is the first sentence from the Wikipedia description of the plot:
“A woman is cornered by police in an abandoned hotel; after overpowering them with superhuman abilities, a group of sinister superhuman grey green-suited Agents leads the police in a rooftop pursuit. She answers a ringing public telephone and vanishes.”
From then on it gets fiendishly complicated, what with red and blue pills (not those ones – they hadn’t been invented when the Matrix was made), human minds being harvested for bioelectric power by intelligent machines, an all-powerful saviour of the human race “the One,” the visual effect known as “bullet time,” and an ending where the goodies (including Keanu Reeves, pictured here) win and fly off into the sunset (well, the sky at least), thus leaving plenty of opportunities for a couple of lucrative sequels.
Got that? No, didn’t think so. If you haven’t seen it then you simply can’t take it all in easily, so make a make a point of watching it and make up your own mind. You’ll either love it or be so flummoxed that you need to return to reality with a screening of The Sound of Music or Kelly’s Heroes (other films are available).
A-n-y-w-a-y… the whole point of this is that the Matrix is an unreal, virtual world. Those living in it are unaware of their situation. While not quite a parallel universe (cf. Terry Pratchett’s Dungeon Dimensions), there are echoes of a world we seem to be sliding into ourselves. As we become more and more in thrall to the power of AI, the idea of an unworldly environment becomes more commonplace. Take, for example, the use being made of VR in place of conventional anaesthesia in surgical operations, or, on a more prosaic level, the ways in which your toddlers immerse themselves in the unreal world of Disney’s Princesses. Go on any suburban train out of London, Glasgow or Edinburgh and, if you can look up from your own phone, watch just how many people are actually living in the real world of humans and how many are in the manufactured world of games, WhatsApp and funny videos on YouTube. It’s 20 years since the Matrix came out, but what will the next twenty years bring – apart from a possible need for more frequent use of those blue pills?
Michael Phair, Be-IT
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