Ray Levasseur (c) June ,2001
"Welcome to the real world."
I recently viewed my copy of The Matrix last week for about the 15th time. When the movie made it's rounds of the various theaters, I had little to no interest in seeing it, as I was not a huge fan of Keanu Reeves. I got a call from an old boss and friend who was also very much into Sci-Fi, conspiracy, technology and alternative realities. He insisted that I "must" see this film, since he and his wife had rented a copy and it blew them away.
My best friend, companion and confidant, Paul was in the final few weeks of his life when I purchased a copy on DVD. It sat, still in it's wrapper on my coffee table for a good 6 weeks before I decided to give the disk a spin in my player. It was a rainy Saturday night, and from the first 5 minutes I knew The Matrix had me. There are not many movies that captivate my attention the way this film did, but you must remember I'm a techno junkie from way back. The background music, special effects and dialogue got into my head. When the ending credits rolled I though, "whew! what a rush!"
On the surface I could have dismissed its just so much sizzle, with very little steak, all visual pyrotechnics and no substance, but The Matrix spoke to me on a number of levels. In other words, it was a thought provoking movie (for me) and left me laying awake in bed half the night, contemplating what I had just watched. I have watched way too many Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror films that had no lasting value; that I was sure I would never watch again. You could have stripped out all the Kung Fu and action, and I still would have been blown away by the film.
I've read a number of analyses of the Matrix's story line and agree with a subtle Christian parallel. When Jesus walked among the masses he knew that most were in a comfortable state of numbness. To the seeker he offered the equivalent of the red or the blue pill. Those that took the red pill heard his word and followed him, others did not, taking the blue pill. They did not want their reality challenged. As Jesus said, "it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven." A rich man stands to lose too much in the material dream world. To throw it all away for a new life, which very well could be a harsher one than he was accustomed to is too high a price. In the movie, taking the red pill and seeing the matrix for what it really is was a shock to Neo, and enough to make Cipher (Judas) sell out Morpeus and the rebels for a comfortable dream life back in the Matrix. As he said to agent Smith, "I don't want to remember anything. Reinsert me back into the matrix, make me rich, perhaps a movie star." I won't delve any further into the religious parallels here. The movie was not a religious experience for me, but I can see where some reviews make the connection.
The basic story (plus or minus a bunch of visual effects and plot twists) has been told many times before, people having their comfortable world rocked by some revelation. Perhaps I liked the movie in part because I identified with Neo. I was always inquisitive and from youth suspected there was much more to reality than I was taught. I always knew something was not quite right in the world and was always digging, digging, looking for answers, whe most of my peers were content just going along for the ride.
I hit my early adult prime in the last 60's when "Question Authority" and "What is reality?" were mantras chanted by the counter culture. I was never into drugs, but in 1969 took LSD once, to see what was behind the veil. My reaction to that acid trip was like Neo's when Morpheus solemly said, "Welcome to the real world." I never did acid again, since it scared the living bejezus out of me, but what I learned helped me 10 years later to better understand what made me and everyone else tick.
During the early 70's I was in college and had a good friend who was like Morpheus. Noel had the mannerisms and wisdom of the Morpheus character. We may have been chronological peers, but as far as mental and spiritual, he was teacher and guide. I had fallen asleep, falling into the everyday rat race, more more more. On my occasions he challenged my concept of what reality was. The material world was just window dressing and he asked if I really wanted to see the bigger picture. Years later, in the light of sobriety I would uncover many of the lies myself. The problem with this was whenever I shared my revelations, I was put down, silenced or ridiculed.
During my drinking days I drank to forget, it was my blue pill. I think that many people get lost in drugs and alcohol to kill the pain and fear of a reality that is too painful to face head on. They all know that we're being lied to by our leaders, there is no justice, and there is a very grim reality that can be covered up by drugs, or playing role game that society dictates. I learned that after taking thered pill, you can never fully be reinserted back into the Matrix; you now know too much. One major factor that keeps me sober is remembering where I came from, and in good conscience I could never return to my safe, comfortable place, lost in oblivion.
So on this level, the movie worked for me and serves as a parable about awakening truthes that most avoid examining. I once wrote a journal about what might happen, if tomorrow all the technological wizardry we take for granted suddenly disappeared; no TV, radio, cell phones, internet, stereos, VCR's, the electricity stopped and all engines of modern society ground to a halt. Almost certainly, society as we know it, would collapse overnight. This is interesting in light of humanity continuing just fine before the techno-revolution, for hundreds and thousands of years.
Once the shock wore off, the survivors would have to re-learn how to interact strictly in a face to face manner. For all the lieing wonders and sweet dreams technology has given us, it has probably served most in the alienation of people from one another. On a number of occasions Noel and I had such conversations while sitting in front of his fireplace, sipping scotch, him meditatively puffing on his pipe. He asked me what I would do if all the techno gadgets I spent so much time amassing were to suddenly vanish. As he said, "TV, cars, phones, the stereo we're listening to, the Jazz LP that's playing; all are an illusion, created by other men. This is not the real world." When I asked what the real was, he replied, "Ahhh, could you really face reality, with no distractions."
After 1989 I began seeing the reality behind the curtain, and to be honest, for the most part it is not pretty. My observations have not won me crowds of eager admirers. I was fortunate enough to have encountered a few people like Noel in my life. I'm not sure if they were more like Morpheus or the Oracle that Neo was brought to visit.
There have been a number of movies that moved me to contemplating reality in ways similar and different to the Matrix.
John Carpenter's They Live:
This film does not have the flash and pizazz of the Matrix, but is another film I have watched a number of times. Roddy Piper plays a drifter who wanders into a tent city in search of work. He becomes aware that something is not quite right. Like the Matrix there is an underground oerating out of a church that's manufacturing sun glasses and broadcasting pirate TV broadcasts. As Piper's character learns by accident, the sun glasses all him to see reality as it really is. Seems some aliens pitched camp here and are broadcasting a signal that masks reality. Everywhere there are subliminal messages ordering people to sleep, breed, obey and submit. He has to fight his newly found friend to put on the glasses and see the world as it really is. They Live is worth seeing.
I've also watched this shadowy movie a number of times. Nobody seems to notice that there's never any daylight, and although there are advertisments for a beach, no one has ever been there. The people are all part of an alien experiment where reality is rearranged each night without there knowledge. A very weird tale, worth a viewing.
The Thirteenth Floor
I also enjoy this one, like the Matrix without all the Kung Fu, action and special effects. Set in a software company, the founder has created a virtual reality that knocks your socks off. There are level upon level of realities in this movie, the main characters all being part of an AI program.
There are a number of other good movies dealing with multi-dimensional realities, but their titles escape me now.
I've read a number of good historical anthologies about the Science Fiction genre and how all the paranoid plots about aliens taking over, posessing humans, during the 50's were a metphor for America's fear of Communism invading and taking us over.
Today we are less in control of our lives, with technology either intruding into our privacy, taking over our lives or displacing us from the workforce and wired elite. The Matrix came along at the right time. Since there is a growing distrust of authority, suspicions, the X-Files also showed up for an audience more open to such themes.
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