Philosophy in 'The Matrix': Whoa, Indeed

By Reese, Joel | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

Philosophy in 'The Matrix': Whoa, Indeed


Reese, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer

To many moviegoers, the lengthy philosophical ruminations in "The Matrix Reloaded" only detract from the jaw-dropping special effects, the dapper costumes and the massive rave.

So when Neo (Keanu Reeves) waxes theoretical about the conflict between predestination and free will, the unenlightened are impatiently munching on their popcorn and waiting for the cool motorcycle chase.

Which is unfortunate. Because to skip the film's substantial philosophical and religious overtones is to overlook what separates the "Matrix" movies from typical empty-headed blockbuster fare.

"Unlike 'Terminator' or 'Independence Day,' the 'Matrix' films weave serious philosophical and spiritual themes in with their special effects," says Glenn Yeffeth, editor of the book, "Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in 'The Matrix.'"

Even the main idea behind the two "Matrix" films is weighty: The central concept is that machines have taken over the world.

These machines need humans to provide them with bio-electrical energy, so the automatons imprison people in small pods and siphon away their life force.

In order to keep the humans happy in their unconscious state, the machines created the Matrix, a simulated world where the people think they're living a real life. (Meanwhile, their physical bodies are kept in a near-comatose condition.)

So to grasp the undercurrents within "The Matrix Reloaded," here's a refresher course on a few of the film's deeper implications.

- Jean Baudrillard

The basic idea for the "Matrix" films stems from the work of French social theorist Jean Baudrillard, who argued that our modern society has alienated us from reality.

"To put it simply, Baudrillard said we are losing the distinction between the real and the artificial," Yeffeth says. "That unreal world, of course, is the Matrix, which is completely artificial."

The first "Matrix" film directly references Baudrillard's theories when Neo hands over a pirated disc from within a hollowed- out Baudrillard book.

In the first movie, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) tells Neo he has been living in a fully fictitious world by welcoming him to the "desert of the real" - a quote from Baudrillard's epochal work, "Simulacra and Simulation."

The Matrix is an allegorical embodiment of Baudillard's theory, since this world does not exist in a tangible, physical sense.

"According to Baudrillard, our society has become so reliant on models and maps that we have lost all contact with the real world that preceded the map," says Purdue University assistant English professor Dino Felluga. …

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