Academic journal article Film Criticism

Mastering the Real: Trinity as the "Real" Hero of the Matrix

Academic journal article Film Criticism

Mastering the Real: Trinity as the "Real" Hero of the Matrix

Article excerpt

Many recent films seem concerned with how human beings relate to simulated environments. The Truman Show (1998), Pleasantville (1998), Dark City (1998), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), and Existenz (1999), among others, all depict alternate realities created to simulate the real world. The protagonists are forced to deal not merely with human conflict but conflicts with the nature of reality in the face of these alternatives. Many of these films--especially films like The Thirteenth Floor and Existenz--seem to have a curious underlying project that involves a desire to create and, in doing so, to possess reality. At the same time, there is a significant move against this notion in some of these films. Most notable of these kinds of films that reveal a backlash against and fear of simulation is The Truman Show, in which Truman, whose entire life has been filmed in a gigantic television studio, is broadcast to the "real world" without his knowledge. Truman's initial ignorance of the simulation that he lives in mirrors most other films of this sort, but his reaction against it and effort to break through the simulation to reality is a definitively negative response to the idea of simulation itself. The very nature of Truman's situation and the medium of the simulation--television--has a very direct relationship to this favoring of the real over the simulation.

Television is a passive and voyeuristic medium, making Truman not an agent but a subject of the camera's eye, which is an omniscient force in his life that creates a parallel between the director behind the camera and God. The notion that life itself may be a kind of simulation is one possible reaction of the audience of the actual movie (not the fictional television show). The same sort of feeling evoked by Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1973) when Vonnegut's protagonist, Dwayne Hoover, decides that he alone is real and that everything that exists around him exists only to test his reactions in some great, unknowable cosmic experiment is found in viewing The Truman Show this way. (1) This idea may seem somewhat at odds with my description of how the film's theme concerns an animosity toward simulation. Instead, it would seem that the film is one that grapples with more traditional religious and philosophical concerns about determinism, predestination, will, freedom, and--even more classically--Fate. These notions underlie many of the core concerns of contemporary postmodern thought.

The hyperreal, defined by Jean Baudrillard, is an ontology neither real nor simulated, but instead it is a view of ontology defined by the radical negation of referents. Baudrillard clarifies what he means by hyperreal by differentiating between the definitions of the real, claiming "the definition of the real has become that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction, and the hyperreal is that which is always being reproduced" (146). Thus in our contemporary culture the sign exists, but not the signified, or as Baudrillard describes, "The cool universe of digitality has absorbed the world of metaphor and metonymy. The principle of simulation wins out over the reality principle" (152). This view is especially relevant to themes that concern the tension between determinism and free will. If a human being is simply a passive subject in a cosmic experiment whose life is artificially designed for this experiment, then what value do his or her actions have or represent? Truman's escape from the simulation suggests that to be a part of the real is more meaningful than being the subject of a simulation.

This sense of the value of the real seems to be very much akin to that of The Matrix (2000). In the film, the protagonist Neo is awakened to the fact that what he thought was reality--a late twentieth-century America--is in actuality a virtual reality environment that all human beings have been "plugged into" by machines. These machines had developed self-awareness and had fought back against their oppressors, human beings who once "enslaved" the machines as tools to serve at humanity's convenience. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.