Not for the first time in recent times has my mind returned to the Wachowski’s Brother’s Film ‘The Matrix’. I was an infant when Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in the late 1960s so missed totally how that Film was received at the time, yet was totally aware of the Apollo 11 Moon shot and its historical significance. Even though I eventually saw 2001 some two decades after its release, I could still appreciate it as a landmark Film of the Science Fiction genre because without it, there would have been no ‘Star Wars’, no ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, no ‘Superman: The Movie’ nor ‘Alien’ (another Film that redefined the genre by merging Horror into Sci-Fi). These are Films I had seen long before I saw 2001 but when I saw who worked on the above films and noted that many had also worked on 2001, I clearly saw just why 2001 was the landmark Science Fiction Film it was, simply because it ushered in the era of the Modern Science Fiction Movie. Some may argue with the following point but Douglas Trumbull’s ‘Silent Running’ and Gerry Anderson’s ‘Space 1999’ aside, no other sci-fi concept really took up Kubrick’s 2001 baton and ran with it until the latter half of the 1970s. Nicholas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ is another exception but when viewed against Star Wars and so many other films that followed, even though it is an Earthbound Story about an Extraterrestrial coming to Earth to save his planet, it seems like a film made on another planet entirely. But then 2001 was unlike any Sci-Fi film that came before it or after so in that context Nicholas Roeg’s Film is up there with 2001 and the best of them. But I digress.
When The Matrix was released in 1999, I was now in my late thirties so was well placed to receive a film that was as big a landmark to the Sci-Fi genre as Kubrick’s 2001 was thirty years previously but for different reasons, yet producing similar results. Let me explain:-
- 2001 had very little dialogue throughout the film and whatever dialogue that took place, was stilted. No one really talks on a real conversational level. Even though most of the Film is set in Space, we never see what Society is really like in 2001. The only real glimpse we get is via the ‘BBC 12 Channel News Programme anchored by Kenneth Kendall (who was a real life BBC Newscaster at the time of the Film’s production. That aside, one is left with the impression that Mankind has reached an evolutionary dead end and something needs to happen. There seems to be little in the way of innovation and everything seems automated. Even the Astronauts come across as maintenance men onboard The Odyssey. In fact the only real personality and emotion comes from The Odyssey’s onboard computer HAL.
- The Matrix is the complete opposite and is teaming with life and environment. The World of the Matrix is a World and Society we recognise because it is our own albeit an American one but a Society we recognise nevertheless. People are going about their business, working and living out their lives in the very same way we do because it is our world. We don’t need to think about what is happening in the Film because it is all explained to us via plenty of dialogue and action. Yet The Matrix uses the very same key to understanding the Movie that 2001 uses in understanding the whole concept of that movie and that key is to think about world that encompasses the whole film.
While both films are fascinating for their respective time periods, the reason both films transcend Time, is the concept that underpins the story in each Film. Not to mention the cutting edge special effects that created a new level and standard in special effects technology.
The Matrix is set in the far future. It may be 2099 or 2199, we are never really sure but what we know is that some time in the 21st Century the machines and artificial intelligence (AI) developed by humans rebel and take over the world and the human race. The humans in a last ditch attempt to prevent the takeover, block out the sun, the source of the machine’s energy and power. Without their original power source, the machines succeed in taking over the world and eventually use the surviving human population as an energy source as humans give off energy, in order to ensure their survival. With Humans now under their control, the AI disables all humans and places them in life-size liquid vats, inserting a computer simulation programme into their minds based on the world of 1999. Unbeknown to the human race now, they are living their lives in a computer generated world, while at the same time acting as a power source for the machines.
However, over time, some humans manage to break free of their mental and physical prison and begin the process of releasing others in an effort to re-establish freedom for the human race. It should be noted a Human City called ‘Zion’ is mentioned but never seen. So not everyone was enslaved by the machines.
That’s the whole film in a nutshell of sorts. But here is the point:-
The irony about this concept is that there is an element of truth in it – ‘The Brain in Vat’ notion. Many people today live in a mental prison not developed by some AI system but one developed by themselves or what they choose to believe. I believe this is the true message of the film and what the writers are trying to tell us.
The Film begins by showing the main protagonist Thomas A. Anderson/Neo (played by Keanu Reeves,) who is living quite a limited life (like many of us,) who knows something is not quite right with his existence but cannot quite put his finger on what it. It is then revealed to him that what he is experiencing isn’t real at all but just a computer-generated representation of a world and society that no longer exists. He is or rather he was plugged into a system called ‘The Matrix’.
What is startling even now, some fifteen years after the Film came out, is many people still live their lives like this. They have their own perception of reality and a list of rules regarding what they will experience and what is possible or not possible. One person can experience happiness through just being alive for another day, while others will need a big house, fast car and a perfect partner. What is possible varies from one person to another. We all have our own interpretation of reality and within that reality we make things possible or impossible in our mind. In other words, we make choices as to what is possible and what is not.
Think about this:-
- There was a time when everyone thought the world was flat until one man Pythagoras started to think and believe differently.
- There was a time when everyone thought it was impossible to run a mile under four minutes, then one man Roger Bannister decided it could be done and went out and did it. After he ran it he said:-
- “No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with Nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed”.
- Sound vaguely familiar? Like a certain Film we are discussing?
- The feat has been achieved less than four minutes by many more runners. Why? Well, someone proved it was possible.
- What you see, your perception of what is possible or what you experience is dictated by YOU – No one else.
So you might ask: Gennis, just what has this got to do with anything? You are Actor, The Matrix is just a Sci-Fi Film, a fantasy. It is not real. Good question, good points. What is not a Sci-Fi Film or a Fantasy and is totally real is You and Your Life – The one you choose to live. But there are similarities to what I am talking about here and the movie ‘The Matrix’. Consider this scene from the Film:-
- Neo is offered a choice. He can stay in his dream world that seems real or he can wake up and start living in the real world. He has to choose by taking a blue pill to stay the same or a red pill which will change everything. If he chooses the latter, he can never go back to the way things were.
The question you need to ask yourself is: What would your choice be? Which would you choose?
Are you going to stay within your safe and secure boundaries and beliefs or are you going to free yourself, rip up the rulebook and become the person you have always wanted t be. Maybe you are already that person. If so, congratulations.
Whatever decision you make, I wish you every happiness on your journey through Life.