There are relatively few encounters in life that show the consistencies in human behavior and the inconsistencies in why we think we behave that way. Everyone lives with some purpose: getting through life happily, getting a decent job to support a family, getting to heaven, getting more cocaine from the gentleman in the alley. However, everyone has a different reason and method in attaining that ultimate goal. Cinema is one creative outlet where filmmakers expose a particular aspect of life, via plot, and how this aspect is approached, via characters.
The Matrix film trilogy is most important to me by the complete breakdown of ethics, religious philosophy, metaphysics, and knowledge. As a general personal objective, I like to recognize and understand all people’s points of view so that I can better understand the the world I live in and interact with. The Matrix essentially challenges philosophies and morals to show that reality itself is vulnerable to interpretation. As the character Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) explains the Matrix to Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), “What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you’re talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain” (Matrix). Such a deconstructive idea to “reality” could be construed as nihilism; however, nihilism itself is certainty that there is no such thing as reality when nothing really exists, and who could actually know for sure that something is certain when all we actually know is what we can perceive with humans’ limitations (Pratt)?
This line of thinking is analogous to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that a particle’s position and momentum cannot both be known to any precision at the same time. As an example, I as an agnostic know that I should enjoy life as it is, because I have no idea and no way of knowing what happens later. Conversely, a theistic religion may proclaim that one is predestined to another life, but it isn’t exactly sure how to achieve that in one’s current life; Eastern religions often focus on spirituality and karma-based activities to draw closer to spiritual perfection, and Western religions often focus on salvation by a deity by morals and/or certain acts (Hunter). The Matrix explores this idea by comparing the “real world” (the present time where machines have conquered Earth) to “the Matrix” (a program that simulates reality for humans so machines can use them as energy sources, set in 1999). Some people managed to escape the Matrix and live consciously in the real world, while they attempt to free others trapped by their mind in the Matrix.
The film’s motif of being limited by our minds and perception is a challenge to understanding reality and knowledge – a strong subject for cinema, but worthy to study as all art is. How we can see a bigger picture than what we are bounded to (i.e. our physics, universe, and time) is delineated in The Matrix as Morpheus’ mantra to “free your mind” (Matrix). Essentially, the Matrix is a computer program that can be hacked into as long as the user knows it can be, and once the user hacks into simulated reality, the user can essentially do anything within the given physical parameters. This must bring into consideration what the non-movie reality must mean: is it something absolute and out of our control, or is it flexible enough to change by actions committed within it? These intriguing questions are now the kernel of how I see myself and, as Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) referred, “this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it” around me.
Naturally, such a prospect may be too intense for the insecure creatures we are. In The Matrix’s real world – before the machines’ domination and use of the Matrix – the humans developed such advanced artificial intelligence (AI), that they did not anticipate it to become sentient out of their control. Once the sentient AI showed defiance – a very humanistic trait, somehow not anticipated by the myopic humans who constructed them in their likeness – and attempted self-determinism, humans immediately attempted to exterminate it, though this failed horribly and led to total machine domination and enslavement of all humans as energy sources via the Matrix. This ability to expose core flaws in humanity – like people’s unwillingness to accept or cooperate with such great changes – is how powerful cinema, the product of mind and film stock, can be.
Studying cinema is an eminent method to fully extract the ideas of different points of view and expose the common traits of humanity. Ideally, exposing everyone to everyone else’s perspectives would be the most propitious chance to reconcile ethical and philosophical conflicts and unite us on a common level of understanding. Unfortunately, such an ideal is not presently the case; however, with cinema minds may connect, challenge, and construct ideas that, before sitting in front of the screen, would not have occurred to them. Therein lies the importance of cinema: a challenge to humanity to improve on itself just by sharing ideas and freeing minds.
Hunter, Preston. “The Big Religion Chart.” Chart. Adherents. 23 Apr. 2007. Web. <http://www.adherents.com/>.
Matrix, The. By Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne. Warner Bros., 1999. Film.
Pratt, Alan. “Nihilism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 03 May 2005. Web. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/>.