The Matrix offers an Ultimately Utopian or Dystopian view?

Essay add: 10-03-2016, 10:44   /   Views: 22
Does The Matrix offer an ultimately utopian or dystopian view of information-technology?

The Matrix is a postmodern film about life in the year 2199. The word matrix in terms of computers is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “an interconnected array of diodes, cores, or other circuit elements that has a number of inputs and outputs and somewhat resembles a lattice or grid in its circuit design or physical construction”¹. The film questions whether or not we live in reality or we live in a virtual world. The film claims that we (the human race) live inside our minds and that we are actually plugged into a computer programmer in which we believe we are experiencing reality. The film is based on the idea that artificial intelligence (AI) has taken over the world and that there was a war between the humans and the computers. During the war the humans “scorched the sky” as they thought that the computers would not survive without solar power, however the computers discovered that humans are like batteries and they would provide enough energy to support them. This led to humans being ‘farmed’ by the computers to provide energy. The main character in the film, Neo, is freed from the womb-like capsule his body lives in, by Morpheus who believes that Neo is ‘the one’ who will free the human race.

The film is about information-technology and what can happen if it goes wrong. Because of the amount if information-technology in the film, it links in to postmodernity and the film offers a very postmodern view of the world and our society, especially in the west. Postmodernity is a complex theory that questions whether or not something even exists, “our reality is little more than a consensual hallucination” (William Gibson). Postmodernism is a term that describes the age after the social and technological upheaval of modernism. Information-technology and the media dominate the post-modern world. Information-technology, the Internet, MTV, virtual reality, genetically modified crops, Disneyland, QVC, and The Matrix can all be considered as symptoms of postmodernity. Modernity was a period of change during the early 1900s. During this time everything seemed new. Cinema was becoming more and more popular and also industry and art was changing a dramatic speed, “everywhere life is rushing insanely like a Calvary charge, and it vanishes cinematographically, like trees and silhouettes along a road,” (Octave Mirbeau, 1908). However by the 1960s this modernity ‘train’ had run out of steam. This has resulted in the repetition of history, “History always happens twice. First as a tragedy, then as a farce” (Karl Marx). Postmodernists believe that we live in a world where trends and fashions are recycled rather than anything new taking place. They believe that because of media saturation the ‘real’ is slipping away and we are more interested in the image of the real. For example if we go to a nature reserve, we want to see the nature and wildlife that we would on television, yet we want car parks, clean paths, toilets and food outlets, we want convenience. According to postmodernists, we have become obsessed with image. An example of this is if someone saw their street on television, they would want to tell everyone and they would get excited, even though they see their street everyday. Another example is cosmetic surgery. People can completely change the way they naturally look with surgery, “You wonder whether the world itself isn’t just here to serve as advertising copy in some other world when the only physical beauty is created by plastic surgery” (Jean Baudrillard). One way to explain this is with simulation. Simulation is where the image or the model (simulacra) become more real than the real and we judge the real by the copy, “Everything is destined to reappear as simulation” (Jean Baudrillard). It seems that modernity is concerned that things are running out of control whereas postmodernity is concerned that things are too controlled and this is echoed throughout The Matrix.

Baudrillard’s idea of simulation is echoed in the film not only in its themes but also physically. Baudrillard’s book, Simulations and Simulacra, appears in the film as the place where he keeps his money and disks at the beginning of the film. Baudrillard is a postmodern theorist who believes that postmodernity marks the loss of the real and the increasing simulation of the real world. In his book Simulations and Simulacra he discusses how the ‘real’ no longer exists and that it is being replaced by simulacra in which the real is simulated. This raises a question that is also raised in the film, how can we tell the difference between dream and reality? Neo has problems coming to terms with the idea that he has been living in a virtual reality at first, however as Morpheus explains the situation to him it becomes more believable to him and he begins to accept what has happened to the world. Neo has to get to know himself as well as the Matrix because ultimately he has to defeat the ‘agents’ who are artificial intelligence that take on human form inside the Matrix, just like a video game. To defeat them Neo must learn to realise that reality is what you make it within the Matrix. The oracle helps him to realise this by telling him what he needs to hear.

AI is seen as the enemy in the film and particularly Agent Smith. The Agents kidnap Morpheus because he knows the access codes to the last human city, Zion. Cypher ‘sells out’ and helps the Agents by handing over Morpheus. Cypher creates an interesting dilemma in the film which people in the real world can relate to. Would you rather live a life that is artificial where you are well off or would you rather live without the luxuries, but knowing that you are actually living rather than living just through your mind. Agent Smith tells Morpheus about how the first version of the Matrix was a perfect world, a utopia, however it failed because humans couldn’t function without all of the greed, disease and misery. Smith believes he (it?) is a superior being compared to humans. He compares the human race to a cancer. He talks about how humans find somewhere to live and they consume all of the resources around them until they are all gone. This links in with Baudrillard’s ideas that information-technology, media saturation and capitalism are suffocating the human race. Baudrillard claims that we are finding it more and more difficult to distinguish between the real and the artificial. This is called hyper-reality. This is illustrated perfectly by Hollywood. Because films are often an escape from reality this tends to leak into peoples way of life in Hollywood. Directors such as Terry Gillman (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys) and Stanley Kubrick (2001:Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange) left Hollywood for England because it was “too perfect, too artificial” (Gillman). Baudrillard believes that America is no longer real, “Disneyland is presented as imaginary order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper-real and of simulation…” (Simulacra and Simulation).

There is a recurring idea among theorists of postmodernism and also among filmmakers, artists, writers and poets, that we are being saturated by the media and by information-technology. They believe that there is nothing new anymore and that we are just recycling history. Andy Warhole’s famous picture of the repeated picture of Marilyn Monroe the image replaces what the picture is actually showing. The reproduction of the image makes it meaningless. This is representative of postmodernism. The Matrix can also be compared to the popular television series The X-Files. Both believe that we are drowning in too much information and that there is some kind of conspiracy that is hiding the truth about what is controlling us. In The X-Files it is the government that is seen as the enemy and in The Matrix the Agents appear as FBI-style figures.

The Matrix seems to be an anti-technology film, yet we (the audience) go to see it because of the special effects therefore it is as if we want to be plugged into the system, thus the film contradicts itself. This helps conclude because The Matrix does in a way show a utopian view of information-technology because it shows how powerful information-technology can be and how we can depend on it. However it also shows how information-technology can go wrong and can be more destructive than constructive. Thus The Matrix does not offer an ultimately utopian or dystopian view of information-technology.

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