Escape From the Matrix

I enjoyed the review of The Matrix by Bill Stamets [April 16], and I’d like to add some comments about the movie’s divided neo-Marxist politics. The Matrix can be seen as an allegory of cinema: when Neo and the rest enter the Matrix, with their “ideal body projection” (no scars or acne) and really big guns, they become action-movie stars in a cinematic reality. The movie’s highly subversive vision of capitalist exploitation (we’re all essentially batteries for the machine) is offset by its excessive enjoyment of the technological means of ideological control (virtual or media reality). That is, while the movie condemns the insidious distraction of the movie culture we are all plugged into, it also celebrates the fantastic pleasure we derive from its computer-generated fantasies (especially violence). How to reconcile this? Cynical “zen” detachment: realize that the Matrix (the entertainment complex) is “not real” and you can enjoy it even more (and leave the real world for some infinitely receding sequel).

Against this critique the film argues that the entertainment matrix is where the ideologically deceived people are, and so the rebels have to go there to appeal to those who may be ready to “wake up.” But the premise that the entertainment system runs everything makes any rejection of the system (really “waking up”) an abandonment of struggle. The Matrix fulfills the Marxist dream of a system so total that the oppressed can simply grab the controls, and then supposedly the state will “wither away” and the deceptive ideology with it. Postmodern critics reject this utopianism because it promotes totalitarianism. In the film’s ending, when Neo goes back into the Matrix to wake up the people, stepping out of the phone booth like Superman and taking off into the sky, it’s clear that all his power is located there in special-effects entertainment land, and the film seems entirely unwilling to represent the promised dismantling of that system (as it was unwilling to show the last human city). The revolution reveals itself as a dream not of liberation but of power. Well, at least until next time: now that the producers are fabulously successful and can move around the Hollywood matrix, like Neo, at will, maybe they’ll make films that show people living outside of the matrix.

Chris Perrius