Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Matrix

The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers came out in 1999 when America’s economy was soaring due to technological advancements and confidence in the role of technology in the future marketplace. Yet The Matrix created a stark image of what this high mark in capitalism looked like beneath the surface, a system based on deception, exploitation, and oppression rather than free will, free market. From the moment it starts, the film leads the viewer to believe that they live in a false reality that has been put in front of their eyes.

The image we’re given of the 1999 setting, which is actually a program known as the "matrix" is not a perfect world but certainly a tolerable existence. Within this world, the protagonist Mr. Anderson (aka Neo) lives a dead-end job that he could probably do better than if he applied himself more as a good capitalist. Instead he pursues his skepticism in discovering the truth behind this world and finds it to be a dream that humanity is submerged in. In the real world outside the matrix, humans function literally as a resource providing sustenance for advanced machines that have seized control. Humans have been stripped of all that was theirs, the clothes on their back, any and all freedoms, and most importantly, their consciousness.

Morpheus, Neo's mentor upon entering the real world explains why the matrix was created: "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth...[the truth] that you are a slave Neo, like everyone else you were born into bondage." Marx and Engels illustrate that although a class is composed of individuals, it is not in this regard that they participate within the class: "...a community to which these individuals belonged only as average individuals, only in so far as they lived within the conditions of existence of their class - a relationship in which they participated not as individuals but as members of their class" (21). Humans participate in the dreamlike matrix as individuals of free will, but they all ultimately belong to a slave class in the real world which they are members of and cannot escape from. The real world appears as the fullest realization of an industrialized world: very efficient, fully exploited, and with those in control vs. slave "workers" functioning as the sole classes with nothing in between.

The ruling class is represented by the idea of the agents, a small group of men dressed in clean suits who appear educated and well above the rest. They work to maintain the matrix by preventing others from being unplugged and continuing to hide the reality of the situation. The agents also freely exploit their position of control, literally seizing the bodies of people in the matrix for themselves despite this possibly leading to a human death. The image of the agents functions to contrast that of the rebels in the real world. Whereas the agents live untouched in the paradisical matrix, never struggling to survive, the rebels meanwhile live in a polluted, gray world where each day their survival seems uncertain. The worker class poses no immediate threat to these ruling agents and they fully exploit this.

Being that plugged humans represent the working class, Neo and those like him function as the rebel proletarians. According to Marx and Engels, the individual bears no possibility of shifting in class as it is fully restricting and therefore must removes themselves from a position of labourer in order to do so. The only way of accomplishing this however is with revolution: "In order, therefore to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State" (23). Though the idea of individual strength is mainly seen as a capitalist ideal, Neo and company use their individuality to revolt as Marx and Engels would suggest and overthrow the existing conditions. In full The Matrix critiques the capitalist, industrial world where lower classes are fully exploited and bound to their class, hoping on a dream that they can somehow rise above their class state.

1 comment:

  1. Very good, nicely argued. I think it would greatly improve the analysis to not just think about how the film fits into Marxism but also how it might deviate from it. That last point is a perfect one--how can a film that clearly brings in all these marxist trappings still ultimately celebrate a set of values that's so obviously individualistic, rather than collective? Could Gramsci's idea of spontaneous consent apply even to the filmmakers, who can't in the end fully embrace the collective idea?