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7. Discuss the concept of false knowledge in the Matrix Trilogy.

Who knows and what is knowledge in this dystopian fantasy?

Science fiction in this sense is no longer anywhere, and it is everywhere, in the circulation of models, here and now, in the very principle of the surrounding simulation. (Baudrillard 1981: 126)

The line between reality and science fiction has become increasingly blurred in literature. Speculative fiction especially, has been greatly influenced by the postmodern movement which has spawned a whole wave of films exploring simulated realities and questioning the concept of truth and falsehood.

The intellectual veracity of the Matrix Trilogy is argued hotly among academic

circles. Whether it is a facade or not, it makes us think, incorporating Fredric Jamesons idea of pastiche, juxtaposing and intertwining a variety of languages, styles, genres and intertextual allusions, contributing to a plurality of discourse most commonly associated with postmodern works. (Roberts 2000: 124)

Indeed, an analysis of the Matrix Trilogy can be framed to discuss feminism, racism and almost any religious or philosophical discourse. This essay, in discussing the concept of false knowledge will explore various philosophic thoughts as Platos The Cave, Baudrillards theory of hyperreality and Descartes First Meditation and the idea of the malicious demon. These conventional readings offer us clear suppositions about the nature of knowledge and the dystopian complex. However, this essay will then question the validity of these readings in our postmodern condition and whether the semiotic confusion leads to an unstable and inconsistent simulacrum of reality. I will conclude that, rather frustratingly, there is no certainty of truth and knowledge from neither the characters nor the audience and that, much like our contemporary society, knowledge is an abstract concept and understanding in the Matrix Trilogy is non-existent.

Platos Cave and Inconsistencies In the Matrix

Platos Allegory of the Cave from Republic begins with chained prisoners who have lived their entire life in subterranean caverns. Their understanding of the real world and reality stems only from the illusions projected by the shadows onto the walls. Now Plato hypothesises that a prisoner escapes

These include Total Recall (1990), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Dark City (1998), Existenz (1999), Vanilla Sky (2001), Pans Labyrinth (2006) and Inception (2010).

from the cave into the real world. He is firstly struck with fear and denial as he struggles to understand that this is reality, not the projections off the wall. He is then enlightened and assumes a mantle of responsibility to free his fellow prisoners. However they find his story to be unbearable and the truth to be terrible, and hence he is killed. (Faller 2004: 20) The similarities to Neos situation are overt. The black cables which shackle Neo to the machines are a physical manifestation of Platos hypothetic prisoner chains, and their uncanny resemblance to the umbilical tube creates a parody of the birthing process when Morpheus severs them, as Neo is literally born again. When Neo asks, Why do my eyes hurt? Morpheus responds Because youve never used them. Morpheus is thus affirmed as the mentor figure in this bildungsroman. (Herman, Jahn & Ryan 2005: 73) Named after the Greek god of dreams, it seems appropriate that Morpheus liberates Neo, the Chosen One and the rest of humanity from the machine-induced simulation dream. The Matrix Trilogy seems a thinly veiled modern interpretation of the Christian ethos, culminating in Neos death and rebirth as a being seemingly beyond the scope of the Matrix.

However numerous inconsistencies seed doubts to the authenticity of the bildungsroman and the Christian tale of humanitys redemption. Morpheus, on closer examination, was a god skilled at adopting and counterfeiting human form and speech. His ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, is named after a Babylonian King famed amongst other things for having bad dreams. One could easily argue that Morpheus is thus a false prophet and Neo is the Anti-Christ to Agent Smiths Chosen One. I postulate that the polysemic nature of the postmodern condition in the Matrix Trilogy, while far from confirming such a theory, at least lends it some credence to the extent that the binaries of truth/falsehood and good/evil cannot be ascertained in this struggle. This is a strength of the Matrix Trilogy, and a hallmark of its postmodern identity, differentiating it from the similar Dark City (1998), which despite its more extended and dramatised narrative mystery, resolves the semiotic chaos rather than perpetuating it such as in the Matrix Trilogy.

Agent Smith tells Morpheus that human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure. The inversion of the biblical allusion is strengthened by the opening images in the Animatrix depicting machines enslaved much like in Egypt. Thus the role of perpetuator and victim is confused and highlights a dichotomy between man and machine in the Matrix Trilogy, one often masked by an audiences natural inclination to side with humanity. This uncertainty and instability of truth is further developed through the duality of Neo and Smith as these two are originally binary oppositions. However, under Lacans aphanisis, the two protagonists seem to metamorphose and take on qualities of the other. Smith, when justifying the machines

right to inherit the Earth, removes his sunglasses and his earpiece, humanising him.


increasingly feels and exhibits human emotions, from rage and distress during the interrogation scene (The Matrix), maniacal glee when he co-opts the Oracle (Revolutions), sarcasm and irony in his interactions with Neo, and an arch sense of humour. (Rosen 2008: 107) Neo on the other hand is described as a machine, an ironic pun alluding to his impressive work rate.

Neos role as the Messiah is never confirmed by the Oracle through the trilogy. She states openly that he is not The One in the first movie, before she tells him that he is The One in Reloaded, but only due to her personal belief and not prophecy. In Revolutions, Neo learns that his role as The One is merely another system of control. 2 Furthermore, his choice to save Trinity instead of humanity in the second film throws doubt into the audiences previously definite faith in Neo as the Messiah. Neo dives into Smiths body in Revolutions and their synthesis into one entity culminates the gradual symbiosis between humanity and machines that has largely been hidden behind traditional Hollywood archetypes of Good vs. Evil. One could easily argue that with the paradigmatic instability resulting from the postmodern condition, the roles of good and evil cannot and should not be so easily determinable.

Indeed there are a multitude of inconsistencies within this polysemic text which cannot be explained properly. The Wachowski Brothers, while imagining themselves to be rebels, are, much like Stars Wars creator George Lucas, inextricably part of the Hollywood system. (Gordon 2003: 96) They rely on, ending aside, the basic skeleton of a bildungsroman and the Good vs. Evil binary. It attempts to parlay a pastiche of various genres into a condemnation of technology, all the while utilising the latest technology in CGI. The Wachowski Brothers pay homage to William Gibsons Neuromancer (1984), from where the term matrix was first used. There is a distinct cyberpunk tradition as the Matrix Trilogy, articulating the tensions between human and machine. (Gillis 2005: 4) Even this, I would argue, is not a certainty, as the symbiosis between man and machine surely is a betrayal of the essence of cyberpunk. The inability of the Architect to admit that there is a symbiotic relationship highlights how no one in the trilogy truly can be certain of anything.

The compliance to traditions such as the femme fatale is an illusion. Trinity juxtaposes sharply with Rachael from Blade Runner (1982) or Allegra from Existenz (1999). The noir aesthetics of the cyberpunk milieu belie her real job, which is essentially to take care of Neo, providing security and a sexual release. (Gillis 2005: 81) However, this is the traditional role for the female character in a

This point will be examined later on.

bildungsroman narrative. This genre clash is further complicated by the feminist ideology, which argues that the Matrix Trilogy also speaks to the post-feminist backlash fears of powerful women. Therefore Trinity is castrated when Neo repeatedly calls her Trin, robbing her of her full name which is full of Judeo-Christian significance. (Gillis 2005: 82)

Baudrillard and the Hyperreal

Platos fable of the Cave was the first envisioning of the modern cinema. One of the biggest critics of the cinema and contemporary society in general is Jean Baudrillard. The uncertainty of telling simulation from reality, and truth from falsehood reflect Baudrillards great fear, that the cinema in its current efforts is getting closer and closer to the absolute its pretension to being the real...cinema also approaches an absolute correspondence with is the very definition of the hyperreal. (Baudrillard 1981: 46-47) Numerous scholars such as David Lavery have criticised the Wachowski Brothers for an inaccurate portrayal of Baudrillards hyperreality in the Matrix Trilogy, especially compared to such films as Total Recall (1990) and Existenz (1999). (Wood 2004: 120) However, this essay has explored the Matrix Trilogy and its lack of verifiable knowledge and the absence of absolute truth as a consequence of its polysemic postmodern milieu. I would postulate the matrixs inconsistencies make it ideal to explore the notion of simulated realities and how they challenge our preoccupation with absolute truth.

Baudrillard is a key figure in the Matrix Trilogy, with his book Simulacra and Simulation (1981) appearing briefly. This obvious connection signifies to the audience that the postmodern milieu of the text allows and encourages alternative interpretations. When Morpheus breaks Neo out of the Matrix, he welcomes him to the desert of the real. He explains to Neo how life as he had previously known it was a generated illusion from the Matrix. In doing so, Morpheus also portrays the Matrix as an allegory of our own postmodern condition where we have lost touch of what the real is, where we see the semiotic signs of the real as real. (Felluga 2003: 73)

I would argue that Morpheus is wrong in suggesting that Neo can escape the ideological construct which he perceived as the reality and see that the dystopic 2199 is the true reality. The white room that Morpheus takes Neo to is self-conceptual with no points of reference. Gillis argues that the Matrix tends to be associated with the tyranny of objective reality as a deceptive and externally imposed social norm. (Gillis 2005: 7) Hence Neo along with the audience, by throwing off the shackles akin to Platos prisoner in the Cave, becomes a captive to Morpheus perception of what is

simulation and what is real. He has merely swapped overlords in the postmodern milieu of the Matrix where everything is fragmented and mirrored off some other reflection. This is reflected in the cinematography of the Matrix Trilogy, with many scenes and shots portrayed through a mirror, most pertinently when Morpheus offers Neo the red and blue pill. Neither the audience nor Neo knows, but either choice is fraught with doubts over its legitimacy. As the trilogy progresses and whatever shards of signs we can decode deteriorate in the postmodern condition, the motif of knowing which is so central to the Matrix Trilogy increasingly involves the audience. Neos inability to comprehend and interpret his experiences is mimicked by the audiences confusion. Thus, Baudrillards fear of hyperreality bears fruit in the Matrix Trilogy.

The character Cypher represents an intriguing philosophical debate when he eschews reality as he knows it for the hedonistic comforts of the Matrix simulacrum. His claim that ignorance is bliss is apparently beyond Baudrillards ideological frame. Philosopher Robert Nozick used an idea called the Experience Machine 3which determined that the people would rather have real things of value, such as friends, fame, wealth and success, than their artificial counterpart. (Zynda 2003: 42) Morpheus question, what is real? reveals a flaw in Nozicks experiment. It assumes, much like Neo and the others who choose to fight the machines for their freedom that they live in the reality when Baudrillard tells us that there can be no hope of returning to the real. (Gordon 2003: 99) Indeed psychoanalyst Lacan argues that the real is impossible. (Felluga 2003: 79) Strictly speaking, Lacan means that it is impossible to deal with the real by itself, but rather the human psyche is caught up in a play between desire and an impossible real that ensures our desires are never fulfilled completely. (Felluga 2003: 81) Agent Smith reminisces about the failure of the first Matrix which was a utopia, and how humans define their reality through suffering and misery. Thus Freuds reality principle is applied, where humanity cannot accept the simulation as credible without personal obstacles keeping the real in check.

Descartes, the Evil Demon and the Meta Matrix

Knowledge is a capricious element in the postmodern condition of the Matrix Trilogy. Descartes struggled to discern his dreams from reality. Morpheus rehashes this fear in rhetorical questions to Neo, Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to

Nozicks idea was: suppose you could deliberately and knowingly choose, as Cypher does in the Matrix, to be hooked up to a machine that would give you the experiences of having friends, fame, wealth, good looks, success, and whatever else makes you happy. After being hooked up, youll forget about your past life, and you wont be unhooked from the machine later. Would you choose to be hooked up to the Experience Machine? (Zynda 2003: 42)

wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? Descartes took this a step further and explored the possibility of being intentionally deceived by an evil demon. Thus, doubting everything that he had previously held to be knowledge, he came to the realisation that he knew one thing, cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. This notion very much supports Baudrillards hyperreality- where the only thing one can be certain of is oneself, and hence reality is what you deem it to be.

The Matrix, essentially being a technological version of this evil demon, makes relevant Descartes fears. Firstly, no one in the Matrix Trilogy knows if there is a meta-matrix, which is generating a fantasised resistance movement as a way for human batteries to regenerate a reality principle in distress. (Baudrillard 1981: 27) The idea of a meta-reality resonates with postmodernism and the destruction of the grand narrative and absolute meaning. (Baudrillard 1981: 160-161) The concept of a meta-matrix is supported by the fact that Neo is the 6th coming of the One, and the apparent cyclic nature of the human/machine conflict indicates a greater force at work. A hint at the pastiche in the Matrix Trilogy can be seen in Neos reincarnation. It is Trinitys faith and love that brings back Neo from the dead, almost able to be considered a dues ex machina. This is somewhat allowable because of the instability and flexibility of the postmodern narrative, with a fantastical element adding to the pastiche that the Matrix Trilogy.

The second great hypothesis of Descartes which directly relates to the audience and their conviction in ungrounded knowledge is that we ourselves are living in the Matrix. Baudrillard argues that Hollywood, and by extension the Matrix Trilogy is presented in such a way that the most unreal, postmodern and artificial aspects are exacerbated in order to make our society seem more real in contrast. While the Matrix Trilogy is a narrative of liberation from technology, the trilogy itself demonstrates how western culture and Hollywood is intrinsically linked to it. Like Fritz Langs image of the worker manually moving the hands of the clock in Metropolis (1927), Neo embodies the hexis of contemporary technology being. (Cranny-Francis 2005: 106) In most other aspects however, the Matrix Trilogy does not capture the foreboding essence of Fritz Langs classic as well as Dark City (1998), which despite its smaller budget (or perhaps thanks to it) operated on a more personal and emotional level. The Wachowski Brothers, in drawing such a bold juxtaposition between what is reality(good) and what is simulation(evil) for the audiences viewing pleasure, becomes a selffulfilling prophecy confirming Baudrillards theory of hyperreality. Our postmodern society is awash with a deluge of images, where reality and truth is not only impossible to find, but is rarely sought after. While postmodern theorists may value the Matrix Trilogy as an intellectual or pseudo-

intellectual work that nonetheless stimulates discussion about the hyperreal, ultimately the majority of society, and Hollywoods target audience, are lost in the false knowledge of the Matrix, meta or otherwise.


Baudrillard, Jean. (first published 1981). Simulacra and Simulation (trans. University of Michigan). United States of America: University of Michigan Press.

Faller, Stephen. 2004. Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations. USA: Chalice Press.

Felluga, Dino. 2003. The Matrix: Paradign of Post-Modernism or Intellectual Poseur? (Part I). In Yeffeth, Glenn (ed.), Taking The Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and religion in The Matrix. Dallas: BenBella Books, pp 71-84.

Gillis, Stacy. 2005. Cyber Noir: Cyberspace, (Post) Feminism and the Femme Fatale. In Gillis, Stacy (ed.), The Matrix Trilogy: cyberpunk reloaded. Great Britain: Wallflower Press, pp 1-10, 74-88.

Gordon, Andrew. 2003. The Matrix: Paradign of Post-Modernism or Intellectual Poseur? (Part II). In Yeffeth, Glenn (ed.), Taking The Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and religion in The Matrix. Dallas: BenBella Books, pp 85-102.

Heran, David., Jahn, Manfred and Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2005. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. New York: Routledge.

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Rosen, Elizabeth. 2008. Apocalyptic Transformation: Apocalypse and the Postmodern Imagination. Plymouth: Lexington Books.

The Matrix. 1999. Written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros.

The Matrix Reloaded. 2003. Written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros.

The Matrix Revolutions. 2003. Written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros.

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Zynda, Lyle. 2003. Was Cypher Right? (Part II). In Yeffeth, Glenn (ed.), Taking The Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and religion in The Matrix. Dallas: BenBella Books, pp 33-44.