The Matrix

The Matrix

Computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that reality as we know it is a simulation used to control the human population. With this new knowledge he must join the rebellion to fight this, even if it means accepting a life of danger.


Morpheus: You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.


Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.


Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?

Morpheus: You've never used them before.


The Matrix is a largely digital experience, and it makes a nice companion piece to The Phantom Menace, which, as Jim Hoberman put it, is ‘an animated film based on photographic elements’. (...) I find it increasingly difficult to speak about films like Lucas's or this sleekly outfitted concoction by a shrewd pair of [sisters] named Wachowski – how much can one say about films designed as high-end consumer objects? But as I watched the sequence where Reeves and Moss storm the office building, I was chilled to the bone. Digital technology in the cinema has led to digital thinking, which has in turn led the cinema in an increasingly experiental direction: in order for the experience to function smoothly, just the right amount of reality is required. Too little makes the experience too light and too much makes it too burdensome. (...) Digital imagery needs some kind of aesthetic grounding if it's going to resonate, as in Starship Troopers, the two ingenious Pixar films, Toy Story and A Bug's Life, and Cameron's Terminator 2. Whereas Lucas and the Wachowskis operate in the naïve belief that digital imagery is self-effacing, an instant, perfect replacement for reality, and an efficient way of streamlining the film experience so that the pesky bugs dropped into the image by tired, old analog reality can be quietly stamped out. (...) One can only imagine the horror that André Bazin might feel if he were allowed to come back to life for one day and shown this film, in which the camera is only one of many tools employed to make something that is to his conception of cinema as a mall is to a log cabin.”

Kent Jones1


“Alain Badiou identified the ‘passion for the Real’ [la passion du réel] as the key feature of the twentieth century. In contrast to the nineteenth century of utopian or ‘scientific’ projects and ideals, plans for the future, the twentieth century aimed at delivering the thing itself. The ultimate and defining moment of the twentieth century was the direct experience of the Real – in its extreme violence as the price to be paid for peeling off the deceptive layers of reality. (...) The fundamental paradox of the ‘passion for the Real’: it culminates in its apparent opposite, in a theatrical spectacle – from the Stalinist show trials to spectacular terrorist acts.

We can perceive the collapse of the WTC towers as the climactic conclusion of twentieth-century art's ‘passion for the Real’ – the ‘terrorists’ themselves did not do it primarily to provoke real material damage, but for the spectacular effect of it. (...) The authentic twentieth-century passion for penetrating the Real Thing through the cobweb of semblances which constitutes our reality thus culminates in the thrill of the Real as the ultimate ‘effect’, sought after from digitalized special effects.

The Wachowski [sisters]' hit The Matrix (1999) brought this logic to its climax: the material reality we all experience and see around us is a virtual one, generated and co-ordinated by a gigantic mega-computer to which we are all attached; when the hero (played by Keanu Reeves) awakens into ‘real reality’, he sees a desolate landscape littered with burnt-out ruins – what remains of Chicago after a global war. The resistance leader, Morpheus, utters the ironic greeting: ‘Welcome to the desert of the real.’

Was it not something of a similar order that took place in New York on September 11? Its citizens were introduced to the ‘desert of the real’ – for us, corrupted by Hollywood, the landscape and the shots of the collapsing towers could not but be reminiscent of the most breathtaking scenes in big catastrophe productions. (...) We should therefore invert the standard reading according to which the WTC explosions were the intrusion of the Real which shattered our illusory Sphere: quite the reverse – it was before the WTC collapse that we lived in our reality, perceiving Third World horrors as something which was not actually part of our social reality, as something which existed (for us) as a spectral apparition on the (TV) screen – and what happened on September 11 was that this fantasmatic screen apparition entered our reality. It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality”

Slavoj Žižek2


“Anderzijds wentelt de hele onderneming in het euforisch plezier van de mentale trip, de adrenalinerush die opwelt door het lichaam aan te sluiten op een computernetwerk. De joystick kreeg niet voor niets zijn naam. Claudia Springer spreekt voorts ook over ‘the pleasure of the interface’. Ze plaatst dit vervolgens in een psychoanalytisch denkkader en verklaart ons genot via het aanbod van de computer om ons in een micro-elektronische imaginaire wereld op te nemen, waar onze lichamen verdwijnen en ons bewustzijn geïntegreerd wordt in, jawel, de matrix.

De omgang met zo'n interface is een eenzaam, maar erg erotisch geladen genot. Het lijkt nog het meest op een masturbatiefantasie, waarbij je tot iets doordringt, zonder dat er een ander lichaam bij aanwezig is. De bioscoopervaring als collectieve loutering voor het solitaire computergenot? Niet helemaal, want de cinema bevecht, zoals gesteld, de vijand met gelijke wapens. Ons lichaam achterwege laten en zuiver geest worden, het opgeven van de identiteit als metafoor voor het orgasme, het is een terugkerende beeldspraak in de populaire cultuur, die nog het sterkste opgaat in het anonieme duister van de bioscoop.”

Edwin Carels3


“De verbluffende kungfugevechten en kickboxtaferelen roepen minder de comic strip-agressiviteit op van oosterse vechttechnieken als de sierlijke balletten in de tapdansmusicals met Fred Astaire.”

Patrick Duynslaegher4

  • 1Kent Jones, “Digital Cinema [1999],” Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2007), 114-118.
  • 2Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso, 2002), 15.
  • 3Edwin Carels, “De bioscoop als baarmoeder,” Tijd Cultuur, 7 juli 1999, 2-3.
  • 4Patrick Duynslaegher, “Een koekje voor de heiland,” Knack, 30 juni 1999, 64-66.
UPDATED ON 06.12.2021