“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” –Morpheus
Have you ever had a dream that was so life-like that when you woke up you weren’t sure at first if the dream had ended? Mr. Anderson had such a dream. Mr. Anderson is a computer programmer. He works for a big software corporation, but he lives alone. He doesn’t sleep well, so he has a problem making it to work on time. In general, though, he is a decent guy: he is well educated, he pays his rent on time, and he helps his landlord take out the trash. But at night, he works on his computer. He is a hacker, and he goes by the hacker alias “Neo.”
Neo has been having a nagging concern, a niggling little sense in the back of his head that something isn’t right about his life. He hasn’t been able to figure out what exactly is wrong, but the feeling lingers there, like a splinter in his mind. And then he meets Morpheus….
Morpheus is a leader of a group of dissidents who are trying to help others see the true nature of their world. The truth, according to them, is that the world is an illusion, an elaborate system of deception perpetrated to keep people contentedly under control. Morpheus offers Neo a choice: he can forget that they ever met, go back to living his old life, and run the risk that he’s being conned, or he can “take the red pill,” follow Morpheus, and find out what’s really going on. Neo takes the pill.
What he discovers is mind-boggling. It turns out that almost the entire human race is lying unconscious in giant machines that are keeping their bodies alive. Their brains are all connected (via cables) to a powerful computer on which a programed simulation of the world is running, and they are all unconsciously living out virtual lives as individual players in this computer simulation. They experience being born, growing up, getting jobs, growing old, and dying through their virtual lives in a computer simulation called “the Matrix.” As Morpheus tells Neo, “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.” It all seems so real that they have no idea that they are being duped.
All of this comes as a huge shock to Neo. It is almost too much for him to accept. He experiences fear, denial, and confusion, but eventually acceptance and then sadness. He realizes that all of his “life” had been a lie. Morpheus reminds him, “I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I only said it would be the truth.”
Neo joins Morpheus’ crew in helping other people to discover the truth about the Matrix. However, many are not ready to accept this truth. One such person is Cypher, a disillusioned member of Morpheus’ rebel band. Cypher had expected that knowing the truth would make life easier or somehow better, but he discovers that knowledge can be a weighty burden. Hence he seeks a way to erase his memories of the truth and go back to his former state. He emphatically asserts, “Ignorance is bliss,” and even strikes a deal with the master computer to betray Morpheus in return for being returned to his former state. But Neo disagrees with Cypher, and the movie ends with his challenge to the Matrix: “I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries—A world where anything is possible.”
Wachowski, Andy, and Lana Wachowski. The Matrix. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.
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