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Matrix Revisionism

“You know the list. The Truman Show, Office Space, Fight Club, eXistenZ, Dark City, Abre los ojos, and, of course, The Matrix. For a few years, Hollywood was constantly begging us to consider that our entire reality was one vast illusion, a dreamworld built by hidden archons to control you and lull you to sleep. They are hiding the truth. But what truth? In the end, it hardly mattered. The important thing wasn’t the hidden abode of production or the secrets of the unconscious, but a gesture: question everything, refuse to go along with the herd. Strange how everyone decided to abandon the herd at exactly the same time. Of all these movies, The Matrix was the most perfect. Mostly because it had Yuen Woo-Ping choreographing the martial arts, and because it wasn’t too precious to hang the whole thing off a bog-standard Hero’s Journey—but also because it literalized every metaphor. The social machine was an actual machine, a giant robot bristling with electricity. The simulated reality was an actual simulation, delivered through metal ports in the back of your neck. The mindless slaves, living their meaningless little lives in cookie-cutter suburbs—your bourgeois parents—were actual slaves, secretly being harvested for their body heat. And the emptiness of the future was an actual emptiness: the apocalypse has already happened, the sun has been blotted out and the earth is a wasteland, we just haven’t noticed it. Looking back, it’s obvious that the brilliance of the original Matrix was basically a grand accident, never to be repeated. Somehow, the Wachowskis channelled the spirit of the end of history into 136 minutes of leather capes and wire fu, but they didn’t really understand what they’d done. They thought they were delivering some important insights, instead of simply finding a new way to represent what everyone already believed. (It didn’t help that the film critics started circulating some very weird claims: that this was really a work of philosophy, that you could only get the movie by decoding its basically decorative Christian symbolism.) The Matrix sequels replaced the seeing-through-the-bullshit angle with a lot of intense guff about fate and free will, delivered in phrases like ‘Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the Matrix.’ Meaningless dogshit. But the world had already changed.”

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