So I followed the white rabbit and found myself in that room again, facing the impossible decision. The red pill and the blue pill were gleaming in Morpheus’s hands.
It’s impossible to imagine now the impact that the Matrix had when it first came out. In those early days of the Internet, we didn’t have social media sites dripping spoilers, and basically ruining movies before you saw them. So for many people, Neo’s decision and its awful consequences would have been a total shock, utterly mind-blowing.
Watching the film while the knowing the trick to come is not quite so satisfying because you start to realise that none of it makes sense. A society which destroyed their own atmosphere to halt the rise of machines? Low-energy producing humans being farmed as batteries? Rebels who live off gruel but somehow have enough hardware and energy to run a fully functioning battle ship?
It’s all nonsense – as science fiction, because really the Matrix is science fantasy. It’s more in the Star Wars camp than that of Planet of the Apes. Just drag that feeding tube from out of your throat, sit back and enjoy the ride.
At the time, the cutting-edge special effects allowed the then-Wachowski brothers to paper over the cracks in their world-building, and today, the effects still stand up pretty well. Next year, the Matrix celebrates its twentieth anniversary.
On original release, apparently a lot of critics dissed the film for lacking original ideas, something I find ridiculous. True, if you happened to be a middle-aged film critic who had read much of the literature that inspired the film, perhaps there would be nothing new for you. But for most viewers, including me, the philosophical ideas of the first film challenge our pre-existing world view, perhaps even shatter it, as they did for Neo.
The Matrix is inspired by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. What is particularly neat is that the film explores its ideas in the same way that he did. Plato didn’t write complex, abstract treaties in esoteric language. He wrote beautiful stories and poetic tales to demonstrate and illustrate his philosophy.
In other words, Plato brought his ideas to a broad public by presenting them in an accessible, enjoyable way. Whatever those snooty critics say, the Matrix remains one of the most ideas-rich movies I have ever seen. It’s well worth revisiting.
So confess now, which would you choose: the red pill and facing up to grim reality, or the blue pill, and a life of ignorant bliss? I still don’t know the answer.