The Matrix (1999)
Is this real? Are the words you are reading right now not simply a code that constructs the world? This is the trick, the conceit, the prestige, of The Matrix. It suggests that the world we are immersed in is code. And it is code, it is coded, there is no way to avoid this. Language is the external code of thought, and you reading this right now are coding and de-coding, now.
[If you don’t follow, then you’re already and have always been in wonderland, because if you’re not there, where are you?]
The fall down the rabbit hole is to realize that these are not your real eyes, your real flesh, they are all your real mind. When you are in the matrix, without knowing that it exists, then you are not in the matrix at all. Once you know it exists, once you are within it, then begins the search for a way out.
[Is it necessary to search? Can’t you just let go? But if you let go, what do you find?]
Shown the way, and it is not the way.
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”
The whole quote, is not quite what the abridged ‘story’ is. In the ‘story’ Chuang Chou simply says that he does not know which he is, a butterfly dreaming of Chuang Chou, or Chang Chou dreaming of a butterfly. This retains The Matrix’s ambiguity in terms of the viewer’s own coded understanding of things. Which is to say, the viewer who simply watches The Matrix, sees unfolding a coded world. The ‘simple’ question is then: is this world coded and I am simply code, or am I the world and is the code me?
[There are always alternate possibilities?]
Now then, the end of the quote is the distinction between code and the real. And the distinction is simply the transition. Or, to transform between code and reality is the way.
In terms of Neo’s death/rebirth, what is quite obviously suggested is that he becomes transcendent, a superman (and literally, look, he flies!). Taking the third movie into account, the end of the trilogy, one has to wonder whether he is in any way enlightened. If anything, it suggests that he is still dreaming, far from coming to any kind of understanding, having found power he loses the way, because the mountain is necessary to his sense of self.
[On the other hand, he could be asserting the end of the need for doubt. Confident in his selfhood, he flies?]
And so, what is Neo’s rebirth at the end of the movie, at which point he enters Mr. Smith and destroys him from the inside out? It is simply seeing the code and being able to enter it, change it, destroy it. Neo becomes, basically, a glorified hacker.
The Matrix is a very fun movie, because it suggests that we can learn to see the coded world around us and manipulate it. But do you see now that the movie itself is always going to be coded, that the only way to leave the code behind is to step back. It is not a matter of control. It is the question of…nothing.
[Is it a question of questioning?]
Through Neo’s eyes the code can be seen to construct everything, but Neo steps into it instead of stepping back. The movie fundamentally inhabits the code as its master because that is what everyone wants to see: the mastery of reality. And so what is so quickly forgotten, is that we are being shown the way, and that because it is shown, it is not the way.
This is the trap, the double bind, of The Matrix.
<Is there, Chuang Chou, any cave worth going to?>
<Is there any cave worth traveling out of?>
[Or, is it that the cave is just the question mark at the end of this sentence?]