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It is easy to see how this film could be construed as cyberpunk. It features a fast moving storyline, superb special effects, grungy sets, cool-looking characters, virtual reality, AI (well, at least in the background), and even Keannu Reeves (who starred in the Box Office flop Johnny Mnenomic).
But in fact although this movie certainly is science fiction, it most definitely is not cyberpunk. In fact, I would consider anti-cyberpunk. The virtual reality that is featured is not an enhancement or a new dimension of functioning, but a sinister means of entrapment, the AI a malevolent presence, and the future when it is conveyed is more gothic post-apocalyptic then anything else.
In fact, looked at on a deeper level, the basic premise is quite unimaginative. Another malevolent AI which seeks to enslave/destroy humanity - ho hum yawn (blatant self-promotional blurb: If you look at the "Orion's Arm" section of this site you will see we are working on an idea of a science fiction scenario in which the AIs are not malevolent and not always and only out to enslave or annihilate mankind - but that doesn't mean they are peachy good guys either!
The plot-line, in a nutshell, has Neo (Keannu Reeves), a hacker, gets mysterious messages on his computer. He is contacted by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) a more famous hacker, who in turn puts him in touch with Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne). There are also these sinister agents with ear-mikes running around, reminiscent of the Men in Black of ufology (and I mean ufology, not the movie of that name). It then transpires that the reality Neo (and every one else) knows is a virtual reality construct, the Matrix, a means by which the AI (or AIs - presumably there are many) keep humans under control. Morpheus believes that Neo is the promised savior who will finally liberate humanity from the machine, and the battle against the machine in the virtual reality Matrix begins. Well, I won't say any more because I don't want to put in any spoilers for those who have not seen the film.
The Matrix, which was filmed on location in Sydney, invites comparisons with Dark City (sinister forces manipulating people's perception of reality), Twelve Monkeys (the alternation between the present day and a poisoned future with curiously gothic-type technology - everything is big and bulky), Terminator I and II (the malevolent AI and the war between humans and the machine (only briefly referred to in The Matrix), and even the initial thesis in Total Recall (have memories of a holiday implanted in your brain without actually going on a holiday - so what is real and what is a memory? Unfortunately this fascinating thesis is never developed in the film itself).
The film is exciting and fast-paced if nothing else. And there are a few interesting questions raised. What is reality? How do we know that what we are experiencing really is real, rather than an artificial construct? And in fact everything we experience ultimately is a construct, it is a construct of our brains, a way the brain makes a interprets electrochemical neural signals from the senses, and the mind interprets the brain's interpretation. One would be hard pressed to find a philosopher nowadays who accepted the "naive realism" model of reality; that the reality in our heads really is an accurate image or reflection of the Reality "out there"?
This is a question which was pondered over by the philosopher and dualist Descartes, who asked (using ideas that would seem to be directly adapted to The Matrix) how do we know if there is not an "evil deceiver" fooling us into believing what we experience is real. (Descartes answer, by the way, is that one can doubt everything but one's own existence, and one's own ability to think - cogito ergo sum - "I think therefore I am.")
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant distinguished between Phenomena and Noumena; phenomena being what we experience in our heads, noumena the unknown and unknowable reality "out there." It would probably be fair to say that even today this is the most widely accepted hypothesis of reality.
Some philosophers go even further. The Scottish 18th century Subjective Idealist Bishop Berkely suggested that reality only exists because we experience it (or if there is no-one around, God experiences it). The Yogachara (Vijnanavada) school of Buddhism propounds the same idea, but go further in leaving out God (it being the karmic predispositions from the past that keep the universe coherent, even though it is only a shared mental creation).
|Links and DVDs|
The Matrix - the official homepage
The Matrix - Platinum Limited Edition DVD Collector's Set
The Matrix - Limited Edition Collector's Set
The Matrix: Music From The Motion Picture
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