One sci-fi great that was not included in our class syllabus is The Matrix, which is a 1999 film written and directed by the Wachowskis. The Matrix tells the story of Thomas Anderson, more commonly known in the computer hacking world as Neo. Neo is a computer programmer by day, but at night, he searches for answers on the internet as to why he feels that something about life, as well as the world, is slightly eschewed. Then he meets Trinity, who says that a man named Morpheus can explain everything Neo wants to know. Despite attacks by armed men who claim Morpheus is a “known terrorist,” Neo agrees to meet him. Morpheus says that he knows the truth about the matrix, and he will tell Neo if Neo chooses to swallow a red pill; conversely, Neo can decide to return to his normal life by selecting a blue pill. Neo chooses to hear the truth about the matrix, which is that the world, as he knows it, is a computer simulation. Morpheus explains that in the early 21st century, a war occurred between humans and artificially intelligent robots. The humans sought to destroy these machines that wanted to control them by blocking their access to the sun, which provided the machines’ energy. However, the robots retaliated by placing humans into pods attached to an electrical system to collect their bioelectric power. The humans’ consciousness then lived in the simulation that resembled the world as it was at the end of the 20th century.

The last free human beings come from the city of Zion, and Morpheus is their leader. Morpheus aims to free enslaved humans in the matrix, and he believes Neo is “the one” who can help him do it. Due to the fact that the matrix is not the real world, Morpheus’s group knows that they can bend the laws of nature and that if one believes that something can happen, it will. This knowledge helps the group fight against “the Smiths,” which are generic-looking white men who are actually computer agents that eliminate threats to the A.I. system in place. Finally, the end of the film is an action-packed sequence of the agents capturing Morpheus after being tipped off by Cypher (one of the humans who wishes he had chosen the blue pill and is secretly helping the robots) and Morpheus sacrificing himself to save Neo and the rest of the group. Neo then genuinely believes he is the “one,” despite an oracle telling him he was not, and goes back into the Matrix with Trinity to rescue Morpheus. Neo is able to harm the agents, and Trinity and Morpheus return to the real world, but before Neo can, an agent shoots him multiple times and kills him. However, Trinity’s love for Neo revives him, and he is able to kill all the Smiths. Neo then announces to the computers that he will save the prisoners and show them “a world where anything is possible” (Wachowski).

The Matrix, and the idea of a reality that is not what it appears to be, was very fitting to come out in America in 1999. For instance, the world wide web was still in its early stages in 1999, and with the new millennium on its way, the implications that this transition would cause was unknown and feared by many. The suspected “Y2K” bug, at first, seemed to pose an immense problem to computer programs. To explain, “The Y2K bug was a technical problem identified in the late 1990s from a date transition in computer systems from the year 1999 to 2000 at the turn of the millennium. The change was expected to bring down computer systems infrastructure, such as those for banking and power plants” (Halton). However, in actuality, the transition did not cause many problems, and the Y2K buzz came and went. Therefore, the ambiguity of computer systems and what was thought to wreak havoc on an individual’s and organization’s viral information ended up not being scary or harmful at all, and the expectations of the new millennium did not reflect the reality of the time.

Unfortunately, some other misconceptions that occurred in 1999 were not as trivial and anti-climactic as the Y2K bug, and they posed serious questions about race relations in New York City. To explain, in 1999, Amado Diallo, an unarmed 22-year-old Bronx resident, was killed by police officers outside his apartment. He was shot and killed “when […] four officers, all in street clothes, approached Mr. Diallo on the stoop of his building and fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times, as he retreated inside. The officers […] said they had thought he had a gun. It turned out to be a wallet” (Fritsch). The quick assumptions that these officers had and their conscious or unconscious biases did not match the reality of the situation at hand, which was that Diallo was an innocent man and not the “serial rapist” they expected him to be. In the article “The Diallo Verdict,” it is explained that the officers were a part of the Street Crime Unit in New York and that “Officer Carroll was the first to notice Mr. Diallo on the stoop of the building. He testified that Mr. Diallo was acting suspiciously, peering out from the stoop, then ‘slinking’ back. Mr. Diallo, Officer Carroll said, fit the general description of a serial rapist who had last struck about a year earlier. But he acknowledged on cross-examination that he could not see Mr. Diallo well enough even to determine his race” (Halton). This quotation shows that what the officers thought to be suspicious behavior was nothing more than a man sitting on a stoop and that it seems like the officer cannot trust his own eyes. Hence, it seems as if these officers were living in The Matrix, a world of their own creation, while Mr. Diallo was stuck in the unfortunate reality that black Americans face in the U.S. today, which is one of racism and discrimination. When humans act in this nature, as the officers did, it justifies when the Smith says, “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, a plague” (Wachowski).

The social reality for black Americans, as well as any person considered to be “other” in our society, can be one of prejudice as shown above. However, The Matrix aims to present a world where the border between race, gender, machine, and human are blurred and where real social realities can be exposed. To understand this idea in the film, one can look to Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.” To clarify, Haraway describes a cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women’s movements have constructed ‘women’s experience,’ as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind” (149). This citation demonstrates that a cyborg is a creature that can distinguish between one person’s version of reality, particularly someone who is privileged in some way, and another’s. She goes on to state that, “The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century” (Haraway 149), meaning that who gets to say what their reality is truly like will come about when humans’ state transcends to “cyborg.” In The Matrix Neo, along with Trinity (a white woman), Morpheus (a black man), Switch (a white androgynous women), and Tank (an African-American and Chinese-American man) plan to expose the reality that they are living in as well as the brainwashed individuals in the matrix.

Currently, our culture is still in need of more “Neos” or “Morpheuses” in terms of gaining representation for marginalized groups and decreasing biases against people considered to be other. Luckily, some people are taking those roles and increasing awareness of the other’s social conditions, which our class has seen. Thanks to individuals and characters like Janelle Monáe, Tessa Thompson, and, even, Frankenstein’s monster, one can see the reality of another.

 

Works Cited

Fritsch, Jane. “The Diallo Verdict: 4 OFFICERS IN DIALLO SHOOTING ARE ACQUITTED

OF ALL CHARGES.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2000,           www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html.

 

Halton, Clay. “Y2K Definition.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 18 Mar. 2020,

www.investopedia.com/terms/y/y2k.asp.

 

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the

Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature , Routledge, 1991, p. 149.

 

Wachowski, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, directors. The Matrix. Warner Bros., 1999.