Source: http://popc260.blogspot.com/2010/03/sur ... atrix.html
The Matrix, released in 1999, is a film written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski which has gone on to prove to be incredibly influential to many action films which have followed it. Its groundbreaking use of computer effects, such as “bullet time”, did much to make CGI a much more prevalent force in film. Unofficially based on Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation but rejected by the theorist, the film explores, or attempts to explore, Baudrillard's notion of the hyperreal, that the truth has been completely replaced by signs or simulacrums which stand in its place to make the world comprehensible to the human mind. Any time anyone thinks in terms of language, which is almost exclusively, if not completely exclusively, the way people think, they are thinking in terms of the sign, not the truth. In fact, Baudrillard argues that the truth is now invisible and while it is still out there, beyond the signs, it will never be seen by humans again. The Matrix divides its universe into two parts, a computer program designed by machines to keep us docile while they harvest our energy which stands for the hyperreal, and what the character Morpheus calls “the desert of the Real”, the actual world, called Zion, which the imprisoned humans are never allowed to see unless they can somehow break free. This setup really has some serious flaws in its attempts to be at least slightly be true to Baudrillard's work, but I won't get into those here. Basically the point is this: in its attempts to make the ideas expressed in Simulacra and Simulation publicly known, the Wachowski brothers betrayed their source material and their original intentions through their monetary desires and, in the end, rather than combat it, The Matrix has become something which has not only added and strengthened the state of the hyperreal, but even a significant force within it. The main issue here then is the hyperreal: is there anything we can do which does not strengthen it? Is it worth fighting at all? Is it at all possible, as the film seems to think, to escape it? And what would the world beyond the hyperreal be like? Would it be enlightening and freeing or would it be incomprehensibly terrifying? In other words, is there any way The Matrix could have avoid betraying its original purpose and if not, what does that say about the world in which we all live?
The first of my sources is Catherine Constable's book “Adapting Philosophy: Jean Baudrillard and The Matrix Trilogy”. In her book, Constable summarizes past psychological studies done on The Matrix before moving on to its own, which it explores in a very thorough, detailed way, highlighting throughout whatever connections, and there are many, are made to Baudrillard and his concepts throughout the films. The book comes to the conclusion that through their interpretation of Baudrillard's concepts the Wachowski's have developed a new philosophical concept. The book focuses on the entire trilogy, but I will only be addressing the section on the first film as I have decided that the original Matrix is the one which focuses the most on Baudrillard's ideas while the second two seem more concerned with religion.
Also by Constable is her article “Baurdrillardian Revolutions: Repetition and Radical Intervention in the Matrix Trilogy”. Within she argues that while many who have written about Baudrillard and the Matrix, including Baudrillard himself, say that the film corrupts and distorts his ideas, she thinks that they are never trying to be loyal, that the film is what she calls an “active dialogue with Simulacra and Simulation” which is trying to answer the very question I am posing: is it possible to escape the hyperreal or does everything we can possibly do serve to strengthen it? Basically, she concludes that The Matrix films are more a response to Baudrillard than an interpretation and that they do not seek to present his ideas as accurately as one might think.
My final piece from Constable is an article entitled “Baudrillard Reloaded: Interrelating Film and Philosophy Via the Matrix Trilogy” from the book “The Matrix Trilogy: Cyberpunk Reloaded”. This basically serves as an expansion of the previous article in which she goes into greater detail on the Matrix's “dialogue” with philosophy, including Simulacra and Simulation. Throughout, she says that the Matrix uses many of Baudrillard's images and concepts but subverts them and presents them in a different light, specifically things such as the curved mirror in the scene where Neo first takes the red pill and the myth of Persephone. She also says that the film goes against Baudrillard's nihilistic view to present the potential of the world as more than just a simulation.
Now we come to my least favorite of the sources, one who almost wholly disagrees with me, Richard Hanley's article Simulacra and Simulation: Baudrillard and The Matrix. I am including it because it is necessary to factor in points of view different than your own while doing a research project such as this. Hanley states here that it is his belief that the Wachowski's were trying to do an honest adaptation of Baudrillard's ideas and argues that Baudrillard and all the others who say that The Matrix is a misinterpretation of Simulacra and Simulation's concepts are baseless in their accusations because the book is incomprehensible. He feels that Baudrillard's argument makes absolutely no sense at all and therefore, as he puts it, “if Baudrillard can't be understood, then he can't be misunderstood, either.” He does however say that while Baudrillard states that they hyperreal is inescapable, The Matrix is far more optimistic when it comes to our chances of finding the real.
The next article is James Rovira's “Subverting the Mechanisms of Control: Baudrillard, The Matrix Trilogy and the Future of Religion”. Here, he comes up with a theory I have not seen elsewhere, that the Matrix takes a combative stance to Baudrillard's work through its integration of religion. He makes note of the cameo of Simulacra and Simulation within the actual Matrix film. When Neo opens the book, he goes right to the middle to a chapter entitled “On Nihilism”. This is clearly intentional because while Neo opens to the book's center, the chapter is actually the final one in the actual text. From this, Rovira establishes a theory that the Matrix is largely a comment specifically on Baudrillard's nihilistic viewpoint which it tries to counterbalance and move past by introducing religious ideas, that the film is simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with Baudrillard: we do live in a simulation, but it's not as bleak and without potential as he claims.
An article I have recently discovered is entitled “'Did You Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?': Baudrillard and the Matrix” written by William Merrin, a teacher of Media Studies at the University of Whales. Merrin states that while Simulacra and Simulation is clearly central to The Matrix, the film does not match its scope. This is because the simulation which represents the hyperreal in the film is a recreation of what the world was like before the machines took over. The problem with this is that Baudrillard says that we are currently living in the hyperreal so, according to his logic, the hyperreal in the film would be a representation of a representation. While this would have been an interesting thing for the film to explore in my opinion, it is also a vastly complicated and multi-layered piece of conceptual thinking, which might be why they don't address it. After all, the films are long enough already. Instead, the film presents the world Neo enters after leaving the matrix as the real, period. And thus, it does not get to the heart of Baudrillard's theory.
My final source, at least for now, is an article entitled “Evil Demons, Saviors and Simulacra in The Matrix”, written by Doug Mann, a teacher of Philosophy at the University of Windsor and Heidi Hochenedel, a teacher of Humanities at Marylhurst University. Within, they echo somewhat the beliefs of Hanley and Rovira that the Matrix is far more optimistic about our chances of living outside the hyperreal than Baudrillard is. The difference here however is that they say that despite the hope the film presents that it's all futile in the end. In their words: “Since there is no reality left to simulate, Neo is not a fake – he is as hyperreal as the hyperreality he opposes. . . he is not outside the system, he is embraced and engulfed by it because the reality he is fighting for no longer exists. . .”. Therefore, they are saying that whether Neo wins or loses, he does so in a world of simulacrum. The “real” world within the film is just as “fake” as the “fake” world of the computer program. In the end, Neo himself is a representation, a simulacrum for Christ who was himself a simulacrum for the ideals he stood for, which in turn are simulacrums themselves, placeholders for undefinable concepts which we label with signs like justice and love and kindness.
Constable, Catherine. Adapting Philosophy: Jean Baudrillard and 'The Matrix Trilogy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
Constable, Catherine. “ Baurdrillardian Revolutions: Repetition and Radical Intervention in the Matrix Trilogy.” The Matrix Trilogy: Cyberpunk Reloaded. Ed. Stacy Gills. Middlesex: Wallflower Press, 2006.
Constable, Catherine. “Baudrillard Reloaded: Interrelating Film and Philosophy Via the Matrix Trilogy.” Screen. 47.2 (2006)
Hanley, Richard. “Simulacra and Simulation: Baudrillard and The Matrix”. Philosophy and The Matrix. 2003. What is the Matrix?. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/r ... nley2.html
Mann, Doug and Heidi Hochenedel. "Evil Demons, Saviors and Simulacra in The Matrix". Craps Library. http://home.comcast.net/~crapsonline/Li ... atrix.html
Merrin, William. "'Did You Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?': Baudrillard and The Matrix". Scope: An Online Journal of Film and TV Studies. Issue 15. (2009)
Rovira, James. “Subverting the Mechanisms of Control: Baudrillard, The Matrix Trilogy and the Future of Religion.” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. 2.2 (2005)
Posted by Max at 3/19/2010 11:45:00 PM