This last post on THE MATRIX TRILOGY intends to summarize my conclusions. The Matrix has had a deep philosophical impact on me, corroborating many other references I’ve been collecting over the years. What we can see in this brilliant series is the knowledge that many philosophers, especially, in my view, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, have been writing about Life here and there. So let me speak about it a little bit, at least from my perspective.
Let me start with another entirely different film: the short movie BACKSTORY by Swedish director Joschka Laukeninks. I’ve seen this movie for the first time at a film festival and it shook me to the core. You can watch it here. It tells a story about a man going through his life until the moment of his death. All you see for most of the movie is the protagonist’s POV in a fast succession of cuts portraying important moments of his life, narrating his story. As we see this we are invaded (at least I was) by a rising feeling of oppression. Oppression by Time itself. We feel we already know that story, the story of a man like many others, even though we witness a few surprises as we go along. But it is familiar. We know that story. And it is relentless, almost cruel, to see Time passing so fast and so staggering. We feel (at least I felt) that there is nothing we control in our lives. Nothing that we can do to make anything different, anything matter. All that’s left, in the end, are those moments that branded the MC the most, mostly, in the end, moments of love – maybe what others have once called the Foam of the Days. What’s left after all the fuss, all the wrong decisions, and right decisions and going through this whole mess that’s Life. And we so much want to have control, to be able to enjoy life but also to make it matter, to make it about us, about our Freedom to Choose. What propels us forward is our Desire. Our ability to want something for ourselves. The Meaning of Life. And yet, sometimes, it almost seems like all we have is the Foam of the Days – what Yates would call: the Hopeless Emptiness. How can we reconcile our Desire to have Meaning with the elusiveness of the Foam of the Days, what remains in the end? That, in my view, is the theme of THE MATRIX.
There was this psychologist called Viktor Frankl who once had to suffer the disastrous internment in a Nazi concentration camp. I would argue it would be hard to find more oppression and hopelessness. Trying to help the prisoners and going through all the suffering, he learned a few things that he would later share with the world. One very simple concept is this: whatever happens in your life, whatever hardship you go through, you can always choose. When everything else is taken from you there is always something that is yours: your reaction, your attitude. Your attitude is something you can choose. Find your own Meaning and you will find your own strength.
Now Sigmund Freud would tell you that many times the shackles are within us. It is difficult to choose for ourselves when we are overcome by the struggles within our own mind. The conflict between what we want and what we can do, or what we believe we can do, will necessarily obstruct our free choice. If we can resolve the conflicts within, even if in a small way, we can finally start to make our own choices. We can make sense of our choices. Psychoanalysis is all about becoming free to choose.
Lacan would take this further. I’ll simplify it a little bit, please bear with me. The journey of our lives starts by learning that we can’t have all that we want. Our Fathers, our Ancestors, Society, will teach us to conform. If we are to survive we have to obey the rules. To fit in. To become what they want us to become. The journey is one of frustration. Our choices are manipulated and limited. At one point it seems all the choice we have is one of killing our own Will within us and survive, or succumb to Death itself – and if this dynamic is dramatic enough, we may start to split Reality between what we can take and what we cannot. If we want to Live, to be Alive, we must rebel. We must refuse to succumb and fight the Forces of Oppression: the System, the Government, the Figures of Authority, the Evil Corporations, the Military Industrial Complex, whatever. What we do not understand at this point, at the point of rebellion, is that we are entering a different kind of prison. We are becoming ‘one of those who rebel’. Rebels have been here since the beginning, and they are just another type of inmates. A type the System has already integrated and learned to dominate and manipulate. Drugs, Easter Parties, draconian laws, oppressive schools, credit ratings, courts, madhouses, real prisons, they are all manifestations of the System coping with rebellion. And yet, the System works for us. We devised it to climb out of the jungle. If you want to see a country of anarchy, the rule of the rebels, see Somalia. No real System there…
I’ve spoken before about how the System can be cruel and sadistic. All of the Nazi’s crimes were arguably going on within a system of Law. But as I said before, the best ways to confront that Evil came from the people making choices. From the soldiers and the warriors to the bureaucrats all over Europe who saved millions of Jews by disobeying, by undermining the System, by choosing Humanity. And these people were not rebels, were not outliers. These soldiers throughout the world going against impossible odds, and the people laughing while being bombed and the heroes within European bureaucracies faking some signature were not rebels. They were thinking people. People able to choose by themselves. They were free. They were the center.
To be free we need both to reject the oppression of the System and also our Rebellion. We need to put both aside and become something else. Become Human. Embrace both our limitations and our ability to choose. This, in my view, is the message of THE MATRIX TRILOGY.
One of the most successful and masterful ideas of the whole History of Mankind is what can be called The Liberal Agenda. The Liberal Agenda was born a few hundred years ago and is enshrined, in my view, in one of the most brilliant pieces of legislation ever written: The American Constitution. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Association, Equality, Democracy, Rule of Law, etc. That is the Liberal Agenda: what promotes and protects freedom. That Agenda led us to one of the most incredible periods of peace and prosperity in History: the last few decades. When you believe in freedom you must also believe in protecting other people’s choices, while also preventing those choices from destroying freedom (the old liberty paradox: the moment you say ‘no’ to freedom you lose the right to choose to change your mind).
In the end, the great struggle is this: are we commanded by Fear, or are we commanded by Choice? We have an inherent inability to stop Change and an inherent inability to stop Time. Change never stops and Time never stops. As Buddhists say: all our behaviors are actions to avoid suffering or seek out happiness while this is happening. In the end, we are left with only the Foam of the Days. But what really matters is the attitude with which we face this struggle. Is it really a Hopeless Emptiness? Mankind has actually evolved. Millions are now safer than they ever were in the jungle, able to do things that seemed magical just a few decades ago. So whatever we may think, our lives are not really empty. Something is happening in the Universe. Something we are a part of.
What is the right choice, in the end? It’s to choose for ourselves. As Neo did at the end of the saga: we stop fighting and start living. And that, my friends, is what I call The Real Critical Decision of the Hero. The Decision to Make it Happen. To make it Matter.
Sermon finished. Have a good day’s journey, fellow knights. See you around the next campfire.