The Reader on Ma(t)r(i)x

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at
Tue Apr 20 11:09:45 PDT 1999

Doug Henwood wrote:

> Peter Kilander wrote:
> >Here's the Chicago Reader, the free weekly here, on the movie The Matrix:
> >
> Gotta see this damn thing. How does the movie riff on Marx, as the review
> claims?

I just saw it this weekend. I didn't even read the thread on it earlier, as one initial post began telling WAY more about what happens than I want to know before I see a movie. But I would say the riff on Marx is very much a matter of perspective. A neo-Nazi skinhead could just as easily see it as an attack on ZOG.

OTOH, the review downplays it's actual strength as a REAL science fiction movie. Most would-be SF movies derive from other SF movies, and have precious little in common with SF literature. "The Matrix" clearly comes from folks who KNOW SF literature. This is what makes it "impenetrable" to people who only know SF movies. I mean, who really expects your average actor to understand a Philip K. Dick novel, anyhow?

In fact, the movie is MORE reminiscent of Dick than it is of the Bible, (or even, arguablly, Baudrillard). After all, the Bible is mostly recycling themes that were already ancient when it was written, and Dick's riffing on such themes are echoed quite a bit in "The Matrix". (Not to mention that Dick was immensely popular in Baudrillard's France, not just a ghettoized readership as he has here in the US.)

The theme of an utterly false reality is a major theme throughout Dick's work.

There's _The Man in the High Castle_ -- in which Germany & Japan won WWII, but a book about an alternative reality is written in which they lost. There are clear indications that this is not just an alternative history, but a false reality.

There's _UBIK_, most of which takes place in a refrigerated after-life. But whose?

There's _The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch_, in which Martian colonists use a drug and models to transport themselves into a simulated suburban paradise where they can escape their penal-colony-like existence to live "normal lives."

There's _Now Wait Till Last Year_, which takes place in the 1950s, which turns out to be the delusional regression of a man who's utterly crucial to the defense of Earth in a 1990s nuclear war.

There's _Valis_, _The Divine Invasion_ and _Radio Free Albemuth_, where all of material reality (or at minimum the last 2000 years or so) is called into question as a vast delusional condition.


Naturally, "The Matrix" also owes a debt to _Count Zero_, even more than _Nueromancer_, but Gibson's vision of cyberspace wasn't a simulacrum of real space, whereas Dick was endlessly fascinated with appearance vs. reality.

While Dick's own SF works translated to the screen -- "Blade Runner" (_Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?_) and "Total Recall" ("We Can Remember it for You Wholesale") -- have watered down his vision to movie-level expectations, "The Matrix" is arguably a rather good translation of his sensibility. Now if Hollywood would just get off its collectivbe butt and do a proper job on any of the Dick novels I just mentioned....

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list