Matrix helps demonstrate materialism and dialectics The Matrix 1999 reviewed by MC5
Larry and Andy Wachowski have directed a Hollywood film of tremendous value -- a great gift to the revolutionary movement on par with that of Reds politically and done artistically as well as can be with special effects. This is not a "B" grade indoctrination and it touches on many important areas of revolutionary thought.
The Excite search engine review says the following before linking to the official Hollywood "The Matrix" web site, (which by the way is a waste of time because of programming errors nearly inevitable in trying to present as many graphics as a movie): "In the near future, a computer hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that all life on Earth may be nothing more than an elaborate facade created by a malevolent cyber-intelligence, for the purpose of placating us while our life essence is 'farmed' to fuel the Matrix's campaign of domination in the 'real' world. He joins like- minded Rebel warriors Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) in their struggle to overthrow the Matrix."
After the year 2000 breakthroughs in artificial intelligence resulted in the creation of mechanical beings that eventually took over the world in a series of wars. The war was so brutal that the humyns do not even know exactly how it started or proceeded by the time we come upon the humyn heroes of the movie.
The humyn resistance thus faces two dialectical truths: 1) It must struggle to know its own history or be kept in the dark by the oppressor. 2) Moments of triumph like the application of artificial intelligence give rise to unexpected destruction and change.
The process of unexpected birth of change is almost the definition of dialectics.
Mode of production
Humyn-beings both dead and alive are tended by machines in gigantic mechanical farms where they are used as batteries for the various kinds of heat and electricity that they produce. 99 percent of humyns are farmed this way, while a few escape and join the resistance.
The new "battery mode of production" has elements similar to slavery and capitalism. Because the machines keep the humyns physically constrained there is an element of slavery. The difference with both slavery and capitalism is that the humyns no longer labor. They are sustained and tended by the machines of the Matrix and just by existing feed their energy to their masters with artificial intelligence. The fact that the humyns do not even know they are slaves is part of the superstructure created by capitalism just before the Matrix took over.
In fact, the Matrix has worked on perfecting the mind control of humyns. Neo becomes aware of the Matrix at least partly through being a hacker, and someone interested in entertainment programs as drugs. It becomes difficult to separate computer game simulations from drugs because the programs become biologically integrated into humyns.
While they sit in these farms under the influence of drugs and other biological influences, the humyns are mechanically fed through tubes into their bodies all the sensations of being in Amerika of 1999. Hence, the 99 percent of humyns are complacent and unaware of their physical captivity in the 22nd century. Usually they attack the resistance trying to save them. The Matrix knows exactly scientifically how to produce the dream-state stupor of the masses through the use of computer programming.
Philosophers focussing on dream-states are often what we Marxists call "idealists." However, "The Matrix" is not saying that life is all a dream.
Rather in the future, science has advanced to the point where it becomes more and more possible to simulate dreams. First there are computer games. Then there are simulations and holograms. Finally, computer programs develop where they can deliver the electrical and chemical stimulation to the brain directly to create a dream state or receptivity to education or any other function of the brain. The heroes simply insert computer programs into the back of their necks for edification or entertainment.
The trippy "Alice in Wonderland" aspects of the movie make it the stuff of Hollywood, but the script-writer turned it into a bold stroke of materialism. Not only does the script- writer uphold materialism as the existence of an external world independent of the subject (humyn mind), but also the script-writer shows us how science will conquer and make everything knowable including dreams.
Not anarchist individualism
Usually activists and cultural workers focussing on "mind control" are anarchist individualists. At the beginning, Neo is a prime candidate for anarchist individualist. When he gets into trouble, the organized, hierarchical resistance saves him -- right down to telling him how to escape police step by step.
Finally he gets to meet the resistance, but when he does, the resistance holds a gun to his head and asks him to take off his shirt. The resistance is correct that it must go to extreme measures to protect itself. Indeed, Neo turns out to be bugged, so the resistance has to remove the device. All of this seems highly coercive to unconscious anarchist individualist Neo--partly from what he does not know about the war of liberation going on.
Hence, Neo nearly makes the anarchist individualist mistake of ending the meeting with the resistance. When he gets out of the car to leave, Trinity tells him he does not want to do that because he knows where that "road goes."
Neo gets back in the car and he finally meets the military leader of a unit of the resistance. Morpheus tells Neo he can learn the truth, which only gets deeper and deeper and is not necessarily pleasant at all or he can leave "and go on believing whatever you want to believe." The choice is simple: truth or anarchist stupor. Neo had to give up on the idea that he is in control as an individual and accept that he might not be.
The moment of truth comes when Neo finally understands that he is a battery in a farm controlled by a computer program. When he learns this he moves to attack Morpheus, the messenger that told him no, Neo was never in control as an individual. Neo gets unplugged from the computer program where he learned the truth and we get the sense that he would have killed everyone in that unit of the resistance if he hadn't fallen unconscious first.
MIM recognized this moment. Unfortunately, more often than not MIM is unsuccessful at that moment. Most imperialist country people refuse to accept science, the notion of materialism and the idea that the individual is not free. They violently and irrationally attack the messenger and cling to pre-political lifestyle moralism.
Morpheus's resistance is better than MIM's, because once the recruit accepts the pursuit of truth, Morpheus can show people mechanically how their brains work. It becomes a matter more like learning to drive a car than one of years of study.
Not only is there military hierarchy in the resistance, but a traitor arises within the resistance who blames Morpheus for teaching him the truth and who says he's still not free because he only follows Morpheus's orders. The anarchist- individualist sells out to the Matrix for steak, wine and a future computer program where he is famous and wealthy. Thus after achieving a relatively high level of scientific consciousness, the traitor says he is "tired" and actually kills his one-time compatriots before being killed before he could be re-absorbed by the Matrix.
There are a few drawbacks to this film. It has the mandatory Hollywood minimum of violence. The violence is righteous, but of course even the perfect film will be misconstrued in the current capitalist context. The choreographing of violence to music makes it more akin to dance.
Morpheus is Black and the "Oracle" who predicts the future is a Black womyn, but there is a slight incongruity in speaking of an "Oracle" and "fate" when it is clear that science has advanced so far. Fate should not be used as a metaphor for forces beyond individual control.
Romance is kept down to a minimum, but the film ends with a classic (and borrowed) heterosexual charge. The last fight scene is as a result the most trippy of all, but we do not believe the romance or the superpowers involved in the last fight will overshadow the step-by-step progression in science that people went through in the movie up to that point. If there is a sequel, we may learn even more about what happened, so that the viewers are left with no mystical residues.
On the whole, MIM could not have asked for more in a two and a half hour Hollywood movie. We can use the movie to educate people about dialectics, modes of production, Lenin's book "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" and the drawbacks of anarchism and individualism.