An Analysis Of The Film : The Matrix
The Matrix Movie : A Deep Analysis. The Matrix is influenced by the ideas of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. The link between the two works is evident from early in the movie, when Neo is shown taking CD’s out of a hollow hardcover copy of Simulacra and Simulation. This connection is strengthened when Morpheus quotes the novel directly by introducing Neo to the “desert of the real” (8).
Aside from the direct references, the inspiration that The Matrix draws from Baudrillard’s work is evident through the movie’s plot. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard theorizes that humans now exist within a precession of simulacra, a world filled only with images and replicas of reality, not the reality itself. The movie takes this idea to create a scenario in which the birth of artificial intelligence and a war against it leads to humans being trapped in a simulated world. The viewer and characters are both struggling to ascertain what is real and what is simulated.
The Matrix is the simulacra, and humans must find the real world.
In both The Matrix and Simulacra and Simulation, the method of arriving at reality is finding referentials. While the initial success of this method in the movie suggests that reality is different in the two works, the nature of the real world in the Matrix returns to the ideas of the precession of simulacra. Together, the two works display the overall transformations between simulation and reality.
Baudrillad and The Matrix agree that to arrive at reality, humans must eliminate simulations by finding referentials. When describing the Matrix, Morpheus asks Neo “have you ever had a dream… that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” (31:33). In this quotation, Morpheus describes a central idea of Simulacra and Simulations. He introduces the concept of referentials, points of reference that allow for certainty that something is either a copy or a simulation.
If we lack referentials, we cannot discern what is real from what is fake, which is precisely the point of the Matrix.
The humans who are born into this hyper-realistic simulation do not realize it is not real because they have never seen a referential of the real world. Thus humans need to be focused on finding referentials, because without them, we cannot understand what we see to be anything but reality. Simulacra and Simulation argues the same point, as Baudrillard believes that referentials have ceased to exist, leading humans to substitute simulations of the real for the real itself.
According to Baudrillard, our lack of referentials had left us unable to ascertain that there is something more real behind the fake world that we experience. The only disagreement over the method for arriving at reality between the two works is that Baudrillard assumes that the search for them is futile as they no longer exist, while The Matrix does not.
Though at first glance the plot of The Matrix seems to suggest that we can escape the precession of simulacra, even the movie’s real world consists of simulations. The precession of simulacra is the idea that, starting at a particular point in time, referentials ceased to exist. All that remains is images, simulations of the real. The Matrix draws directly from this idea: The Matrix is the simulacra, and the point in time where a switch from real to simulacra happened is the invention of artificial intelligence. In the movie, one can still reach reality by escaping the Matrix, suggesting that the two works have different opinions on the current state of reality and its possibilities.
However, the specifics of the real world in The Matrix do not corroborate this assumption. Even after becoming aware of the real world, Neo spends most of his time either plugged into the Matrix or looking at the coded screens that translate it.
Though he has been freed from the Matrix, he mostly perceives the world through images. In fact, when Morpheus introduces Neo to the real world, he is not shown it in person, but rather plugged back into a simulated reality and then shown it on a TV. Neo never actually sees the real world, rather, his perception of it is entirely based on two layers of images. What he does perceive of the real world is limited to the sewers of ancient cities, which is all that is left of them. Effectively, the sewers are images of the cities, just a simulation of them through the sewer system.
Though Neo does make it out of the Matrix, all he finds is more images, an extension of the precession of simulacra. The movie makes this link direct by describing the real world as “the desert of the real,” a quote directly taken from Baudrillard’s description of what is left of reality after the precession of simulacra. Reality in The Matrix is no less fake than that of Simulacra and Simulation.
Though Baudrillard is concerned about simulation taking precedence over the real world, The Matrix argues that it is possible to translate between the two. In order to remember our experiences, humans make copies of them in the form of neural connections.
Thus, when Neo returns to the real world, a physical copy of the Matrix still remains stored within the pattern of electrical signals fired in his brain. However, the memories that Neo has are copies, rather than original creations. His memories then are merely images, simulations of the Matrix. Despite existing in the real world, the real chemical storage of memories operate as a simulacra of the Matrix.
Correspondingly, while the skyscrapers in the Matrix do not exist in the real world, the code that controls the computers does. Code functions as a translator, turning the real world computers into simulations such as the Matrix. Memory then allows us to create real, physical change in our own brain based off of the simulations, almost undoing the image back into its coded form, albeit in the coding language of neurons. While The Matrix corroborates Baudrillard’s concerns about the reality of what surrounds us, it allows for the possibility of reversing the situation.