The Matrix

The Matrix (1999)

The MatrixThe whole world is taking a surreal turn with this unprecedented coronavirus lockdown. The strangely quiet streets and the almost alien media images look like they’re happening in some less fortunate yet faraway facsimile of the place we call home. We’ve become so used to lives of unrestricted indulgence and profound comfort that just a single empty supermarket shelf somehow seems unreal, a mistake, an affront to all that we know to be true and take for granted.

It’s hard to escape the idea that the world in which we live is somehow becoming detached and decoupled from the world flickering on our TV screens. We haven’t changed, so it feels increasingly like there’s something wrong with reality.

With one half of our existence muffled through social isolation and the other amplified through social media, there’s never been a better time to flick through that old movie collection and break out The Matrix. It is without doubt the biggest, most influential and greatest memetic movie of them all.

Set in a world where nothing is real, except for everything we experience, The Matrix gives form to every nagging doubt we’ve ever explored about free will and social control, while suggesting that nothing we know can ever be truly authentic…whatever authentic actually means in a world where everything is a dream.

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The Joker

Joker (2019)

The JokerIt’s rare for a film to achieve full memetic status when it’s first released. It usually takes quite a while, sometimes years, for many different layers of expression and commentary to reveal themselves within a truly memetic movie.

Not so with Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of rage, despair and insanity is both uncomfortable to endure and yet completely enthralling. Watching Arthur Fleck choke on the uncontrollable, maniacal laughter he tries to suppress is mesmerising as we witness two personalities battling for supremacy inside the same tortured mind. Trapped in a hopeless cycle of stupefying medication, vapid counselling and grinding despair, it’s only a matter of time before Arthur finally snaps and the monster within can no longer be contained. Indeed, it is Fleck’s acceptance of the Joker as his true identity which is one of the deepest and most disturbing aspects of the entire screenplay. Arthur Fleck has known nothing but unhappiness, exploitation and alienation; while the Joker is a carefree, brutal and remorseless predator.

Joker is both created by and reflected in the oily, grimy and hopeless city that Fleck and the other residents of Gotham are forced to endure day in and day out as each cycle of decay, promised renewal and abandonment is worse than the last. Arthur Fleck is ground under by the grey, garbage filled vista he cannot escape, while the Joker is perfectly adapted to his environment; finding joy in every dirty puddle and wreaking his vengeance on a world that first conceived and then shunned him. The psychotically violent clown is familiar to us all as Frankenstein’s vengeful creation, re-imagined for our modern world of medicated conformity and vicious social stratification.

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Fight Club

Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club“It was right in everyone’s face, Tyler and I just made it visible. It was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, Tyler and I just gave it a name.”

That incredibly prescient line from the multi-faceted Fight Club (1999) succinctly captures an embryonic cultural revolt which had already been gestating for years by the time Brad Pitt and Edward Norton took to the screen. The brilliance of Jim Uhls’ far-sighted scripting lies in the way it captures an underlying idea which was not fully formed at the turn of the millennium. Whether wittingly or otherwise, his dramatisation of a fictional revolt against every aspect of our pearl clutching cultural norms gave us a glimpse over the horizon and into the 21st century. Indeed, the fundamental cultural questions Fight Club explores are still far from settled, although we now at least have some idea of what the future might look like.

If Fight Club had simply been a movie about a bunch of guys being blokeish and hiding from society’s disapproving gaze, then it still would’ve been pretty entertaining. However, what elevates this film to a near mythical and certainly memetic category is how the fighting is merely one expression of a far deeper, over-arching and more profound existential rebellion. Throughout the movie, that insurgency grows into a philosophy or creed of sorts as the instigators of Project Mayhem take revenge on a society which sees the servicing of consumer debt as sufficient reason for a man’s existence.

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