The 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.
Like all truly memetic movies, The Matrix doesn’t just end with the final scene, it leaks out through the screen to influence our thinking long after the credits have rolled, making us a part of the performance as it disrupts the way we look at the world. Perhaps unparalleled in modern times, this movie’s cultural influence runs to a whole lexicon of 21st-century phraseology, the most famous of course being the red pill. While red and pill are just two simple words, thanks to The Matrix, this phrase is packed with hidden depths and double meanings as it encapsulates the personal journey of a doubter who’s turned away from the establishment media complex and seen the world in its true, remarkable and unfiltered form for the first time.
Once our eyes are opened there can be no going back…well, the movie did try to warn us! Perhaps we should all have heeded Morpheus’ words when he explained that all he had to offer was the truth, and nothing more.
As the most iconic of memetic movies, The Matrix is much more than just thought provoking entertainment; it launches the mind into that mirror-world of conformity, control and rebellion. In this age of hyper-individuality, learning that the thoughts we think and the words we speak may have originated from outside of ourselves is a true horror story for the digital age.
How likely is it that we are in fact all asleep inside some giant and unfathomably complex simulation? Well, it’s not likely at all really, but that doesn’t mean The Matrix can’t prompt us to wonder whether we are really the product of our own free will, or merely the result of an intricately woven pattern of control that is simply impossible to fathom or even to see from the inside.
Just like all great memetic movies, the genius of The Matrix is the way it uses a preposterous story to express some eternal truth about ourselves and the world we inhabit.
That’s why we just can’t stop talking about it.