The Matrix Film Review

Category: Philosophy
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The Matrix (1999) is a film brimming with gripping action sequences and stunning cinematics for its time, but also with deep philosophical questions, ideas, and implications. The film opens with an action-packed rooftop to ground-level chase scene introducing us to Trish, a woman who displays seemingly supernatural capabilities, and the Agents, our primary antagonists who match Trish’s abilities. Our sense of normalcy and reality is distorted within the first few minutes as both Trish and the Agents pursuing her leap across large gaps between buildings. The police officers assisting the Agents stop short, remarking on the impossibility of the physical feat they witnessed.

In another departure from normalcy, Trish seemingly escapes being run over by an Agent in a truck by answering a ringing handset in a phone booth. These unexplained events early on prime us, the audience, for the philosophical themes that dominate the rest of the film. Chiefly, the notion that our “reality” and human existence as we perceive it is nothing more than a facade.

The film next introduces us to Neo, the software engineer and part-time hacker protagonist, as he receives cryptic messages from his computer telling him to “follow the white rabbit.” This is only the first of several references to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. When a visitor at the door asks what is wrong, Neo responds with a question of his own: “You ever…have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?” This is another key moment early in the film for several reasons. It calls back to the impossible physical feats of the opening scene, while also showing that our protagonist also feels that all is not necessarily as things seem. These ideas work together as a reference of the writings of the 17th Century French philosopher Rene Descartes.

Descartes, often considered the father of modern philosophical thought, established what is called “the dream argument” while questioning the reliability of his own beliefs, experiences, and sensory perception. The dream argument posits that reality as we understand and perceive it, could be a dream or simulation too intense for us to distinguish from reality. This idea comes into play strongly later in the film and is arguably the core concept around which the plot is based. After meeting Trinity at a nightclub, Neo wakes up late for work, but receives a package containing a cell phone at his desk. It immediately rings, sparking a conversation with Morpheus, who had previously contacted Neo through computer messages.

Morpheus warns Neo of the Agents’ interest in him and tries talking him into escaping, but the hacker gives himself up to the Agents and is taken into custody and given an ultimatum. When he refuses to be intimidated, Neo falls victim to a strange phenomenon. The skin of his mouth suddenly melds shut and the Agents apply a metal device to his stomach, which comes to life before Neo’s very eyes and burrows into his belly button before he blacks out. Once again, we are reminded that nothing is as it seems in this “reality”, a concept which is reinforced when Neo awakens and assumed the events of the previous day were only a dream. Trinity and the other members of her group remove the tracking device from Neo’s body, forcing him to realize that what happened was not a dream after all, and take him to finally meet Morpheus.

The next scene is possibly the single most enduring of the entire movie and one layered in philosophical themes. Morpheus calls back to Neo’s earlier words, saying, “You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up.” This is an acknowledgement of Neo’s skepticism. While he clearly believes in his surroundings, he harbors unspoken doubts. Morpheus verbally notes this before telling Neo about The Matrix, referring to it as a “world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”. That truth is that Neo and all of humanity are prisoners and slaves. This is about as direct a reference as you will ever find for Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave.

The Matrix, in the analogy, is equivalent to what Plato calls the “World of Appearances”, which misleads us about the true nature of the world. Humanity is effectively chained inside Plato’s cave with the illuminated cave wall they face, the World of Appearances, being the artificial reality of the Matrix. Morpheus is, by explaining this and bringing him out of the Matrix, making Neo into the released prisoner that witnesses the truth of the world. In order to accomplish this, he offers Neo a choice of two pills, one red and one blue. With the red pill, Morpheus offers truth, while the blue pill would mean a return to reality as Neo has always known it, “believing whatever you want to believe” as he puts it.

However, Neo is already questioning his beliefs and knowledge. He knows that something is wrong with the world as he knows it and, as such, chooses the red pill. Neo, like Descartes, chose the epistemological path of questioning his knowledge and knew he could not go back. Unlike Descartes, of course, Neo is provided proof that his former interpretation of reality through the Matrix was false. Neo wakes after choosing the red pill to find a horrific reality in which humans are farmed for fuel by intelligent machines. He is rescued by Morpheus and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and trains in ways to manipulate the Matrix. He is believed by Morpheus and the crew to be a special entity called “The One”.

After meeting a woman called “The Oracle” back inside the artificial reality of the Matrix, Neo and his crew are betrayed by one of their own and Morpheus is captured by the Agents, who seek his knowledge to destroy Zion, the last human city. Cypher, the traitorous crew member, is an interesting case. Unlike Neo, he welcomes the idea of flawed knowledge, preferring it to the harsh reality of the truth. This directly opposes the fundamentals of epistemology, which all the other human characters subscribe to. After negotiating the terms of his future false reality, Cypher escapes the Matrix and murders several of the crew before being killed by Tank, whom he had only managed to injure. After narrowly avoiding death, Trinity and Neo re-enter the Matrix to rescue Morpheus. They fight their way to the top of the building in which the Agents are holding Morpheus as Neo begins to lose the doubt that dogged him during training.

He starts performing feats similar to those of the Agents as the pair rescue Morpheus, eventually dueling and destroying their leader in a one on one fight. He escapes to reality in time for the others to take down several deadly machines with an EMP blast. Finally, in the last scene, Neo makes a phone call from inside the Matrix addressing the machines. He pledges to show humanity what the machines “don’t want them to see…a world where anything is possible”. This calls back to the pill scene and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, except that Neo promises a different ending here. In Plato’s version, the released prisoner tries explaining the world to his fellow captives, but they are unable to recognize or understand him because the World of Appearances makes him appear monstrous and distorted. Neo is claiming that he will instead find a way to free all of the prisoners at once so that they can witness truth for themselves.

Overall, I believe The Matrix did an outstanding job of presenting philosophical concepts such as epistemology and the Allegory of the Cave in a fresh and unique way. While some facets of the plot were certainly open to different interpretations, the philosophical themes were out front and center and become more apparent the deeper you look. Despite this, the movie is enjoyable and thought-provoking even for those coming in without any prior knowledge of the concepts discussed in this paper.

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The Matrix Film Review. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from

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