The Matrix: the origin and controversial legacy of the film in the real world


“I don’t know the future … I didn’t come here to tell you how this will end, I came here to tell you how it will begin.”

This line is part of the final monologue of The Matrix in 1999, when the heroic character Neo, played by actor Keanu Reeves, issues a warning to the machines that controlled the world, after discovering that humanity was trapped in a simulated reality.

The film, which was released when the world was on the cusp of the internet revolution, and on the eve of the new millennium, took advantage of the technological development of the time, and raised momentous questions about the web, conscience and social control.

The fourth installment of this saga, Matrix Resurrections, hits theaters 18 years after the end of the original trilogy.

Given this, we analyze the legacy that still lasts in our society derived from the film, which for some is a prophetic reference.

“The desert of the real”

The Matrix’s creator sisters, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, based their dystopian world on the work of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.

Long before Reeves donned Neo’s overcoat and sunglasses, he was asked to read the book “Simulation and Simulation,” published by the scholar in 1981.

In the book, Baudrillard reflects on a “desert of the real,” a world where true reality had been replaced by the illusions of capitalism. The film took this concept into concrete in the rebel leader Morpheus, when he uses the phrase to introduce Neo to the ruins of the outside world.

For Baudrillard, there was no escape from simulation, but the Wachowskis offered hope in the “promise of a true natural world ‘disconnected’ and separated from the matrix,” explains Professor Richard Smith, editor of The Baudrillard Dictionary.

Boosting Baudrillard’s ideas with his narrative line is, in essence, one of the film’s first legacies. However, its influence extends to everyday situations and expressions. Here we present several of them.

1. The red pill

One of the iconic scenes from The Matrix is ​​when Morpheus offers Neo (then living as hacker Thomas Anderson) a blue pill or a red pill.

If Neo takes the blue pill he comes back to life as Anderson, unaware of the matrix, the simulated world created to covertly enslave humanity. The red pill, on the contrary, would show him reality and bear in mind the tyranny of the machines.

The concept of the pill derived from the film has been redefined in our society. ALAMY

For Professor Smith, the film’s narrative evokes Plato’s allegory of the caverns where prisoners chained in a cave “mistake the shadows on the wall for reality.”

As Morpheus says: “The Matrix is ​​the world that has been placed over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” The pill scene “urges human beings to free themselves from the world of appearances,” says Smith.

But over time, the film’s cultural prominence has caused the red pill metaphor to change for reasons far removed from its original meaning.

For example, the idea was embraced by misogynist internet groups, notably the Incel movement, made up of male supremacists who criticize women’s sexual freedom and feminism.

Among these internet communities stands out a Reddit forum called TheRedPill (TRP), which was launched in 2012 with the aim of providing men with a “sexual strategy” to defeat what they describe as a manipulative “feminist culture” that only empowers to women.

The matrix is ​​built by computer code. WARNER BROS

At the time Reddit “quarantined” the forum in 2018 (following a content warning that only made it accessible via direct links) it had more than 400,000 followers.

At times, the philosophy of the pill has been moved offline with deadly consequences. Before the Plymouth massacre in England, the attacker posted a video on YouTube in which he referred to “overdosing on the black pill”, an internal term within the incel community that takes the nihilistic meaning of the pill to the extreme. red

For the journalist and writer Sophia Smith Galer, the offline consequences of the red pill theory show how it has become a misconception to get out of the frustrations of everyday life.

2. “Free the mind”

The idea of ​​”freeing the mind ̈” exploited by the “theory” of the red pill is making its way into politics today. Especially in the modern populist movements of the extreme right, which position themselves as anti-establishment.

The philosophy of the red pill becomes “a verb” among the militants of the extreme right, before their habit of attacking multiculturalism, globalization and immigration, as the presenter Danny Leigh put it.

Fueled by mistrust in government, the media and the status quo, the far right was propelled into the mainstream of Western politics by former US President Donald Trump and his supporters.

His own daughter, Ivanka, then a senior adviser to the White House, proudly quoted billionaire Elon Musk on Twitter as saying that he had “taken” the red pill.

The tweet represented the opposite of the meaning of Morpheus’ red pill, according to author James Ball. “In the movie, taking the red pill is accepting a strange and gruesome truth rather than staying in a comfortable delusion.“he commented.

“And yet taking the red pill as supported by far-right online groups is accepting vile but comfortable groupthink, adjusting to your own preconceptions, and seeing the world in a framework that suits you.”


Lilly Wachowski responded curtly to Musk and Ivanka’s post with a foul two-word phrase.

Meanwhile, actor Hugo Weaving, who played Agent Smith in the original The Matrix trilogy, has also said he is “taken aback” by the hijacking of the movie’s message. “It just shows how people don’t read under surfaces,” he told The Daily Beast.

3. The post office

The fact that it is now so easy to lock yourself in an online echo chamber, which is a space devoid of balanced opinions in which our own opinions are reaffirmed, has led to the assertion that we are living in the era of “post-truth.”

This term was even declared word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary after Brexit and the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Messaging applications and social networks have helped this climate flourish, promoting fake news and using algorithms that build a version of reality adapted to our tastes.

A report on the digital news ecosystem released by the Reuters Institute this year found that while audiences increasingly value the truth, only 44% believe the news they read.

Platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are attracting more and more young people, but they often offer opinion content or content linked to certain personalities, without first checking the facts, adds the study.

Taken together, this can provide fertile ground for a spiral of misinformation and conspiracy theories. This means that the red and blue pill debate is fading and threatening to morph into a uniform purple pill of prejudice and mistrust.

4. Are we currently living in the womb?

Beyond changing our perceptions of the truth, our interconnected and growing digital presence, known as the fingerprint, reflects elements of The Matrix that would seem like pure science fiction when the film was released.

Our willingness, tacit or not, to share personal information and accept monitoring through technology, from mobile phone applications to machine learning tools such as smart speakers, allows us to draw a detailed picture of our lives and personal habits.

The Cambridge Analytica data scandal showed how this information can be used to influence voters in various political systems.

The overlap of our digital profiles and real life is increasing more and more with new virtual reality technologies, which refer to how the rebels connect and disconnect from the simulation in the film.

Facebook recently announced long-term plans to create a virtual metaverse, allowing for even more immersive living on the internet.

Just as the Morpheus guerrillas hacked into the matrix to install programs that reflected different scenarios, today there are “deepfake” videos, copies generated by computers that seek to imitate a real person.

In the same way, transhumanism, the belief that humans can improve beyond their physical and mental limitations and “improve” their bodies by incorporating technology, also coincides with the way in which the characters in the film can download abilities and skills. learn to manipulate the laws of physics within simulation.

Additionally, the film’s tie to the body’s identity as malleable has been strengthened by Lilly Wachowski, who described this concept as a trans allegory while chatting on a Netflix show last year.

“That was the original intention, but the corporate world was not quite ready,” said the filmmaker, who identifies as a trans person along with her sister Lana after the original trilogy was released.

So where does all of this leave The Matrix as we look to the future?

Some believe that the circle is closed. In 2016, a group of physicists suggested that our universe is likely not real and instead is a giant simulation run by a higher power. Silicon Valley tech leaders, including Tesla boss Elon Musk, have supported the idea.

As implausible as it sounds, it fits in with the legacy of The Matrix. As Neo warned the machines in 1999: “I am going to show you a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders and limits … a world where anything is possible.”


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