Archive for category The-Wachowskis

From The Matrix to Cloud Atlas: The Wachowskis Wake Us From Our Slumber

It is now part of popular culture that the Brothers Wachowski dared to imbue the Matrix films with Philosophical Ideas. Rather then scaring off the general public, they instead found that the films – the first in particular – resonated beyond any expectation. They had touched a common nerve. The notion that did it, the theme that everyone identified with, was that our perception of the world should not be trusted.

Obviously the book ‘Simulacra and Simulacrum’ by Jean Baudrillard was fascinating the brothers at the time – indeed the book can be seen carefully placed in some of the sets. Baudrillard’s idea, not to put too fine a point on it, was that we can’t be sure that what we experience is the real thing – hence the ‘simulacrum’ of the title (a simulacrum being an image or representation of something).
This idea descends directly from a Plato. Commonly thought of as the most important philosopher of all time (Northhead described all subsequent Western Philosophy as a ‘series of footnotes to Plato’), the central metaphor of Plato’s most celebrated work (Pheadrus) is the so-called Cave Allegory.

In the Cave Allegory Plato explains that we are chained inside a cave, looking at shadows cast by a fire, all the while thinking that those shadows are the real thing. The Wachowskis’ have Morpheus point out something similar to Neo: “You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo” he intones.

Now this is common enough knowledge for all Matrix fans, and if that is all I had to offer I would not bother, but for those who feel particularly keenly the ‘splinter in the mind’ that was driving Neo mad, consider this quote from the great Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing:

“We are dead, but think we are alive. We are asleep, but think we are awake. We are dreaming, but take our dreams to be reality. We are the halt, lame, blind, deaf, the sick. But we are doubly unconscious. We are so ill that we no longer feel ill, as in many terminal illnesses. We are mad, but have no insight [into the fact of our madness]”.

These are not the ramblings of a madman – Laing was a clinical psychiatrist, and a revered one at that.

For whatever reason, the Wachowskis seem blessed (or cursed?) with an insight into the shallow brittleness of what we each accept as reality. They continued to explore this theme of delusion in V for Vendetta – another superb film.

These are profound and brave assaults on our accepted reality. They are brave because we resent being roused. Plato said that if someone were to take the cave dwellers outside of the cave and show them actual reality they would say that he was mad and try to put him to death.

The brother’s latest film, Cloud Atlas, is apparently beautiful but baffling: I will be looking hard to see if the clue to it doesn’t lie in another attempt to rouse us from our unconsciousness.

Your comments are very welcome, please share your thoughts below.

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