The Matrix Trilogy - Reality vs. Illusion

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. General Thoughts on the Medium Film

III. A Postmodern Perspective

IV. A Metaphysical Perspective

V. A Moral Perspective

VI. Conclusion

VII. Literature Consulted

I. Introduction

According to the Simulation Hypothesis, what we perceive as reality is actually just a simulation. However, this artificial reality cannot be distinguished from the actual reality so that all those caught in the simulation are not aware of it. Eventually, the Wachowski brothers picked up this idea in order to produce the Matrix trilogy, a cyberpunk story which may have led to more controversial discussions than any other movie in recent cinema history.

The story is set in the near future and starts out with Neo, a computer hacker, being contacted by some underground rebels. Their leader Morpheus considers him to be some promised Christ-like savior, the “chosen one” to free the human race and reestablish peace between the machines and mankind. He introduces Neo to what he knows about reality. Through Morpheus, Neo and the audience learn that there had been a war between the machines and mankind. During the course of this war, man manipulated the atmosphere of the Earth in order to prevent the machines from gaining their energy from sunlight any longer. This is why the machines began to use man as a biological energy source instead. In order to cover the truth from humanity, the machines finally created the matrix , a digital world, which simulates life in 1999. After a long struggle, Neo fulfils this prophecy, sacrifices himself and achieves to save a small number of “refugees“ (people who had escaped the matrix with the help of Morpheus and his crew) who had been living in Zion (again an allusion to the Jews in the Hebrew Testament), a place near the warm core of the Earth, which is outside the matrix.

But Neo did have a choice whether he really wanted to know the truth about the world he was living in. Morpheus offered him two options, namely a blue and a red pill: “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” he explained to Neo. In allusion to Alice in Wonderland, he would otherwise “show [him] how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Although Morpheus insists he cannot offer “anything but the truth,” Neo’s decision in favour of the red pill is clear rather soon. This scene right at the beginning of the trilogy is also when everybody in front of the screens starts to wonder what he or she would have opted for. Even in the further course of the movie, when it is known that people just are slaves to the machines and living in a simulation, this question remains, to some extent. What advantages does it have to stick to the system and, on the other hand, what is wrong with living in such a simulated reality as presented in the Matrix trilogy? It is the decision between reality and illusion. But what is real and what is unreal?

II. General Thoughts on the Medium Film

“One of the great virtues of the Matrix trilogy is that, no matter what we think of it as a work of art, it brings richly to mind countless other imaginative investigations into the relationship between reality and illusion.” (Sexson: 119f.) Michael Sexson speaks out of his own experience, since he has had some interesting debates on the Matrix with his literature students. According to the motto, ignorance is bliss, one them had come to a very interesting conclusion with regard to the issue of reality vs. illusion, saying: “I’m with Cypher in the first movie. He made a deal with the agent to betray the others because a steak tastes better than snot even if it’s a computer simulation. All he wanted was to forget that he had ever left the matrix in the first place.” Some other student had responded: “Reality is always preferable to illusion even if it isn’t pretty.” (Sexson: 117) For better comprehension: Cypher is a member of Morpheus’s Nebukadnezar crew who deliberately drops out of the “real world“ (the world outside the matrix) in order to begin a new life in the artificial matrix. He wants to forget about the true sense of the matrix to live out a pleasant illusion instead. This is why he has to kill his crewmates by pulling the plug which disconnects them from the matrix. This again leads to immediate death. The dialogue between Trinity, who is absolutely committed to the fight against the oppression of mankind, and the dropout Cypher is the ultimate starting point of the students’ discussion: Trinity: “The Matrix isn't real.“
Cypher: “I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world. All I do is pull the plug here. But there, you have to watch Apoc [a member of the crew] die.“

But as Sexson puts it, the theme reality vs. illusion is already represented by the fact that the Matrix is a movie. During the discussions with his students, however, this was often ignored, i.e. the students talked about the film characters as if they actually existed in real life. Taking that into consideration, Sexson draws the conclusion that the boundaries between reality and illusion are already broken simply by the fact that the solely representational character of a movie is seldom mentioned explicitly. Ironical enough, the spectators’ questions arise “when we forget that the movie is a movie, an elaborate set of metaphors and images which are not the things they stand for.” (Sexson: 122f.) After all, it might be valuable to think of “the Matrix trilogy as a cinematic experience capable of helping us to engage the issue of reality and illusion on a sophisticated level […].” (Sexson: 122) Nevertheless, “there is in fact no Neo or Morpheus or Trinity or Agent Smith,” but actors who represent them and “who enable us to wake up.” (Sexson: 123) However, the borders between reality and illusion seem fluid even if we stick to the surface of the Matrix trilogy and analyse the medium film.

III. A Postmodern Perspective

The examination of the pros and cons of a simulated reality like the matrix inevitably leads to the result that the idea of the matrix is a quite postmodern one although this might not have been intended by the filmmakers. (ct. Wilhelm & Kapell: 133f.) Despite the fact that the protagonists of the trilogy aim at finding the truth about reality and the world they live in, it is hard, if possible at all, to find a solution to the problem, i.e. a unique truth concerning the matrix. It turns out to be more than difficult to decide about essential questions, such as what is more real, the matrix or the world outside the simulation. Wilhelm and Kapell even go as far as to say: “How can something reflect the truth when we do not even know what the truth is?” (Wilhelm & Kapell: 132) According to them, “the idea of a real” might not even be knowable. (Wilhelm & Kapell: 131)


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The Matrix Trilogy - Reality vs. Illusion
University of Dortmund
Digital Cultures and Cyberspace
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
498 KB
Matrix, Neo, red pill, blue pill, reality, illusion, postmodernism, metaphysical, moral, approach, Culture Studies, Filmanalyse, Hollywood
Quote paper
Karsten Keuchler (Author), 2007, The Matrix Trilogy - Reality vs. Illusion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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