Note: I have highlighted quotations in red.  You'll note how they are introduced on first and second reference and how only sources with page numbers are cited with parenthetical references.  While not every quotation from the film contains a reference to teh title of the film, it is nevertheless evident what is being quoted (due to character names, etc. being quoted).  I have followed the example paragraphs with a Works Cited page that has all of the info I would need on a Works Cited page for just these paragraphs.  Note that indentation for the Works Cited page is not correct due to the limitations of html.

excerpted from:

Williams, G. Christopher.  "Mastering the Real: Trinity as the 'Real Hero' of The Matrix."  Film Criticism 27.3 (2003): 2-17.

This plot deviation may not immediately appear to be a helpful distinction between this film and the “anti-simulation” films, but, as I will demonstrate, The Matrix at once revels in the reimmersion of the human subject in the simulation, distinguishing a human’s position as a subject to the machine’s reality from a human’s position as an active agent in the Matrix.  More important, though, is the manner in which the Wachowski brothers acknowledge the Baudrillardan critique of simulation and real. They do so as they represent a hyperreal blurring of the distinctive worlds of real and simulation that serve as environments in the film through a series of inversions of their conception of real and simulation.  Additionally, in the film’s concluding scene when Neo is forced to confront the seeming omnipotency of the Matrix’s Agents (programs designed to police the human populace in the Matrix and who appear in the Matrix as resembling FBI or CIA agents), the Wachowski brothers parallel Neo’s own ability to master the simulation with Trinity’s (the character who serves as his love interest) similar mastery of the real itself.  It is this final concept--that it is possible to master the real itself--that makes this film of particular interest as an example of the manipulation and therefore the possession of the real.  This purpose, controlling the real, falls very much in line with Baudrillard’s conception of the purpose of simulacra in this era.  As Douglas Kellner describes in Jean Baudrillard, Baudrillard is suggesting that “the inherent goal of the order of simulacra is to produce a flexible and controllable universal system of order and power” (78).  To this end, then, I will argue that the intended audience’s expectation of where this film is going is at first acknowledged but then exploited to demonstrate both the blending of real and simulation ultimately to make Trinity, whose role seems to be merely to act as the traditional heroine (little more than a love interest for the hero) into the film’s true hero.  This “heroism” is based upon Trinity’s position as a master not simply of simulacra but ultimately of reality itself--control derived from her own perceptions and beliefs about what the world should be.

That the Wachowski brothers have chosen to upset their audience’s expectations is clearly connected to their acknowledgement of Baudrillard’s explanations of the hyperreal.  As previously noted, the Wachowski brothers make it clear early in the film that the film is closely linked to the examinations of real and simulation that Baudrillard has become famous for by having Neo draw a copy of Simulacra and Simulation from a shelf in an early scene and allowing the audience to see its title clearly.  The irony that this book, concerning simulation, is in and of itself a simulation of a book (for the book is hollowed out and contains illegal software that Neo peddles as a rebellious hacker) is amusing, but at the same time it displays how expectation and simulation are linked together.  This almost trite image of a hollowed-out book is based on the idea that a book would never be expected to contain illegal or immoral objects.  Thus the object is at once a simulation and one that challenges our expectations.  At the same time, though, the audience knows that this device is tremendously overused in stories and especially urban legends, and so its real function should not really be that surprising to them.  Yet, again, despite its overuse, the typical form taken by this device is that of a hollowed-out Bible, with the irony being that an immoral or illegal substance is contained in such a particularly morally imbued object.  Thus, the audience’s expectation is successfully challenged by the use of the “wrong book” for this purpose and even going so far as to suggest an equivalence between the Bible and Simulation and Simulacra, making a Baudrillardan worldview one that stands for ultimate truth and one that describes moral truths and even reality itself.  Yet this book challenges reality with its claims of a hyperreal more real than the real.  It is in such inversions and interplays between expectation and the nature of simulation that the Wachowskis are able to create a kind of hyperreal space between the clearly distinctive real and simulated environments in the film.  These moments acknowledge at once traditional relationships between binary opposites before inverting their status as favored thesis over antithesis to antithesis over thesis and then finally negating both in a move akin to deconstruction, but also with a further nod to the radical negation of representation of the Baudrillardan hyperreal.

One of the more important of these oppositions in the film is male and female.  Ironically, The Matrix, a film that seems to contain so many elements traditionally thought to be appealing to men (with its emphasis on action and special effects), uses predominantly feminine narratives to drive its plot.  The mythic structures that it draws on tend to be narratives centralized around female protagonists, like Alice of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty.  At the same time, these feminine narratives are often inverted in unexpected ways that tend to drive the film’s Baudrillardan themes.  In part it is the film’s focus on feminine narratives that leads me to believe that Trinity, not Neo (whom most would identify as the hero of the Matrix), that is the film’s hero.  Her very name suggests an inversion of basic cultural assumptions and expectations.  Trinity takes her name from a God most decidedly masculine. This play on expectation is explicit in Neo’s observation on first meeting her in the flesh (as opposed to hearing of her by name only in hacker culture and lore): “I just thought . . . you were a guy.” And the irony is acknowledged most clearly in Trinity’s simple but biting answer: “Most guys do.”

The self-assurance evident in Trinity’s character is decidedly lacking in Neo, who acts as a hapless and wide-eyed innocent as he is awakened to the real reality that underlies the “reality” he has believed in up until now.  The film follows his journey, not Trinity’s, from ignorance about the nature of reality to knowledge about what the world has become while humans have slept in their “dream world.”  While Neo is the protagonist of the film, Trinity starts the action rolling as we see in one of the film’s opening moments as she receives a phone call and says, “Is everything in place?”  Trinity is also the one who leads Neo through a cryptic communication from her to “follow the white rabbit” to a man called Morpheus.  It is, of course, yet another contradiction that the god of sleep and dreams should awaken someone, but the more critical contradiction concerning Neo is related to the centrality of a kind of stereotypical feminine narrative in The Matrix.  This narrative, which will ultimately show Trinity the more powerful figure, also relegates the masculine character to feminine roles and characterizations.  Thus, I will focus on how Neo is portrayed in order to show how this feminine narrative underlies the film despite the male protagonist that seems to be the center of the action.  Trinity’s role appears to be a minor one in the film, but Neo’s weaknesses as he plays an “inferior” stereotype highlight her strengths.

For instance, despite Neo’s messiah-like status as a chosen savior of humankind called The One, he is cast not as a rebellious hero but as Alice of Lewis Carroll’s stories.  Neo is instructed earlier in the film by his computer to “follow the white rabbit,” leading to his encounter with Trinity and finally Morpheus.  He is feminized both in terms of his figuration as a female and also through his hapless, almost virginal innocence so similar to the female protagonists of fairy tales.  While the Wachowskis continue to pay homage to the Alice stories through the binary logic of Morpheus’s instructions to “take the blue pill and the story ends . . . [or] take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes,” they do so in order to propose an inversion of the Wonderland metaphor.  At once, Neo is like Alice, entering the rabbit hole to discover a new reality, but at the same time he is already in Wonderland, the “dreamworld” of his simulated reality.  After Neo chooses to take the red pill, he is hurried off to enter the “rabbit hole.”  As he sits waiting for the program (for that is what the pill represents within this virtual reality) to disconnect him from the Matrix, he touches a mirror beside him.  While Alice steps through the looking glass to enter her own dreamlike and surreal Wonderland, Neo finds the mirror encroaching upon him:  covering his body, creeping up it, and pouring down his throat.  Neo has not gone through the looking glass, the looking glass has gone through him. 

This representation is relevant on several levels.  At once it acknowledges the inversion that I noted before; Neo is moving from the simulation toward the real as opposed to moving from the real into the simulation, but it also suggests a different role for this “Alice.”  In the Wonderland stories, Alice is an observer, one who has entered a strange new world and wanders haplessly into confusing encounters that she cannot understand.  She serves as the vehicle through which Carroll can present his surreal environments to us.  She becomes Carroll’s audience’s perspective.  Interestingly, though, in The Matrix, when Neo enters reality as the mirror pours down his throat and he tilts his head backwards, we--following the perspective of the camera--enter the gaping hole of his mouth along with the mirror.  The environment the viewer is entering will not be presented in a traditional perspective with Alice--the outside observer--experiencing Wonderland; instead, the environment moves into Neo, creating him almost as a container for the world he is now entering, suggesting a primacy of subjectivity over the real.

This initial image of reality existing within a human being foreshadows how the film will argue that both the simulation as well as the real can be dominated in this manner.  To return for the moment, though, to Neo’s role in this argument, we can also see how the Wachowski brothers parallel this sense of a subjective ontology through the use of religious imagery.  During Neo’s training, he is sent to see a woman called the Oracle.  This woman can apparently tell if Neo is the One or not.  While such a figure may hint at a more Western religious image, in this case, they take Buddhism as their primary model to illustrate the ontology of the Matrix by presenting a child dressed in Eastern garb as one of the Oracle’s enigmatically named “potentials.”  As Neo waits to see the Oracle, he watches this child bend a spoon with his mind.  Neo, having gone through training exercises with Morpheus in the Matrix in which he has been asked to challenge his belief in the simulated reality around him in order to become faster or stronger, also attempts to also bend the spoon using only his force of will. The boy explains to him in a sage tone why Neo has failed: “Your spoon does not bend because it is just that, a spoon.  Mine bends because there is no spoon, just my mind.”  While this statement at once acknowledges the nature of the simulation around them--indeed, in a literal sense, there is no material spoon--it also acknowledges an Eastern tradition of belief that reality is an illusion.  But as the boy further explains, all of reality is determined by the will acting to drive and even to become reality: “Link yourself to the spoon.  Become the spoon and bend yourself.” This solipsistic philosophy seems altogether rational given the nature of the Matrix as a simulation, but this same solipsism will come to dominate our sense of both the simulation and the real for the remainder of the film.  As Baudrillard suggests “the territory no longer precedes the map . . . the map precedes the territory” (2).

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean.  Simulacra and Simulation.  1981.  Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser.  Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994.  43-48.

Kellner, Douglas.  Jean Baudrillard.  Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989.

The Matrix.  Dirs. Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski.  Warner Brothers, 1999.  17 April 2001.