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Could watching a movie change your life? Here are three…

Follow the White Rabbit

I just learned a few days ago that there’s a fourth movie in the Matrix series, “The Matrix Resurrections” coming soon. I watched the somewhat interactive teaser trailer yesterday, and the official trailer is supposed to drop today.

Are you excited?

The original movie, The Matrix, came out the year I turned 16. It’s hard to overstate how much of an impact that movie had on me, my friends, and other people (especially boys) my age.

First, there was the cinematography. The way they created “bullet time”, smoothly spinning the camera around the action in super slow motion.

No one had ever seen anything like it.

It just so happened that I was taking a film and TV production class in high school at the same time the movie came out.

We discovered that the film makers created the illusion of “bullet time” not solely with computer graphics like they might today, but by placing dozens of high speed cameras around the action and then grabbing and stitching together a series of frames.

My classmate Jaime even managed to recreate a rudimentary version of the same effect for his project (especially impressive when you consider that we were recording and editing on VHS at the time), but Jaime was clever like that — he went on to found the now infamous Wall Street Bets subreddit.

Then there was the fashion of the Matrix. The long, slick, leather trenchcoats and the futuristic sunglasses. I don’t think any of us bought a single article of clothing that wasn’t black for about a decade after the movie came out.

But the Matrix didn’t just pioneer new special effects in movies or change the way we dress. It also changed the way we think.

The Philosophy of the Matrix is the movie’s ultimate legacy.

It made us wonder:

What if reality is not real? What if it’s all an illusion?

What if we’re living in a simulation? How would we know?

I know now that these questions have existed much longer, but it was the Matrix that introduced a generation of us to them. After all, as teenage boys, it’s not like we were sitting around reading Plato’s Cave and Karl Popper…

Of course, the Matrix also gave us the concept of Red Pills and Blue Pills.

The former term has since become much maligned and associated by the mainstream with misogyny. But the original idea — that there is some knowledge that, once you learn it, you will never see the world the same way again — is a powerful one.

Some of us choose to learn that knowledge and live with the “burden” of it. Less talked about, but just as important, is the idea of the blue pill as a choice. The notion that, even if given the chance to know the truth and see past the façade, some (most?) people would prefer to live in the illusion.

Ignorance is bliss.

This Is Your Life, and It’s Ending One Minute at a Time

The Matrix wasn’t the only movie that served up a big, fat, cinematic red pill that year. In fact, 1999 was such an exceptional year in movies, that there’s even a book about it: Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery.

If the Matrix opened our eyes to the idea that there’s more to life and reality than what we see in front of us, then Fight Club uppercut us in the face with it.

The movie’s iconic anti-hero, Tyler Durden, spends much of his screen time railing against consumerism and dishing out nuggets of wisdom like:

The things you own end up owning you.

The story takes a few twists and Tyler ends up on a rather destructive path, but by that time he’s already delivered his messages to the world:

We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

First, you’ve gotta know – not fear, know – that someday, you’re gonna die.

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet…

That last quote, starting with “you are not your job”, may seem totally self-evident to some people, but for me, growing up in the wealthy suburbs of a city where the first question is always, “So… what do you do?” It was a revelation.

37 Pieces of Flair, a Case of the Mondays, and a Touch of Taoism

It’s this point that Office Space, another movie released in 1999, focuses in on.

The comedy woke us up to the horridness of corporate culture, from cubicles to cover sheets. And it nudges us to consider which of our inherited social norms and obligations are really necessary.I don’t like my job and uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore

Echoing the parable of the Mexican fisherman, Office Space also reminds us that “You don’t need a million dollars…

Like Simulacra and Simulation and the Society of the Spectacle a generation earlier, these three movies draw attention to the absurdity of our modern lives and our disconnect from reality.

Taken together, they serve as an invitation for the viewer to wonder if, perhaps there’s more to life than working, accumulating money, and buying stuff. A rebuttal to materialism itself.

That’s all for this week. More soon!

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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