An Example of Cinematic Education in Philosophy
By Roman Meinhold
This paper examines the human condition as portrayed in the film trilogy “The Matrix”. Furthermore it
shows the relevance of the movies educational contribution with regard to its criticism of contemporary
life. The film reflects current threats to freedom experienced by movie-goers in a “real” world, heavily
dependent on machines and electronic devices. It provides an example of an applied popularized
philosophy. It incorporates philosophical themes in the plot – reality, existence, knowledge, belief, free
will, determinism, and cultural critique – and makes these themes approachable and palatable for a
wider audience. I will argue that such contribution, though sometimes flawed, should be welcomed by
educators of philosophy.
Structure and scope of this paper
The following glance on the current problem of education and standing of philosophy
as an academic discipline will be followed by a compressed narration of the trilogy’s
core plot. However, the narration will concentrate mainly on the first installment.
Then the paper then will analyze the human being and its life or existence in the
Matrix’ simulated world and in the underground real world (the “desert of the real”).
After highlighting some philosophical themes in the trilogy finally ‘being in the
Matrix’ will be compared with being in our present day to day life.
The three movies in the trilogy are “The Matrix” (1999), “The Matrix Reloaded”
(2003), and “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003) directed by the brothers Larry and
Andy Wachowsky. “The Matrix” – italicized and in inverted commas – refers to the
movie trilogy; the Matrix –with a capital non-italicized “M” signifies the softwarehardware-
system in the films. All three movies contain action scenes (with very
limited philosophical significance) and dialogues – some of which bear philosophical
implications. Some of the statements in the movies’ dialogues are based on the (partly
misunderstood or misconceptualized) writings of the French sociologist and
philosopher Jean Baudrillard.1 However, I will not treat the heritage or reception of
Baudrillard’s philosophy in the movie, since my aim is to concentrate on the issues
mentioned above. Besides that I will overlook logical inconsistencies in the movie’s
storyline; and – although this is an interesting issue in this trilogy – I will refrain from
delving into the free-will/determinism debate. Also, as I identify and describe the
“human existence” or being as portrayed in the trilogy, I will not explore being in the
Trainstation, which is a plot device used to interface “real world” and the Matrix.
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