Monday, July 18, 2005

College English Article on Film The Matrix

The College English issue 32.3 (2005) has a very interesting article on the film The Matrix. The article, "Coded Discourse: Romancing the (Electronic) Shadow in The Matrix," is written by Jason Haslam. The article may be accessible electronically to those libraries who get Project Muse, or readers can check for a print copy at their library. College English is one of the journals I keep on my reading list, and for Project Muse periodicals, I have an alert set up with them so I get their tables of contents as they come out or are added to the database. Science fiction happens to be one of my academic areas of interest, so this article caught my attention. In addition, at least one of the freshman composition classes do papers on film and popular culture topics, and I have seen a share of students write on films like The Matrix. So I am also making this note to remind myself later about this article in case a student comes by.

The article itself provides a reading on the film that argues that the film, and cyberpunk in general, can be read as a critique of enlightenment subjectivity. The article then goes on to review how the film has been read by other critics. For instance, it provides a discussion of the film in racial terms. The film has been discussed as an African American narrative with the character of Morpheus as a father figure and the struggle of Zion as one of a fight against oppression and slavery. To support this, the author cites the work of Toni Morrison in Playing in the Dark where she argues that the story of a Black person is often taken over by White American literature. The second section of the article provides a brief discussion of gender issues looking at the characters of Neo and Trinity. The article then discusses the role of Oracle, and it looks at how that character may be representative of the stereotype of the mammy. All this leads to the situation where Neo becomes the Chosen One. However, as the other films reveal, there is the problem that there is no total freedom in the end. This is the conclusion the author leads the readers to. He concludes that the films may highlight the problem in Neo's and the Ai's power, but that neither Hollywood nor cyberpunk allow the politicized narratives to break to the surface. Those are left up to the viewers (107). (The author notes that he wrote his essay after the last film in the trilogy was released, but he is looking at the first film as a stand-alone piece. However, he uses reference to the other two films as necessary to the argument).

For students looking for a good example of a scholarly discussion of this film, with some notes on the genre of cyberpunk, this article will work. The article also includes good endnotes and an excellent bibliography.

I would like to explore further some of the narratives the author presents. The author mentions that this film falls within other science fiction films that use the alternate plot device where a character realizes the world around him/her is a fake. He mentions the work of Philip K. Dick (a favorite of mine) as an example, but I missed seeing a reference to the film Dark City. I think this may make for a possible research possibility for me later on. Another interesting reference was to the work of Nicola Nixon who sees the corporations in William Gibson's novel Neuromancer figured in orientalist terms and discusses the image of the cyberspace cowboy. I think it would be interesting to see how these ideas have progressed since the 1984 release of Neuromancer, considered the classic of cyberpunk.

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