Ideology and Reality in the Movie, The Matrix Essay

Ideology and Reality in the Movie, The Matrix Essay

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Ideology and Reality in the Movie, The Matrix


The matrix, as presented in the eponymous film, operates as an Althusserian Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). The Matrix1 presents a world in which "the state [as] a 'machine' of repression" is made literal where robots rule the land (Althusser 68). It is true that they rule by force (sentinels and agents) and these constitute the Repressive State Apparatus, but their primary force of subjugation is the matrix, their ISA. The film traces the path of one man, Neo, in his painful progress from the ideology of the matrix to the "real world," or the ideology of the "real."2

The matrix, unlike the ideology of the "real," is explicitly defined along Althusserian lines as an ISA. Althusser identifies ISAs as "a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer" (Althusser 73). Just as the "machine" of the state is taken literally, ideology as "reality" is taken literally. Any discussion of the ISA must include both a brief discussion of the State and Althusser's use of the term "ideology." For him, the State "has no meaning except as a function of State power" and as such, "the State is the repressive State apparatus" (71-72). The State Apparatus (SA) is in turn comprised of the Repressive State Apparatus and the Ideological State Apparatus. The RSA will be discussed in further detail later, but to understand how the matrix serves as an ISA, a brief discussion of ideology is called for.

Althusser defines the ISA as those private institutions that operate by ideology instead of physical repression. Ideology, as a term, has two aspects for Althusser. The first is that "ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their ...


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... amount of time that passed between The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded.

2 To be concrete about the difference between the matrix and the "real world," I will refer to one as the matrix and the other as the ideology of the "real." The quotes are necessary as the ideology of the "real" is still a fictional ideology. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Althusser saw ideology as inescapable and a necessary feature of society ("there is no practice except by and in an ideology") (Althusser 93). Therefore, referring to the world outside of the matrix as the real world is insufficient and inaccurate. The ideology of the "real" (as Morpheus says, "welcome to the real") serves to enforce the notion of Neo not as rejecting ideology in favor of reality, but rather moving from the ideology of the machines (the matrix) to that of Morpheus (the ideology of the "real").

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