Plato's Theory of Forms Applied to The Matrix, a Movie by the Wachowski Brothers

To a casual movie enthusiast, The Matrix may seem like your typical 20‘“ century sci-fi film with never-before-seen visual effects and over-the»top action scenes. However, beyond the superficial, The Matrix actually goes a long way intellectually and philosophically. It strikes curiosity in a particularly controversial question — a simple question which has boggled the minds of many since time immemorial. What is reality? Commonly, we define reality as solely those that are perceived by our senses. Consequently, we know for a fact that our bodies exist because we can see or hear or touch it however we are sceptical about the existence of a soul because we can’t sense it The problem here is, if our perception becomes the only criteria in assessing whether something is real or not, then every one of us will simply have a subjective reality since we each view the world differently Furthermore, if we reduce our beings to something that cannot perceive, then, what we’re left with is just our minds.

We only have the awareness that we exist but we might become completely oblivious of the existence of everything else.

Now, to address this dilemma, the movie introduces the concept of the Matrix — a computer-generated dream world quite like our own where everything that people perceive is different from what they truly are It is a machine- made pseudo reality that aims to imprison the minds of humans and blind them from seeing the truth. Here, the movie coincides with classical Greek philosopher Plato as they both tell us that beyond our perception lies the real world In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave which talks about how men were chained and kept imprisoned in a cave where the only thing that they can see, aside from the walls of the cave, is the shadows cast on itt One day, a man was able to break free from his bonds and for the first time, he has seen the world around him.

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At first, he was pained by the sight of the sun but in return, he found out that the things they see on the wall before were actually shadows from the free people.

Considering all of that, it is safe to say that the The Matrix is basically a movie adaptation of Plato‘s allegory. In the movie, humans were chained to something that hinders their perception of the actual reality. Humans were plugged into machines, reality being spoon-fed to them like babies in a mother’s womb. They were trapped in a liquid-filled vessel and in a world where everything they see are merely images of the real world. Until one day, a man, Neo, noticed the subtle hints shown to him through the shadows of the free people 7 the crew of Nebuchadnezzar particularly Morpheus and Trinity 7 who wanted to rescue him from the Matrix, the metaphorical Platonic cave. Quite effectively, Morpheus and Trinity were able to unchain Neo from the series of tubes and ducts connected to his body but more importantly, from the dark world of the cave he has been kept believing. Just like the man in the allegory.

Neo tried to deny the truth as it pained him to accept it at first. However, with constant interactions with the Nebuchadnezzar crew, Neo in the end was able to accept it and more And, as Plato believes, in order to accept the truth, we must climb a hierarchy and we must first start with the lowest degree of reality which in his other work, The Divided Line, he referred to as imagination, imagining, according to Plato, is the shallowest form of mental activity thus giving the least amount of reality. The example of this is the shadows cast on the wall of the cave which were seen by the imprisoned people. They believed that these shadows constitute the real world when in fact these are merely images of it Comparing it to Neo in the movie, at the onset, he also had an imaginary concept of the world. Although he felt that something was wrong with the world he is in, he didn‘t notice that everything he sees in the Matrix are far from what they truly are in the real world. In fact, many of the things Neo saw in the Matrix don’t even exist at all.

However, after Morpheus gave Neo the red pill which caused him to be conscious of the real world, Neo achieved the second degree of reality 7 belief. Although Neo was still cynical about the truth, at least, he had an idea that the Matrix is simply a simulation and everything that exists there aren’t what he first thought they were. He, at this point, wasn’t only seeing the shadows on the wall but the things that are causing the shadows 7 the visible things. After several exchanges with the Nebuchadnezzar crew, Neo was able to advance his knowledge of reality to that of thinking. He began to consider that if he frees his mind, he might be able to achieve superhuman feats. This was shown in his combats and trainings with Morpheus. Another example was when Neo and the crew went to the Oracle and he saw a young boy bending a spoon just by looking at it. Neo asked how he was doing this and the child simply answered that there was no spoon and that he was only bending himself.

As a result, Neo tried to think that the spoon was just a symbol of reality, that it didn‘t exist, and soon, he found himself bending the spoon (or rather his head in truth). Here, he is already nearing the top of the hierarchy of reality described by Plato — intelligence. This level suggests that the human possessing it now knows the forms of object rather than the images of it or the visible things that are causing such. This level, in terms of the movie, also suggests that you can now wear your own iconic sunglasses! Cheers to that. At the scene where Neo and Trinity went inside the Matrix to save Morpheus, we can see that Neo finally wore his shades. This is not to make the action scenes to follow look cooler but to symbolize that Neo, indeed, has already achieved intelligence or noesis. And yes, Thomas Anderson’s hacker name, Neo, can actually be an anagram for noesis.

Going back to the sunglasses, Neo can now counter the effects of the Matrix and free himself from the boundaries that this world has set. In Neo’s confrontation with Agent Smith during the latter parts of the movie, Neo can now bend the laws of physics. And although Neo lose and was killed, he was revived by your none other than stereotypical life-giving kiss which was given to him by Trinity. Now, Neo can already control the Matrix. He has already possessed the ultimate level of intelligence 7 the perfect intelligence, the highest degree of reality 7 and effortlessly, he was able to destroy Agent Smith. In summary, we can use Plato‘s Theory of Forms to better understand everything. According to his theory, there is a world perceived by our minds and there is a world perceived by our senses. The latter constitutes the Material World while the former, the Transcendental World or the real world. In the Material World exists images and visible things while the Transcendental World consists of mathematical objects and forms 7 the essence of every object.

Tying it to the movie, we can easily classify the Matrix as the Material World. Everything that exist there are only symbols of reality while in the real world, we can see the form of the objects, the machines, the things that are causing the objects in the Matrix to become what they are. Again, tying it to the allegory, the Matrix is the dark world of the cave while the real world is the bright world of the light although not literally. And while Plato fell short in giving us an end in his allegory, the Matrix gave us one. Neo, in conclusion, used his knowledge from the real world to try and stop the war between man and machine and to free humanity from enslavement. Delving deeper, on a personal philosophical analysis, each and every one of us is a Neo, a Thomas Anderson. Every day when we wake up, we try to choose the person we want to become, believing that in those little ways, we can shape the reality around us. Every day, We are also given a blue pill and a red pill.

The movie, of course, gives us a pre-determined choice that obviously, Thomas Anderson will choose the red pill because if he didn’t, that’s simply a bore right? However, a meta-analysis to this would be: if it were any other people other than Neo, what pill would they choose? The movie then presents us an unexpected twist in the character profile, Cypher, Cypher realized that he’d rather swallow the reality given to him by the machines than the reality of how ugly the world has become, This led Cypher to sell out his comrades in order to return to the Matrix and live a life of prosperity which he didn‘t achieve in the end. In the world we have, this “Cyphers” are simply practical men who finds pleasure in achieving material possessions, And tying it to the lesson we have had, these people are the types who cannot and will not enlarge the Self.

These are the people who are imprisoned in their own biases and prejudices 7 their own minds At the end of the day however, whether we choose to be a Neo or a Cypher, whether we choose to swallow the red pill or the blue pill, the most important lesson of the movie is to believe in our mind’s capabilities We have been so dependent to machines that sometimes we do not realize our mind’s potentials We fail to grasp the idea that the only thing that is preventing us from becoming infinite, from becoming limitless, is our minds If we try, we may be able to bend the laws of physics and achieve superhuman feats but more importantly, we can achieve something more profound 7 the truth. Who knows, one day we might even be able to finally answer the nagging question: what is reality?

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Plato's Theory of Forms Applied to The Matrix, a Movie by the Wachowski Brothers. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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