The film The Matrix (1999) is set in a dystopian society where humans are enslaved by sentient machines in a simulated reality called ‘the Matrix’. The humans are enslaved as power sources for the machines as they try to rid the Earth of humanity. The storyline follows a captain of a rescue fleet called Morpheus that is on a mission to search and liberate the supposed Messiah of humanity – Neo – who would reveal the truth to and free all those within the Matrix, and eventually end the war between the humans and sentient machines.
Throughout the film, there has been a clear relationship between hope and freedom in most scenes. Hope can be defined as the idea that one’s objectives can be achieved (Cotton Bronk, Hill, Lapsley, Talib & Finch, 2009), and the belief that there are avenues through which this objective can be achieved, and that one will have the desire to utilize these avenues to achieve this goal (Snyder, 2002). To put this into context, this clear relationship between hope and freedom seen in the movie is Morpheus’s belief in destroying the Matrix and ending the war between humans and machines by emancipating humans from the Matrix. Here, Morpheus is hoping for freedom from the seemingly endless war. Therefore, Morpheus hopes to liberate humanity from the Matrix, where one of his avenues to achieve this objective would be to free Neo from the Matrix and exercise his motivation to train and convince Neo that he is ‘The One’. All of this was established in the scene where Morpheus reveals his reason for liberating Neo from the Matrix – “The Oracle prophesized his return and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix and end the war.” This provides the expectation for the kind of relationship to take notice of as the plot thickens.
However, further analyzing the film, we can observe multiple perspectives to this relationship. The main antagonist of the film and native artificial intelligence (AI) program of the Matrix, Agent Smith, actually mentions his desire for freedom from the Matrix itself. This explains his aggressive efforts to elicit the codes of Zion, last human city in the real world, from Morpheus, as it is his only avenue to achieve this goal. Here alone, we can see that there is a different perspective of this relationship. Moreover, this difference also notes a change in the form of freedom, from freedom from the Matrix, the Agent Smith’s desire for freedom from his own existence. On the other hand, when we look at the perspective of Agent Smith, we see freedom as liberation from his own existence in the chaos that is the Matrix. Additionally, a good character turned bad from Morpheus’s crew named Cypher, depicts another perspective of this relationship in the film. He hopes to re-enter the Matrix to be free from his misery in the unpleasant environment that is reality. Therefore, I would like to contend that there are different perspectives of this relationship and freedom depicted in the film and moreover, also assert that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to these relationships between hope and freedom.
Flow and Freedom:
The expected flow of this relationship in the film is that a character would hope to achieve a goal. It is also seen that freedom from something actually achieves this goal.
Hope to achieve a goal… Freedom achieves this goal… Therefore, hope to achieve freedom
Therefore, by hoping to achieve this freedom would the character be able to achieve his goal – Hope to free humanity so as to end the war for Morpheus, and hope for freedom from reality so as to end Cypher’s misery. However, we also notice a change in this flow for Agent Smith’s relationship, where Agent Smith’s goal is freedom itself instead of some other objective – hope for freedom from ‘this zoo’ of a place that is the Matrix. This is also one of the reasons for Agent Smith’s unexpected relationship between hope and freedom. It is now evident that the film uses hope to present these interesting underlying themes, which further reinforces the different perspectives of the relationship between hope and freedom.
Although the film shows different perspectives of the relationship between hope and freedom can be, it is interesting that the film seems to present a single perception of freedom that is, what Kmiec (2005) would describe as, natural freedom. Moreover, the film leaves no room for a change in a character’s state of freedom. According to Kmiec (2005), each individual entity has its own set of natural laws to abide, and in any complex society, such as reality or the Matrix, the freedom of the entity is bounded by what the natural laws dictate. Meaning to say that the type of freedom of an entity is dependent on what the entity is able to naturally do, and what this entity can naturally do is granted by the entity’s own set of natural laws. Kmiec goes on to say that there would be repercussions for those that do not conform to these laws. This is true and consistent with the film as the consequences of the aforementioned characters for hoping to achieve freedom outside their natural freedom is their own demise. For Agent Smith, as a computer program created by the Machines, it would be expected for his natural freedom to be kept within the Matrix itself. However, his humanization and eventually hope for a different type of freedom outside this natural state leads him to his own demise. On the other hand, for Cypher, as a human being, his natural state would be being free in reality. His switch in perspectives of what freedom is leads him to attempt to achieve a type of freedom outside what his natural laws dictate, which consequently concludes in his own demise as well. Unlike Cypher and Agent Smith, Morpheus hopes for a type of freedom that is within his and the rest of humanity’s natural laws. As he only hopes for the liberation of all humanity from the Matrix, there is no shift in any human’s freedom outside their natural state of freedom. Hence, these different perspectives of hope and freedom not only show what underlying themes the film portrays but also the film’s stand as to what constitutes as freedom and its views on it.
Agent Smith and the ‘Zoo’:
As the plot thickens, Morpheus has been captured by Agent Smith and his agents. Here, Agent Smith confesses to Morpheus that he despises the Matrix –
“I. Hate. This place. This Zoo. I must get out of here. I must be free”
– and wants to destroy Zion because he wants to be set free from the Matrix. In the perspective of the antagonist, hope would come in the form of being free from the Matrix as well, where one of Agent Smith’s avenues to do this is by trying to get access codes from Morpheus. However, note that the difference in the relationship is in the flow as previously mentioned. This is seen throughout the film as it depicts Agent Smith’s only motive as hunting Morpheus down. In fact, scenes that depict this get increasingly more successful as the plot thickens. At the start, Agent Smith and his agents attempted to capture Trinity, one of Morpheus’s comrades, but let her slip away. The next attempt is when Agent Smith corners Neo at his workplace and manages to get hold of him, which eventually leads to Agent Smith interrogating Neo. Agent Smith places a tracker into Neo, ostensibly knowing that he would meet Morpheus, before covering up their encounter with a nightmare. However, yet again, Agent Smith’s plans were foiled as Trinity extracts the tracker out of Neo before meeting Morpheus. All of this eventually leads Agent Smith to make a deal with one of Morpheus’s comrades, that will finally place Morpheus into his hands. These 3 scenes present a progression in Agent Smith’s avenue to achieve his objective. From not having contact with any of Morpheus’s links, to successfully capturing Morpheus brings Agent Smith closer to getting the access codes that he wants. This advancement of Agent Smith’s avenue seems to be motivated by his sheer hatred for the Matrix which can be interpreted by his desperation fueled rage to retrieve the codes as he threatens Morpheus for it –
“I need the codes to get inside Zion!! And you have to tell me how! You are going to tell me, or you are going to die!!!!”
This perspective of the relationship is unexpected as films usually show hope in the perspective of the protagonist. However, for this case, the tables have turned and now shows the viewpoint of the antagonist. Moreover, given that Agent Smith is but a computer program in the Matrix, it is even more so unexpected for his motivation to be hatred, let alone emotions. Hence, this relationship uncovers the possible humanization of Agent Smith. As it is hatred that he is motivated by, it is then this increase in emotional capacity that makes this perspective of hope and freedom possible. His emotion-filled scene with Morpheus displayed an erratic, human side that would seem familiar to viewers (Lavery, 2001). In addition, the impossibility that Agent Smith, a computer program (Díaz-Diocaretz & Herbrechter, 2006), can smell – “It’s the smell. If there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink. It’s repulsive” – and loathe further enforces his humanization and consequently his motivation for this relationship for hope and freedom to exist.
Cypher and ‘Steak’:
Another interesting perspective on this relationship is displayed by Cypher. Throughout the film, he has been seen as an underdog, neglected by his love interest, Trinity, and consistently pessimistic. Any encounter he has had with Trinity almost always ends up with her leaving to tend to Neo. Additionally, he would usually be the one to fill scenes with pessimism – “Nobody ever makes the first jump” – and express disbelief towards the prophecy of Neo being ‘the One’ – “If Morpheus is so sure, why not just take him to the Oracle?”. His hope for freedom from reality, or more specifically freedom from awareness – “Ignorance is bliss” – stems from his regret from picking the red pill and escaping the Matrix and, his frustration from being under Morpheus’s control – “All I do is what he tells me to do” – in the dismal environment that is reality. This freedom from reality is achieved by returning to the Matrix, hence defining Cypher’s objective in the definition of hope. Unlike Agent Smith, Cypher’s avenue for achieving his objective is much simpler. He simply makes a deal with Agent Smith to place in back in the Matrix with certain conditions in exchange for assassinating Morpheus’s crew and getting him to Agent Smith. His motivation for pursuing this objective using this avenue is his feeling of restriction in reality. This motivation is what makes the relationship between hope and freedom unexpected and different from convention. The notion of the entire movie is the escaping of humans from the Matrix, additionally, according to Kmiec (2005), freedom cannot be achieved in the absence of the truth. However, focusing on this character alone shows otherwise. This contradiction brings about an interesting question regarding the perspectives of freedom to individuals; freedom for Cypher is not freedom for Morpheus. A few scenes from the film depicts Cypher’s perspective of freedom –
“I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.”
In the scene where Cypher feasts on a steak while negotiating with Agent Smith, Cypher acknowledges that his meal isn’t real, but implied that all that mattered was that it tastes or more generically ‘feels’ real. Hence, it would seem that Cypher’s perspective of freedom would require one to actually feel free, instead of just knowing he’s free. We can, therefore, interpret that it is this difference in perspectives of freedom – “Free. You call this free?” – that lead to his frustration from taking orders and eventually desire to leave reality for his more ‘unrestricted’ life – “If I had to choose between that and the Matrix. I choose the Matrix”.
In a nutshell, The Matrix presents us the definition of hope as a framework for achieving one’s objective. This is seen consistently throughout all the perspectives of relationships, alongside the concept of natural freedom. The film also shows different perspectives on the relationship between hope and freedom, and in addition, some underlying themes of the film such as Agent Smith’s humanization and Cypher’s flipped perspective of freedom itself.