Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




The Matrix Trilogy

and the Revolutionary Drive through "The Desert of the Real"


Reviewers, critics, and audiences alike were stunned by The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) and thereby anticipated The Matrix Reloaded (2003) for years; however, they left The Matrix Revolutions (2003) disappointed. Many argued that the final installments lost the insight of the original. I, however, assert that although the trilogy may disappoint our desire for satisfactory conclusion, it does not deviate from its philosophical trajectory of existential psychoanalysis. Instead, it appropriately carries itself through the three realms of psyche corresponding to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s topology of Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real.


The Matrix introduces us to the realm of the Imaginary. Although on first viewing, and particularly when screening the film without the context of the final two installments of the trilogy, it would appear that the Matrix corresponds to the symbolic order, the language and culture of patriarchal authority that constructs, determines, and codes human existence as if we were simply cogs (or batteries) in a machine, and Agent Smith is the representative programmatic enforcer, the superego voice of authority that would punish the non-believers who question or challenge the law of the land (or mind), the Matrix actually equates with the Imaginary order, i.e., the realm of primary image and unconscious imagination. Morpheus guides Neo and the viewer into the underworld of our unconscious mind; the Nebuchadnezzar is the dream vessel, dreams being regressive pathways back to the primary images of being when we were at one with the mother-world. We like to imagine that there really is an alienating matrix that controls us so that we can escape our present predicament and journey back to a state of authentic identity if someone offers us the red pill.


The Matrix Reloaded is utterly Symbolic. On the surface, the middle movie is one long chase scene; however, on a deeper level, it represents the chase for the key to meaning, the master signifier that will unlock the doors to perception, to God and metaphysics. Although inspired by the pure good of the imaginary demand for ontology and teleology, for first and final causes, the film self-consciously plays at being a movie; it takes the formulaic codes of action genre movies and acts upon them for the joy (but not jouissance) of it. This middle movie represents Lacanian desire at its purest: Reloaded is the metonymy of desire that will never achieve satisfaction because it can only chase down the highway of special effects, the great chain of signifiers that no longer reference a signified reality. At the end of the film, the audience is left wanting more. The final installment can never fulfill that desire. Because it can only redirect the chase for meaningful being onto another chain of significance, it is predestined to disappoint.


The Matrix Revolutions crashes us off the adrenaline-fueled highway chase of symbolic desire and drives us directly into the realm of the Real. In the final analysis, the trilogy hollows out both the choice of the red and the blue pill. The conclusion of the film proffers that no matter which side wins the battle, be it Agent Smith or Neo, be it the demand for a godlike life of unadulterated, omnipotent being in a metaphysical, artificial intelligence or the desire for excessive and gratuitous simulation stimulation via an explosion of filmic codes and conventions regarding love and chase scenes or sex and violence, be it the Imaginary or the Symbolic, neither imaginary demand nor symbolic desire will ever really "win." Revolutions shows us that neither the pleasant dream of being inside the Matrix nor the ideological struggle against the world of the machines outside the Matrix is tenable because both imaginary identifications and symbolic desires are undermined by the film’s revolutionary, yet decidedly non-dialectical and rather circular logic, which negates Neo’s messianic originality and sacrifice. All we are left with is "the desert of the real" that has now been doubly deserted: while Morpheus disillusioned Neo of his symbolic order by introducing him to "the desert of the real" in The Matrix, he enthralled Neo (and us) in a dream of the struggle for authenticity and reality over against our symbolic reality. Revolutions finds Morpheus winning, or at least surviving, the battle in the real world; however, not only does the Matrix still exist but the dream dies as we learn the Matrix saw at least eight such messianic battles before Neo. Moreover, Sati (offspring of programs no less!) creates sunlight, which should provide a satisfactory conclusion, but it cannot because on the one hand, the conversation between the Oracle and the Architect suggests that the peace is tentative, and besides, this rainbow-colored dawn is at best an entertaining but hollow spectacle and at worst a false covenant with the Matrix, i.e., with the Machine-God. This is the Real desert of the real, the realm in which the subject’s dreams of being and symbolic struggles are hollowed out of all hopeful investment. Revolutions accomplishes nothing but more Sisyphean revolutions; satisfaction is supplanted by the drive toward divestment. We are perpetually driven to chose between the two, imagination and symbolization, in an unending revolution of thought; however, neither the Imaginary nor the Symbolic wins, for the Real trumps both by hollowing out both.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "The Matrix Trilogy and the Revolutionary Drive through 'The Desert of the Real'," Central New York Conference on Language and Literature, Cortland, NY, October 29, 2004, subsequently revised and published in Literature/Film Quarterly 35.4 (2007): 265-73.