Bullet-Time in Simulation City: Revisiting Baudrillard and The Matrix by way of the "Real 1999"
Abstract: The writers and directors of The Matrix famously claimed Jean Baudrillard as a source of inspiration for their movie, going as far as to feature a copy of Baudrillard’s signature book, Simulacra and Simulation, as a prominent prop in one of the movie’s first scenes. Baudrillard, however, explicitly disowned The Matrix as a representation of his worldview. When we follow the story of The Matrix from the perspective of the protagonist Neo, as the story compels us to do, we encounter a dualistic, Platonic division between reality and illusion which, as Baudrillard rightly observes, annuls the implosive dynamic that is the heart of the hyperreal condition. On the other hand, when we consider The Matrix from the perspective of its audience, the citizens of the “real 1999” (as opposed to the simulacral 1999 generated by the Matrix), we find late-century American culture refracted back to us as the kind of world that lends itself to “neural-interactive simulation.” By performing a reading of The Matrix that emphasizes its reference to its contemporary historical moment, we can identify a sense in which the film authentically captures a Baudrillardian variety of space-time.