A few months ago, in response to the trailer for The Matrix 4 being released, I finally convinced my kids to watch the original 1999 film, The Matrix, and introduced them to the idea of living inside a simulation. Considering I was exiting high school when this film came out, seeing this movie through the eyes of my much younger kids was incredibly interesting to me. Where I had some idea of what was going on the first time I watched it (although, admittedly, came out of the theater still having plenty of questions), my kids spent the first half hour of the film trying to figure it out. And they still had far more questions after.
So, I tried to put myself in their place, to try to see how I would have understood such an enormous philosophical concept at their young ages, and the truth is, I probably still would have had the same response that I did as a senior in high school.
You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve toyed with the idea of reality not being real. However, instead of thinking of life as being a digital representation of reality, I actually held more of an idea that my life was some sort of entertainment, with a cast and a script and, well, you know, The Truman Show. In true highlighting of my mental illness, I was toying with this idea well before The Truman Show ever came about.
Growing up with the belief that there was an almighty being who controls everything about my life and has a plan for me definitely helped me get on the path of believing that my life is some sort of television show. It’s really not that big of a jump from “God has a plan” to “living in a pre-written narrative”. And actually, this always somewhat helped me with the concept of free will. The idea that everyone around me is working to put me where I need to be and what I need to do for the purposes of a story, but I still have the ability to just go off on my own and do my own thing.
What I’m trying to say is that although I don’t ever allow myself to completely fall into the belief that reality isn’t real, there’s always a part of me which views this world that we live in with some skepticism. Like, I’m not entirely sure I’d be too thrown off if at some point Dom Deluise suddenly appeared and let me know that this has all been some sort of long-form episode of Candid Camera. I’d probably be like, “Man, why in the world did you make my life so boring most of the time? Was that actually good television?”
All of this is a long way of saying that when I came out of watching The Matrix back when it was first released, my questions were more about whether this fake reality could be a digital one, verses my long-held theories about it being some sort of filmed entertainment for someone, as opposed to having a world-shaking revelation that there might be a way in which everything we hold to be true is, well, not.
Which means, I’m not sure I can quite ever get the same view as my kids did when they watched this movie for the first time. Because I was ready for it. I was ready for someone to tell me something like this. Because, although I know only mental illness lies in the path of fully committing to this theory of life, I also know that some part of me is already there.