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Pulling Young People Into The Matrix

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I’m often asked to present media sessions in schools. I’m amazed how frequently arms shoot up in an elementary classroom and “The Matrix!” is exclaimed in response to “What’s your favorite movie?”

And don’t think they’re making it up to look cool. When questioned, I often hear scenes recited word for word, while slow motion action moves are demonstrated by seven-year-olds in a feeble attempt to recreate the movie’s trademark fighting sequences.

If you thought the promotional onslaught of movies, merchandise, and a video game made it difficult to keep your young ones from catching Matrix fever, it’s about to become even worse.

Then an innocuous unrated video appeared called Animatrix. A series of nine segments, each tells a story set in the universe of The Matrix. Most are independent of the theatrical movies, while others provide “backstory” – filling you in on how the Earth of the future became such a mess.

(For those who aren’t aware, here’s the history: Man built artificial intelligence robots to serve humans. But decades of miserable treatment left the machines rebelling for a better life. A world war erupted, and with man on the brink of extinction, it's decided the only way to stop the machines is to block out the sun – their sole energy source. In return the mechanical monsters round up the last humans and turned them into energy slaves by using their bodies to supply power. While in this comatose state, the machines plug the humans into The Matrix, where they live in a virtual world that looks like the Earth they used to know. But a few humans have broken free, and thus the war continues…)

Compelling from a purely science fiction point of view and illustrating a stunning variety of animation styles, the video is bound to be a hit with Matrix fans. However, sending this disc into the marketplace with no MPAA rating is a huge disservice to families because there are several reasons why you will want to keep this video from your children.

Looking at the women in Animatrix, with their slim leggy bodies and disproportionate breasts, I’m convinced many of the animators must have previous experience in video game design. Most of the girls wear little and appear to be the typical fantasies of men – rough and tough, but oh so feminine.

At a couple of points, topless female nudity is depicted, including one woman who is forcibly stripped of her clothes, exposing her naked breasts, and then beaten. It turns out she’s a robot, but her human characteristics make this scene very upsetting.

Other violent images depict humans impaled by robots, along with a host of fighting resulting in men and robots being murdered in throngs.

But of even greater concern is the overall feel of Animatrix. Aside from the dark and hopeless depictions, which are often modeled from actual historical events, is the premise of living within a dream. This idea is explored in greatest depth during one vignette entitled, “The Kid.”

A high school student dreams he has jumped from a tall building and is falling to the ground. Upon awakening, he types the question into his computer; "Why do my dreams feel more real than my life?" The answer returns: “To know the truth, you must risk everything.”

The next day the troubled teen’s cell phone rings in class – even though it is turned off. Answering, Neo (the character played by Keanu Reeves in the motion pictures) tells him that “they” are after him. Running from authorities, the boy makes his way to the roof, where he jumps to his death. In the end, he sees a white light and the face of Neo, who has rescued him from The Matrix.

The social and religious implications are obvious, as is the impending danger of a young viewer being motivated to mimic this drastic decision.

My conversations with children, teens, and adults have convinced me the Matrix franchise has already left a significant impact on those who have viewed it. Many even see positive parallel to religious philosophy within it.

Yet it is imperative that we help our children understand where media fits into our frame of reality. The Matrix movies, like everything else produced from the media factories, are about money.

Just as important is the need to recognize that it takes a great deal of critical thinking skills to digest the complex messages the media feeds. What you may enjoy as an adult might be better saved for your children when they are more mature. Parents would be well advised to prescreen Animatrix and carefully consider its messages before bringing it into their homes.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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