‘The Matrix’ is almost 25 years old. But the ‘matrix’ is much older. The Wachowski’s groundbreaking film came out in 1999 but the phenomenon & themes it explores are likely timeless. Much of the film’s interpretations and articulations of larger philosophical ideas have been inevitably adopted into the cultural milieu and rhetoric of our time. Among these is the red pill blue pill scene/phenomenon
In the scene, the protagonist Neo, has to choose between a red pill or a blue pill. The Red Pill allows him to be aware of the truth about the Matrix and the Blue Pill makes him forget all about this and return to his former life. The scene was instantly iconic and its symbolism and iconography has since integrated with much of the discussion around the illusion of choice and the concept of free will.
The Red Pill is supposed to make us aware of the truths and the very existence of the matrix and the Blue Pill lets us go on living our normal life with no change, so of course many of us would like to think we’ve already taken the Red Pill; that we are aware of the truths about reality and that we aren’t living in an illusion suffocated by symbolism and facade.
Abandoning the political innuendo surrounding the symbolism of the red and blue pill, and considering just the description of what each pill represents; most of us wouldn’t want to consider ourselves ‘Blue Pilled’. What’s notable though, is that without our direct knowledge, many of us haven’t even taken any of the pills.
Instead, we’ve created a 3rd pill for ourselves in order for us to identify with the enlightened aspect of the red pill but still retain the comfort of the predictability and safety of the blue pill. We’ve taken the red pill to the extent that we’re aware of the patterns, narratives and systems that control us, but we haven’t taken enough necessary steps to actually pull ourselves out of the matrix of monotony and the repeating patterns of dormant and passive living.
Slavoj Zizek, the well known Slovenian philosopher suggests another version of the 3rd pill. Zizek states: “But the choice between the blue and the red pill is not really a choice between illusion and reality. Of course, the Matrix is a machine for fictions, but these are fictions which already structure our reality. If you take away from our reality the symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself – I want a third pill”
Perhaps the solution lies in taking the Red Pill while embracing the concept of a 3rd Pill. We must not only be aware of the illusions that shape our reality but actively strive to transcend them. It’s about using the frameworks that give our reality meaning to embody that positive change, and finally break free from the repetitive patterns that contribute to a passive and dormant existence.
The invitation is not merely to be aware of the deeper truths of our existence but to live in a way that reflects that awareness. By being conscious of the world’s patterns yet living by the values that are transcendent, which often run counter to societal norms. It is about finding freedom not by escaping the world but by transforming it through the principles that we hold to be eternal.
Written by Ben Joshua