The Matrix and the Nihilistic Impulse


I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

– Agent Smith, The Matrix 


I am a nihilist.

I observe, I accept, I assume the immense process of the destruction of appearances (and of the seduction of appearances) in the service of meaning (representation, history, criticism, etc.) that is the fundamental fact of the nineteenth century. The true revolution of the nineteenth century, of modernity, is the radical destruction of appearances, the disenchantment of the world and its abandonment to the violence of interpretation and of history.

– Jean Baudrillard, “On Nihilism” in Simulacra & Simulation


A chemical explosion, to a flying particle, to a chain reaction, to a devastation. A scalar madness is etched in the brain and repeated by the creatures awakened. This is the indecision between continuity and complicity, in how much we take blame for ‘awakening’ the monsters but often seem forced to utilize the same technology, or other disastrous technologies, to combat them. Complicity is investigated by being scaled up and down. The scalar madness is folded outwards: we construct monsters to fight monsters. Nuclear solution twice over – reliable tech and nuking the breach in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

– Ben Woodard, “Nuclear Scale: Or, Only Godzilla Can Save Us



I watched The Matrix again for the first time in years and I was struck by how much is packed into that film. There’s the brutal hatred of Agent Smith, the implicit nihilism of the literal “end of history” in an eternal, simulated 1999 where nothing new can ever happen. And there’s the lack of 9/11, which is bound up in this strange, eternal 1999–there will be nothing new, the world has gone grey, there are no more events and because of this there must be a real world where real events are happening.

I was struck by the ending of the film this time, more than previous viewings, by the “becoming-nuclear” (as Ben might have in the piece above) of Neo. He’s more machine than a machine. Humans win out by being more ruthless (literally exploding Agent Smith) than the machines; Neo is able to be more cruel, more brutally violent, because he is outside the system of governance that is the Matrix itself.

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6 Responses to The Matrix and the Nihilistic Impulse

  1. Fred says:

    but yor…. what is real?

  2. I like your point about scalar madness being etched into the brain, maybe since the moment of the big bang. Good article. Thanks.

  3. Tomcat says:

    The Matrix has a lot to answer for… especially providing right-wingers/”alpha males”/PUAs with all that “red pill thinking” gibberish they like to peddle. Urgh,

  4. hmmm… I think I will treat myself and watch it again.

  5. Ava Avane Dawn says:

    I’d say treat yourself to the second movie too, which I believe expands much on the first one and subverts it at the same time. It reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 2, although MGS2 has a fan following and has gotten recognition for actually being genius, while the Matrix Reloaded doesn’t seem to have gotten any redemption.

    • kunzelman says:

      I’m actually slowly making my way through the series, and I agree that Reloaded is a complete heel turn from the first film (even though it seems less “subversive” to me than ham fisted).

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