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Analysis of Structuralism in The Matrix

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The Matrix, as a movie, is a perfect representative for an analysis of Structuralism presenting a reality that is torn between the two ideologies, The Matrix: the movie or the artificial world, the double life of the main character or the red and blue pill. Films create meaning by using structures (codes and conventions) as a language we can understand. In this essay we will analyse how films convey meaning through the use their structures of codes and conventions (narrative, camera shots), this is similar to the way languages convey meaning through the use of their structures of codes and conventions (words, sentences, grammar).

As I mentioned before, Structuralism is generally defined as the way films convey meaning through the use of codes and conventions created through the manipulation of the film world. This methodology looks at a film as a set of patterns, relationships, or structures; we see, understand and enjoy films through recognition of these structures. The meaning of a film comes not so much from inherent meanings of its individual elements, as from how they interrelate within what we know as a films ‘structure’ or ‘system’. Structuralism emphasizes the importance of narrative theories and other recurring patterns, content that helps the audience understand what is going on.

For example, genre films, audience can easily understand its meaning: a genre is considered as a structure, set of conventional patterns. Not only the narrative but also the way a camera is used to tell a story can also be analysed as structural elements as it uses the structure of film language to communicate with the audience. Structuralist theorists such as Barthes, Levi-Strauss and Todorov have analysed plot patterns found in fairy tales and other traditional narratives as these appear in contemporary film. Structuralism is about semiotics which is a concept of codes to discuss conventional ways that things are done. Semiotics can be applied to anything which can be seen as signifying something – in other words, to everything which has meaning within a culture. Codes are cultural phenomena because they are learned, it is through familiarity that codes come to seem natural rather than cultural: this process is called “naturalization”.

The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction film focusing on the concept of reality. Four ways in which Structuralism is shown are in the camera work, the plot, semiotics and the symbolism and the characterization through casting. To start with, the camera work is essential in this film. The Matrix uses filters to show the setting: green is why the Matrix looks unnatural, ghostly. A green filter was used on all the scenes shot of the Matrix, which gave it that otherworldly feel, as though we are seeing it through a monitor. This color suggests that, unlike in the real world, what we see in the Matrix is being shown or filtered through something else, another reality. The color blue was removed from everything we see in the Matrix too. Also, the bullet time is one of the most remarkable features of the film. The Matrix is characterized by its high transformation of time, showing commonly imperceptible events such as flying bullets, and space, by way of the ability of the camera angle to change the audience’s point-of-view moving around the scene at a normal speed while events are slowed. It was created specifically for The Matrix.

Secondly, the plot. The Matrix is a complex movie. Plot structures are recurring story patterns that are a defining characteristic of a genre. However, this film constantly jumps from virtual world to real world and back and has endless plot elements. With this complex plot the viewer is able to emphasize with Neo because he is also being hit very suddenly with this rush of information. We feel lost just like him. On another subject, it goes without saying that the world is shaped by countless networks of meaning and codes. Making a semiotic analysis, we discover different codes. Cultural codes include the way that texts signify; beliefs about gender, social class and authority. As an example, the Hitchcock blonde, brings together several ways of representing gender, class and sexuality, which in turn reveal cultural beliefs in those areas. Cultural codes are particularly likely to become naturalised, as in notions during historical periods of what was considered the inherent nature or men or women or particular national or racial groups.

Technical codes, in film, include such things as continuity editing, point of view and reaction shots, cross-shooting and over-shoulder shooting, dissolves, and montage. Technical codes involve both techniques of making movies and, for viewers, learned ways of seeing them. Soviet film-maker Sergei Eisenstein believed montage is one of the most important aspects of film language. He describes 5 types of montage: lighting, angle, shot duration, juxtaposition and cultural context. According to him, “montage” is a structure that enables the audience to gain meaning from film. An example of how structuralist theory can be seen in film is understanding how the simple combination of shots can create an additional idea. The blank expression on a person’s face, an appetising meal, and then back to the person’s face. While nothing in this sequence literally expresses hunger or desire the juxtaposition of the images convey that meaning to the audience. It is the structure of film that we use to understand its meaning, nevertheless unraveling meaning can become quite complicated at times.

Another key point is symbolism. The word itself “Matrix” in the dictionary refers to “a situation or surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops or is contained. The womb”. About the main character, Neo, his name has a couple of meanings. It is an anagram for “one”, as in the One who will save humanity, and also means “new” as in the new, freshly born person now aware of the Matrix. Trinity represents the number three which is a powerful number in many stories and traditions. In keeping with the Christian themes, the “father”, “son” and “holy spirit” seems to be related here. In The Matrix, Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo fight the machines. What is more, you can acknowledge references to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Neo’s computer advises him to “follow the white rabbit” – the conscious choice to take the journey into alternate reality. Morpheus is the roman god of dreams. He constantly alludes to dreams and two different realities: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real. What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”

As well, characters in The Matrix are really brought to life by the actors who play them. The actors have the perfect mannerisms and tones of voice to convey what they are without seeing their actions. One of the best examples is the actor Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. You can immediately tell that he is robotic and emotionless from his movement and his voice. We, as spectators, decode the film in different ways, not always in the way the producer intended. According to Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory, a work can be received in one of three ways and divided three different types of audiences decoding a text. Firstly, the dominant-hegemonic, this is when the audience agree with the messages and ideology that the producer has placed behind the work. Secondly, the negotiated, they do not agree or disagree, they see a point made on the relation to the work while also making their own opinions and finally, the oppositional, the audience rejects the producer preferred conception and creates their own.

There are a lot of interesting aspects of The Matrix that provoke discussion, arguments and debates over what the filmmakers meant by a particular scene, character or dialogue. The Matrix became a cultural phenomenon, this film leaves no-one unmoved As I mentioned before, we decode messages and information, but how can we not be influenced by all these effects? These technical codes? It is impossible for us to manage. As Morpheus claims in the movie “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, the ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain”. Also Jean Baudrillard claimed “The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to produce.” And the great question is do you agree with the producers? What is the Matrix? Is it controlling you?

Bibliography

  1. Anon., s.f. 1. https://nypost.com/2014/04/01/15-fun-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-matrix/. [En línea].
  2. Anon., s.f. The Matrix 101. [En línea] Available at: http://thematrix101.com/matrix/symbolism.php
  3. Bainbridge, C., 2013. Film Studies Structuralism, Semiotics, and Auteur Theory. [En línea] Available at: https://prezi.com/jwxdwmtsi3lb/film-studies-structuralism-semiotics-and-auteur-theory/
  4. Bainbridge, C., 2013. Film Studies Structuralism, Semiotics, and Auteur Theory. [En línea] Available at: https://prezi.com/jwxdwmtsi3lb/film-studies-structuralism-semiotics-and-auteur-theory/
  5. Eglen, A., 2014. Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory. [En línea] Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/alexeglen/stuart-halls-reception-theory
  6. Ripley, H., 2015. Structuralism in the Matrix. [En línea] Available at: https://prezi.com/okatmvg-iyoo/structuralism-in-the-matrix/
  7. Rowers, A., 2015. [En línea] Available at: Plot structures are recurring story patterns that are a defining characteristic of a genre
  8. Rowers, A., 2015. [En línea] Available at: https://alexanderowersa2media.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/26-genre-influences-from-structuralism/
  9. Savnal, A., 2015. [En línea] Available at: http://www.jamuura.com/blog/how-they-shot-the-bullet-dodge-scene-in-the-matrix/
  10. Smith, K., s.f. 1. https://nypost.com/2014/04/01/15-fun-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-matrix/. [En línea] Available at: 1. https://nypost.com/2014/04/01/15-fun-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-matrix/
  11. Studies, I. t. L. a. C., 2020. Film and Media Studies 2, Münster : s.n.
  12. The Matrix. 1999. [Película] Dirigido por Joel Silver. EEUU: Warner Bros.

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