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The Postmodern Ir Theory in the Ideas of Michael Foucault and the Movie "The Matrix"

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This paper is about the postmodern IR theory with the ideas of Michael Foucault and the movie The Matrix (1999). In first place postmodernism explained as a critical IR theory and its assumptions discussed. Secondly The Matrix (1999) will be summarized. After that the movie will be analyzed with a postmodern perspective. And finally there will be a general conclusion about the paper.

Postmodernism is one of the major critical theories of international relations since 1980s. It is critical because it is comes after modernity and criticize what is modern in international relations. Postmodernism bring another point of view, another considerations, another definitions to the modern understanding. Modern international relations started with 15th and 16th century with the formation of nation state. Modern nation state is the major and most important actor in Westphalian state system. Both neo-realism and neo-liberalism which are mainstream in international relations agree that modern nation state is the key for international relations. Therefore modernism is about states in international relations. Therefore postmodernism in international relations means beyond states. The postmodern theory emphasize the role of non-state actors and societies in international politics and how they shaping the international policies. Political actions effected by language, norm, idea, and abstract concepts according to postmodernism. These are also effected our identities. And language help us the understand deeper ideas like why is a certain state act in a certain way.

According to postmodernist argument classical theories such as realism and liberalism underestimates the role of non-state actors. In realism for example state is the major actor of international relations. Other actors such as non-state actors or individuals have less or non importance. But according to postmodernism multinational corporations, classes, women, poor countries also have impact in international politics. Moreover they argued that unlike realism states are not unitary actors thus they are not rational. Realist theory argued that states are rational and unitary actors. In international realm they act rational and try to survive. To do this they act in principle of self-help. Or neo-liberal institutionalism also agree that states are major actors in international relations. But similar to constructivism, postmodern IR theory argued that states are artificial man craft and they are socially constructed. They are abstractions. Therefore according to postmodern claim there is no national interest as oppose to realist IR theory. National interest is the production of individuals and what individuals think that that is national interest. This shows how critical of postmodern theory in international relations. It refuses one of the key concept of mainstream theories.

Although postmodernism was adopted in the discipline of IR, actually it is a sociologic situation of ‘after the modern’. Key concept of the postmodernism is truth. Postmodernism refuse the direct access to truth. There is no absolute truth. For Foucault, the function of knowledge is not to identify correlations or causal chains between pre-existing entities, but to classify, regulate, and normalize in view of making things and people manageable. In this sense, knowledge produces specific effects, problems, and identities. (Fournier, 2014). Therefore knowledge is not stable and it can change. If this claims will adopted to IR concepts such as anarchy or sovereign equality cannot be exact truths. They can be changed people to people. Thus according to postmodernism international politics are irrational and unpredictable. This is one of the major claims of postmodern IR theory. Actions and behaviors of states are irrational, therefore international relations are unpredictable. This is the fundamental difference between mainstream theories and postmodernism because all mainstream theories argued that international relations is predictable. Their major aim is predict the states future behaviors. But postmodern IR theory do not accept this.

Postmodernism refuse the the concept of absolute truth. Modernism accepted that there is no relation between power and knowledge and absolute truth exists. But according to Foucault power in fact produces knowledge. “All power requires knowledge and all knowledge relies on and reinforces existing power relations. Thus, no truth exists outside power.” (Robert H. Jackson, 2010). Therefore there is a deep skepticism in postmodernism. One of the most important assumptions of postmodernism is subjectivity and relativity of the truth. According to their claim the truth is subjective, thus there is no general truth exist. Every person have its own truths. Therefore the general truth we accepted is truth of someone else. This someone else is the most powerful. There is a relationship between power and truth. The most powerful in terms of political and economic power accepted the others its own truths. This understanding shows the skepticism of postmodernism. They argued that there is no such thing as truth and they deny the objective natural reality.

Postmodernism also deny the importance of logic. According to modern enlightenment idea if people use their logic and their reason they produce science and technology. And science bring changes to humans and their society, therefore they will get better and better stages. But postmodernism refuse this argument. According to postmodernists because of science and technology there are mass destruction weapons or nuclear bombs which caused killing of millions of people. If the technology used by bad and evil people it caused deadly consequences like the world wars or terrorist organizations. Therefore the modernist argument of enlightenment is wrong according to postmodernist argument. Moreover postmodernism also refuse the concept of universal logic like universal truth. According to modernism there is universal logic and reason and there are rules, regulations, laws in any domain of knowledge including international relations. These are equal for all people. But in postmodernist argument logic and reason are also abstract concepts. They are creations of people, so they are subjective. There is nothing universal about them. Therefore they can change society to society, or culture to culture. And as time goes by these can also be change in these societies and cultures.

The Matrix is a 1999 American science fiction movie starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving. The movie written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers. It is a dystopia that in future world that machines uses human beings as a battery for energy. And they created a simulated reality for humans called ‘the Matrix’. Before this stage machines created by humans but eventually they rebel them and take the control of the world. Humans try to black the sun because machines take their energy from sun. But after that machines discovered they can use human’s body heat and electrical activities as a battery for their energy need.

The movie starts with a women ‘Trinity’ who is be caught by police in a dirty hotel room. But she manage to beat them by some superhuman abilities. Soon after 3 agent comes to the hotel that also have superhuman abilities and try to catch the women. But she manage to escape by answering a ringing public telephone. In next scene Trinity contact with a computer programmer Thomas Anderson or his nickname ‘Neo’. He living a two lives. In days he is a computer programmer and in nights he is a hacker. Trinity says Neo: ‘The Matrix has you.’ Neo cannot understand this and Trinity says him if you accept I can take you a man who can explain. This man named Morpheus wanted by agents and in his work agents arrest Mr. Anderson and question him about terrorist Morpheus. Neo do not talk and later meet Morpheus. He offers Neo a choice between the truth about the Matrix in red pill, and backing his normal life in blue pill. Neo always feel in life that something is wrong in this world and he choose the red pill and swallow it. After that he awake from his tube and rescued by Morpheus’ ship Nebuchadnezzar. When Neo wakes up he remember that he as weak, hairless, and lived in a liquid full tube with millions of other people.

In time Neo gets better and better. When he gets better enough Morpheus explain the Matrix. The truth is in 21st century machines and their creators declared war between them and humanity lost the war. Since human blocks machines’ energy source the solar energy, and that means the sun, machines realized that human body can be used as energy source. Thus Neo is no longer a battery for machines he noticed that there is no absolute truth. Morpheus continues to tell: the Matrix is a simulation of the 20th century world which human beings live there as a harvest and their minds controlled by machines. All the knowledge they know is not truth. And the truth come from the most powerful, the machines. If a person understand the truth about the Matrix he/she can manage the broke physical laws of the program and this bring the superhuman abilities. But the problem is if a person dies in Matrix he/she also dies in real world. Human beings who realize the truth and manage the get out of the Matrix lived in an underground city. Zion is the last human city in the real world. Purpose of Morpheus is with his ship and his crew as a group of rebels hack into the Matrix and unplug slave human body and make them free. But in freeing Neo, purpose of Morpheus is different. According to a prophecy there is a man named ‘the One’ comes and frees the humankind from the Matrix program and end the war between humankind and machines.

This prophecy comes from the Oracle, so Morpheus and his crew enters to Matrix to visit her. When Neo talks with the Oracle he understand that he was not the One and in future he had to choose between his own life and Morpheus’ life. When they try to return to real world agents recognize them. A crew member Cyper betrays Morpheus for a good life in Matrix. And thanks to his help agents manage to capture Morpheus. Their purpose to catch the Morpheus is learn the place of Zion and kill al the remaining humankind who realize the truth about the Matrix. Neo decided to save the Morpheus because of words of the oracle, so he and Trinity enter the Matrix to save him. When they try to do that Neo realized that he can compete with the agents which is not possible for humans, even Morpheus. Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus get rid of agents and try to go to real world again. But agent Smith seize them and kill Neo before he leave. So in Nebuchadnezzar Trinity talks with the dead body of Neo and say that ‘you cannot be dead because I love you, and the Oracle told me I would fall in love with the One.’ And she kisses Neo. And than Neo wakes up and realized that he is the One. Neo as the One now understand the Matrix and can control it. Therefore in Matrix he manage to kill agent Smith with ease. And in last scene Neo makes a telephone call in the Matrix and say that I will show the unrealized humans ‘a world that anything is possible’. He hangs up the phone and flies to the sky.

There are a lot of clues in the Matrix about postmodernism. Actually in looking a postmodern point of view the Matrix fits their concept of the world. The Matrix is postmodern world and real world is modern. When we look at the first scene in the movie Trinity can have some superhuman abilities which the polices who chase her think that this is impossible. Therefore we understand that there is something different in this world. Next scene Neo wakes up and see that his computer was hacked. In the computer screen we see the sentence ‘the Matrix has you.’ In following Neo picks a book in his bookshelf. The book is Simulacra and Simulation written by Jean Baudrillard. This is a postmodern philosophy book and it analyses the relation between reality, symbols and society. So this scene shows that there is a relation between the Matrix and postmodernism. Neo opens the book and there is chapter about Nihilism which is a denial of law, institution, and even existence. This scene shows us the skepticism of postmodernism. Neo has postmodern thinking and he question the world and he prone to deny the universal truths of his world. This can also seen in his two different lives. In the mornings he is a ordinary computer programmer and works in a company, Thomas Anderson. But in nights he change his truths and turn is second life as a hacker nicknamed Neo. His ideas, perceptions hidden in the Thomas Anderson shows themselves in the nights in the Neo. Neo knows that something wrong in this world. There is something not normal. In next scene Neo be late for work and his boss is angry with him. He says Neo, ‘you believe that you are special, somehow rules do not apply to you but you are mistaken’. But Neo does not even listen him. He reject this reality. This scene is also have postmodern influences. According to postmodernism, there is no absolute freedom as liberalism claims. Neo fells this in the movie, he feel trapped and try to find a way to get rid of this.

As the movie progresses Neo realized that a man named Morpheus looking for him to show the truth. He claims that I will be explain to you what is Matrix. Morpheus choose Neo to show him the truth because the Oracle told him Neo is ‘the One’. But later the Oracle also tells Neo that you are not the one. Therefore the assumption of there is no such think as truth seen in the movie due to the truth of Morpheus is also wrong and dictated him by more powerful, the Oracle. And even Neo is also wrong because later he realized that he is the One. The Oracle installs a program named ‘the One’ to Neo by giving him a cookie.

After Morpheus and Neo leave the Oracle and try to return the real world agents find them. In a flashback seen Cypher who is one of the crew of Morpheus betrays him and told the place of Morpheus to the agents. When this betrayal noticed he justifies himself by saying ‘ignorance is bliss’. He does not want to live in the real world and wants a good life in Matrix. This scene shows parallelism with postmodern assumption of there is no universal logic and reason. All of the Morpheus’s crew want to save the humans from being batteries but Cypher refuses this believe. He want to live as a battery exchange for a good life in the Matrix. Therefore we see that his reason and his logic is different from other people’s. Logic and reason also subjective things for both in the movie and in the postmodernism.

Moreover postmodernism claims that people are not tied to time and place. We can also see this in the movie. In the Matrix which is postmodern people can have superhuman abilities like be able to move very fast, hang in the air, jumping the very long distances, or even flying. When the program ‘the one’ installed Neo he gain superhuman abilities which is enough to able to fight with the agents. Neo finally kills the agent Smith and declared the machines that he will create a world that anything is possible. This final scene of the movie also shows that in the Matrix people are not tied to time and space similar to postmodernism. This can be understand in the movie by looking that these kind of superhuman abilities does not available in the real world because the real world represents modernism in the movie.

In addition to these another proof that the Matrix is postmodern movie is critique of science. Postmodernism deny the enlightenment idea and seen the technology and science as evil and in the Matrix, by using science and technology people created sentimental machines. But these machines rebel against humankind because they think humans treated badly to them. This rebellion result in a war between humankind and the machines. Humankind lost the war and they are enslaved by machines. This background is very similar to postmodern assumption of denial the enlightenment idea. According to postmodernism science and technology caused the WWII and in the Matrix, science and technology caused the war between humankind and machines and enslavement of humans. All of these shows us this is a postmodern world and thus the Matrix and postmodern theory have similarities.

In conclusion, there are lots of postmodernist influences in the Matrix. This can be seen in the very beginning of the movie when Neo holds the book Simulacra and Simulation written by Jean Baudrillard. Actually this book is the synopsis of the Matrix. The sentimental machines which are far more intelligent than humans create a simulation which have no link with reality. And this simulation is a computer program which all humanity believes, the Matrix. The Matrix has all data of the reality but it just do now real. Thus main subject of the movie is there is no objective reality because all the people think that they now the truth are wrong. They are living in a computer simulation but they are not aware of this. The real world is modern and the Matrix is postmodern in the movie. Therefore truth of the machines which are the most powerful in the world are accepted by others. This concept fits with the postmodernism. According to Baudrillard “it will be to put decentred simulations, models of simulation in place and to contrive to give them the feeling of the real, of the banal, of the lived experience, to reinvent the real as fiction, precisely because it has disappeared from our life. Hallucination of the real, of lived experience, of the quotidian, but reconstituted, sometimes down to disquietingly strange details.” (Baudrillard, 1994). In accordance with him we can understand that the Matrix is a postmodern science fiction movie which confirms the postmodernist assumption of the truth is subjective and there is no general truth and truth of the most of the people is the truth of the most powerful. This most powerful which is the sentimental machines in the movie dictates its own truth to the others.

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The Postmodern IR Theory in the Ideas of Michael Foucault and the Movie “The Matrix”. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from
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