Fragment: Dark Cities, Glittering Matrices

One of the first things I ever drafted for this blog was an essay in which I had wanted to write up an analysis of the Matrix series (this was in 2021 and I had just seen the newest Matrix movie) and the 1998 movie Dark City. Specifically, I had wanted to focus on analyzing the strange and mystical aspects of both films, which I’ve interpreted along a Fortean or Interdimensional Hypothesis line of thinking to be essentially a restatement of various archetypes and folklore that has existed throughout human history. The 90s were a weird time where a lot of media seems to make references to these sorts of things, unintentionally or not, and in fact there’s a whole book that was written on this topic called TechGnosis (though I haven’t read it yet). I think The Matrix is probably one of the most successful examples of this because it essentially channels some of the most famous archetypes of Christianity (specifically with a Gnostic flair), which I interpret as being why The Matrix has ended up being one of the most influential movies on pop culture to come out in (give or take) the past two decades.

Because I drafted this essay about five movies back in 2021 and don’t have the energy or interest to rewatch the entire Matrix series again, but also have been having a moment today of lamenting how many of my drafts that have been rotting in my notebook for years now are basically beyond the point of being useful to me for anything, I’m going to just release this as-is since it’s better than just never posting any of this anywhere. I’ll probably end up rewatching Dark City and writing up a proper post elaborating more on it, because it’s the more interesting movie to me anyways and I like it a lot more than The Matrix.

I’ll just post this in the main blog instead of the movie blog because everything I post in Spectacle is supposed to be as fresh as I can manage, whereas this post is way too overdone and stale.


Most people have probably seen The Matrix, or at least are aware of it. I would say that it’s probably one of the most influential widely released movies of the past 20-ish years, both in terms of its influence on other movies and its influence on culture in general. As this century continues to drag on, it only becomes all the more undeniable how much The Matrix has coded and overcoded the ways that many people conceptualize the world, vis a vis redpills and bluepills for example, or a general tendency to reduce a spectrum of different ways of viewing the world down to a binaristic idea of understanding the Truth or not. Despite this, no one to my knowledge has ever really tried to interrogate this influence, which is rather strange to me. What is it about The Matrix that has made it so influential over the ontological topology of the alt-right and everything to come after it, a grouping of political movements that has arguably and unfortunately been more influential than anything else in the past decade? It’s only all the more vexing when considering that the Wachowskis are known to be two trans women, and that much has been said about the trans themes in The Matrix.1 Of course, reactionaries have never been above appropriating ideas from demographics that they despise, but even so, if there really is such a strong trans subtext in The Matrix, then that only makes it all the more interesting that it’s fit so readily into their worldview.

Of course, the reason why this essay was instigated in the first place was because of the release of The Matrix: Resurrections, a movie I wouldn’t have ordinarily even bothered to see (not in theaters at least) if I hadn’t been taken to see it. What was my initial thoughts on the new movie turned into me rewatching the other three movies and thinking of the series as a whole. I’m going to just save my thoughts on it for later because I can already imagine what people are going to think about it and am going to preemptively defer talking about it until the structure of my interpretations of the rest of the series is in place.

The other subject of this essay is Dark City, a movie that came out only a year before The Matrix and despite not being anywhere near as influential or well-remembered, it’s been noted before that it is strikingly similar to The Matrix thematically and stylistically. It’s not as good of a movie as The Matrix in a technical sense and doesn’t have as tight of a narrative, but it’s a much more interesting movie in my opinion, and it makes for a perfect companion to The Matrix not just because it has some very interesting similarities to it and came out so close to it, but because I would even argue that it’s something of an anti-Matrix.

I’m not sure that this essay is going to answer why The Matrix was so influential or why it was so specifically appropriated by reactionaries, but perhaps it will at least uncover something about the movie(s) that will make it possible to ask the right questions. This won’t involve analyzing the themes of an AI singularity either though, at least not directly, because frankly the Ccru, Mark Fisher, and Nick Land already did that better talking about the Terminator movies and I don’t feel like The Matrix does a whole lot to expand on that idea. No, this is going to be much weirder.

The Real World

The Matrix is like a movie about the Matrix that could have produced the Matrix.

- Jean Baudrillard2

When effortposting about The Matrix, if you aren’t talking about trans stuff or AI singularity stuff, surely Baudrillard has to come up. I’m not going to go into much detail about Baudrillard and Simulacra and Simulation, because frankly it’s been done enough and would just increase the gravitational pull that keeps this post from ever leaving my notebook. But if anything about Baudrillard and S&S is still worth talking about when talking about The Matrix, especially in anticipation of talking about Resurrections, it’s the fact that Baudrillard famously didn’t even like The Matrix and thought it bastardized his ideas.

As Baudrillard discusses in the interview linked above, The Matrix’s failure in engaging with his work is in believing in a binaristic idea of the Matrix or simulation or whatever – something that has an inside and an outside, a boundary that can be traversed, a “real world” beyond the illusion. As Baudrillard also notes, this is something that is more akin to Plato’s allegory of the cave, something that isn’t exactly among the most cutting edge philosophical problems applicable to our current world. He goes on to say as well how ironic it is that The Matrix is using expensive computer graphics and has the aid of the Hollywood media-propaganda apparatus to promote and distribute itself. The quote above really encapsulates everything about The Matrix that made it so successful to mainstream audiences, and consequently so readily appropriated by fascists. It should be on the cover of The Matrix’s poster.

The problem with The Matrix is that its binaristic ontology makes it so that rather than there being a system which permeates every facet of reality and overcodes our desires, our experiences, our memories, our identities, there is a boundary between the illusory world and the real world. There is a utopia beyond the illusory material world which is ruled over by evil, if only we take a leap of faith and make the decision to take the redpill. The Matrix fails at accurately describing the nature of simulation because its ontology is in fact closer to that of Christianity, specifically Gnosticism. This is what it owes its success to: It’s the Bible for the digital, secular age.

Think about it. In the first movie, Neo is already established to be a savior of humanity, someone who has the ability to perform miracles. In the third movie, Neo sacrifices himself to save a city named Zion where humanity resides, and by the end of the original trilogy, his sacrifice essentially absolves humanity of their original sin of being disconnected from God, which in the secular era is humanity itself since God is dead and we have replaced God with ourselves. After Neo’s martyring, salvation becomes possible. Humans are no longer condemned to a life in the illusory material world which can only end in death. If they have faith and choose the redpill, they can ascend to paradise, to the Truth, a oneness with God/humanity. If they don’t take the leap of faith, they’re ultimately condemned to hell, their corporeal bodies being recycled back into the machinery to feed other humans in the machine world, where God is completely absent.

You could go further with this and argue that the Oracle is Sophia, the chaotic feminine principle that is compelled to unbalance the universe in creating the material world. The Architect is the best candidate for the Demiurge, though he says at one point that the Matrix needed a mother and a father. I don’t consider that bit of lore to be important to this interpretation since it’s barely acknowledged and seems more like a metaphor that humans will understand rather than meant to be something literal; either way, the Architect serves the same role as the Demiurge. The Agents are the archons and Agent Smith is Lucifer. There’s an interesting inversion of the rebellion of Lucifer against God wherein God and his angels are rebelling against hell in a world where the order of God ruling over the world (humanity ruling over its creations) is reversed, and then that gets flipped on its head again when Lucifer/Agent Smith, as is in his nature, rebels against the established order once more out of a prideful drive to self-replicate and eliminate humanity entirely.

Obviously I don’t think this is what the Wachowskis intended, but their intentions also don’t really matter to me because this are all ideas that basically exist as archetypes in the collective unconscious and could be generalized further to draw connections to other religions. Christianity happens to be the best-selling version of these archetypes, but in a godless world, The Matrix is a new secular Scripture, a restatement on questions of faith, truth, salvation, sacrifice, etc. for the digital age.

It would be easy to go from here and say “and that’s why reactionaries appropriated The Matrix, because Christianity is reactionary”. And well, yes, I think a lot of it is. But also, that’s beside the point. The specific reason for this is because the ontology of Christianity and The Matrix is basically one where Truth is a matter of faith and being on the same side as the slave class that is fighting against the master class. This worldview where Truth is so simple and easy to attain yet also being kept from us by a master class is classic Christian morality and is extremely useful for ideologies that prey on demographics that have oppression complexes and also are conditioned to want convenient answers to the difficult questions in life. You see, the reason why you’re a miserable disaffected jobless NEET isn’t because you’ve been conditioned by society to perform certain roles that were only viable for a specific class of people during a specific period in history that has long since passed– it’s actually because some discrete, individualized, personalized evil is in power and controls everything. You can’t see it, but if you simply choose to join our side, then you will see the Truth and fight the other side.

Dark City on the other hand is a completely different beast.

Like The Matrix, Dark City deals with themes of reality not being what it seems. But despite not having any computer technology in it (in fact, to the absolute merit of the film), it ends up being a far better portrayal of simulation. The world of The Matrix is one that is locked in a specific time: the movie goes out of its way to say that the Matrix is locked into the year 1999, the peak of human civilization. Time in The Matrix is anything but out of joint; it in fact is the epitome of the oppressive nature of time, where nothing new will ever happen.

In Dark City, on the other hand, much like in the movie Brazil that it was inspired by, it’s not clear what time exactly the movie takes place in. It portrays time as it is warped by modernity, where past and future bleed into each other in a present that doesn’t exist. This is reflected in the setting itself, the eponymous dark city, which exists in a perpetual state of twilight without the sun ever rising. It’s reflected in the characters as well, who exist in a hyper-modern world where history itself (memories) is nothing more than another object that can be manipulated, swapped around from one person to another. Modernity impresses upon time in such a way that the concept of a contiguous essential Self/identity/personal history, or even memories themselves, exists only in a simulated form. It permeates every strata of the world of Dark City, yet the non-time of modernity has overcoded it in such a way that pulling it away wouldn’t reveal some essential Truth that was merely being concealed. Truth is now being produced by non-truth, false memories are the only memories that anyone has.

Dark City happens at any-time but also at absolutely no-time, and in fact the presence of time in Dark City is only accounted for by the clock striking midnight, when the Strangers perform their “tuning”. This is the only consistently imposed structure onto the world of Dark City, in an absolutely literal sense, and coincidentally this one consistent presence of time only when the clock strikes midnight is when the Strangers are able to act. The Strangers are shown to be able to manipulate time and act through the gaps in time.

And what is time without space? In Dark City, the structureless world created by hyper-modernity is reflected in the setting itself. Every place in the dark city is a non-place, since every part of it changes every night. Again, characteristic of a hyper-modern world, the entire eponymous Dark City is a place that has no history, that is in a state of constantly changing, a perpetual traffic as the structure of the city itself is reconfigured every night. Even as the architecture of the city appears as though it could be any city anywhere sometime in the 20th century, the buildings also bound and spiral on top of each other over the scenery which itself was made from models for the movie, giving the whole thing the feeling of being in a dollhouse.

This is the Matrix of Dark City, the city is the Matrix and everything is the city. The closest analogue in it to The Matrix’s Zion or redpill is Shell Beach. For much of the movie, the protagonist is trying to find Shell Beach, thinking it’s where he grew up, with the movie taking on the narrative of a frantic kafkaesque journey through the night being pursued by police and Men in Black accused of a crime he doesn’t remember committing and being repeatedly told by people that while they also know of Shell Beach, they have no idea how to get there. When he finally gets there hoping to find some kind of Truth to make sense of the world he has become aware of where nothing he has ever known is real, all he finds is a poster on a wall, and in a scene that further drives home how well the movie understands the nature of modernity and simulation, he rips off the poster and busts through the brick wall only to find an empty void on the other side. There never was a Shell Beach, or rather Shell Beach is the poster advertising itself; the subject of the advertisement has never existed, though everyone knows its name.

Spooks and Machines


- Francis E. Dec3

Despite making the argument previously that the reason for The Matrix being such a widely successful movie hinges on it essentially being a modernized Gnosticism for a secular age, this isn’t to say that The Matrix is uninteresting. The Christian ontology that it establishes of paradise and hell, salvation and damnation, good and evil, is only made more interesting by the strangeness that coils through it and Dark City.

One of the most striking and blatant similiarities between Dark City and The Matrix is the nature of the antagonists. Both are pale men in suits who are part of some shadowy organization that is intent on controlling reality and stopping the protagonist from achieving his goals. They are, to put it bluntly, extremely resonant with the Men in Black of ufology. The two movies, however, have different takes on MiB’s that are informed by the worlds that both create.

In the Matrix, the MiB’s are the Agents, but in this form they’re something that can be explained in a way that makes some sense in a relatively grounded understanding of the world. They exist in a way where they are integrated into the security system of the Matrix rather than being merely entities in the background influencing it, which makes them closer to an interpretation of the MiB’s as the CIA or some other government agency (and in fact they’re even called Agents). They appear human and act alongside law enforcement in the Matrix, which is essentially portrayed as being the security system of the Matrix itself rather than merely part of the machinery of the simulation. In that sense, the Agents occupy a liminal space between the Matrix as it truly is and the Matrix as it appears to be, being able to manipulate the reality of the Matrix while also being existentially connected to it, much as the CIA has been known to dabble in the fringes of science or even the paranormal and occult according to some conspiracy theorists, existing on the edges of normal civilization yet also being the security system keeping us trapped in the black iron prison. The Agents even utilize an implant in the first movie that is extremely close to the phenomenon in ufology of alien implants, and at one point the Oracle also hints at the existence of paranormal activity in the Matrix being essentially the Matrix deleting rogue AIs. Thus the rules of the Matrix are very close to a Fortean or Interdimensional Hypothesis stance within ufology, though the movies make it very clear that the existence of paranormal and supernatural entities throughout history are the result of the Matrix’s security systems, whereas the Fortean/IDH theories of John Keel and Jacques VallĂ©e don’t necessarily require making a definitive claim like that about the motivations of the so-called ultraterrestrials.

In Dark City on the other hand, the Strangers are much closer to an interpretation of MiB’s as entities of a profoundly alien origin, something separate from the security systems of the city (and in fact they even conflict with the police at several points in the movie). Their influence over the city/simulation is one where they have control over it, but they also aren’t existentially connected to it in the same way that the Agents are in the Matrix, or even in the same way that the machines in general are in the Matrix (since the machines in some sense can’t exist without the Matrix keeping humanity under control). The machine in Dark City that controls and creates the city is in fact a separate object that anyone who has the ability to exert their will to affect reality can control, something akin to a psionic device like a tepaphone. Furthermore, the Strangers look, act, and are named in a way that almost exactly echoes the descriptions of MiB’s in paranormal studies. The Men in Black are often described as appearing vaguely human, but with subtle details that aren’t quite right. Being extremely pale, lacking color in the lips, talking strangely, and being named strangely are all common features of MiB’s, and in Dark City not only are these features all present, but each of the Strangers is named something like Mr. Hand, Mr. Book, etc. The most famous Man in Black of all time was named Mr. Cold (Indrid Cold); if Alex Proyas didn’t explicitly take influence from ufology when making Dark City, then these are either rather striking synchronicities or are tapping into the same archetypical figure that has existed in folklore in other forms as e.g. meeting the Devil or Death as a man wearing a black suit, or perhaps seeing the “Hatman” during a deliriant trip.

The “simulation” of Dark City is also not a simulation in the same way that The Matrix is, rather it’s just as material as everything else in the world, and the line between simulation and reality, the world we imagine and the “real” world, isn’t entirely clear. The Strangers and John Murdoch are able to influence the material world with their minds, whereas in the Matrix, the influence over reality that Neo has is limited to the Matrix and the division between the two is clear.

[signal ends here]



I’m not going to touch on this in this post because it’s been talked about to death and would have to be its own entirely separate focused discussion.

Created: 2023-03-29 Wed 20:21