Glenn Yeffeth, editor,
Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy & Religion in The Matrix
(BenBella, 2003)

Are you prone to over-analyzing? Can you find deep, dynamic meaning and symbolism in seemingly simple stories? In other words, did you go to a liberal arts school? If so, then Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy & Religion in The Matrix is just the book for you. It doesn't matter if you're an actual fan of the dystopian techno/sci-fi action thriller The Matrix. (If you are, it only makes the exercise all the better.) The real fun in reading these essays is seeing how subtle nuances in a film can (and do) encourage intellectual dissection and expounding discussions.

This collection of essays is "geek" food, plain and simple. Whether you're a sci-fi geek, a literary geek, a film geek, a comic book geek, a religious geek, a philosophy geek, heck -- even a futurist geek, you're covered. From Jesus to Buddha to Baudrillard to cyberspace to genetic engineering to Citizen Kane, these essays cover all the referential bases and inspirational sources.

This book is very tricky. The thing is, these essays are beautifully composed and enjoyable to read. Starting off, you're reading essays about an action movie with groundbreaking special effects, right? Well, if you take another look at the topics of discussion that are being generated from this "action movie," you'll realize you're actually smack dab in the middle of an academic endeavor. Even if you question the validity of some of the subject matter (especially Paul Fontana's claim that The Matrix is a movie about the existence of, not the absence of, God), the arguments are presented in a sound academic format.

Now, some get a bit too academic, notably Ray Kurzweil's "The Human Machine Merger: Are We Headed for the Matrix?" (About three pages in, one expects to need a highlighter to note passages for the next exam.) But for the most part, the authors balance heady discussion with approachable prose, so even the most reluctant intellectual will want to keep turning the pages.

The biggest brain-twister of all isn't WHAT you read, but HOW you read this book. The most important thing to note when reading this book is the publication date: 2003. All of these essays were written prior to Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. So, forget about the actual critically panned and fanboy-let-down sequels; instead, imagine the two impending movies that could have been. To paraphrase Morpheus, "free your mind" from long-winded speeches by the Merovingian, the Architect's loquacious diatribe or tedious fight scenes that should have been cut by a fourth. None of that has happened yet, only the excitement and anticipation of the Wachowski brothers bringing back their brilliance. The last bit of The Matrix that you've experienced is Neo talking about freedom and choice, and finally flying towards the screen. If you can bring yourself back to that moment, then you will be in the right frame of mind for Taking the Red Pill.

by C. Nathan Coyle
9 September 2006

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