Even before the planet was besieged by a highly contagious virus, many have joked, despairingly, about how perhaps we’ve been living in the worst timeline. Others have wondered if we’re stuck in a malfunctioning simulation à la The Matrix. As it happens, when Patton Oswalt went on The Joe Rogan Experience Tuesday to promote his new stand-up special, and, as caught by The Hollywood Reporter, the two wound up talking about the second possibility, with Oswalt wondering if maybe one of the first film’s most villainous characters might have had the right idea.
Rogan was the one who brought it up, saying the grim state of affairs right now has him wondering if we are being controlled by some artificial intelligence, which has been making things so cartoonishly awful in order to bring humans “deeper into the hive.” Oswalt took that idea and ran with it:
“What if the AI knows that eventually it does have to unplug us and let us see that we’re in the protein pods? ‘That’s going to freak them out, so let’s make this fake reality so fucking insane and awful. We’ll have Trump be president. We’ll have this virus.'”
In the original 1999 film, Keanu Reeves’ lowly computer programmer and hacker Neo discovers the reality he knows is a lie, and that the truth is that all of humanity is enslaved to computer overlords who keep them in pods, feeding them a collective dream that resembles our own (alleged!) real world. At one point, one of Neo’s new colleagues, Joe Pantoliano’s Cypher, turns turncoat, selling out our heroes to the dastardly machines so that he can be plugged back into the Matrix and obliviously live a fake but nice life where he can eat steak instead of slop. He’s a bad guy, yes, and his plan luckily didn’t work. But, Oswalt wondered, is he that wrong?
“There’s a very strong case to be made for Cypher’s character, like, ‘No. Plug me the fuck back into this,'” Oswalt said. “‘I’m nude with atrophied muscles, hairless in a jagged wasteland of radioactive slag, or I can be in this world where I have a nice job, where I eat a steak and marry someone … ‘Can I just live in this — I am fine with it. Morpheus, who the fuck are you helping?! Why are you dragging us out?! The machines aren’t trying to kill us.'”
Oswalt went even further, wondering if humanity was part of the problem to begin with. “’And by the way, you guys fucked up the earth. We’re doing the best we can for you guys. We could have just let you all die in the wasteland, but instead, we found a way so that you can live.'” He continued:
“People always miss that line where [Agent] Smith (Hugo Weaving) says, ‘You know, when we first did the Matrix, it was just flat-out paradise, and you guys couldn’t handle that and you rejected it.’ … Probably the first version of the Matrix, everybody could fly and orgasms lasted three months and you could just eat all the chocolate you wanted. And people were like, ‘No! I want a goddamn cubical job!’ And the machines went, ‘OK. I guess they want cubicles. Give ’em that. We tried to be nice.'”
Alas, we’re still all stuck in this reality, with a pandemic that won’t be going away any time soon, and which has, in fact, put production for the fourth Matrix on pause. We won’t have another Matrix any time soon, but at least we have franchise co-creator Lilly Wachowski winning the internet on Sunday.