One of my all time favorite movies is “The Matrix”- the first one, only, I have to say- but that’s another column.
As you probably remember, at the end Neo puts on a pair of sun glasses that are just like the glasses the “Agent Smiths” have been wearing, and takes to the skies – a Superman in a long, black gown, lacking only a cape. That ending, and the transformation it represents, has been bothering me for years. Neo, remember, is a kind of klutzy geek, when we first meet him, living in a crummy room, working at a meaningless job, doing odd jobs for people who don’t respect him. He’s klutzy, but very human – confused, aimless, sort of stuck in a late adolescent phase that might have stayed with him until he was middle aged, had he not been tapped by the shadowy, underground organization that Knows The Truth. What bothers me is that, in the process of becoming “The One”, he gradually becomes less human and more like the tightly suited Enforcers of The Matrix. His motivation (and the motivation of the Wachowski Brothers) aside, what Neo actually seems to do is discard his humanity, by which I mean his uncertainty and fallibility. This transformation is signaled by the wearing of the iconic, insectile sun glasses that make it impossible to see his eyes. This hiding of the eyes seems to represent Power; the wearer can see you, but you cannot see the wearer’s eyes, and the eyes, we’re told, are the windows to the soul. When I hide my eyes I hide my humanity; you cannot see me or my thoughts. I’m safe.
So, it’s not much of a coincidence that The Terminator, as soon as he can, snatches a pair of sun glasses and covers his eyes, and The Terminator represents another example of the idea I’m examining, here: our desire to transcend humanity, to be invulnerable, superhuman, untouchable. We’re fascinated – or men are, at least – with superhuman images. During televised football games, we see computer generated images of robotic players, running menacingly toward the viewer, mirroring the ideal of the players on the field who are trained to ignore pain and fear -to leave those human feelings behind. I am suggesting that we’re fascinated with images of “more-than-human” characters because we wish we could be them, on some level. Some deep part of us wishes we could move in the world, unencumbered by conscience, untouched by pain, unmoved by love and unlimited by consequences – free, in other words, of those characteristics that make us human.
I see that I have written, without thinking about it, “more-than-human”, but if we could achieve our wish, would it make us more, or less human? Personally, I think it’s our vulnerability that makes us human. Of course, we want to avoid pain, and the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths is that “Life means Suffering”, but by detaching ourselves from desire and all human feelings, what have we made ourselves? I think that, deep in our unconscious, what we aspire to is to be as bullet proof as Superman, as cybernetic as The Terminator and as delivered from uncertainty as Neo – no matter what the cost. Only then can we be safe from pain.
Is such a transformation desirable? Would you do it, given the chance, or would you think the price too high? Immortality, anyone?