This blog attempts to uncover similarities between mental images formed when reading William Gibson’s 1984 novel “Neuromancer”, to images seen in the 1999 Wachowski brothers film “The Matrix”. Mental images of characters and worlds formed when reading Neuromancer are presented. Characters and worlds (real and not-real) in “The Matrix” are then discussed to outline similarities and differences between geographies and characters in the two mediums. It is the conclusion of this blog that the Wachowski brothers did find a lot of inspiration for their film “The Matrix” from William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”.
“Neuromancer” - Mental images.
“The Matrix” - Mental images
- Case & Neo
- Molly & Trinity
- Armitage & Morpheus
Many people believe the inspiration for the Wachowski brother’s movie "The Matrix" (1999) came from William Gibson's 1984 novel "Neuromancer". After watching the movie and reading the novel, many similarities are evident which link the mental images formed when reading the novel and the images presented on screen in the movie. In the following blog, mental images formed while reading “Neuromancer” will be compared to visualizations presented on screen in “The Matrix”. A conclusion will be drawn on the detail of these visualizations and how closely they match mental images formed while reading the novel.
“Neuromancer” - Mental images.
The concepts presented in “Neuromancer” are, at times, hard to grasp. There is the ‘real world', the world in which you and I live in today, except this world is some distance into the future. There are sophisticated technologies and processes which do not exist in today’s world. For example, there are robots carrying out various tasks, plastic surgeons that can give you any face or DNA modification you desire and doctors that can replace any ruined or failing body organ. This ‘real world’ is our Earth, but in the future. At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Case is living in Ninsei, a district of Chiba in Japan. Later on in the novel, Case is located in the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis in the USA. There are also references to places such as Australia, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, France, Holland and the former Soviet Union. Later on in the novel, the characters travel into outer space to visit Zion. Zion is a world of artificial daylight, zero gravity and Rastafarian spaceship commanders.
A second world that is presented in “Neuromancer” is the world that the main character, Case, experiences when he “jacks-in”. As a computer hacker, Case must “jack-in” or insert himself into cyberspace to hack organizations and/or computer programs. To do this, he attaches dermatrodes (a form of electrodes) to his body and is transported to another world, a world that is known as the "matrix".
There is another world that Case is able to transport himself to. In one instance in the novel Case is alternating between the real-world, the matrix and a third world. In this world (called a Simstim) Case is able to transport himself into another character's body. He can therefore see what they're seeing and feel what they're feeling.
In “Neuromancer”, the reader gets the impression of a globalised society. Everything is connected to everything else by a click of a keyboard, making the world feel like a lot smaller than it actually is. Case may be in one location when he “jacks-in”, but at the click of a button he can travel seamlessly and instantaneously to any other location in the world.
Most of the scenes in “Neuromancer” are set in an urban environment. Night City, with Ninsei at its heart, is the old district of Chiba, Japan that lies in between its city and port. During the day it is shuttered and dead, and at night comes alive with all manner of colourful characters, lit up by neon lights: “Synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing and microbionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl’s techno-criminal subcultures” (p 8). Another urban area depicted in the novel is the Sprawl. For Case: "Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis" (p. 57).
“The Matrix” - Mental images
In “The Matrix”, there are two worlds presented. The first world is a modern urban city. There are skyscrapers, businessmen and busy markets. This world is an artificial construct created by machines to keep humans occupied as the humans are harvested for energy. This artificial world is known as the “matrix”. The matrix looks very much like any modern city at the turn of the 21st century. Although humans within it are living in an artificial world created by machines, they are oblivious to this.
The real world, away from the matrix is how Earth looks around the year 2199. It is a dark, brooding and desolate world where there is no sunlight and where machines rule. The humans have one last remaining stronghold in this world, the city of Zion. Zion is located somewhere close to the core of the Earth, where the humans can harvest some of the warmth from the Earth’s core. Humans live their lives under constant threat of attack from the machines. To travel beyond Zion, humans must use large and sophisticated spaceships.
If the film "The Matrix" did get its inspiration from “Neuromancer”, it is mostly evident in the similarities between characters in the novel and the movie. There are three characters in the novel that closely resemble three characters in the movie.
- Case & Neo
Case is a 24 year old computer hacker. He is relatively tall and described as slim, having "high-narrow shoulders" (p 6). He used to be one of the best hackers in the business, trained by the best. Extremely talented and good at his job, one day he decided to keep some of the proceeds from one of the jobs. Instead of killing him, his employers injected him with a wartime Russian mycotoxin, permanently damaging his nervous system. This meant that he no longer had the ability to hack. With all the technology around him, in both Chiba and the Sprawl, Case had been unable to find a cure for his condition.
In the movie, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a human living in the matrix construct. He works at a software company by day and by night he is a talented computer hacker. He finds his day job boring and is consistently late. His hacker alias is Neo. According to the ‘agents’ in the film (an agent is a digital construct, working for the machines), Neo has committed nearly every computer hacking crime known. In the film, Neo appears tall and slim. Neo lives in a slummy apartment in a seedy area of town. Parallels are drawn in Neuromancer, as Case usually rents a cheap, cramped bedsit in the seediest part of town. At the end of the film, Neo is revealed as ‘The One’. This is important as ‘The One’ is the reincarnation of a very important person. When the matrix was first created, a human was inserted in it. This human had the power to control and change the matrix. The Oracle (a modern day prophet) states that ‘The One’ will be reincarnated, and this turns out to be Neo.
There are similarities in “The Matrix” and “Neuromancer” in that both Case and Neo are sought out by strangers (Molly & Armitage in “Neuromancer” and Trinity & Morpheus in “The Matrix”).
Both Case and Neo are seeking answers in their lives yet they do not realise their own great potential. In “Neuromancer”, Case believes that he is useless after the mycotoxins were administered. In “The Matrix”, Neo has no idea he is 'The One'. One difference between the two characters is that Case takes himself a little less seriously, often cracking jokes and possessing a careless indifference when it comes to his well-being. Neo, while unassuming, seems to take himself a little more seriously.
In “The Matrix”, Neo says: “You ever get the feeling, where you don’t know if you’re awake or still dreaming?” Neo has numerous dreams in the movie where events occur which seem very real to him, but then he wakes up. Both the viewer and Neo discover that many of these events actually do take place, making the storyline challenging to follow. In “Neuromancer”, we are often transported to the dreaming world of Case, a world where Case usually wakes up. Sometimes however, he doesn’t and the events in the dream are actually occurring.
- Molly & Trinity
The character of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in “The Matrix” seems to be taken straight from the description of Molly from “Neuromancer”. We are introduced to Molly (p 34): “The silver lenses seemed to grow from smooth pale skin above her cheekbones...” Molly wears all black clothing including tight black glove-leather jeans, a bulky black jacket and large heels.
In “The Matrix”, the producers have dressed Trinity in a full leather skin tight wardrobe. She has pale skin, is slender and has short dark hair. She wears sunglasses for most of the movie, similar to Molly in “Neuromancer” who has surgically inset silver lenses.
Molly and Trinity share the same ability of having highly proficient combat skills. In Neuromancer, Molly is a self-professed killer. She says: “...(Ex)’Cept I do hurt people sometimes, Case. I guess it’s just the way I’m wired.” In “The Matrix”, we are witness to Trinity’s superhuman speed and strength when she regularly maims and kills. Both characters have that ‘no-nonsense’ edge to them. You get the feeling that both of these characters were born into a world of kill or be killed, and it comes out in their characters.
In “Neuromancer”, Molly and Case are intimate early on in their relationship. While there is no suggestion of any deeper feelings, these characters have an on-the-surface chemistry that is evident from the start. In “The Matrix”, Trinity and Neo are not intimate (this changes in the two sequels however). In “The Matrix”, Trinity is drawn to Neo. The Oracle tells Trinity that she “will fall in love with ‘The One’.” As Neo is being trained, Trinity brings him food and is kind to him. In one scene, Neo is lying on his deathbed, and Trinity confesses to him that she loves him and kisses hum. Soon after, Neo miraculously recovers.
- Armitage & Morpheus
In “Neuromancer” Case is located by Molly, who is hired by someone called Armitage. Molly then brings Case to meet Armitage. In “The Matrix”, Neo is located by Trinity, who then introduces Neo to a character named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). In “The Matrix” we know much about how Morpheus looks as we are able to look at him directly and witness how he moves and speaks. Morpheus is tall, ominous, speaks in a commanding way and is very much the leader. Armitage is more someone who just gives orders and Case obeys him because Armitage is paying him. We are given some description of Armitage (p 36): “...the broad chest hairless and muscular, the stomach flat and hard. Blue eyes so pale they made Case think of bleach” The similarities in both Armitage and Morpheus are that they are the driving force behind finding Case and Neo. They are both wise and commanding and are looked up to, even respected, by the characters in “Neuromancer” and “The Matrix”.
It is evident that there is more than just a little similarity between Gibson’s literary work “Neuromancer” and that of the Wachowski brother’s movie “The Matrix”. Obvious similarities are evident in not just characters but in concepts and certain sections of the plot. While Molly and Trinity are very similar in both how they look and act, Case and Neo are more similar in how they think and how they are regarded by the world. Case and Neo are rebels, who stand up against the system. Both Case and Neo are modest, unassuming and do not realise their full potential until later in their respective stories.
One glaring similarity between both stories is the inclusion of this concept “the matrix”. In Neuromancer, Case enters cyberspace and while in cyberspace has access to the matrix and in this world he is able to hack sophisticated computer systems. This is a little different to the concept of the matrix in the movie. In movie, the matrix is an elaborate computer program, an artificial construct built by machines to fool the humans into thinking it is their reality. While humans are distracted by this artificial construct, the machines are harvesting their electrical energy and body heat for their own purposes. The matrix in “Neuromancer” and “The Matrix” are similar in that they are digital worlds, worlds where the characters can travel through and experience first hand.
It is not known whether the Wachowski Brothers, makers of “The Matrix” credited “Neuromancer” with any of their ideas for the film. It is this reader’s opinion that they were inspired by the novel and that this inspiration was a basis for many of the scenes and characters in “The Matrix”.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Penguin Group, New York, New York. 1984.
Wachowski brothers. The Matrix movie. Warner Bros. & Village Roadshow Pictures, Sydney, Australia, 1999.
The Internet Movie Database. The Matrix. IMDb.com, Inc, accessed March 30, 2009.