The Red Pill

I watched The Matrix (1999) the other night. I had not watched it since it came out, what, almost 20 years ago? Keanu was so young. Not as young as Ted in the historically accurate Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, but still. The movie was revolutionary. It spoke to the zeitgeist (the what? I looked it up: the spirit or the mood of a particular period in history) as we turned towards the 21st century. (9/11 had not happened yet-- that's a crazy thought).

I do not have the expertise to back up this zeitgeist claim-- though plenty has been written about it (like here). What my expertise can speak to, however, is how the movie's narrative is evocative of the journey and goal of psychotherapy. That is, if you choose to begin psychotherapy (actually finding a therapist and making a regular space for it in your weekly schedule), you are choosing the red pill. You are daring to become aware, to become more conscious of your life and its effects on those around you. In the imagery of the movie, you are daring to be born again... into Reality. Into Truth.

What is the nature of your Matrix? Do you dare find out?


What this movie makes clear, is that you can't turn back. Once you see, you can't become blind again. You've seen. Honestly, I find this the most aggravating part of growth. We can't turn back. Solomon, yes that Solomon, (the archetypal wise guy) says as much: "For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18, Hebrew Bible). Great. The blue pill then becomes so attractive, doesn't it? It promises the bliss of ignorance. "This is your last chance," says Morpheus. "After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth." 

By taking the red pill, you will feel like Alice in Wonderland at times. Remember that wild and crazy book? Read or re-read it: your mind is taken for a ride. In fact, you have to wonder if Lewis Carroll wasn't on something... humfff. The nature of things is questioned, reconsidered, perhaps even redefined. You know, they are "wondered" about. Like Alice, the dimensions of your life may be altered. By taking the red pill, we begin to see our Matrix, the construction which we have created and has been created for us. There are a whole host of illusions as part of that construction which "have kept us warm at night" -- to borrow a lyric from Sarah McLachlan. They keep us feeling safe. And we fear their dissolution. No wonder there are so many people who choose to take the blue pill. Who wants to let go and dare to find out the Truth, and allow Reality to shape our constructions? What if there is no such thing as Reality or Truth, and all you do is keep falling into the abyss of nothingness? No more humfff... more ahhhhhhhhh! That sounds terrifying, not to mention complicated and hard.

Well, yes. But what if you find out the one thing for which your heart longs? What if, mourning our constructions enables us to welcome LOVE as the final Reality? "You can't be dead," says Trinity to Neo. "You can't be... because I love you. You hear me? I love you." What if taking the red pill means in the end that you find out that you are loved. Really. And that all constructions which are not fueled by love are a false. A trap. A means of control. One that desires neither your freedom and joy, nor those of others. What would it mean to begin to let go, to allow love to reconstruct your reality, and for you to live into it by believing it?

What if you don't have to be alone in it. Therapy will help get you started in that direction, and give you the tools to keep opening yourself up to love. I wish life were like a movie (I bet Solomon says something about that too)-- all's well that ends well in a 2h15min time frame. But The Matrix points the way.

So, how about it? The blue pill... or the red pill?


Deborah Edgar