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Interview With Barry Vacker

Aired May 17, 2003 - 18:37   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: "The Matrix Reloaded" is firing up at the box office, it's on the fast track to shatter box office records this weekend. Take a look.
The much anticipated blockbuster sequel to the 1999 sci-fi hit is setting new benchmarks with its layers of messages and meanings and hard punches, I suppose, as well.

There are some college professors who are using it as a way to study philosophy as well as modern society. We are going to talk more about that with Barry Vacker. He is a professor of media studies at Temple University. He's gathered scholars from across the country today for a conference on the "Matrix." Thanks very much for being with us.

BARRY VACKER, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: Thanks for having me, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. First of all, you know, people are going to first here this and they are going to say: "What are you talking about?" College students are actually learning and, I guess, getting course credit for watching this in some ways? Why -- why the "Matrix?"

VACKER: Well, that's a great question, and, actually, I think the "Matrix" operates on really two levels. If you only see it as a science fiction, marshal arts, action film, then that's one level. But I think, the film offers a many deeper messages that are encoded in the texts and are encoded in the various plot lines and devices, so we try to interrogate (ph) those in our classes.

COOPER: And the people who talk about this as a work of philosophy, but they talk about Plato, they talk about Descartes. Some people are talking about the sequel that deserves (ph) references to Nietzsche. Do you see those? I guess, you see some of those and you see more comments on modern society.

VACKER: Well, I think, I think it's offering definitely a comment about the role of technology, specifically media technology in our lives, as well as the sort of the more darker implications of industrialization and things like that, sort of the conflict between humanity and technology.

COOPER: I should point out, of course, this is a Warner Brothers movies; Warner Brothers part of AOL Time Warner, which is the parent company of CNN, so just want to lay that out. I want to show you a clip from actually the first "Matrix" movie, which sort of got this whole ball rolling about sort of getting this on the college campuses and getting people really studying this. It's -- I want to show you the clip, and then we are going to talk about the significance. It's the offering of the pills, let's take a look.



LAURENCE FISHBURNE, ACTOR: This is your last chance. 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, nothing more. Follow me.


COOPER: All right, so Barry, why is that so significant?

VACKER: Well, I think, what I think the film is doing at that point is saying: "Hey, you can have two choices, one is sort of interrogate and enquire about the nature of the world, the nature of reality that surrounds us on a much deeper level, or you can take the blue pill and just sort of skim across life, and accept the world as it's given to you.

COOPER: You said it talks about the role of machines in modern life. Expand on that a little bit.

VACKER: Well, I think, in the first "Matrix", everybody's plugged into a virtual reality experiment organized by the artificial intelligence, that humans have created. I think the Wachowski brothers are using that as a metaphor about the role of mass media in our culture, in which most people's understanding of the world that surrounds us is through mass media technology -- whether it's television or film, or cyberspace and the Internet.

COOPER: Did you ever have any parents say to you, you know, when they hear their kids are studying this -- say to you, you know, this is just a movie. Let's not take it quite so seriously?

VACKER: Well, I haven't talked to any parents about it, but it's interesting. The first time I saw "The Matrix," I was not that impressed, and it was only after my students persuaded me, no, no, no, you've got to look at it again, there's more going on there. And after the semester was over, this is back in '99, I watched it again, and I started rethinking it, and I realized actually it is a great tool to introduce students to deeper questions about the role of media, technology and philosophy in our lives.

COOPER: And you are no movie review, but does the sequel hold up? VACKER: To my mind -- I don't think it holds up as cohesively as the original "Matrix" does, no.

COOPER: All right, but you'll still be using, you'll still be referring to it in your classes, I think.

VACKER: Well, I think, we are going to stick to the original "Matrix," because the great think about it -- it is brilliant in its non-originality, that it picks up so many themes that have been around in human society for a long time, but it repackages them in a way for sort of the postmodern kids after the millennium.

COOPER: Professor Barry Vacker, I appreciate you joining us, it was fun, thank you.

VACKER: Thanks.


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