It is one of the most famous quotes in all of cinema, but the Reality is that most people can’t handle the Truth. They can’t handle the Truth about their choices, their family and friends, and their work. They can’t handle the Truth about their own lives. No movie better illustrates this idea than the Matrix, which also closely follows the hero’s journey monomyth, as described by Joseph Campbell.
In the movie, countless human minds are plugged into an artificial Reality, despite the Truth that their physical bodies are little more than 120V batteries in green slime-filled pods. Inside the Matrix, it is an ordinary world, filled with average, everyday challenges, disappointments, expectations, and opportunities.
The minds that have yet to awaken are content living an experience with no deeper meaning, where a life is measured only by its maximization for one’s own interests. In other words, it doesn’t matter what I do for you, only what I do for me, what you do for me, and what the rest of the world does for me.
They literally live their lives with their eyes closed, seeing only what they see within their own minds. They cannot see beyond themselves.
When Neo is freed from the Matrix, Morpheus affirms that Neo is using his eyes for the first time. Open eyes are symbolic of consciousness, perception, and Truth. Neo is now able, for the first time, to see both the Reality of the Matrix (the mind’s perception), as well as the Truth of the world around him.
Beyond the Matrix, the world is a gritty, messy place. The challenges and threats are real, and they are severe. The choices that Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo made were those of sacrifice. The minds who are plugged in to the Matrix are satiated with elegant clothes, fine foods, and temporal pleasures, whereas those who chose the red pill and its freedom scrape by on the edge of existence.
So, can you handle the Truth?
The Truth is powerful.
Imagine an addict or alcoholic, living in her own Reality and denying the problems created by her obsession. The Truth, delivered perhaps through a caring friend’s intervention, has the power to break down psychological walls and transform the world for that one person, and maybe many others who live in silent suffering.
Or consider an organization that chooses loyalty to the status quo over loyalty to purpose. One person may choose to confront apathy, dishonesty, hazing, homophobia, plagiarism, sexual assault, or any other negative behavior, but instead the members of the organization zero in on the confronter, not the behavior, as the problem. The organization’s Reality may be that “loose lips sink ships,” but the Truth is that honest conversation and commitment to purpose are the only things that will keep the ship above water. After all, a gaping hole in the ship’s hull can be repaired only after careful examination.
The Truth is powerful. It has the ability to save, and the ability to transform. But, with great power comes great responsibility.
When you know the Truth, you have to do something with it. This is your responsibility. To know the Truth and do nothing is to facilitate evil.
But, to know the Truth and do something, ... Now that is heroic.