The original Matrix movie came out in 1999. It portrays the adventure story of Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), a computer hacker who met a mysterious stranger under shady circumstances. In the iconic “Red Pill” scene, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) offers Neo a choice. If Neo swallows the blue pill, he will return to his everyday life as though nothing had happened. However, if he swallows the red pill, Morpheus will reveal the true nature of their reality, no turning back. Neo opts to become “woke” by choosing the red pill. He learned that nothing he’d assumed all of his life was true.
In 2012, Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel The Hunger Games came to the silver screen. Another dystopia, The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers in her little sister’s place as a contestant in a reality show where two children from every district in Panem compete to the death. Representatives from the ostentatious, distant capitol of Panem select the two unluckiest children in each (usually poor, but full of love) district by lottery and sweep them away on the spot. As shown in the key “reaping scene” clip, being chosen isn’t exactly an honor that the sadistic capitol confers.
The Hunger Games: Katniss and Peeta Reaping Scene [HD], posted by KatnissEverdeen PeetaMellark
Both films gained additional cultural meaning in the years after their release. Metaphorically, choosing the red pill means waking up from ignorance to the reality you’d missed all along. People who feel they’ve chosen the red pill may refer to others, unfortunately, as “sheeple,” implying a sheeplike, herd-mentality unconsciousness. However, everyone’s perspective is different, based upon their own lived experience.
A good friend and I once discussed the red pill metaphor. He is deeply Christian, and imagined the Matrix as a movie about experiencing Jesus. Choosing the red pill meant realizing the existence of Jesus as his savior in a soul-deep and very personal way. As a non-believer, I’d interpreted the movie quite differently and with total clarity, in the opposite direction. For me, choosing the red pill means that religious illusions fall away as one grasps the man-made history of scripture. We both assumed that explaining our realities to each other using the Matrix imagery would trigger an A-Ha! moment. What I learned instead was that everyone already thinks they’ve got it. We tend to believe it’s the other suckers who have swallowed the blue pill of ignorance.
Similarly, people interpret the larger theme of the Hunger Games in ways complimentary to their political ideology. I entered the theater in 2012 with the Occupy protests fresh in my mind. The ridiculously clownish, benighted Capitol citizens clearly represented the excesses of the despised 1% and their Tea Party dupes. They soaked up the wealth (and the children) of the hardworking and desperate 99% for their amusement. Anyone not a psychopath would sympathize with Katniss, Peeta, and their struggles. I left the theater confident that sooner than later, the message of the Hunger Games would result in social change. I was right – and wrong. Later, I was shocked to read that American conservatives had also seen their struggle in the Hunger Games. A coal miner’s daughter, hunting to feed her family, led the fight against Big Government, wasteful liberals, and an amoral media. These themes eventually propelled Trump to power.
It seems like almost everyone interprets the Matrix and Hunger Games as metaphors which would obviously endorse the same truths that they, themselves, accept. It’s more difficult to accept that people whose agendas counter our own rarely believe themselves to be the bad guys. Humans think in stories. The long-term staying power of these films lies in having presented a canvas on which observers paint their own experiences. However, just try explaining this when your friend thinks his Matrix- or Hunger Games-based epiphany is the only possible interpretation. Perhaps you will regret choosing the red pill.