Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. So let’s take a look at this week’s jerk-off, and why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. Also, since I’m not a jerk, this is your spoiler warning for the 1999 movie, The Matrix.
Joe Pantoliano is fairly adept when it comes to the fine art of acting the jerk. If this column were called TV’s Ultimate Jerks then we’d be sat here talking about his turn as Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos, one of televisions all-time biggest dickheads. But this is Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks, and that’s why we’re talking about Cypher, from the Wachowskis sci-fi blockbuster, The Matrix.
In The Matrix, it’s revealed that humanity went to war with a race of sentient machines hundreds of years ago, and that once the machines won, they enslaved humanity in order to use us as a power source, keeping us docile by putting our minds into a simulation. That simulation, kids, is the real world that we see around us every day. Dun-dun-duuuuuun. Shocking twist. Anyway, Matrix lore has it that a bunch of people were able to free themselves from the mind-shackles of the robot overlords, and using some hi-tech gadgetry and a little bit of artistic license, were able to start logging in to this simulated world in order to free more people and build up a bit of a resistance in the last human city of Zion, located somewhere in the real world.
That’s great and all, but the real world after the war kinda sucks. It’s drab, and ugly, and in a post-apocalyptic wasteland there’s actually not all that much to do. There’s no Netflix, or video games, or WWF wrestling. There’s not much of anything. There’s probably a McDonalds somewhere because they get where shit doesn’t, but other than that, and the vague satisfaction that comes from being free, there’s not much to celebrate about living in the real world. Cypher – one of the free men working on a ship captained by Larry Fishburne’s Morpheus – isn’t slow on the uptake, and he soon comes to the conclusion that given the option, he’d prefer to live in a fake world in which the machines can guarantee his avatar will be rich and famous, over living in a flying sardine tin with six other dudes in a world in which deodorant no longer exists.
So Cypher decides enough is enough, and jacks himself into the matrix to hold a secret meeting with a representative of the machines, named Smith. He enjoys a delicious steak meal with the agent, knowing that the steak he has in his mouth isn’t real, but concluding that even pretend steak is better than no steak at all. And so he wants to give up his life as a free man, deciding that ignorance is indeed bliss, and that he’d rather be put back into the matrix to live as an actor, rich, famous, and utterly unaware that he’s living in a dream world. Honestly, given the options, I’d take the dream world every day of the week. But unfortunately, getting plugged back into the matrix comes at a price. The machines want him to sell out all of his human buddies so they can wipe them out and bring about a swift end to the resistance. Cypher thinks about for like four seconds, says “Fuck all y’all,” to his woke comrades, and agrees to the terms. Honestly, he doesn’t even pretend it’s a hard decision.
You might think that Cypher would, you know, debate the philosophical or ethical merits of going back into the matrix with his crew-mates, or at least treat them with even a modicum of respect on a human level, but what he actually does is wait until they’re all jacked into the matrix – leaving their bodies prone in the real world – and then he starts systematically killing them off. He’s a real prick about it, too. He’s not only unperturbed by potentially dooming the entire human race to a life of servitude under ruthless, artificially intelligent robots because he’s bored of the real world, but he seemingly takes some measure of enjoyment in pulling the plug on his friends one at a time. When he gets to Trinity, the female lead of the movie, he creepily starts talking to her mind, within the matrix, while he’s caressing her lifeless body in the real world, and it’s all a bit weird. I don’t know if they’ve got Twitter in Zion, but that’s almost certainly a #MeToo.
Jerk-Off Quote: “I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing. You understand? And I want to be rich. You know, someone important, like an actor.” – Cypher, presumably planning his first starring role as a massive jerk.
Comeuppance: Cypher manages to bump off a number of Morpheus’ crew, but his plans are scuppered just when he’s about to the pull the plug on Keanu Reeves’ Neo, and he’s frazzled by a laser gun wielded by the presumed dead pilot of the ship. No more steak for this man, ever.
Jerk-Off Rating: Not as much of a jerk as Joe Pantoliano in The Sopranos, but more of a jerk than Joe Pantoliano in The Goonies.
Tune in next week – same jerk time, same jerk channel – to find out who’s next in our celebration of cinemas ultimate jerks.