The movie reveals the culture of death that lies at the core of our secular-liberal modernity. We cannot look away
This spring marks the 20th anniversary of The Matrix. It was 20 years ago that the hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) picked the red pill over the blue, and was given an unforgettable glimpse of a world in which robots enslave untold billions of human beings, extracting their life force to fuel their evil empire. The Matrix drew on a well-worn science-fiction trope, as old as Metropolis, in which the hero discovers the hideous truth lurking just beneath the pleasant surface of daily life.
“The Matrix is everywhere,” Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) tells Neo. “You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth.” Everyday reality, in the Wachowskis’ startling vision, is an illusion designed to mask the process by which robots quite literally turn human beings into disposable batteries.
Unplanned – the new movie based on the memoirs of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee of the year turned pro-life activist – is this generation’s Matrix. Abby Johnson (ably played in the movie by Ashley Bratcher) is our Neo. As for the empire of intelligent machines that has pulled a veil over its dehumanising activities, well, that would be Planned Parenthood.
The only difference: Unplanned isn’t a work of science fiction. The “desert of the real” it portrays is the contemporary United States.
We Americans really do inhabit a Matrix of sorts: we go to work, we pay taxes, we binge-watch Netflix, we bar-hop – and when newly conceived life and its messy demands intrude on our autonomy, we can head to nondescript buildings, where they “take care of that”, as one of Johnson’s ex-boyfriends tells her in the movie (she herself underwent two abortions before joining Planned Parenthood as a full-time staffer).
Our autonomy-obsessed way of life obscures – and is made possible by – the abortion industry. The culture of death is thus the hideous core of our secular-liberal modernity, treating human beings as so much disposable tissue, while pulling a Matrix-like veil over our eyes – one that most of us, even many abortion opponents, help weave by refusing to gaze directly at that same hideous core, at what goes on inside those nondescript buildings.
We Americans blue-pill ourselves.
For a long time, Abby Johnson dutifully took her blue pills. Though she came from a pro-life family, Johnson as a college student bought a Planned Parenthood recruiter’s claim that it was in the business of minimising abortions. Soon she found herself rising through the Planned Parenthood ranks, eventually becoming the organisation’s youngest clinic director. Then one day she was called in to assist with an abortion – and everything changed.
The sights and sounds of a real abortion – a “perfect baby” sucked out of a womb by a suction tube – red-pilled Johnson. That experience forms the film’s unforgettable, nearly unbearable opening scene, likely responsible for Unplanned’s “R” rating. As Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann noted in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, that “R” rating is an admission by the pro-abortion film industry that abortion is, indeed, a violent act.
But we mustn’t look away. We Americans must have the courage to pick the red pill – and pierce the veil of the Matrix. Unplanned offers us a rare opportunity to do that.
That’s why Unplanned has so obviously annoyed the abortion industry. That success comes despite a blackout on network-TV previews and censorship on Twitter. Then, too, critics (many of them self-proclaimed abortion advocates) have flooded print and online media with negative reviews. They’ve denounced Unplanned as “nasty propaganda” (Forbes), “paranoid” (Variety) and a “gory mess” (the Guardian).
Think of the vicious critics, Twitter censors and TV executives who imposed the blackout as so many self-replicating Agent Smiths, intent on snuffing out resistance against the Matrix. So far they have failed. Unplanned is a runaway success, having earned more than $12 million as of this writing, against a $6 million production budget.
Remember: once Neo masters the rules of the Matrix, he can bend those rules – and defeat the machines.
Sohrab Ahmari is the op-ed editor of the New York Post, a contributing editor of the Catholic Herald and author of the memoir From Fire, by Water (Ignatius Press)