If you’ve watched the iconic 1999 movie, The Matrix, you’ll probably well remember the character of Cypher. If you haven’t, I recommend you stop reading now and take the time to watch it before the near-perfect piece of cyberpunk cinema is further tainted by unnecessary sequels.
In the movie, Cypher was the obviously bitter crewman who had come to resent their captain, Morpheus, for his part in unplugging him from The Matrix in the first place.
As Morpheus himself cautioned;
We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go.Morpheus, The Matrix
Evidently, Cypher was of that “certain age” when released and could not let go of the blissful ignorance that came with being part of The Matrix. So he chose to betray his fellow humans, selling them out to the machines on the condition of being plugged back in. In the movie, Cypher would seize his chance and murder several of the crew in turn before being stopped by Tank, the operator, who had never been part of The Matrix and made no hesitation in executing the traitor.
The fact that Joe Pantoliano portrayed the villainous Cypher with such a perfect balance of cowardice and snide made it easy to shake a clenched fist in triumph at the instant justice delivered by Tank.
Cypher stooped to betray his own kind merely on the premise of living a life of virtual comfort, blissfully unaware of his prior actions. In the real world, he’d been draped in tattered clothes and survived on bowls of goop with a flavour similar to Tasty Wheat, allegedly. But back in The Matrix he’d be “someone famous” who would, no doubt, be dining on fine, rare steak – as he had in a clandestine meeting with Agent Smith.
To me, those seemed such shallow reasons for the betrayal of your own people that I genuinely believed that Cypher had it coming and was without pity upon his comeuppance.
So why am I now, 21 years later, able to find some sympathy for the callous murderer of Morpheus’ crew?
Well, recent events have led me to reconsider. Cypher obviously felt so bereft at the loss of his reality that he would do absolutely anything to claw his way back to the cosseting illusion of The Matrix. We were never told what his previous life within the simulation entailed. All we can deduce is that it was a less harrowing existence than that of the reality he’s faced with.
And here we all are – in the real world – suddenly torn from lives we had no idea were so precariously balanced until the arrival of COVID-19.
Every facet of life as we knew it has been jarringly altered by the coronavirus outbreak.
A journey on a busy train, packed with commuters? A visit to a bustling supermarket for supplies? Going to the gym for some exercise or to a fast food restaurant for lunch? Or maybe for a drink in a busy pub?
None of that is possible in our current reality because, at this moment in time, we can’t do any of the things we all took for granted as we entered the year 2020.
Even something as simple as standing bleary-eyed in line at a coffee shop in the morning has become an activity that’s unfeasible. Due to the escalation of the outbreak and subsequent lockdown, even leaving the house is frowned upon unless it’s for essential supplies or some exercise.
As Elisha had been sick with a cough (that almost definitely wasn’t COVID-19), I had been in isolation with her for a week before the lockdown came.
On that Monday night when the announcement came, Jason and I should have been going to the skatepark together but it shut down along with everything else. It was little consolation that Jason was staying at his mother’s house whilst Elisha and I were in isolation, so I couldn’t see him anyway.
Almost immediately, things I took for granted were stripped away. Even just the ability to buy certain things from the store once I got there was a notion I had to let go of. Items like bread and pasta have been in short supply for the last few weeks as panic buying fever gripped the nation before the COVID-19 equivalent took hold.
And now, almost three weeks into a lockdown period that’s expected to go on for months, it’s starkly apparent just how many aspects of everyday life have been affected.
In dreams, I’ll find myself doing mundane things as my brain tries to process the abrupt shift in routine. It never struck me that it’d be unusual to dream about going for a lunchtime walk, wandering to the shops or hitting the local bars. Things that were so normal that I wouldn’t have considered them worth having wistful dreams about!
As well as the mundane, far more important life events have been dramatically affected too. For example; our big holiday to Tampa, via Orlando, to attend Wrestlemania has been cancelled after flights to the USA were grounded. A year of careful planning and growing anticipation came undone in a matter of days.
My annual May trip to the Indy 500 is also in limbo. With the race postponed until August and the projected flight prices for then being around double the cost of the flights I already booked, it’s improbable that I’ll be attending my 10th Indy 500 in a row.
Naturally, I feel more bereft at the loss of those events than I do about the loss of the daily commute or the option wander the shops. I think it’s only natural to feel cheated at suddenly being robbed of hopes and dreams by something so far outside of your control.
If we’d simply been unable to afford to go to Tampa then that would have been unfortunate but probably easier to accept. That said, I do feel a bit guilty that I spent the first week or so fostering bitterness at my personal sense of loss.
That was before the reality hit home that the disease had spread to tens of thousands of people, killed thousands, and the economic impact has led to thousands more being out of work through no fault of their own.
And the situation continues to spiral. An ill-prepared and conceited government has all but ensured the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 will be far-reaching. To my mind, it’ll be 2021 before life gets back to some level of “normality” and it’ll most likely be a quite different sense of normality to what we had before.
For now, I still have my job and for that I’m thankful. Over the next few weeks, I’ll hopefully get refunds for flights and tickets booked for events that can no longer be attended. It’s been somewhat easy to work from home, barring a few technical issues and the minor frustrations that come from not being in the same room as your colleagues.
Carol’s contract has been terminated but we hope she’ll be back in action by the middle of the ecology survey season in the summer. A trip to Berlin for my friend Grant’s stag do’ was been cancelled, as has his wedding in June. And the kids are done with school, most likely until the new school year begins in August.
We’ve all been cooped up in the house for weeks now with a long stretch ahead of us. For the most part, cool heads have prevailed and everyone is coping admirably with the compromise.
Life has gone on and we’re fortunate to have our health.
However, tonight, for example, we should be attending the NXT Takeover event in Tampa and tomorrow we’re supposed to be in the throng with thousands of other fans at Raymond James Stadium for Wrestlemania 36.
And that’s where my sympathy for Cypher comes from; If there was some way we could instantly return to normality and be enjoying all the experiences I had planned for this year, I’d jump at the chance.