Movie Assignment: The Matrix
1) Define deviance, explain why it is relative and apply these concepts to the film. Be specific in
Deviance simply refers to any violation of norms or rules or expectations. These
violations can range from being very minor to very serious offenses. But different groups have
different norms, so it is important to also consider that deviance is relative. What may be deviant
to some may not be deviant to others. It is not an act itself which is deviant, but rather the
reactions by others in the culture to that act which makes something deviant.
These concepts are evident all throughout the film. Early in the movie you can see two
different groups emerging. One is a “fake” world and one is real. Neo had been having his doubts
about the world with which he was familiar. This computer generated world had its norms and
everyday routines even though it was programmed. When he was contacted by Morpheus, Neo
began to break the norms of the world he was used to by acting irrationally and trying to escape
the agents who also knew that something was out of the norm with Neo. This is where Neo’s
deviant behavior to the computer generated world he grew up in begins and continues throughout
2) Define social control and identify what methods of social control are utilized in the film.
Social control is developed by different human groups. Social control is a group’s formal
and informal means of enforcing norms. It is a way of preserving order in society and preventing
The robots controlling the Matrix created the agents. These agents worked in the system
to seek and destroy any virus or threat that had hacked into the matrix. This is one way to prevent
deviance from those who were out of the matrix. Another robot came to pluck Neo’s farm body
out of his pod and discard it when it had deviated from its norm of laying there and producing
energy. Another example of social control is how the machines kept their crops of humans under
control by creating a fake or fantasy world to keep them peaceful and not realize the truth.
3) What norms are broken in the movie? The norms can be norms in our world or specific to the
movie world. How does this influence the methods of social control utilized in the film?
The norms broken in the movie world are evident by all those who were able to escape
the false reality they had been fed by the machines. These people had woken up from the
vegetable state they were intended to be in and realized the truth. Many had made it to Zion and
planned to fight back one day against the machines to save mankind. These norms being broken
in the real world caused the machines to create robots that seek out and destroy rogue ships or
humans that exist in the machines’ world that are not being farmed.
Dodging bullets, super jumping abilities, extreme quickness, and superior fighting skills
are just a few of the deviant acts according to our world. When Neo and the others knew they
were just in a computer generated matrix, they could simply download programs to give them
super human capabilities. The machines programmed the equally super human agents to try to
control this deviant behavior.
4) Define the symbolic interactionist theories of deviance and find some aspect of the film that
illustrates each theory.
The differential association theory indicates that we learn to deviate from or conform to
society’s norms based on the different groups that we associate with. Our different groups give us
messages about conformity and deviance and some will learn more about deviance increasing the
likelihood that they will become deviant. Neo had been a conformist his whole life in the dream
world of the matrix. But when he took the red pill and met the others he became a member of a
new group. He was called “the One” by this group. They strongly influenced his mind and body
to behave deviantly toward the machines and the matrix and everything he had known thus far.
Control theory stresses that two control systems work against our motivations to deviate.
One is our inner controls. These are our beliefs of religion, ideas of right and wrong, our
conscience, our morality, our fear of punishment. The other control is outer control. These are
our parents, friends, family, peers, authority, police, etc. Control theory can also be called
self-control. One part of the film illustrates a lack of self control by Cypher. This guy sold out
the whole group to go back to his old dreamworld in the matrix. He deviated from his inner
controls of morality and fear of punishment by his group. He also clearly deviated from his outer
controls of friends, peers, and authority. He even tried to kill the members of his group.
Labeling theory is the view that the labels people are given affect their own and others’
perceptions of them, thus channeling their behavior into either deviance or conformity. The best
example of labeling theory in the movie is how Neo was labeled “the one”. This put a great deal
of pressure on Neo to behave according to what his peers expected of him. In one way he
conforms to his groups norms and expectations. He also deviates severely from the norms of the
machines’ world and the matrix and the expectations of the agents. This label “the one” causes
him to take extreme deviant risks when fighting the agents in many scenes throughout the movie.
It also causes members of his group to look up to him and respect him.
5) Define Robert Merton’s strain theory and outline examples from the film for each of Merton’s
modes of adaptation.
Strain theory refers to the frustrations people feel when they want success but find their
way to it blocked. Society socializes large numbers of people to desire a cultural goal but
withholds from some the approved means of reaching that goal. People have modes of
adaptations to reach these goals.
One adaptation is conformity. The humans being farmed by the machines in the movie
are examples of conformity. They did not wake up and rebel against the norms of the world
created for them. They simply adapted to their dreamworld and laid in their pods producing
energy for the machines.
Innovation is a deviant adaptation where people accept the goals of society but use
illegitimate means to try to reach them. The agents are examples of innovators. They are able to
manipulate any character in the matrix and change into them in order to reach their goal of
weeding out the hackers. They act sort of like con artists in this way.
Ritualism is a deviant adaptation where people have become discouraged and give up on
achieving their cultural goals, yet still cling to conventional rules of conduct. Neo’s attitude,
when he finds out from the oracle that he is not the one, starts to lean toward this complacency of
just being like the others and sort of going with the flow.
Retreatism is evident in people who reject both the cultural goals and the institutionalized
methods of achieving them. Cypher could be considered a retreatist. He had withdrawn from his
group and was willing to turn them all over to the agents in order to go back to his dream world.
He had clearly rejected the goals of the humans and the means of achieving or reaching Zion.
Rebellion is evident in people who also reject both the cultural goals and the
institutionalized methods of achieving them but also seek to give society new goals and a new
means for reaching them. All of the people who took the red pill and rejected the dream world of
the matrix could be considered rebellious. They chose to reject the matrix and return to their own
world which happens to be the “real” world. They rejected the falsehood that the matrix had been
feeding their minds. They sought to reach Zion and other humans and fight to save mankind.