Seeing The Matrix at The Uptown in Washington, D.C. on its opening night in March 1999 is one of my most treasured memories. A self-proclaimed sci-fi junkie, I had gathered up a sizable number of friends, badgered everyone to get into the waiting line as early as possible, and hustled us all into the theater and up the stairs to prime seats in the second floor’s balcony section. We were breathless from the effort and the anticipation. Thankfully — as record-breaking sales, critical awards, and countless numbers of knockoffs tributes went on to show — the film was more than worth it.
Among the film’s more memorable scenes is this one shown in the YouTube clip below. Morpheus, a mysterious figure known only to be among the world’ most highly wanted by government agents, asks Neo, a known hacker and the story’s protagonist, to make a choice between the two pills that he holds out to him:
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Remember: All I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.
It’s no spoiler to say here, readers, that, as in life, there’s no magic pill.
Indeed, one of the joys of The Matrix is that brother-and-sister writers Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski do not deliver a one-pill wonder. Instead, the film’s viewers are invited along on all that follows Neo’s red-pill choice. He is mentally challenged and physically trained, and paired with various member’s of the team who have been themselves led through the same rigorous process.
That is, he is awakened to his potential … and then expected to work for its results. He’s not the immediate superhero of the black leather cape that we later come to love. Far from it. Instead he is a regular Joe who, despite his believed talents, is expected to learn to get it right and to nevertheless get it wrong, to jump to great heights and to fall to deep lows, to be knocked down hard and to stand back up strong. He has to try, try, and try again — just like everyone else in his team — before he or any of the team can be expected to succeed.
How different is that to what any of us translation industry folks know? Well, no difference at all (multi-million Hollywood budgets not included).
We do not step into our roles, we grow into them. We do not win the prize without first giving over our minds and bodies to the race. And we do not become the gurus, the experts, or the virtuosos of our industry or any other without the blood, sweat, and tears of persistent effort.
It’s been many years of work since that opening night. Films have come and gone. Friends too, and some far earlier than their time. And still, year after year, the message persists.
If, as I said last week, you’ve taken the right train, then your destination is in sight. What’s next? Well, with effort, as Neo would say:
Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.