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Lesson Plan

Decoding The Matrix Exploring Dystopian Characteristics through Film

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Decoding The Matrix Exploring Dystopian Characteristics through Film

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Junius Wright

Junius Wright

Charleston, South Carolina

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • define the literary terms utopia and dystopia.

  • identify dystopian characteristics in a film.

  • explain how dystopias criticize contemporary trends, societal norms, or political systems.

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Session One

  1. Ask students to brainstorm lists of characteristics that describe a perfect society silently in their notebooks.

  2. Once everyone has had a chance to jot down some answers, ask students to share the characteristics with the class. Record their responses on the board or on chart paper.

  3. Introduce the following definition of utopia from the Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics:
    A place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.
    Consult the definition and examples of dystopia in literature and film from the Wikipedia entry on Dystopia to supplement the lesson further. As always, remember that anyone can edit Wikipedia pages; so be sure to confirm and review resources from this site.

  4. Have students identify connections between the class list of characteristics for a perfect society and the definition of a utopian society. Encourage students to fit the items from the brainstormed list into the definition. Ask students whether the items on their lists are aspects of politics, laws, customs, conditions, or something else.

  5. Show “The Real World” (Chapter 12, counter 0:38:39 to 0:44:22) from The Matrix, and ask students to think about their list of the perfect society and the definition of utopia as they view the clip.

  6. Ask students to compare the society depicted in the film clip to the utopias that they have described. Students should readily point out that the world of the film is quite opposite from their ideas of a perfect society.

  7. Introduce the definition of a dystopia from Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics:
    A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.

  8. Pass out Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics and Identifying Dystopian Characteristics.

  9. Go over the information on the Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics sheet, answering any questions.

  10. Ask students to use the Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics sheet to fill out the Identifying Dystopian Characteristics chart. If desired, students can complete the sheet in small groups rather than working individually.

  11. Once students have completed the chart, gather the class and have students share their findings.

  12. Have students save their charts for use during later sessions.

  13. For homework, have students use the Interactive Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the definitions for dystopia and utopia.

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Session Two

  1. Review the material covered in the previous session by asking students to share their Venn diagram printouts with the class.

  2. Show “Morpheus’ Proposal” and “Down the Rabbit Hole” (Chapters 8 and 9, counter #0:25:10-029:50) from The Matrix.

  3. Identify the protagonist in the clips.

  4. Discuss the difference between direct and implied information. To provide an example, compare what is directly stated to what is implied by the characters’ comments.

  5. Arrange students in small groups.

  6. Pass out copies of the Identifying Characteristics of a Dystopian Protagonist chart, and ask students to use the information on the Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics to fill out the sheet. Ask students to focus both on direct and indirect information that is communicated in the clip.

  7. Gather the class, and ask groups to share their finding with the class. Encourage discussion and exploration of the ways that the clips extend and confirm their understanding of the characteristics of a dystopia.

  8. Review the types of dystopian controls listed on Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.

  9. For homework, ask students to complete a journal entry in response to the following question: “What does this film communicate about the world in the film? What controls the world in this film and the people who live in that world?”

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Session Three

  1. Have students share their journal observations with the class. Encourage students to connect their thoughts to the types of dystopian controls listed on the Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics sheet.

  2. Show students “Slimy Rebirth” (Chapter 10, 0:32:25 to 0:35:23) and “The Gatekeepers” (Chapter 17, 0:56:30 to 0:58:53) from The Matrix. Allow discussion of the dystopian characteristics the clips exhibit between the clips.

  3. Ask students to identify the aspects of dystopian society that these clips focus on.

  4. Return to the definition of dystopia:
    A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
  5. Ask students to focus on the second sentence of the definition (indicated in bold above).

  6. Ask students to identify the “worst-case scenarios” that the film clips explore. List their observations on the board or on chart paper.

  7. Review the list, and ask students to make some initial suggestions of the trends, norms, and/or systems that the film clip criticizes. Record their responses on the board or on chart paper.

  8. Arrange students in small groups and ask each group to consider one or more of the following questions, referring to notes and charts from previous sessions:

    • What illusion of a perfect society is depicted in the clips the class has viewed? What is the society like in reality?

    • How are the members of this society being oppressed?

    • What kind of control is used to keep the members of this society oppressed?

    • What current trend, societal norm, or political system is exaggerated in this world?

    • What criticism is made through this exaggeration in the clips? What current trend, societal norm, or political system is addressed?
  9. Gather the class, and have students share their observations and discussion.

  10. Have students compare their findings to the lists gathered at the beginning of the session.

  11. Ask students to discuss how to apply what they have learned about dystopias in this exploration to future readings. Begin by asking students to brainstorm suggestions that they would give to someone who was reading (or viewing) a dystopian work for the first time.

  12. Work students suggestions into a set of guidelines, and record the ideas for use as the class reads and views additional texts.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Use the handout Dystopian Film Clip Guide to identify one or two additional dystopian film clips. Show the film clips to the students. Ask students to use their knowledge of dystopian characteristics to gather information, and use it to answer the following questions:

    • What illusion of a perfect society is depicted in this clip? What is the society like in reality?

    • How are the members of this society being oppressed?

    • What kind of control is used to keep the members of this society oppressed?

    • What current trend, societal norm, or political system is exaggerated?

    • What criticism is made through this exaggeration? What current trend, societal norm, or political system is addressed?

  • Follow this unit with a novel or another piece of literature that explores a dystopian society. Appropriate novels include Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984.The short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut is another option. Additional pieces of literature that may be considered for this activity include:
    • Feed (M.T. Anderson)
    • The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Mary E. Pearson)
    • The House of Scorpion (Nancy Farmer)
    • Uglies series (Scott Westerfield)
    • Bar Code Tattoo (Suzanne Weyn)
    • Unwind (Neal Schusterman)
    • Delirium (Lauren Oliver)
    • Matched (Ally Condie)
    • Human.4 (Mike Lancaster)
    • Divergent (Veronica Roth)
    • Chaos Walking series (Patrick Ness)
    • The Search for WondLa (Tony Diterlizzi)
    • Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

Informal assessment works best for this activity. As students work, circulate through the classroom, observing students’ analytical process and their understanding of dystopian characteristics. Provide support and feedback as you speak with individual students and small groups.

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