How a person looks at ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the Matrix is kind of telling when it comes to determining what kind of person they are. There’s plenty of gray area when it comes to determining the villains and the heroes in this story, but what has to be remembered is that if not for being unplugged from the matrix a lot of people would actually be living the lives they’d always dreamed of, and as a result would be giving up their fantasy for something that’s far too real and far too depressing to think about. The fact that Joe Pantoliano, who played Cypher in the original movie, defends his character’s actions when it came time for Cypher to betray his people doesn’t say much about his character, but it does open up new possibilities of thinking since a lot of folks would prefer the bliss of an important and glamorous life over the dingy, dirty reality that humans had actually helped to cause in a big way. Kudos to Jon Fuge of MovieWeb for being more open-minded than some when it comes to this subject, but the idea of Cypher betraying his shipmates didn’t come as much of a surprise since he was kind of a shifty individual to start with. The moment that he and Neo had their talk about ‘why didn’t I take the blue pill’ should have been a major red flag for a lot of people since it put Cypher’s frame of mind in perspective, and it made the story clearer to anyone paying attention that he’d give just about anything to go back to the matrix and start fresh.
It’s an interesting argument to make, but the humans that were out of the matrix and ensconced in a world that was filled with constant danger and a need to run and hide more often than not weren’t as free as one might think, and they didn’t have as many choices as they believed. One way or another the matrix was an answer to many that those who fought against it refused to see. Any system that works for the people it serves and is able to accommodate through compromise the individuals that help it to run is a system that is bound to last, as it will continually evolve and seek to find ways to adapt and move with its populace. The trouble with humanity is that in the act of evolving and adapting we also tend to expand and continue to take up resources in a manner that eventually eliminates the freedoms and the choices that we crave so badly. In this way the real world becomes inadequate and the only haven that we’re left with, ironically, is the fantasy world within our own minds that we learn to cherish. The matrix is a system that isn’t perfect by any means since it subjugates and uses its power source, human beings, until they’re completely drained and then feeds them to the next crop that will continue the cycle. But for a single lifetime the Matrix grants the illusion of freedom and choice that people cling to in such a dogmatic manner, crafting its surroundings into a dream that a good number of people don’t want to wake up from.
It’s not hard to see why Cypher would want to go back and it’s likely that a lot of people wouldn’t want to admit that they too would take the fantasy over the reality. Too many people want to think that they’d go the route of the hero and follow Morpheus and his crew, as well as Neo, to liberate the humans, but to what end? Beyond justifying Joe’s statements about his character, one has to remember that the earth is a ruined place in the Matrix, a barren wasteland for the most part that can’t harbor life on the scale that it was once capable of. A lot of people would likely look at the devastation and ask to be put back under and into the digital world where they could at least have the illusion of a world that could see to their needs. Face it, many folks would do this largely because they don’t want to try and live on a planet that’s been ruined by the efforts of their ancestors, not when there’s a perfectly good fantasy that felt absolutely real before they were unplugged. There are still plenty of people out there that would condemn Cypher for being a traitor and that’s their prerogative to be fair, but saying that no one else would do the same thing in order to get back to a life that’s far more enticing than the grimy and danger-ridden world outside the matrix is hypocritical to the extreme, since a good number of people would likely find themselves lining up to to get plugged back in for one reason or another.