I was a young adult when the movie The Matrix came out. I’m mentioning this because I just re-watched it. The concept of the illusionary nature of existence has been around of course, but that particular movie illustrated the idea with a modern perspective for a modern audience (modern for the late-90s at least).
The primary theme I take from it, is that boundaries are artificial constructs — and power lies in the ability to shed these self-imposed limitations. To me, the other stuff in the movie is just filler to tell a compelling story. For instance, I certainly don’t believe in the nefarious nature of the illusion. And, I think the sequels went off on a tangent.
But most importantly, I think the movie sows the seeds of doubt about our own existence — perhaps our world is a complete fabrication. The particular scenario in the movie is painted as overly dramatic of course, but it sets the stage for questioning to begin. And certainly, it’s a good question to ask: is this real?
Another story, The Bhagavad Gita, which is also set in a time of turmoil, similarly expresses doubt about the obviousness of existence. Arjuna must ultimately accept his role in rebalancing the conflict even though initially he wants to avoid participating. Through his realization of the unreality of life, he finally consents to his duty.
I’ve certainly found it true that a belief in the dream-like nature of existence is a very powerful idea for facilitating comfort. And it does make me wonder, just how lucid the dream can be — in other words, how malleable is this world? What are we capable of once we stop imposing limits on ourselves and each other.