Friday, March 18, 2011

Film Friday: The Matrix (1999)

By any measure, The Matrix is easily one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. It’s a thrilling action movie, which brought in half a billion dollars. It has a great story with jaw dropping twists and turns. It's presented with an incredible sense of style and innovative special effects. And, most importantly, it takes several science fiction themes to the next level, creating one of the philosophically deepest films on record.

** heavy spoiler alert **

Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski (Bound), The Matrix is a mind-trip that takes place in a world where machines have enslaved the human race and the human race doesn’t know it. The film can be enjoyed either as a simple rousing action flick or as an intelligent science fiction film with almost limitless depth.
The Matrix As An Action Flick
The Matrix is the story of Thomas Anderson, aka Neo (Keanu Reeves), a computer hacker who feels that something is wrong with the world, something he can’t put his finger on. Through a series of seemingly impossible events, Neo is contacted by a shadowy man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who offers him a choice: go back to his life or see the real world. Neo chooses reality, and discovers that he’s been living his entire life in a computer simulation. He learns that in the real world, humans fought a war against an artificial intelligence they created, and lost. Now the remaining free humans hide in a city called Zion near the earth’s core, from which they continue to fight against the machines. The rest of humanity, the vast majority, live unaware in the virtual world created by the machines, as their bodies act as batteries for the machines. According to Morpheus, Neo is prophesized as “the One” who will end the war and free humanity.

The Matrix excels as an action flick. It’s stylishly shot with a strong techno soundtrack and totally hip costuming. The fight scenes are incredibly well choreographed, taking wire fighting to new highs, and it introduces “bullet time” effects, where the scene appears to freeze as the camera rotates around live action. The acting is solid, the dialog is almost-noir but packed with meaning, and there is significant character growth throughout the movie, but never at the expense of the pacing. And the story is clever and exciting. All of this combines in The Matrix to create some truly unique and iconic images, moments and characters. Thus, like most great films (like Star Wars and Close Encounters), The Matrix has inspired much (see, e.g. Inception), but it’s essentially been impossible to copy.

Based on this alone, The Matrix is well worth seeing. But this isn’t all it offers.
The Matrix As Ultra-Intelligent Science Fiction
Beyond the action, The Matrix becomes an extremely intelligent science fiction film. Most science fiction films address only one theme, and usually, the whole film revolves around revealing that theme, like a twist. The Matrix forswears that formula and instead mixes multiple themes, which it then approaches from new perspectives.

The main theme of the The Matrix is an old philosophical/religious question: free will versus predetermination. Free will is shown through Neo, who makes many choices. He must choose to see reality instead of the false reality he lives. He must choose to accept the role of savior. He must choose to stand and fight. And he must choose to believe reality will bend to his will. Even after he has made these choices, he still only has the power to free people if they choose to believe him, i.e. they have free will too. Indeed, the film ends with him telling the machines that he’s going to give humanity a choice.

But is free will an illusion? On the side of predetermination, the movie presents the Oracle and Morpheus (references to Ancient Greece), who see Neo as a prophesized “the One” who will end the war and free man from the machines. Neo objects to the idea of predetermined fates, but every move he makes seems foretold. Thus, it would seem The Matrix believes in predetermination. But wait, the Oracle herself casts doubt on this when she points out that he could be causing his own destiny simply by knowing it: “Would you really have knocked over that vase if I hadn’t mentioned it first?” Moreover, she manipulates Neo by lying to him to get him to act in predetermined ways. . . but then, he does act in predetermined ways.

While this battle rages, the film explores another common science fiction theme: man versus machine, but it does so in much greater depth than this issue normally gets. Science fiction often deals with machines turning on their creators, everything from intelligent computers, like Skynet and HAL, to killer robots in I, Robot. But beyond the shock of the machines rising up, there isn’t usually much more to these stories. The Matrix, by comparison, takes this as a mere starting point and then adds layers of depth from there. Thus, for example, in The Matrix, mankind doesn’t even know its been conquered, which is a rare take on this theme. Also, the machines are not as unified as they seem, as rogue programs like the Oracle help Neo and as the machines begin to lose control over Agent Smith, as he develops a blinding hate for humanity. Moreover, we’re told the machines aren’t all bad because they recognize they are dependent on humans, and they actually tried to make the matrix into a paradise. . . only, the humans wouldn’t accept the programming -- raising questions both of the nature of the human psych and whether a gilded cage is still a cage? These are all aspects that are rarely, if ever, seen in stories dealing with this theme.

What’s more, the man versus machine theme gets brought into the film’s other big theme: perception versus reality. This again is a common theme in science fiction and usually is enough to occupy an entire movie. Indeed, when this theme is used, typically the entire plot will center around the discovery near the end of the film that reality isn’t want it used to be. The Matrix goes deeper. It lets Neo in on the secret early in the film. Then it sets about asking questions that have almost never, if ever, been asked: (1) would you want to know about the real world if you were happy with your perceived world, (2) could you live happily knowing the world you perceive is fake, (3) at what point does perception become reality (if everyone thinks this is how chicken tastes, does that make it so), and (4) if our perceived reality is merely implanted in our minds, can we manipulate it?

The Matrix weaves these themes and questions together into one story, in which Neo must decide to break with the reality he knows so he can fulfill a prophecy and thereby set mankind free from a prison they don’t even know exists.

Adding even more depth and flavor to the exploration of these themes, The Matrix calls upon a treatise in philosophy and religion to inform its characters. For example, a large portion of The Matrix is a Christian allegory, complete with dozens of Biblical references, with Neo playing the role of Christ, as the savior of humanity if only mankind truly believes in him. At the same time, the film tosses in elements of a half dozen other religions like the Buddhist child bending the nonexistent spoon, plus philosophical concepts like Rene Descartes’ evil genius (a faulty argument for why God must exist), and more recognizable references to things like “Alice in Wonderland.” Indeed, this movie is exquisitely made with no single object, name, word or image appearing in the film by chance.

Finally, let me say a word on the ending. Roger Ebert (and others) criticized the movie because he viewed it as a “letdown” that a movie about “redefining the nature of reality” would end in a shootout. But he’s missing the point. The shootout is not the ending. The ending comes when Neo finally realizes that he need not obey the physical laws of reality. Thus, he need not dodge bullets, he can will them to stop. It is his triumph over perception that gives him his victory, not fancy shooting on his part. And thereby, Neo proves man’s superiority to the machines, as our minds can do something the machines cannot -- they cannot imagine outside the bounds of reality -- and he fulfills his destiny through the exercise of free will.

This is why The Matrix is a great film. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

40 comments:

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I've seen the Matrix numerous times and agree that it is a great film (especially if your reflections on it haven't been marred by the two "sequels"). You hit the important points pretty well.

Of course, the philosophical/religious aspects of the film had occurred to me long ago, particularly Descartes' story of the evil genius (as an aside, while his argument for the existence of God is imperfect analytically, practically I think it holds up). I would balk, though, at describing the movie as a Christian allegory. I can understand your argument for why it is--it has many of the basic elements of one. But consider:

-Neo has to be awakened to realize that he's The One. Moreover, he can now control the reality around him. It's not "Once I was blind, but now I can see," but rather, "Once I was blind, but now I can control what everyone sees." There's something a little inverted in that. In fact, I would argue Neo is modeled less on the Christian Messiah than on Nietzsche's Superman.

-I was always struck by what one of the minor characters--"Mouse," I think it was?--at one point told Neo, "To deny our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human." Plus, the movie focused on him for a moment as he said this, so it clearly wasn't intended as a throwaway line. Now, I always thought that what made us human was our ability to recognize our impulses and control them for the sake of something higher. We're not cold, calculating machines, but neither are we unreasoning animals, which is what Mouse--and by extension, the movie--seems to be suggesting here. As crappy as the sequels were, I think they reinforced this idea. Take these points together, and The Matrix appears to have a somewhat warped view of humanity.

I may have carried your argument a bit farther than you intended; I figure you weren't saying Neo=Jesus. But I do want to point out some problems with saying the Matrix is a Christian allegory.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, A couple points. First, forget the sequels, they were convoluted, confused and stupid, and the whole intellectual structure of the first film broke down in those.

Secondly, no, I'm not saying Neo=Jesus, I'm saying that Neo has been placed into a Christ-like role. But he's clearly not intended to be divine. He's a human who wakes up the idea that humans can be more than mere flesh and blood (or electronics as the case may be) -- he is what eventually separates man from machine in the film.

On the Christian Allegory. First, this isn't an original point of mine -- it's actually been well discussed and numerous papers have been written on it! Some of these people have analyzing everything from his name (which can be broken into Biblical references) to his words and his actions, and the consensus is that Neo is playing a Christ-like character -- though no one says he is "the Christ."

Moreover, an allegory need not be perfect to be an allegory. And in this case, I further would assume that the Wachowski brothers either have a different interpretation of Christianity than you do (very likely given what I know about them) or that they have blended him with other religions which are present throughout the film to create a slightly different theological version. But that doesn't change what they have intended him to be.

Also, he doesn't end up controlling what others see, he ends up setting them free. This is meant as a metaphor for "seeing the truth" not a metaphor for controlling other people. In fact, the film goes out of its way to make the point that his only power over people is to persuade them, not to manipulate them.

In terms of focusing on the one line from Mouse, keep in mind that Mouse represents an average human who does not yet believe in Neo. He is essentially a pre-Christian human, i.e. pagan. Thus, his world is based on pagan virtues, which are largely seeking pleasure -- food, sex, etc. The only two characters who fully believe in Neo at first are Morpheus and Trinity, and they are much more in line with Christian virtues.

And let me repeat, forget the sequels, especially the third one. Blech!

LawHawkRFD said...

I think the sequels did considerable damage to the original. Left by itself, the original would have been an unfinished masterpiece. They should have left well enough alone, or perhaps made one well thought-out sequel to tie up loose ends. That said, when the original shows up on a non-commercial station, I usually watch it, and continue to enjoy it.

CrispyRice said...

Great movie.

I've seen it a few times, and can see where it can be really, really deep, but I just try to enjoy it as it without thinking too much.

'Course, that's pretty easy with Ted on the screen. Mmmmmm...

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree. The sequels were a disaster and did a lot of damage to the original. It's best to never see them or to try very hard to get them out of your mind, though sadly that's very, very difficult.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Ted! LOL! I had a hard time seeing as anything other than Ted before this film came out. Even in Speed, I still saw him as Ted. But that's changed and now I see him as a grown up -- largely because of this film.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, after reading through everything, I think I need to clarify. I think The Matrix can be characterized as a Christian allegory in the sense that it performs some of the same functions for viewers as the Gospels do. Certainly, I can see many of the comparisons you bring up. But, I do not think the story was created to mirror Christianity, even in an imperfect manner. (And I know you weren't the first one to make this argument--our pastor actually said the same thing in a sermon a few weeks ago.)

I say this for a couple of reasons. One is the Wachowski brothers (or should I say "siblings"?), whose, ahem, personal lives, as well as their other work, make me doubt whether they would consider Christianity a positive model. I realize that may be a little unfair. But my main reason--and I may lose you with this part--comes, quite frankly, from those sequels. Yes, they were just awful, but they were somewhat useful in that they gave us a view of what a human society freed from the machines would look like. Honestly, it's not much different from a big pagan cult--remember that slightly disturbing rave in the second movie? There's a lot of head-banging and free love going around, based on little more, it appears to me, than passion and "being true to yourself." And I got the impression institutions like marriage don't exist in Zion. (And to be clear, as much as I'd like to pretend these movies were never made, I don't feel they can be separated from the original. All three were created by the Wachowskis, so it's their baby, so to speak.)

Even the original Matrix had undertones that struck me as anti-Christian. Morpheus appeared to hint once or twice at church as another repressive institution in which the Matrix could always be felt. Your point that the Wachowskis could have a radically different interpretation of Christianity than my own is well taken, but it's worth asking whether or not it's so different that it merges into something altogether different.

Again, this doesn't take away from how much I thoroughly enjoy the original movie. Whatever I think of its philosophical implications, The Matrix is so superbly made you can't help but get wrapped up in it. But I stand by my earlier statement, that the movie is at least as much pagan/Nietzschean in its tone as it is Christian, if not more so.

I could say more about this, but I've gotta bounce. Be back in a few hours.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I need to leave too -- have to see the dentist. I'll respond when I get back (didn't want you thinking I'm blowing you off). :-)

DUQ said...

Yup, great movie! With lots to think about in it. Good review, Andrew.

Anonymous said...

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JG said...

Great breakdown. The Matrix makes Keanu Reeves palatable. (I know, I know, I'm in the minority, but I'm not a fan.) But I agree, the original was revolutionary. I was in high school, but everyone I know talked about it for weeks (much like Inception, but obviously even more so). Although, I have to say, the whole "freeze the frame while someone is floating in the air and dolly around them" technique has been so overdone since then that it's difficult watching Matrix without cringing.

But, you're re-convinced me. Not an over-rated movie. :) Even though the sequels definitely were.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Thanks! I agree.

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, In what way?

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Thanks! And welcome!

AndrewPrice said...

JG, Thanks!

I agree entirely. I think the bullet time effect was revolutionary and really cool.... but then it got old very fast when it got used in everything. Unfortunately, that's the way these things work -- someone comes up with a great idea and everyone else just wears it out.

I actually agree with you about Keanu Reeves. I loved him in Bill and Ted, and I liked him in Speed, but beyond that I haven't really been a fan. He seems to have only one note when he acts -- though that note worked perfectly for this film!

I agree completely about the sequels, they were poor and did a lot to hurt the reputation of the first film. But if you can put those out of your mind, then The Matrix really is a great film!

And I'm glad I convinced you it's not overrated! There are a lot of overrated films out there, but this isn't one of them. :-)

JG said...

Yes, Bill and Ted, and the Matrix. He's spot-on for those. Anything else I see him in, I just can't handle it.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, That's about how I see it too. In fact, no other role comes to mind where I really liked him? I'm sure there may have been something, but nothing comes to mind.

Kosh said...

I loved the first movie mostly because it was so different than anything else out there; from the story to the filming. Chirst like themes are not just common but typical for most movies so I don't put much weight into it.

I always felt they made a mockery of religion and any other institutions we "believe in". Until we get out of the Matrix, what is truly real? I read one piece on the series that the whole thing was the Matrix including Zion. How else could Agent Smith get out into the real world? Zion was for those people whose brains rejected the Matrix as written and so was given a different world to "live" in. Therefore, if there is no real life then there is no God, etc. Perhaps there never was a "real life" instead we were created from the beginning to be biological batteries. This goes to the paradise reference and our stories of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps God didn't throw humanity out but we left. The stories in Amamatrix would suggest against this theory but...

Knowing a little more about the Wachowskis makes me believe that they view religion as a means to bind people down. Whether there is a God or not may be irrelevent since we really can only control our destiny within a narrow field.

One of the interesting things is that Neo was the only one to figure out that you didn't have to die in the Matrix. Even when his colleagues saw this they couldn't convince themselves of the same conclusion. It was only after Neo realized at the end that to save everyone in the Matrix, he needed to "die". One question I had was if Neo died before the agent Smith virus took hold, would that have rebooted the system and prevented the breakdown?

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Your pastor said this too? That's interesting. Sounds like a pretty modern guy if he's referencing movies. :-)

Anyway, your points are all valid and well thought-out (as always).

I prefer to see the original on it's own merits because I think the sequels really took a turn that was dishonest to the original movie. BUT, you are absolutely right that the sequels show "the ideal" human society as a hedonistic/paganistic society, with no real sense that they believe in a higher power except some vague notion of destiny.

I also agree that the personal situation of the Wachowskis probably makes them less than friendly to at least a more literal/strict interpretation of Christianity (though I honestly don't know much about their personal beliefs). In fact, if I had to guess, I would say their view of Christianity (assuming their view is positive) is heavily influenced with a lot of "individualism," and I would speculate that their Neo is actually preaching "all humans can become divine if you just believe".... which is closer to Buddhism.... or Peter Pan ;-). So while I think they intended this as a Christian allegory and they gave it many of the of trappings, I think you make a valid point that their theology is a huge stretch as far as Christianity is concerned.

In terms of seeing anti-Christian parts in the first film, I actually hadn't noticed, but I wasn't looking for that because I accepted the overall sense that The Matrix had a pro-religion theme, and I took anything like that as being either unintentionally insulting (the line between pro- and anti- is often a fine line in dialog) or being things the characters would eventually learn was wrong. At the very least, these lines were subtle, unlike something like The Invention of Lying where it was clear they absolutely wanted to insult Christians.

In any event, I'm glad you enjoy the movie no matter how you feel about the message. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Kosh, Great points. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the "real world" isn't real in the later films.

The first moment I came to believe this was when Neo stopped the machines from attacking when they were outside the ship by using just his mind. It doesn't matter how much control he can get inside the matrix, once he's outside the rules of the real world should apply. When they didn't, then I knew something was up.

Moreover, Agent Smith escapes into "the real world," which shouldn't be possible. When Neo is blinded, he sees the real world in the same computer code that he sees the matrix. The architect also implies several times that the solution to the "anomaly" of people who would not accept the programming was to basically let them realize the nature of the matrix and think they had escaped. I've also wondered at times about the images he shows, as they appear to include images of the future -- specifically Trinity's death. This would indicate to me that Neo's entire life is part of the programming.

If the "real world" and the matrix are both fake, I don't know that that automatically means an anti-religion statement as we really have no idea what the "real real world" is like. But your interpretation is certainly possible, that humans were created by the machines as a way to provide energy, and that nothing that we think is real (i.e. our religion, history, society, etc.) ever really existed. That's a good question.

On the Smith character.... I have some issues with what happens to him. I get that he becomes the anti-Neo, being just as free and using his power for evil. But I don't know why the machines couldn't just turn him off? I also don't know what he was hoping to achieve? Or how he planned to defeat Neo with his fists? None of that made sense to me, and it felt like by the time they reached the end of the third film, they really ran out of ideas? Or maybe it's all part of the scenario the machine is selling to Neo to create the next matrix, with the humans now thinking they have create a "real world"?

In terms of the Wachowskis being anti-Christian or anti-religious, that's definitely possible -- especially given how the sequels were done. I just can't say for sure. But I do know that I certainly don't feel that the original movie was intended to insult religion in any way.

Ed said...

Great review and great breakdown! I too think this film is absolutely not overrated. Although, like everyone else apparently, I dislike the sequels. I think they had some neat ideas and a couple of good scenes, but they just didn't work. One thing that killed me was how long the fight scenes lasted. I also didn't like the way it felt like they changed the theme. It went from being Neo freeing humanity to Neo being involved in some machine civil war. I didn't care for that.

Kosh said...

I think Agent Smith only acted in a certain way because of his programming. Using his fists or guns, etc. was all he knew how to fight. The reason the primary system couldn't shut him down would follow the same logic of why your computer can't shut off a virus when it loads. It needs an antivirus.

I actually liked the second movie as it filled in a lot. Also great action. The freeway scene is one of my favorites. If you removed most of the crap in the third movie (unfortunately about 80% of the movie) it does close the loop. It is sort of a nihilistic ending though. I think the mistake they made was making a trilogy (as if there is some sort of miracle of movie making in threes????). If they would have tightened up the story a lot and made just one sequel I think it would have been great. Would have cut all of the Battle for Zion and put it into a single, fuzzy plea for help or update to the ship and shortened several of the fight scenes.

My reason for thinking that they are anti-religion, or more acurately anti-organized religion, is almost all the religious overtones are inside the main Matrix. Outside, you are free from these oppressive institutions. The temple orgy scene is about as pegan as you can get

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! Yeah, I get the feeling that the sequels weren't very popular. I agree there were some interesting ideas in the sequels, I particularly liked Merovingian, but overall they had issues.

AndrewPrice said...

Kosh, Good points. I think you're right that they would have been well served to condense the second and third films into one. The third in particular feels like they were just putting stuff on screen because they wanted to fill time. Seriously, how long was the battle of Zion? Four hours? Five? It felt that way, especially as it added basically nothing to the plot. They could have easily handled that with a simple radio transmission, especially since the real story was always inside the matrix.

Moreover, by flooding the film with pointless fights (some of which were quiet cool, but many of which were just too long or too pointless), and endless scenes of machines pouring into the city, they completely redirected the focused away from the most interesting characters and plot points.

(The highway scene is a fantastic fight scene, and I really like that on. My favorite in the series though remains Neo v. Morpheus when he first learns about the matrix.)

I think you make a good distinction on the religion issue. I never get the feeling that they're opposed to religion per se, but they don't seem to have any interest in an established/organized religion. In fact, even after Neo has his eyes opened, notice that he doesn't really share what he has learned with anyone, he just lets everyone go about their own business. The point seems to be that religion is good, but it's all an individual pursuit.

And you're right that the "real" world, which they present as the ideal world the humans are trying to achieve, is entirely a pagan world of vice and pleasure with nothing you could really call organized religion.

As for making trilogies, I think that's a case of monkey see, monkey do. Everyone wants a trilogy, but in films and in books. I guess there's just some thinking that a great story needs three acts? I've always gone with the belief that you should set out to make the story you want to make, nothing more and nothing less. And if that becomes one, two, three or four shouldn't matter -- it's the story that should matter.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I do enjoy the movie, warped as it may be in its philosophy. You actually summed up what I was trying to say better than I did (which often happens, I find). At its core, the original Matrix is your classic hero's journey: guy lives average life, not well respected; guy makes a life-altering move; guy finds out great things lie ahead of him; guy triumphs over his enemies, saves the day, etc., and for good measure gets the girl. And while the special effects have been done to death by other movies, including the sequels, The Matrix not only did them first but did them in really cool, unexpected ways. At the end of the day, I never pass up a chance to watch it if it's on TV and I have the time.

Incidentally, since he came up, I agree that Keanu Reeves is not the most captivating actor, apart from this movie. He really is kinda one-tone, and it doesn't work well in most of his movies. "Constantine" is the only post-Matrix movie I can think of where his persona worked (incidentally, in my opinion, much closer to having a truly Christian message than The Matrix).

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I catch it on TV all the time as well, which is one of my measures of whether or not a film has staying power: how often is it on television. The Matrix is on television all the time, even though it's 12 years old now. That's pretty tremendous staying power.

Constantine was an odd film. It seemed like a good idea, it was well shot and well-enough acted, and I wanted to like it. But somehow it just didn't hold my interest. I'm not sure why though. Maybe it wasn't unique enough? It did feel like a lot of other films around the time.

Kosh said...

At least the third movie had athletic, hot women running around in tank tops. Made it worth watching. Entirely agree with you. It has taken me awhile to learn, but most things put into a movie are not by accident. I haven't looked them up, but I read elsewhere (can't remember now) that apparently during the freeway scene the liscence plates refer to biblical passages. Which, as much control freaks directors seem to be, is probably true. Also, the Merovingian in the second movie--the "blood line" of Christ. Religion is everywhere in the matrix. I guess one could also come to the conclusion that religion is what keeps everything from falling apart. Even in Zion, they have their own rituals, elders, etc.

I love the movie especially the first and even the second. Third, I try to skip to the end. I love reading what other people took away from the movies as well. I am going home to watch the original tonight!

AndrewPrice said...

Kosh, I have read that too about the license plates. I've also read that room numbers and time on clocks also refer to Bible passages. Indeed, when I first starting writing this article, I thought about listing the things they references (like book titles, the numbers, etc.) but there are just too many to list. Almost everything in the film has some meaning right down to the names and tatoos.

In terms of nothing being in films by accident, yeah, I've learned that too. For a long time, I assumed films were made based on the creative vision of the writer/director... but I've since learned that the marketing department has as much say as anyone these days. Grrr.

Glad to hear we've inspired you to watch the film again! Enjoy!

T_Rav said...

Andrew, it's certainly not as captivating as The Matrix, but it's a good movie, in my opinion.

Since you picked apart the problems with the sequels at length, I'll just add that I think "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" were flawed to begin with. It's been a while since I saw them all the way through, but I get the feeling the scripts were written without a coherent storyline, in a manner of "Hey, let's throw all these plotlines out there and see what sticks." Some of them had potential, others didn't; but none of them were very well connected to each other, and the plot holes were obviously being papered over with lots and lots of explosions and Matrix-like violence. Not that I'm complaining about the violence, mind you, but it doesn't hide the gaping problems with what we're being asked to believe.

Agent Smith's sudden prominence is a good example of this. Now, it wasn't his escaping into the real world that bothered me; the explanation seemed plausible enough. He was able to take over the mind of a human hooked up to the Matrix, thereby "possessing" that poor guy when he was un-hooked. Kinda weird, but not a violation of the rules of the Matrix, as far as I can tell. My real problem was how the story seemed to be backtracking, in a way, and build Smith into Neo's destined arch-nemesis. (Ironically, I think your Christian allegory argument is much stronger here, because the writers were clearly going for a Christ/Antichrist duality.) But Smith was no such thing in the original. He was just one more cog in the machinery that kept the Matrix going--one with a particularly large chip on his shoulders, admittedly, but that's about it. Now he's the yin to Neo's yang all of a sudden--the manifestation of some predetermined "equation"? How does that work? What if he had killed Neo in that hallway at the end of the original movie--or, what if Neo had fallen off the skyscraper at the very beginning of said movie? What would have happened with their fated Battle-for-All-of-Zion-and-the-Matrix then? The only way the writers can get around this is by denying that there's any contingency at all to Neo's actions; there was never any other way for what happened to have happened. But not only does this cheapen a lot of Neo's journey, it also contradicts other parts of the story, even in the sequels themselves.

There's that, and then there's the weak dialogue, the overextended action scenes, and a lot else. But I'm going to stroke out if I say anything else just now.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, The sequels felt disjointed to me too, and like they tried to cover that up with very long fight scenes to connect scenes that didn't really fit together. I liked a lot of the ideas and the characters, but they never really came to fruition because the story didn't know what to do with them.

For example, I think the film suggests at times that Merovingian may have been Neo before Neo (one of the six predecessors), though he apparently turned his back on humanity by taking one of the choices Neo didn't take.... but besides hints, that's never really addressed. In fact, we have no idea who he is or what his background is except that he's from an older version of the matrix. Is he Satan from Eden? Is he pre-Neo? Or is he just some program that made sure the garbage got collected? We don't know, and I think questions like that should be answered in a film like this. In fact, if they had tried to answer those questions, they may have found the extra material they needed to fill out both movies?

On Smith, I can understand how they decided he would evolve in Neo's Satan... (except that Merovingian seems to occupy that role now)... because he was freed from the matrix by Neo, making him and Neo the only two who are actually free. BUT, if the point is that he's going to become anti-Neo, then I think they really needed to give him more of a story and more of a purpose/plan. As it is, he seems to have no plan except to destroy the matrix, which would kill him too. Also, we're supposed to believe he's Neo's equal (in fact, he's stronger than the machines) but he never seems all that threatening. Sure, he can infect all of humanity and take over the matrix, but Neo is "beyond the matrix" and thus is essentially beyond Smith's jurisdiction. That means it's not a fair fight.

And you're right that much of this can only be explained if we believe that everything that happens is predetermined. But if that's the case, then the story gets kind of weak because there's no risk.

That's the long way of saying that I agree with you. :-)

DUQ said...

Great discussion. I had the feeling the "real world" was also part of the Matrix, but I didn't have much proof. I hadn't thought about Merovingian possibly being an earlier Neo. What a neat idea!

Ed said...

About halfway through the second film, I thought Merovingian had become the bad to Neo's good guy, but that kind of fizzled and he ended up more of a sideshow. I agree that the two sequels should have been cut down to one film. I think having to make decisions about what to keep would have helped the story a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I think it would have been more interesting if they had used Merovingian as the bad guy, but that wasn't their plan. Oh well.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Now you have some proof! LOL! Seriously, I think it probably was part of the matrix, but there's not enough evidence to make a decision either way.

PikeBishop said...

Anyone ever notice that on one level the film is also Plato's parable of "the Cave?"

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That's one of the many philosophical inputs they included. This film is like a philosophy class packed into an action film. :)

PikeBishop said...

There are also elements of Buddhism in it as well. Check out "There is no Spoon" which should be on line somewhere.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I once read a lengthy treatise by a professor of philosophy who outlined all the influence within the Matrix. Apparently, it all starts with a French philosopher whose book is the one in which Neo hides the drugs/tapes/whatever when the film starts with the people coming by who will take him to the club.

Then it incorporates Gnosticism, Buddhism, and a handful of things like The Cave. It's an amazing mix of ideas that really shows what a truly strong writer can produce, being both super deep but also accessible without giving it any thought at all.

It's too bad that the second and third films are not like this at all. They lose their underpinnings and just go for cool and pseudo-philosophy.

AndrewPrice said...

This is the book:

Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation.

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