The Matrix - We, The One

Thoughts On: The Matrix (1999)

The world has been ensnared in a digital reality by sentient robots, and Morpheus thinks he has humanity's key to freedom.

A captivating aspect of all art and entertainment is its capacity to not only provide insight into an individual or ourselves, but, all people. This can be intentional, subjective, accidental or objective, but in all cases this seems to be an inevitability. This is because of an inherent self-centric quality to the act of storytelling. We tell stories for many reasons; to fill time, to teach, to garner attention, to connect with people, to communicate things we otherwise couldn't. What belies each and very single one of these reasons is a channel of exchange between to people, one put there to essentially transcend the solipsistic idea that we are all minds trapped in heads, unable to know if one another exists. Storytelling, in all shapes and forms, is thus a self-centric means of creating an illusion of oneness, community, society or togetherness.

This observation goes on to explain something of a trembling anxiety beneath art and entertainment; a fear of being alone, isolated and ignored. There are many consequences of this anxiety that can be best summed up by the idea of genre - which we will delve into with a specific look at cinematic storytelling.

Action and adventure movies tell us of our invincibility.

Romance films tell us of our sexual and spiritual prowess.

Comedies tell us of our bumbling wit, dumb luck and arbitrary intelligence.

Horror films tell us of our resilience and power.

But, it has be said that a question mark must be held over each of these assertions. Humans are not invincible, we are not all Mila Kunis or Ryan Gosling, just as we are not all Charlie Chaplin or Ellen Ripley. Genre movies will often play with this idea with conflict, holding this question mark of our place in the world and in relation to one another over our heads. However, with the resolution of most genre films comes a reassertion of our initial observations. As John McClain embraces his wife with a demolished tower in the backdrop, we are told that we are in fact basically invincible.

As The Beast sweeps Belle off of her feet, we are told that anyone can love and be loved by remarkable human specimens (both personality-wise and aesthetically).

As Buster Keaton imitates movies with his girl in his arms, we are told that the witty and tragicomic see lights at the end of their tunnels.

And as Laurie Strode cowers having seen her boogeyman destroyed, we are told that the good, no matter the odds, always prevail.

I certainly don't need to tell you this, but, these fantasies are nonsense. As many satirical, alternative or darker forms of storytelling will make obvious, the world is not a book, movie or play; things rarely turn out the way people want them to. But, because this is a given, there is little need to analyse this. So, instead, we'll return to the realm of self-fulfilling fantasy by concentrating on The Matrix.

Whilst I've just depicted the third film in the trilogy, what we'll be discussing today is primarily the original film in respect to this idea of self-fulfilling centricity in people making and watching movies. We are using The Matrix to discuss this for pretty blatant reasons. Like few other films, The Matrix implores the significance, power and preciousness of the human species. On a surface level, this film is just a cool, high concept movie that made some innovation in the action film genre (with bullet time and so on). Pushing deeper, many will see The Matrix as an abundance of questions about humanity, reality and freedom. I, whilst I love this movie, don't hold it so highly however. This is because I can't help but recognise the fringe that the Wachowskis are skating in the creation of this movie; a fringe between The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, between a great movie and a pretty mediocre one. The terrible dialogue, stiff, bland characterisation, pretentious, anime-esuque elements and piss-poor writing splattered throughout the later Matrix films is juuuuuust about being suppressed in the original film. Make no mistake, I think the original Matrix is a masterpiece, but, equally so something tantamount to a blind smash one-hit-wonder - especially in regard to the live action Matrix series.

With this more cool-tempered and reserved look at The Matrix, I've stopped seeing the abundance of abstract questions. In place of them has risen a lot of assertions put forth by the Wachowskis and a lot less ambiguity. We discussed this the last time we talked about The Matrix trilogy, but, I think the biggest set of faults in this series are the dispositions you are presumed to be taking into this film. The major disposition that you must bring is a belief in one concrete reality, one that is precious and that humans shouldn't give up.

The idea of The Matrix as a positive or negative entity or experience is somewhat explored through Cypher.

But, the vast majority of The Matrix plays out with a very religious tone. Reality seems to be some kind of God or Eden and Neo, Jesus. One of the most frustrating and condemning aspects of religion is certainly the lack of, or arbitrary nature of, answers provided. You see this in The Matrix because of its similar approach to storytelling that religious texts take. This movie means to probe, question and provide some sense of moral-intellectual structure that further gives emotional and existential support. However, there is an infinitely ambiguous singularity to the crux of all of these stories because of their refusal to be self-reflexive instead of simply assertive. With religion, this singularity is some kind of deity. There are no answers as to who, what, when, where, how and certainly why (in respect to a deity) that are in any way intellectually satisfying. There are only faith-based and emotional assumptions that may resonate with you. We see this also in The Matrix. With reality as a deity, there is no questioning of what this reality is, how it came to be, how it functions or why it is significant.

You can argue that these questions are probed - not only with Cypher, but with the end of the trilogy. With Neo 'dead', we are left with the implication that the peace is only momentary; that humans will re-build civilisation and end up ensnared in some other version of the Matrix. This gives a cyclic element to the plot of the trilogy and leaves it as an exploration of faith and a need to control in conscious beings (human or A.I). However, does it really take 3 movies to say this? Both Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and 500 Days Of Summer say very similar things in respect to the human mind and emotions - and in one movie.

The way I see The Matrix is a dumping ground of philosophical implications that provide no cohesive whole, nor allow you to truthfully pick out a defining theme or message from the heap. So, zooming back to the first film in the trilogy, we can see this to be the fault of a, retrospectively, horrible set-up. I'll repeat, by itself, the original Matrix is a masterpiece, but, in respect to the later two films, the plot and themes are pretty weak. This is primarily because this scene...

... is resolved far too easily. I think the Wachowskis could have explored much deeper thematic avenues if Neo took the blue pill and didn't join Morpheus' clan. The reason why I think this is because of what Morpheus says as he offers the pills:

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.

By taking the blue pill, Neo would have been left to discover the truth of reality on his own and if he wishes. He knows the rabbit hole exists and so should be able to go down it by himself without Morpheus holding his hand as some kind of prophet. In such, we could have seen Neo wake up and see his reality with questioning eyes. This could lead to him 'seeing' the spoon bend...

This would allow Neo to opt out of the Matrix voluntarily - just as the annoying kid from the later films does. Getting to this sequence would allow us to experience what it means to see your reality and perspective shift entirely, but whilst questioning it all. Having learned the truth of human-robot-A.I history, Neo would be able to choose how, and if, he rebels against the enslaving overlords. In such, he could choose to construct his own unbounded, more liberated Matrix, defeat Smith, other programmes and even join Morpheus' cause as an independent person.

Considering this blue pill plot in respect to the red pill plot we're given, I think the latter pales as, as Morpheus describes, Neo is going to be shown how deep the rabbit hole goes - he will have his hand held and shit explained to him. With our blue pill plot, we wouldn't just be closer to Neo as a character, but possibly see him struggle harder in more action scenes - all of which have a greater sense of meaning, self-discovery and questioning. So, to the Hollywood morons out there that maybe want to reboot The Matrix, hit me up and maybe we can make it better.

Jokes aside, I raise all of this critique and revision to ask why the Wachowskis decided on this plot. The answer seemingly comes back to the structure and approach to story that many filmmakers will take. They want to tell us that we, as people and a species, are great, invincible, faulted but unbeatable and, ultimately, The One. You may sneer at this when put into words in such a way, but, I don't think this trope of storytelling can necessarily be entirely reversed - or even should be. There is this human self-centricty in stories as filmmakers need an anchor-point theme. An anchor-point theme is simply the assumption(s) you make as you go into a movie. For example, when going into Titanic, you may believe or assume that true love exists and that this is what the narrative will explore. A key strength of Titanic, however, is that it doesn't explain or affirm that true love exists. It is somewhat implied between Jack and Rose, but as we see Rose as an old woman with a family she loves, there is an ambiguity and twist given to this love story.

You will see this kind of use of an anchor-point theme in most movies - as alluded to in the beginning. Conflict of varying sorts, subtle, physical or emotional, is often used to budge and tug at presumptions brought into a movie - presumptions of true love, God or even reality. I've critiqued The Matrix because I don't think it handles this conflict very well as there isn't enough questioning which ultimately leaves a presumption of reality that you may bring into this film pointlessly ambiguous. That is to say that The Matrix relies on, and leaves you with, just faith. This is weak writing in my opinion as the narrative of the film fails to truly communicate with its audience. Yes, The Matrix may be a source of a lot of conversation and debate, but it certainly doesn't speak to you on a conceptual and emotional level like a film such as The Bicycle Thieves may.

With this narrative, De Sica not only raises questions on poverty, responsibility and social status, but punches you in the gut and mind with them. The Matrix is a fun movie to talk about because reality itself is a fun thing to question. However, the narrative of this film only acts as a facade for these questions, never a cohesive piece of communication.

The ultimate let down of original The Matrix is then that power is too simply put into the hands of a person (Neo, the audience) so that they can manipulate reality and overcome all of their conflicts with mind, heart, body and soul. Whilst we as movie goers and consumers of stories inherently seek out this self-centric exploration of ourselves, when this is done in a manner that is so explicitly servient to the audience's biases, the story becomes un-challenging and mere entertainment. So, the question I'll then end on is, how much should an audience be fed and how much should they be challenged?

To find out why The Matrix is apart of the Perish Series, check out...

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