Friday, November 07, 2003

Matrix Revolutions

Having read reviews of this movie and opinions all over the Internet, I've come to the conclusion that I'm the only person in the world who liked it. Criticism seems to come from two camps: the first being those who never thought of the Matrix films as more than overhyped video games with nuggets of often contradictory philosophy added, and the second being those who expected more out of Revolutions and were disappointed - typically, those who expected "answers" and a firm resolution.

The first camp doesn't bother me. By and large, these are the same people who think that comic books and graphic novels are worthless as a literary medium, and I don't have the time or the inclination to fight such bigotry. It's their problem.

The second, though, I can address. Note that there will be spoilers below, so if you haven't seen the film, you might want to go play a game instead.

My problems with Matrix Reloaded, which I outlined below, is that it was too self-aware, whereas the first film was simply a bold experiment. That, and the idea that the it's been four years since we saw the first movie, so the effects aren't mind-numbing anymore - we just accept it. Which is why the second movie was such a muddled mess. I partially agree with those who say that it makes a perfect lead-in to Revolutions. It does make a good lead-in, but is still downright boring and inane in several places. I like it more as time goes on, but that's only because I'm willing to overlook its flaws. But, I'm that way with people, too.

Revolutions is far more an action movie than a philosophical ramble, but that's fine. The defense of Zion, the human city, is a stunning sequence. I've seen people accuse this of being nothing more than a CGI-pumped video game. Not true. It's really a comic book sequence. Hell, the whole series is basically a graphic novel, from the framing and the set design to the dialogue and acting. And it works.

At any rate, when Neo finally faces the out-of-control Agent Smith, he sums up what has been the overarching premise of the entire trilogy: that all along, everything he has done has been his choice. This is what the Oracle was trying to communicate not only to Neo, but to Morpheus and Trinity and even Agent Smith, and everyone else she's ever counciled. In fact, this is what Agent Smith does at the end of the movie, when he slips and calls Neo "Neo" instead of "Mr. Anderson."

As opposed to the Frenchman's ramblings about cause and consequence - which is the very definition of life in the Matrix - choice, even in the face of overwhelming odds and when the decision does not seem rational, is the only method, the only indicator, that conditioning has been overcome. Overcoming conditioning is the Buddhist definition of Enlightenment, the Hindu definition of destroying prakriti, the Islamic defintion of surrendering to Allah, and the Christian defintion of being "saved." In fact, overcoming conditioning through free will is an overarching theme in every religion - even the conditioning of reason and emotion. Which is exactly what Neo does before destroying Smith.

Did this wrap everything up in a perfect little package? No. How did Neo destroy machines in the real world? I suspect that he was tapped into the Matrix and the Machine World enough to influence it, but this was never fully explained. What happend to Neo at the end? It seems that he dispersed into the Matrix, but again this is not clear. He has become an ideal, and in the false world of the Matrix he can actively work to release others from its prison. This is the nature of the deal he struck with the machines: those that want to be released, can be. Now, Neo must begin working like Zarathustra or the Buddha or Jesus or the main character in Plato's allegory of the cave. The people in the Matrix will slowly awake, and this is the method by which humanity will be freed.

You can argue that the war was not won because there are still humans hooked up to the power supplies, but I think this is a false premise, and certainly a false moral premise. It also overshadows the fact that excercising free will before and after a release from the Matrix is necessary.

In the second movie, we learned that the One was really another fail-safe, a way of paring down Zion when it got too big (and that Zion itself was a fail-safe). While this was never specifically addressed in Revolutions, looking back at the free will theme offers some degree of explanation: Neo was expected to behave in a certain, conditioned manner. He did not, and this exercise of free will allowed him to begin working for a real change - a real revolution.

The name of the movie was not The Matrix Resolutions, but Revolutions. Change, in status quo, in thinking, and from the conditioned world to a world where one can exercise free will. Zion was indeed another layer of machine control, not in the way I originally thought (that it was a second Matrix), but in a similar one - it was a predictable system, because its inhabitants still acted out of determined responses. The prophecy of the One and the implications of determinism and fate that such a prophecy implies are only another way to keep the inhabitants of Zion from revolting (exercising free will, and beginning to influence others to do the same). That Neo really could do this is not because he's some mythic "one savior" (despite all the Christian imagery at the end), but because he was simply the first person to continuously make choices.

So yes, I liked it. I think there's a lot in this film to digest and discuss, and the theme that wove all three films together is the oldest and most important philosophical discussion - not even the nature of choice and free will, but the nature of being itself and whether or not the two are interconnected.

Thank you, Wachowskis. You did a fine job.

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