So The Matrix: Reloaded was on television the other night, playing in the background while I watched YouTube videos and caught up on the news. For whatever reason, I stopped long enough to notice that the Merovingian was douching it up as the perfect French stereotype: promiscuous, pompous, rich, and slightly metrosexual. I was momentarily reminded that someone once told me he was supposed to be a vampire or something. Then I remembered that the movie featured werewolves and ghosts, and I found myself wondering something I hadn’t considered since the first film.
What is The Matrix?
I was in high school when the second film in The Matrix trilogy came out. There was all this hype with how well the first film had done and the way the Animatrix had stirred people. Then the movies actually came out and they were completely different from the first. And, I thought at the time, not quite as inspired. The second and third movies play kind of like someone wrote them for someone’s table-top RPG.
It feels like Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity spend spend the sequels bouncing from one quest-giver to another while fighting agents and mythical beasts to save Zion. What the hell are these movies?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but I just figured out a couple things that add some layers for me.
The whole point of the first Matrix film is about control. In this case, the ambiguous construction that hippies refer to as “the system” is an actual system meant to fool us into thinking we are living lives completely under our control while we’re drained of our vital energies over the entirety of our lives. Neo discovers the truth, faces down the omnipresent agents, and goes about the work of freeing everyone for the revolution.
Basically one man can take down the oppressive system that stifles mankind. It’s actually a pretty brilliant metaphor for its appeal to all segments. The Matrix can represent the heavy hand of the government, literally draining our resources and keeping us from doing what we need, or it can stand for the pervasive racism, sexism, and poverty that seem to invisibly define the perimeters of our lives. Or it’s about how the machines in our lives are turning us into vegetables. Or whatever else you want. It’s a choose-your-metaphor kind of film.
It was a great movie with an amazing core concept that executed its conclusion in a classy way. So what are the sequels? What is happening in the wake of this brilliance?
The Matrix: Reloaded has a lot of running around to get Neo to Col. Sanders so that he can talk social mathematics. This scene basically lays out the entire reason Neo is “the One,” and it turns out it’s really just another method of control. You see, humans can’t be truly controlled. Every time they stuck us into the machines we would freak out and rebel/die. It didn’t matter if they made a perfect world or if it was a perfect replica of our own. We needed the choice to be pacified.
So the Oracle figured out that if we had the choice to be in the Matrix we would stop flipping out. And I guess most of us would choose to stay in The Matrix, but a small minority would decide to leave and keep coming back to rescue others (see: blue pill). Enter the One. I’m not sure if the One is purposely created by The Matrix or if he’s some kind of naturally occurring human free will avatar, but this guy/gal comes around to fight the system and free the people. Then the machines attack Zion and the One has the choice to sacrifice himself/herself.
He has to enter the source and enter the code that acts as the abort button that keeps the Matrix from crashing, killing everyone. And if he doesn’t then the machines pancake Zion and the human race goes extinct.
At least that was the plan, but for whatever reason Neo fell in love with Trinity instead of all mankind: basically he was the wrong kind of Jesus. Instead he tries to save everyone and give them choice. He decides not to sacrifice himself in Reloaded so that he can use the leverage of the Smiths to sacrifice himself in Revolutions instead.
The story is about how we thought we got free, but that freedom was also an illusion. And then machine Jesus comes in and fixes everything… which seems like kind of a flub. Instead of leading a movement for (symbolic) change, Neo single-handedly and authoritatively makes the decision to risk humanity on a gambit because the Architect called him names. Or something.
But why the hell didn’t I understand all of this the first time I finished the trilogy or any of the successive times I watched the films? How is it I could watch these movies and completely miss the point? That’s the real mystery to me. Was it all of the flashy fighting? Was it because the symbolism of the second film is as trite and recycled (though more complicated) as every other film about a lone beating the odds to save the people? I’m going to assume the fault is in the film and not in me.
Because I’m awesome.