The opinions from people coming out from Reloaded have been quite polarised. There are some people who love it, there are some people who think it’s a steaming load of dung. The primary gripe seems to be the slow pace of the movie during dialogue and the non-exciting lacklustre action scenes. The plot has been criticised as straight-forward and unimaginative. All valid criticisms, depending on what you got out of the movie. Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, there’s a trailer for Matrix: Revolutions after the credits.
Back in English classes in high school, we were always taught to analyse prose by splitting up the material into four attributes: plot, characters, themes and style. For me, the latter two aspects made the movie worth watching. I really enjoyed the action scenes – the Matrix has defined its own style of action, an amalgam of bullet time, Asian-influenced martial arts, sweeping camera angles and visual pyrotechnics all while wearing a trenchcoat. The problem is, it seems, that people have become desensitised to special effects. CGI is now at the point where anything the mind can conceive can be transferred onto the big screen. Because, if you ask the question – what could Reloaded have done better with regards to its action scenes – and the answer is quite honestly, not much. 100 replica actors on screen, actors trained in Kung Fu and the use of an array of mediaeval weaponry, wire acrobatics, guns, a car chase scene with a motorbike, explosions, it goes on and on. So. What more is there? Where to from here?
Of course, action doesn’t leave much to be discussed after a movie besides the obligatory, “Wow, did you see when X happened?! Unreal!” Which is why I think the Wachowski brothers (who are apparently very well read) decided to intersperse the explosions with a series of interminable and confusing conversations that critics have dismissed as a superficial discussion of philosophy, watered down for plebs. I think that is being too dismissive. Half the film was chatter about an array of philosophically-grounded words, thrown up seemingly randomly in the air, causing the audience to instantly tune out. However, I think the unorthodoxy of such cerebral dialog in a guaranteed blockbuster points to an intention by the Wachowski brothers to not produce another mindless action flick, and to try and stimulate the audience into discussing movie themes, in addition to movie plots. In my opinion, the Wachowskis have done a brilliant job with the philosophy. If you’re not interested, that’s cool – not everyone wants to have to think on a Friday night out – and you can stop reading here. Otherwise, it’s time for my analysis. I may or may not be reading too much into this movie, but discussions about a movie don’t have to be restricted to just the movie. I have seen the movie twice. Beware – Spoilers Ahead!
Whilst the philosophical theme in the first Matrix was all about what is reality, the themes in Reloaded were a lot less clear. Many terms were thrown up: control, choice, reason, purpose, destiny and so on. Let’s look at each of the conversations in turn (comments always welcome of course!) and stimulate “the only muscle that counts”.
Neo and the Councilor: Brief discussion of “what is control”? It’s not as clear cut as you would think. Control is sometimes an illusion, whereas interdependence may be often closer to reality.
Neo and the Oracle: This one is juicy. When Neo takes the candy, he accuses the Oracle that she already knows what he’s going to do, an accusation she accepts. Neo retorts, what choice does he have, if she already knows what he’s going to do. She replies that he has already made the choice, and that he’s not there to find out about his future choices, but to find out the reason behind making those future choices. Neo is confused. Neo reasons that if all his choices are already made (pre-determined), then why can’t he see into the future himself? The Oracle again replies that it is because he lacks an understanding of the reasons, that he cannot see into the future.
An interesting idea is developed here. It looks at the concept of destiny/fate and then decrees that choice is irrelevant. The idea is that it is the reasons and motivations that ultimately govern the choice you are going to make. In order to see the future (ie: the choice you are going to make), you have to understand the reasons behind the choice. That is, Neo can’t see the future because he doesn’t understand the reasons. The choice is “already made”, or more accurately, the choice is irrelevant and illusory. It’s a subtle but significant distinction.
Let’s analogise. You buy a magazine at a newagency and walk up to the counter. At this point let’s say you have two “choices”, whether to pay for it, or nick off without paying for it. We would be able to predict what you would do, given your motives. If you were an ordinary person, you’d pay for the magazine – you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Whereas, if you were a kleptomaniac, you’d nick off because the reason for that is that you have an uncontrollable psychological disorder. Hence, if we understand the motives behind a person walking up to the counter, we can predict what choice he is going to make when he comes to make it. In this way we can plan ahead in life by projecting scenarios and making hypothetical decisions based on our internal reasoning. Know the reasons, know the choice.
What use is this though? Predicting reasons is often as difficult as predicting choice. To this, we turn to the Merovingian.
Neo and the Merovingian: The Merovingian rattles off a spiel about causality and how it governs absolutely everything (chain of causality). There is no effect without cause.
Slotting this back into the “choice” ideas above, we can see that choice is no longer a “cause”, for the effects flowing from the choice are not actually initiated by that choice. They are initiated by the reasoning behind the choice. In effect, reason becomes the cause, and choice an effect of reason (and all the subsequent consequences flowing from that).
That still doesn’t really help poor Neo understand why understanding reason is the key, as opposed to understanding choice.
Neo and Agent Smith: Agent Smith gets freed, turns into a virus, and before he attacks Neo, he states that “purpose” is the only thing that matters. Purpose drives, binds, defines and so on.
How can we understand reason then? Following the reasoning of Agent Smith, we are who we are. Purpose drives us in life, and it is our purpose that defines our motivations and reasoning process and thus our choices. The Keymaker also stated this – when he dies he said “it was meant to be” because he was who he was. In the movie, many characters have purposes, whether they are conscious of it or not. Neo, for example, is The One, and his very being determines his life path. So, purpose defines reasons which define choices.
So from this bit of philosophical trickery, we can reason that fate and destiny is entirely pre-determined by who we are. We don’t really have a “choice” over what we do, it is determined by our purpose – something inherently ingrained into our being. I say trickery, because it doesn’t really prove anything. Whether fate or destiny is predetermined or not is really quite irrelevant. The distinction is debated because people like to feel in control (compare with Neo’s comments about fate and “being in control” in the first Matrix). People don’t like the idea that their path is laid out, their choices already made for them. However, all the ideas above dispense with the very concept of “choice”. Choice is illusory, therefore, fate is predetermined.
(Also compare with the first Matrix movie where Rhineheart (Neo’s boss) says to Neo, “The time has come to make a choice, Mr. Anderson. Either you choose to be at your desk on time from this day forth, or you choose to find yourself another job.” Does Neo really have a choice in that matter?)
Neo and The Architect: Less about philosophy, more about plot. This guy’s speech sounded like a textbook with all its big words and gratuitous use of “ergo” instead of “therefore”. Basically he said that the Matrix is a computer simulation that has undergone several versions. The first version failed, despite the Architect creating a “perfect world”. The second version failed, despite the Architect creating a world defined by misery and suffering. He couldn’t figure out why humans kept rejecting the simulation, but the Oracle did. She discovered that human minds rejected a simulation in which they didn’t have choice – even if that choice was merely at a subconscious level, or even merely illusory. The current version of the Matrix therefore gave a measure of “free will” to its inhabitants. However, this only worked on 99% of people. The 1% of people rejecting the simulation (presumably due to them discovering they really didn’t have “choice”) went to Zion. Once this errant population builds to a critical mass (quarter million humans), the machines start to get worried and reset the Matrix (something which has happened five times in the past). Neo is supposedly the “reset button”, whose actions will bring one of these cycles to an end. If he refuses to do so, the Matrix will crash as humans mass reject the simulation, or something like that.
Neo is given a “choice”, which is influenced by his inbuilt affinity for mankind (but especially Trinity), which makes his actions predictable. However, we don’t know how much of what the Architect is saying is bullshit, or who to trust, or whether the “real world” is not just another simulation, or why Neo suddenly has super powers in the “real world”. We’ll find out in six months I guess.
- Niobe: Mythological queen of Thebes who had her 14 children killed when she contested Diana.
- Persephone: Wife of Hades. Returns to Earth every year and brings about Spring. Implies renewal – symbolising a new cycle of the Matrix?
- Merovingian: The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings (5-8th Century).
- Seraph: The first in the order of angels. The Asian dude who protects the Oracle.
- See also this page.
- A “keymaker” or “key generator” in the computer world is a program that is used to bypass security features on software (eg: disabling shareware nag screens or usage time limits)
- Trinity’s hack into the power plant’s Unix server is as legit as you’ll find in the movies. See this Register article.
- Backdoors, same as in computers
- Lots of religious references: Offerings to Neo (and how one woman says to him something about “Jacob on the Moses”), addressing the masses of Zion, etc
- A lot of people think it’s stupid how Neo restarted Trinity’s heart. But it sorta fits in well. In the first movie, he comes back from the dead. In Reloaded, he resurrects someone else. Now what does that sound like?
- Morpheus’ faith in the prophecy under adversity is interesting. What happens when faith is confronted by something incontrovertible that shatters is? Do the truly faithful keep on believing? Can something that shatters faith be incontrovertible?
- There’s a tribute to Brandon Lee and Gloria Foster. When Agent Smith is walking towards Neo after the Oracle meeting, he walks through a flock of crows which fly towards the camera, just like Brandon Lee in The Crow. Incidentally, Brandon Lee died before filming of The Crow finished (accidentally shot). Similarly, the actress who played the Oracle, Gloria Foster, died before the Matrix: Revolutions completed filming.
- When the Nebuchadnezzar goes down, Morpheus says “I have dreamed a dream. But now that dream is gone from me.” Compare with Daniel 2:3 (King James Bible), “I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.”
- There are a lot of black people in Zion (they dance better?). There are quite a lot of Asians in the movie too.
Update: This page is linked in the comments, but it’s very good, so I’ll repeat it here — http://www.corporatemofo.com/stories/051803matrix.htm. It excellently and astutely links mythology and religion with the movie and has some great insights.
- What does the plaque on Neo’s Zion apartment say? It looks like it’s in braille.
- What exactly does the Merovingian say when he swears?
- Surely there are many more tributes to other movies in Reloaded. What are they?
- Ditto for foreshadowing statements and external references.