Plugging back in to the Matrix

I’ve come to realise that most of the reviews on this site have been of recent films, meaning that not everyone will want to read them for fear of spoilers ruining the film before they get to see it. So, I thought I would review an older film, one that has many interesting things to say, but has been seen by a vast array of people; The Matrix. There will therefore be spoilers, but as the plot is so well known, I’m not even going to flag it. If you seriously haven’t seen this film, please comment below and I will try to help you get a copy of this epic film and watch it.

The film opens with Trinity saying that “it doesn’t matter what I believe.” One of the most common themes is truth, and it’s one of the reasons I like this film. Not because its view of what is true is any good but that it tells how the ideal of truth is worth pursuing. With this line Trinity shows her belief that truth is an absolute and external to our own perceptions. The film makes it clear just how external it is by creating a wholly separate world to house it. When Neo is shown the constructed world for the first time, he accepts it as real because of what his senses tell him, but the film explores how these can be fooled. Cipher chooses to reject the truth, preferring the easier untrue fantasy, and it is this that makes him unpopular. He cannot accept the limits the real world has and would much prefer the more exciting opportunities available in the Matrix. It is a call to arms to us all, that the truth is out there and we must fight for it. It will not be easy and to accept new revelations, we must become child like. Morpheus’ suggestion that an older mind cannot accept the readjustment is either a cruel attack on the gullibility of those with a faith or an acknowledgement that we get set in our ways too quickly.

Religion and belief is another big topic covered in quite a lot of depth. Jesus is mentioned three times; once as an adjective applied to Neo (“my personal Jesus”), once as a swear word by Neo and again by Cipher. The phrase “scared the be-jesus out of me” is a very odd one but reminds us that weak in faith can be uprooted by fear. Not only is Neo a Jesus metaphor, but of a believer too with Morpheus cast as “the father”. We see Neo obey Morpheus before even seeing him, despite rebelling against all other authority and by the end they are both willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. Neo is not perfect however, and we can see his desire for control affecting him greatly. By the end his phone call message shows he is in fact rather confused. He wants to free people, the great commission essentially, but to do so will show them a world where anything is possible by letting them first manipulate the Matrix. The truth is not his goal, it is freedom and control. His initial search for Morpheus is driven by a first for knowledge and power and Morpheus’ talk of wanting to change the world makes him want the power to do that even more.

What it means to be human is also a question worth asking. Mouse talks of our impulses being what make us human, as opposed to a machine, but is this a good thing? Once in the real world, one of the first things Neo has to face is that he has sockets in his body for the machines to control him. Tank compares him to a machine as he takes on new downloads at incredible pace but Morpheus sees his improvisation as a source of strength in the dojo. The agents’ view of humanity is also rather interesting. Smith talks about how he notices we are different from the mammals and sees our dominance as a negative thing. He does not see how the machines have come to do the same thing too or that humanity is different from other life forms because it cannot just settle but must expand. We were created to rule this earth and it is only fit that we spread.

Artificial intelligence is also a fascinating question. The naive idea that the invention of artificial intelligence would unite the human race is then followed by Morpheus’ expression of desire for freedom from them, rather than collaboration with them. Having some interest in computers that I have not previously shared on this site, I was for the most part disappointed with how it was covered. The writers show poor understanding of computing basics by calling humans software. They also suggest that the machines would communicate in an encoded display language, when in fact they would use a sequence of binary characters to communicate, as that is what digital input is. There are a few interesting ideas raised indirectly though. As Tank called Neo machine-like, I wondered if that meant he was following an algorithmic approach to learning rather than using intuition. Also, the idea Mouse raises on how machines could program something they know nothing of has no easy answers. The agents themselves leave a lot to be answered for too, for example, is there a hierarchy and why do they have feelings?

The computer problems aside, there were a few other flaws I noticed this time around. The floppy disks being used on the Nebuchadnezer seem oddly backward on a ship that also has blue glowing rings and broke the illusion a bit. The main characters show little emotion after Cipher’s betrayal and Trinity only offers Tank a quick hug after hearing his brother died and watching her friends fall, without a tear in either of their eyes. The fight scenes also, though impressively choreographed, are not that well shot. It is however for the most part a good film, as it does what all good philosophical films should; leave you with more questions than it gives you answers. And that’s the way I like it.

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