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there is no spoon: a review of Matrix Reloaded

matrix.jpegOkay, I've seen it. Did I like it?

Well, it's ... complicated. :)

I had a window of time today at noon, so I just got up and went to the theater. Got there early, snatched a row-ten-center seat, and waited.

And waited.

Then the movie began. An action sequence! Oh, boy! Bullet-time, shooting... and shooting... and more shooting... okay, okay, we've seen the bullets fly, now please move on...

Still more shooting.

Is this another trailer? I thought. It wasn't.

Finally that one ended, change of scenery and so on.

Carrie-Anne Moss looks at Keanu Reeves across a rusted metal table and says, softly: "Do you want to talk?"

I laughed. It's Keanu Reeves there, Carrie-Anne! He has the conversational abilities of a dead racoon!

She didn't hear me. She kept trying to talk to him. Oh well.

Before I go on, there is something I want to clarify: while the effects in the movie are "ok" (as I feared, there can be "too much of a good thing"), the cinematography is fine, and so on, I'm holding off on forming an opinion on story yet. It seemed to be going badly but then at the end we witness a couple of twists that can not only explain all the strange things that happened before, they can also easily redeem the entire series if taken to proper conclusions in The Matrix Revolutions. Depending on how it ends, it could be a masterpiece, or not.

More below...

If you are going to see it, make sure to wait until after the end of the credits: there's a trailer for Matrix Revolutions which isn't available anywhere else yet.

Spoiler Warning: I'm talking about a lot of the "surprises" in Reloaded below, so continue reading only if you have seen the movie, or if you don't mind knowing a bit more than you're supposed to.

One thing that I found hilarious was the continued metaphysical arguments the characters engage in, particularly in the presence of Neo. These dialogue-sections follow a pattern similar to this:

Neo: Why am I here?
Someone else (say, the Oracle): Is that what you really want to know?
Neo: Emm...
Oracle: What's really important is the how, not the why.
Neo: Okay, tell me the how then.
Oracle: The how of what?
Neo: What?
Oracle: You're off-track again...
While it can be amusing to follow some of the logical and philosophical implications of what's said (for example, when the Oracle tells Neo that he's there "to understand the choices he's already made, rather than to make them" we are being told that in The Matrix fate is not only a reality, it's part of the program) and to think about all the discourses on causality, reality, and so on, they can be a bit trying at times; for some reason they feel a bit (just a bit) phony. Maybe it's Keanu's zero-reaction face. Or maybe it's just that there seems to be little point to them, except...

Except that there might be a reason for all of this metaphysical discussion and clue-chasing.

We had seen increasing signs that Neo wasn't so special, we've seen the phantom-Twins, the enigmatic bodyguard of the Oracle, the Oracle herself, the Keymaker that says little except "this is what I'm supposed to do", the self-replicating Agent Smith, and, of course, The Architect.

The action in the movie as it progresses feels more and more scripted. That is, as time passes it becomes more difficult to believe that this is really happening. Agent Smith is out of control. The Oracle runs around without much problem. The Phantom-Twins seem more powerful than any Agents, and suddenly Morpheus can fight off an agent, at least for a while. In the meantime, we are treated to a list of enigmatic pronouncements and complex statements about reality. Credibility is more and more strained. And then the Merovingian that tells Neo that he has "survived all the others".

The others? But wasn't the story that there had been one guy that had freed the first humans from the Matrix? And that Neo is the next one?

At this point it helps to consider some of the apparent holes in the logic of the first Matrix movie, and this one. For example:

  • The story of the man that "freed the first of us". If all of humanity was imprisoned in the Matrix, how exactly did this man survive, let alone build Zion, and all the technology?
  • They "broadcast a signal" to hack into the Matrix. Is there any reason why the Matrix would have radio inbound ports of that sort? Besides, what is the Matrix running that they can hack into it so easily? 802.11 with Windows 95?
  • The "matrix year" in the first movie is 1999. But if the Matrix moves on "normally" in internal time, doesn't that meant that humanity would evolve its technology inside too? Shouldn't that require some kind of resetting to stop humans from becoming too sophisticated?
  • The Agents are always a problem. Why are they so limited? Why, if the Matrix controls the physical world, are they so puny compared to Neo? Why is it that the best defense the Matrix can apparently muster is adding more Kung Fu moves?
I could go on, but these are good examples of problems with the story that are deep logical flaws. In the first movie we ignored those because it was fun. Now, sitting through lectures from Professor Morpheus, they become less easy to ignore.

Until we meet "The Architect."

Ah. Here it was. The dialog was a bit heavy as before, but suddenly we had something new: a revelation. The Architect's explanation clears up a lot of the questions.

It goes like this: In the Matrix there will always be a small amount of people that will reject the "virtual" world imposed on them. Given time, they might compromise the system. So, instead of trying to squash them, the Architect simply built an escape for them. He gave them a cause, and the prophecy to chase. He gave them enemies. Then every once in a while, he used a new Neo (or One) gather them all in a sense, eliminate them, and then start again. Zion is reborn, sponsored by The Matrix!. The threat is contained, properly channeled. The Matrix wins, and the humans always think that they are just about to. We learn this has already happened six times in the past, which means, suddenly, that everything we know from Morpheus about the real world and so on is a lie. The year is not 2199. But if that's not the truth then...

The unknown this time could be Agent Smith, who is now replicating itself. Or it could be part of the cycle...

So given this information, at the very minimum we now know that this whole idea of Neo as the savior is not true. He's a pre-programmed pawn. The question for the third movie is, will he be able to break out from that? Or is it even part of the cycle that he breaks out?

There's another, even more intriguing possibility: that the "real world" of Zion, is actually within the Matrix itself. This is all hypothetical, my own speculation, but along these lines is where I think that the story could really become something. The potential is there. Let me explain.

Consider: we already know that The Matrix has been "managing" Neo and the rebels for several cycles, to control them enough so that they think they are winning and they don't take over the Matrix. If it was the Matrix itself that "created" the first Neo, then why put humans out in the real world? Why not just make them think they've been "extracted"? So then the "real world" of Zion is just another Matrix enclosing the "normal" Matrix. The first is for "rebels", "anomalies" that don't accept the program. The second is for accepting humans.

This theory can be supported by that last scene where Neo stops the sentinels with a gesture, just as he would do inside the Matrix, and by the fact that Agent Smith has also shown up in "the real world". There is one more reason why this theory could be correct.

Consider: all the "special beings" we've seen in the Matrix, such as the Keymaker, Agent Smith, The Twins, and so on, are all software. Because of that, they can see and manipulate the structure of the Matrix. But if they are all software...

Then Neo is software too!

It sounds reasonable: the Matrix creates him, and in fact he has appeared several times already as we saw in the end. He behaves like other "software", in that, although very powerful he is still limited, for example, the Twins can de-materialize, Neo can't. If Neo is software from the "upper" level of the Matrix, the "Matrix for rebels", when he plugs into the lower level of the Matrix he can manipulate its reality. But at the end of Reloaded we see that maybe he has learned to manipulate the upper level of reality as well. (And is this part of the cycle the Matrix has planned?) If so there might be a chance of actually cracking through to the surface, the actual reality (for what it's worth).

All of this explanation has the additional bonus that it "cancels out" the seemingly illogical stuff that happened before. Does Neo's path feel contrived? Of course, it was planned by the Matrix. Does it feel at times that the Matrix is not putting up much resistance? Of course, it needs Neo to succeed, but not that easily. Is Morpheus a zealot? Sure, he was probably programmed to be one :)

Okay, and now for even more wild speculation: why would the Matrix go to all this trouble? If you watch Animatrix you see that the machines, at the beginning, were actually benevolent, trying to be at peace with humans. It was humans who rejected them, and started the war. Now look at the Oracle in Reloaded, talking about how the only way this will work is if both machines and man work together. Could it be that this whole thing is a really, really convoluted way of making humans see what they should do? Mmmm...

Anyway, while speculation is all well and good, I have no idea what might happen. The trailer for Revolutions didn't say much of anything, so I'm in the dark. But I think that it's clear that, properly done, the story could work well. And there could be many endings that work well, such as "the cycle begins again..." or "they actually escape" or... The title for the next movie is plural, "Revolutions", which could be a reference to the past revolutions (the cycle?), or that there are multiple revolutions that will happen along this section of the cycle.

In summary, I'm reserving my final opinion until I've seen the next movie. Everything could change: it's all in place. The elements for a masterpiece in science fiction are there. So are the elements for a major disaster in the history of storytelling. I am optimistic, but we'll see.

We only have to wait until November...

Posted by diego on May 22 2003 at 9:34 PM

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