22 April 2016

+JMJ+

Twelve Things about The Matrix

12. The last time I brought The Matrix into a movie post, I was pretty negative about it. You could say it is the "poster film" for everything Alone says is wrong with modern men. While I still agree with his analysis, I'm no longer totally on board with his analogy. I was moved to revisit this story a few nights ago because I'm currently reading Bis(s) zum Morgengrauen von Stephenie Meyer (wisst ihr: Twilight--oder: "Everything that is wrong with modern Maedchen?"--in deutsch) and it has dawned on me that Neo and Bella are the same type of character . . . and their stories are the same type of myth.

If you're a regular here, then you already know that what I'm going to say is that The Matrix and Twilight are both modern reimaginings of Snow White.

11. Red apple, red pill: is there really any difference? Both are symbols pointing to something that will change your life so completely that the best analogy for it is death. Or to be more accurate, death and rebirth. (Oh, hey, we're still in Easter season!)

10. So which pill would you pick? Answer honestly . . .

Schluckst du die blaue Kapsel, ist alles aus. Du wachst in deinem Bett auf und glaubst du was du glauben willst.
(Swallow the blue pill and all is over. You wake up in your bed and believe what you want to believe.)

Schluckst du die rote Kapsel, bleibst du im Wunderland, und ich fuhre dich in die tiefsten Tiefen des Kaninchenbaus.
(Swallow the red pill, believe in Wonderland, and I lead you in the deepest depths of the rabbit hole.)

(Note the use of the simple present tense to indicate a future event
--a usage which is also common in englisch!)

At different points of the film, this choice is offered to two characters; and they each pick differently. One choice is portrayed as more moral than the other--an assumption we've all geschluckt for nearly two decades. But while I think we all agree that choosing die rote Kapsel is more heroic, our quotidian choices are likely blauer than we'd like to admit.

Take some friends of mine, who like to describe the Philippines as "the best place in the world to live if you're rich." In the meantime, every Filipino who falls short of wealthy is trying to emigrate. My friends happen to be filthy rich, so the two things they are least likely to do are: a) move to another country; and b) help change the status quo in this one. The status quo is too good to them. They're not bad people at all--just very aware of, and happy about, being "upper blue pill" class.

9. In contrast, Thomas Anderson is Team Red Pill all the way. But not because he has a soul-sapping job, a roach hole of a flat, and no real family or friends. That is, not because the status quo sucks for him. You see, it doesn't have to suck: he chooses to live the way he does, because it enables him to pursue something of higher value to him. Picking the literal red pill is second nature to him; he has already been choosing it, over and over again, for years. No wonder Morpheus thinks he's The One.

8. We could say the Oracle knows he's The One, but just has to be cryptic about it. I really like her . . .


. . . and not just because she is the most original take on Snow White's magic mirror that we may ever see. (Interesting use of the colour gruen there, too . . .)

7. Then there's the character who hates that Neo could be The One. We could say that this foil to our hero simply can't deal with not being "the fairest of them all" in the eyes of a woman he admires (Alone, how did you not pick up on this when you wrote about reflections???)--and that the arrival of someone she prefers to him . . . not that she ever thought of this first guy as an option (Oooooh, BURN) . . . is what finally pushes him over the edge.

Is there more to this, though? This character is one of the most complex in the cast, and I'd like to assume his unhappiness with red pill reality is due to more than petty romantic disappointment . . . but the film doesn't give me anything else to go on.

Hey, do you think the Oracle talked to him, too?
What do you suppose she said???

6. It is not Snow White, however, but a different children's classic that The Matrix explicitly links itself to. And if you know your literary rabbits ("Kaninchen" in deutsch), then you also know that book is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Nonsense and Some Sense Smackdown winner Lewis Carroll. Here's a video that points out as many connections as it can . . .


. . . some of which seem a tad forced to me.
Though I'm hardly one to throw stones!

While psychedelic drugs are a kind of "forbidden fruit," I've never thought of Alice books as Snow White variants. Did I miss something? Should the "Two or Three" Book Club investigate next month?

5. Something you might not have noticed, however, are the parallels between The Matrix and another deeply mythical movie. Indeed, until I stumbled across the following (mostly race-obsessed) analysis, I wouldn't have seen The Matrix and Star Wars as such close cousins: Movies That Hate You: The Matrix.

On the other hand, the Superman connection was a lot stronger for me this time around. (I had previously needed Matrix: Reloaded to get blatant.) We don't get much mileage from this allusion, though; it just seems like the filmmakers being stylish, but indulgent.

4. Speaking of indulgence, before I saw any links to Star Wars and Superman, I was connecting The Matrix to two darker but greatly influential films. Though I wouldn't say that subsequent SF offerings have been in the tradition of one over the other, I have long opined that there are two kinds of people in the world: Platonists and Aristotelians Blade Runner people and Terminator people.

vs.

The Matrix appears to be either the perfect "golden mean" between them or our first sign that they are both shadows of the same ideal. Or if you like, "The One" that is finally bringing them both together.

Being a Terminator person (shocking, I know), I like to think of The Matrix as the model of what T2 should have been: Sarah going into the future to save Kyle. I'd ask the Blade Runner people to chime in about the sequel ideas that The Matrix has given them . . . except that it probably affected them in a very different way. Who can ever tell with those weirdos? =P

3. So The Matrix sounds totally awesome, doesn't it? What was Alone's problem, anyway? And can you believe those Twilight haters???

As I've said, I still agree with Alone's analysis of a modern problem. In the same way it is problematic that a lot of girls treat the Mikes, Erics, Tylers and Jacobs of their lives badly, in the expectation that an Edward will sweep them off their feet into a "real" happy ending, it is problematic that there are men who believe that everything wrong with their lives is a feature of a world forced upon them rather than a bug in their own characters. But the saving grace of the Twilight saga is Meyer's awareness that Bella could have been just as happy if her story had ended differently--if Edward had never entered her life and she married someone perfectly human. On the other hand, The Matrix does not suggest that Thomas Anderson could have also had a happy ending if he gave up his obsessions, made some offline friends, and invited a woman he liked to that restaurant with the really good noodles.

2. Oh, look . . . Cracked.com has a video that takes my point further . . . 


I rediscovered this After Hours classic when looking for the Cracked.com article which makes a case for the machines in The Matrix being among 9 Famous Movie Villains Who Got It Right All Along. It's all very blue pill of you, Cracked. But you're on the right track here, for Snow White's transformation amounts to nothing until she is kissed back awake.

Should the entire plot turn out to be a dream of Thomas Anderson's, he still comes out ahead: dreams aren't the opposite of reality, but a counterpoint to it, enriching and being enriched by it. Thomas may not be as ueber-cool as Neo, but he is just as much of a free agent--and after this dream, potentially a stronger one. If he continues to hate waking life because he isn't some demigod, that's on him, not on waking life.

1. The only thing really disappointing about this viewing of The Matrix was realising that a line of dialogue I had been thinking was in it actually isn't. The worst part is that it had been my favourite line! LOL!

Is it meta to have a false memory of The Matrix? For about a decade, I had been "remembering" that the scene about "learning" martial arts . . .


. . . included a moment in which Tank asks Neo if there is any language that he wants to learn. =P


Image Source: a) Die Matrix Plakat, b) Rote oder blaue Kapsel?, c) The Oracle, d) The Terminator poster, e) Blade Runner poster

20 comments:

Belfry Bat said...

And Smith is the Evil Queen, who wants everything to be a mirror of himself?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

That's an interesting reading of the Evil Queen . . . and of Agent Smith! You'll have to write a blog post of your own to hash this idea out. =)

The extra complication is that the Evil Queen doesn't simply want to see her own reflection; she wants to see the image of herself that she wants to see--which is an entirely different matter. She wants a reflection of an idealised self that doesn't exist. Would you say that this is the case for Smith as well?

Belfry Bat said...

In that the last two Smiths surprise Smith... and frighten him, ... we get a glimpse of what he wanted by how much he does not want what he gets. ... But that is two whole films further down the warren.

Hm. In that the broad setting is a breaking-out from Socrates' Cave, it's awfully strange that being freed is diving down the rabbit hole, isn't it? Although the locus of libery is literally underground and riddled with tunnels.

----

Speaking of misremembered scripts... is it Burton's first Batman that has
Joker: "You made me!"
Bat: "You made me first."
?? Because it has just struck me that it fits just as well between Smith and Neo in the follow-ups. Anything it has to do with Snow White I can't think right now.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

While away from the computer, I got to thinking: Agent Smith may be Neo's nemesis, but Cypher is his real foil. Or rather, Smith is an external antagonist, while Cypher represents an inner weakness that could prove to be a fatal flaw. Since Cypher is also external to Neo, however, our protagonist gets to remain absolutely perfect throughout the movie. He certainly has no internal struggles.

I really will have to think about Smith some more before I can say anything intelligent about him. Did you notice that the review does not mention him at all? =P He just went over my head.

Believe it or not, I have never seen that first Batman movie! Nor the third Matrix movie, for that matter! Missing the latter was a choice that I made after seeing the second, but missing the former, over and over again, has been a very odd wrinkle in a life that usually tosses more pop culture standards in my way than I can deal with.

Belfry Bat said...

No inner conflict as such, no, though there is naïveté and doubt (... it's very odd how certain he is of his doubt, he is even peaceful in it); and he spends most of the movie dormant (as you say...) insofar as being "the one" is concerned. Untill Smith kills him... that long sleep is certainly Snow White-ish. ... I think you mentioned that already, didn't you.

Cypher gets to voice the temptation to despair that, probably, the whole group of Nebuchadnezarites are thinking of sometimes... is that what you mean?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Where is Sheila when the party needs her voice? If like to know how the Nebuchadnezzar crew ranks on her cult-meter. Incidentally, your point about Cypher being the one who voices the whole group's sense of despair rather than just his own is exactly one point I recently shared on her blog.

I consider Cypher to be Neo's foil because he chooses the blue pill so that he can forget the Matrix--the polar opposite of Neo's choosing the red pill to learn about the Matrix.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Please pardon the typos. I'm on my phone. =/

Brandon said...

The Oracle being the mirror makes a bit of sense, particularly since what she actually tends to do is just tell people what they are -- and particularly given the Nosce te ipsum plaque above her door.

I think a strength of the story is the notion that Neo can't become The One until he dies (as the Oracle says, he's waiting for something, "perhaps your next life"), which serves as a kind of parallel and bookend for taking the red pill. Neo's death and resurrection makes even the red pill to be less than the whole story. (Which is one reason why the first film is so much stronger than the scattered demons-and-angels plots of the sequels.)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I've been working on a follow-up post with more to say about the scene with the Oracle! =) It has struck me as a key moment in the story.

I recall reading that the first film was culled from another writer and only the two sequels are really Wachowski brain children. (That other writer, when asked about the sequels, said something like: "They should have just kept stealing from me!")

Sheila said...

Here I am! But I have a confession to make .... I have never seen The Matrix. I was, ironically, in boarding school when it came out.

You won't like my "red pill moment," I am certain.

I was sitting in church, one of the last times I attended for myself rather than to make other people happy. And I thought, well, maybe it isn't true. But believing it, if I could somehow make myself believe it, would make me happy. It would make other people happy. I can't see any harm in it. So I should try. It's as if the Matrix was actually doing real good to people's lives (which I don't know if it ever did, because I haven't seen it) would it really be a bad thing to just let it stand?

And then I thought, but what if there were some harm to it, or later started to be harm to it after I'd taken the blue pill? I'd be in no position to know about it. I am making moral choices all the time, and I don't have the right to shut my eyes and not get the best information I can, because my ignorance could end up causing harm and I wouldn't even know it!

So I picked the red pill (some time later), upset everyone close to me, turned my life upside down, and said goodbye to the "ex-boyfriend" I had always hoped I'd get back together with.

So, yeah, I can safely say I'd take the red pill, because I have. Not because I have a real desire for the truth in itself, but because I can't choose the good if I don't have the truth. It's my care for others than makes me feel like I have to give up my own comfort.

Like I said, you're not going to like it. But there it is.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila, you probably care more about what I "like" than I do! LOL! It's probably just the way you and I choose words, but in case this has been an issue for you, I'd like to say that I hope you don't hold back on commenting here just because you think I won't "like" what you have to say.

And if it makes you feel any better, I'm not so bothered by your decision any longer. At first it was as if you had died; now it's just as if you have moved away.

It is taking me forever to write that follow-up post I was telling Brandon about, but what I argue there is that there is no difference between the red pill and the blue pill.

Belfry Bat said...

There is no pill. It is not the pill that takes you to wonderland, but only yourself.

Brandon said...

Thinking of the red pill / blue pill as like conversion (to whatever, or deconversion, as the case may be) does seem to capture a lot of the dynamic shown in the movie, at least. Such things don't just change oneself; they make everything in the world look a little different.

I think it makes a lot of sense of Cipher, as well. After all, in real life, some people convert to something and become true-believers, while some struggle, and some find they don't like it down the rabbit hole at all. Cipher's exactly like the Israelites who were sold on a dream of freedom and then, out in the miserable desert, started thinking, "But we had meat in Egypt."

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You all know what? That promised post does not want to be written, but everyone's fascinating comments do deserve to be addressed; so I'll give up on the former and just dive into the latter!

Sheila -- You might say my own "red pill moment" is when I realised that the Novus Ordo Mass "has no clothes." I like to think that I handled the transition well, but only time will tell.

I think everyone knows what the "red pill" and the "blue pill" mean . . . thanks as much to the M@n0sph3re3 as to The Matrix (LOL!) . . . but everyone also disagrees on what they are. It's all very subjective. Your moment and my moment, for instance, totally contradict each other! But if something is true, then it has to be true for everyone--or rather, it is true regardless of what anyone thinks . . . or "likes." ;-) It's still a good metaphor, but I think the very movie that popularised it shows that it's not what truly "saves" Neo. I don't want to be too spoilery here, because you said you haven't seen The Matrix yet; but if you say you wouldn't mind my revealing the twist, I will.

Bat -- That's a good point about character and will, but there's one more crucial thing that makes Neo different from his foil, which I can't say more about yet because this reply to you is right under my promise to Sheila not to be spoilery--LOL!

Brandon -- What I had wanted to say about the Oracle is that she shows Neo two reflections: his own . . . and the red pill's! The cookie she gives him, which she promises will make him feel "right as rain" (Germanised as: "wie Fische im Wasser"), is the red pill. Just as Cypher's steak, which represents the bliss of ignorance (in deutsch: the "Segen" or blessing of ignorance), is the blue pill. And now I'm in danger of distracting myself with the idea that Agent Smith is also a mirror . . . one who insists on showing people not the fairest, but the least fair things about them . . .

Anyway, what I mean is that eating the Oracle's cookie is merely the acceptance of the death, which is the choice to save Morpheus rather than himself. It's not also the rebirth, which is a "Segen" that Neo can't actively take, but has to receive. Basically, every time someone goes on and on about having "geschluckt die rote Kapsel," I want to ask . . .

* * * SHEILA, IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW * * *

* * * O HAI BAT; THERE YOU ARE * * *

* * * PLEASE PARDON ME, BRANDON * * *

. . . Where was I? Oh, yes . . . The question I want to ask everyone who swears by "the red pill" (however they define it) is: "Cool, yes, but have you also been kissed?"

Sheila said...

I don't mind spoilers -- I mean, it's a major cultural touchstone type movie, so I have a vague idea of the plot.

I agree that the truth exists whether you know it or not, or accept it or not -- and that's why you have to accept it. It might make your life worse and it almost certainly won't give you superpowers, but on the other hand, if you don't know, you can't make the right choices.

And I don't hold back because of your feelings ... I just write awkward disclaimers, as you can see. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

But have you noticed that the Matrix is set up so that you can be perfectly unconscious your entire life and still make moral choices? Or can you think of something that is immoral in the Matrix that is perfectly fine outside of it? Or vice-versa?

And now I get stung by my own tail, because although I do think morality is consistent both within and without the Matrix, I also have the perfect example of something that is moral inside one (small-M) matrix and immoral outside of it: I have a dear friend who thinks it is a sin against the order of creation, a sin against society, and even a sin against your own child, to make him biracial. And like everyone with divergent views, he says he thinks the way he does not because he wants to (and he really doesn't!), but because he took a red pill that forced him to accept reality whether he liked it or not.

Now it's interesting to think that the movie's Matrix may be the only one of its kind in which morality does not change!

Anyway, this is leading to what I mean when I say the pills are a great metaphor, but ultimately empty, because they can't also prove any big revelation to be true. Yes, there's incontrovertible proof in the movie; but there isn't in real life. How can anyone say his red pill is better than all the others when there are simply so many and they all look alike?

As for the spoiler: Neo dies and Trinity's kiss is what revives him and finally gives him real superpowers beyond everything he has "naturally" uploaded into his brain. And this kiss is not something he freely chose, but something he had no control over. It's also something that is not given to everyone who takes the red pill. To paraphrase another famous movie now, it would be nice if we all accepted the truth, but some people really can't handle the truth. They just can't. This is where the death and rebirth imagery come in: the acknowledgement that you have to become a different person. And I think the genius of The Matrix is its making this completely separate from the red-pill moment.

Now, if you don't mind me asking about your new red-pill life . . . Well, you're clearly still surrounded by blue-pill people. By your definition, they're not accepting the truth and aren't really capable of making the right choices. Are you active in getting them to take the red pill themselves?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

But have you noticed that the Matrix is set up so that you can be perfectly unconscious your entire life and still make moral choices? Or can you think of something that is immoral in the Matrix that is perfectly fine outside of it? Or vice-versa?

And now I get stung by my own tail, because although I do think morality is consistent both within and without the Matrix, I also have the perfect example of something that is moral inside one (small-M) matrix and immoral outside of it: I have a dear friend who thinks it is a sin against the order of creation, a sin against society, and even a sin against your own child, to make him biracial. And like everyone with divergent views, he says he thinks the way he does not because he wants to (and he really doesn't!), but because he took a red pill that forced him to accept reality whether he liked it or not.

Now it's interesting to think that the movie's Matrix may be the only one of its kind in which morality does not change!

Anyway, this is leading to what I mean when I say the pills are a great metaphor, but ultimately empty, because they can't also prove any big revelation to be true. Yes, there's incontrovertible proof in the movie; but there isn't in real life. How can anyone say his red pill is better than all the others when there are simply so many and they all look alike?

As for the spoiler: Neo dies and Trinity's kiss is what revives him and finally gives him real superpowers beyond everything he has "naturally" uploaded into his brain. And this kiss is not something he freely chose, but something he had no control over. It's also something that is not given to everyone who takes the red pill. To paraphrase another famous movie now, it would be nice if we all accepted the truth, but some people really can't handle the truth. They just can't. This is where the death and rebirth imagery come in: the acknowledgement that you have to become a different person. And I think the genius of The Matrix is its making this completely separate from the red-pill moment.

Now, if you don't mind me asking about your new red-pill life . . . Well, you're clearly still surrounded by blue-pill people. By your definition, they're not accepting the truth and aren't really capable of making the right choices. Are you active in getting them to take the red pill themselves?

Belfry Bat said...

Um... Morality changes a LOT. Matrix-escapees kill a lot of people IN the Matrix, mostly those possessed by an Agent, but not exclusively or uniformly. The former may be an extreme "double effect" case, and the latter "casualties of war", but... really, it bothers me a great deal how easily it comes to all of the crew.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

They're using the exact same rationalisations that come into play in earthly (matrixly?) wars. And they're as wrong as we are when we do it. It's seeming to come too easily serves the plot and the style, but we'd have the same essential story if there were a subplot in which Neo struggled more to grow into a killing machine. (See: Saving Private Ryan, one of the most deeply immoral movies of all time.)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Bat, I've given your point a lot of thought and realise that you're right! Morality does change when one enters and exits the Matrix. War itself is another kind of Matrix.

I still maintain that if something is wrong, it is wrong no matter what, and if it is right, it is right no matter what . . . but this is also just a way of saying that the people who disagree with me are in a matrix that exists within the greater reality where I live. Or if you will, that they're just characters in a movie that I am watching. But if I were to enter the movie, I'd be tempted to adapt myself to its morality.