Rethinking The Matrix…..
While most people have been raving about Doctor Who; for those willing to stay-up ITV has been replaying the Matrix trilogy. When it was first released in March 1999 the first Matrix film was groundbreaking and from my recollection enjoyed a very slow first week followed by successive weeks of people queuing round the bloc as word-of-mouth travelled fast.
What caught the eye was the now infamous slow-motion action sequences. However, what really hooked viewers was a plot which has a considerable amount of depth; enough for Wikipedia to list it’s influences as;
many philosophical elements. Other influences include idealism, cyberpunk, mythology, anime, Hong Kong action films (particularly “heroic bloodshed” and martial arts movies), simulated reality and philosophy of mind. Though not directly, key concepts of several beliefs are touched upon, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
You could also legitimately list sociological influences such as the Marxist concept of alienation and post-modernism. So, the movie engages the brain as well as the eyes. On one level it could be seen as a discourse in favour of individualism if you by-pass the positive impression of the solidarity of Zion and the fact that ultimately ‘The One’ is unable to beat his antithesis without the intervention of the machines.
Agent Smith in fact represents the negative side of worshipping the individual; his first instinct when being ‘freed’ by his death at the hands of Neo is to dominate others and, in fact, to make others conform with his will by literally making them exact replicas of himself. So, his freedom becomes the genesis of his desire to dominate others, in other words it is a negative freedom because it is gained at others expense and causes them suffering.
Also, on the surface, the dialogue of the Matrix tends to appear as quasi-religious and supportive of that until the Oracle disappoints and Morpheus; a true believer is forced to question why he should trust anything the Oracle says. In reply the Oracle says she expects Morpheus to ‘make up his own damm mind, just as he always has done’ and she earlier tells Neo he ‘made a believer out of her’. Blind faith is thus critiqued however the eventual martyrdom of Neo and the faith that he will be ‘seen again’ is thematically linked to the idea of the resurrection.
Furthermore, the quasi-religious Council is shown in a positive light compared to the military in the final installment, Matrix Revolutions. Science, in the form of the machines, is also obviously a negative force that eventually turns on its creators; furthermore, in the initial story of the war as told by Morpheus it is presented as having made humanity complacent in believing in its own omnipresence.
Thus it reflects the terminal confusion of post-Enlightenment discourse, having torn down the god that failed there is still nothing to put in its place. However, the tensions in the narrative and conflicting elements are what makes the Matrix trilogy so pleasing to eye and mind and no doubt have helped it attain (rightly) the status of cult classic.