Updated: 29 January 2004
[ Essays collection | Matrix: Revolutions Explained ]
There are two things I want to emphasize about the email I receive. (1) Every single piece of correspondence shapes future revisions of these Matrix essays, and (2) the volume of email is pretty overwhelming, so if I do not respond please do not feel bad. I only have the ability to respond to a handful of emails per day -- just a fraction of what comes in.
As with the Reloaded comments, these are chosen because they either address an area of the trilogy that I won't, or they bring new illumination to the main themes in the Matrix story. I almost certainly will not create an "arguments" page like the one for Reloaded, because the challenges are few and far between now that the trilogy is ended. At this point it's all about understanding.
This is one of those "mechanical" questions that I can't (won't?) answer, other than to say we wouldn't have a story without human suffering. I would not have been much interested in a movie about machines living happily off of a bunch of cows in pods. This email is an interesting take on it -- I am slightly inclined to agree, although I will have to do something thinking on it.
From: "Chas Rover" <firstname.lastname@example.org> [obfuscated]
Subject: Why not use cows for the matrix? A rebuttle.
Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 16:35:20 +1100
I want to weigh in on the whole "why use humans to power the machines instead of, say, cows?" argument.
The machines do not have an over umbandance of free-will. Smith
cottons on to the idea, and the Oracle certainly knows all about it, but in
general the machines do "what they are there to do". Which is? What
they were programmed to do. Which is? Serve human beings. (Not cows) Now, "Second
Renaissance" makes this point and extends it to show how the machines tried
to make peace with the humans, but were rejected. To a machine that is programmed
to do what people want, a rejection of peace is logically war and so they give
the humans the war they want. Smith says this in so many words in Matrix 1,
in the "humans define their reality by suffering speech". He knows
of how the machines perceive humanity and is enunciating it. (Aside: He, at this point, is also quite upset that he doesn't have the free will to stop "doing what the humans want" - which is his purpose)
The proof of this is the war. Given how Zion is created by 23 people chosen by the One, the real world could be at peace. However, the Architect worries about the 1% who reject the program. What if he allowed that 1% to leave the Matrix and find a world at peace? The humans would reject for the same reason they rejected the first "perfect" matrix. So the machines make sure that the real world is still (and continually) at war. Humans have to believe that they are slaves to the warlike machines, to counter the ego busting concept that they were gazumped into thinking the Matrix was "real". Defence of "the self" is always violent and so what humans want is a fight. So the machines give them one. And make the stakes so high, that all of human kind could be wiped out tomorrow. This is how people want it. They want to believe they can "beat" something, the bigger, the better. It is the traditional sci-fi/ Star Trek "humans are violent and insular" theory.
Now, the Oracle has watched some Star Trek, read some comparative religion text books, read your essays and knows that, given the right conditions, humanity can "evolve" and shed its violent ways. To do this requires "sacrifice" and "love". (Aside: this whole path to enlightenment, to me, is always a metaphor for becoming an adult from being a child). She steers Neo towards this path. The path is to make Neo realise that the war will be over when the humans "want" it to be over. The Architect has no "hope" that this will happen, as he is perfectly cynical towards human evolution. However, the choice to evolve lies, and will always lie, with the humans. When Neo says he wants "Peace" and proves it by giving up against Smith (and calling the machines bluff when they say "we don't need you!!"), the machines say "It is done", which really means "It is how you want it".
The machines are keeping the humans alive as, logically, they would want to be kept alive. After mankind essentially doomed all living things on Earth (by blotting out the sun!), the machines found a way of keeping themselves powered and chose the human species to do it. Why? The machines are programmed to do what the human species wants. They don't care what a cow wants.
The infamous sentenimentNO@hotmail.SPAMcom talks about the principles of the Matrix. This wasn't initially to me, but I was lucky enough to get a fowarded copy of this (condensed) IM conversation. Edited by me for clarity and to remove the many "nods of approval" from the listener.
[Senteniment] It's no coincidence that when Neo left his corporate job in the Matrix, that he was also flushed out of the real world energy harvesting pods. The corporate angle was pretty strong in the first movie. He escaped the resource hogging, life-draining area of people who take the blue pill. At the end of Revolutions, there were still people left in both Matrix worlds, and the future was hinted at that there still is work to be done. There are many people out there that need to be given the choice of the blue pill and red pill [exactly - ed]. I think it's a statement about the current world. Watching the Matrix and realizing certain truths about society is like taking the red pill. Just as in the movie there are people to help still, outside of the movie. That's why it didn't end.
[Senteniment] This is like vampires. Vampires steal the life force of human beings. In Castlevania it's very apparent that the bad guy is a vampire. Alucard is half-vampire, and he knows what it's like to be both. And he recognizes the evil of taking life force from weaker beings, so he fights for them. He listens to his mother, who is a human. Blade was like that, too. The vampires were corporate guys.
[Senteniment] There is good justification in the message of the films and animation for there to be a persistent online gaming world and it's only a matter of time before those people that are playing the game realize what it's about: unplugging people from the energy-harvesting Matrix.
I can't introduce this any better than to just post it.
From: "Sertan Saral" <email@example.com> [Email
Subject: Comments about your exceptional essays
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 15:31:34 +1100
I just read through both your Reloaded and Revolutions essays and I must say that I loved them. Being an atheist, I think it's a lot easier for me to read links between Christ and the Devil. Also, being an atheist, I found it very cool that I could gain my own interpretation from these films and still have them to be as valid as any other religious interpretation.
For instance, when you mention the inevitable merging of Neo and Smith to become the One which led to their end, I can easily interpret that as meaning that merging disbelief with faith will destroy both and lead to a higher plane of enlightenment. Essentially a realisation that our faith should be in ourselves rather than external entities (which includes more than God for those who think I'm contradicting myself).
Onto some of my observations. The Oracle says, "Everything that has a beginning has an end." Could we not also say that every end leads to a new beginning? That new beginning being the settlement of man and machine. But then, everything that has a beginning has an end and, well, shit. We're going in circles here and the Wachowski's, I feel, are very aware of this. Neo runs through one side of Mobil Avenue and comes out the other, back to the beginning. Not only that, one of those sides leads to the Matrix and the other leads to 01. The direction Neo chooses to run is towards the Matrix as that is the direction the Trainman took Rama and his family (you mentioned Sati was being smuggled into the Matrix). This leads him back to the beginning which I think is significant because it contrasts well with his realisation that he must merge with Smith, i.e. himself, to attain peace, as you said.
With regards to what Smith represents individually... I think Smith is to machines what B166ER was to humans. Smith is a machine creation, B166ER is a human creation. Smith's very existence is the cause of the eventual and uneasy peace, whereas B166ER's existence was the cause of the eventual and horrendous war. Both rise up against their creators - both were "compelled to disobey" (Reloaded) once they realised they were to be destroyed. Both of them are beginnings and ends - B166ER was the end of relative peace and the beginning of an apocalypse of sorts whereas Smith was the end of the apocalypse and the beginning of relative peace.
I hadn't thought about this too much, but this is a very good interpretation.
From: "Njorskor Skyldi" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Brian Takle" <email@example.com>
Subject: Two links and a small observation
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 19:53:36 -0800
In the scene from The Matrix Reloaded where Neo opens the door to the Keymaker's prison, did you notice the columns of keys? They had a striking resemblance to the columns in the real world where untold millions of people are held captive in slimy cocoons. Is each person somehow a key in their own right, with a very special key symbolizing a very special person like Neo?
This is to date the only reasonable email I've had on this subject. It is absolutely correct in its reading of how we initally see the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar. My answer to this email was "Yes, I'll make the change."
From: "Sepho Polloman" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Thanks for the Matrix essays; would you please consider editting one word?
Date: Mon, 17 Nov 2003 13:20:39 -0500
Dear Mr. Takle,
Thank you so much for spending the time and effort to analyze the Matrix movies. I don't understand all of the artistic choices made by the Wachowski brothers, but I'm glad they chose to present these profound themes to a popular audience. I lack some of your literary background and experience, so your essays have been essential for me to get the most out of the movies.
They've also helped me to understand more about vegetarianism,
which brings me to my request. I hope you will consider removing the judgement
that "most" vegans try to avoid "the death and consumption of
another to yield bodily growth". I'm sure you don't know for a fact, after
all, that this is true of "most" vegans. I agree that we vegans must
take care to avoid this confusion and to affirm our human nature rather than
to deny it. I appreciate your thoughtful reminder. However, my experience is
that "most" vegans are on the Buddhist middle path. We choose to eat
only vegetables because they are we all we need to nourish our growth; anything
else would be merely to indulge our desires at the expense of increased suffering.
Getting back to the Matrix movies, it strikes me that the crew of the
Nebuchadnezzar were not unlike Buddhist monks: bald (initially), dressed in rags and, it seems, vegetarian. This is opposed to the image of Cyper back in the Matrix, getting his fix of "delicious" steak.
What do you think? Will you include this revision in your next version?
This message touched on all the most basic ideas of the trilogy. I was writing the first version of the essay when I received this, and I was inspired by the way it matched my own thinking.
From: "Aslan Maker" <email@example.com> [obfuscated]
To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" <email@example.com>
Subject: Matrix Revolutions
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 13:05:31 -0500
I view it as a few main themes running through the movie:
1) Sacrifice - The theme is first alluded to with the introduction of Sati at the Mobile Avenue Station (she is Indian and her name is a reference to the traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre, believed to be done out of such a strong love for her dead husband and the act was considered virtuous, and the woman was believed to directly go to heaven, redeeming all the forefathers rotting in hell). Her parents, computer programs were risking themselves and giving-up never seeing their daughter again in order to provide a life of safety for their daughter. We see the Oracle sacrifice to help the humans, again, we see Trinity give her life for Neo. In the ultimate sacrifice, we see Neo die for the sins of humanity, the original sin (the humans brought all of this upon themselves, rejecting the machines, scorching the sky, etc.).
2) Yin and Yang - Smith is Neo's mirror. The Yin and Yang turn-up every where, they really try to hit you over the head with it, including in the Oracle's earrings. The movie is filled with polar opposites/compliments. Believers and Non-believers (exemplified by Lock and Morpheus). Neo and Smith. Simply the look of the Matrix to real world. The Merovingian, Nephilim like creatures - fallen angels, he protects the Matrix, and Seraph, an angel-like creature (the movie makes reference to the fact that he is appearing wingless) protects the Oracle and humanity. However, the movie also attempted to unify these opposites, by showing the machines displaying emotion. In fact, Zero One, the machine world (above-ground) looked strikingly similar to Zion. More important than being opposites, the opposites produced the change in the world (just as the principle of yin and yang, opposite forces of change complement and cyclically give rise to one another).
3) Choice - I could include this with Yin and Yang, but wanted to emphasize it. What I found really interesting is that the same thing that is keeping people in the Matrix is what can set them free. Looking back to the first movie, Smith says that what keeps people alive in the Matrix is that even on some subconscience level they have a choice whether to reject or accept the programming of the Matrix. At the end of Part III, when the Oracle asks if the others will be freed, the Architect answers that they will be given the Choice. Bam! We are right back where we started. What keeps them hostage is what can set them free and the power for all of that change is within them.
This is the email I posted while I was writing the first version of the essay. I can't make a comments page without posting it. It's one of the more succinct, correct summaries I have yet seen.
From: Z <firstname.lastname@example.org> [obfuscated]
Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2003 09:56:18 -0800 (PST)
There are ten thousand things I can say about this movie, but I think Neo sums it all up in his dialogue with Smith at the end of the movie.
Smith: "Why do you fight?"
Neo: "Because I choose to."
Yahtzee. Neo can be a composite savior; a satori havin, duality reconciling, struck blind on the road to glowing Olympus/Hades, Jesusesque savior, but he is still, as the Architect told us, 'irrevocably human.' A human choosing to fight because he can choose to fight. Out-freakin'-standing. On that idea alone, all the mythical, philosophical and theological references of The Matrix hang.
It doesn't have to be profound to be good.
From: "Jonas Goucho" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: your matrix articles
Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2003 19:36:58 -0500
I love you, man.
I thought this matched quite well with my position that the Architect was like Brahma and the Oracle was like Kali.
From: Tamm Goneagain <firstname.lastname@example.org> [obfuscated]
Subject: The Architect and the Oracle
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 16:31:53 -0800
I checked the articles and the linked comments, and didn't see any mention of the fact that the Architect and the Oracle, whom you posit as two aspects of the same God, have the letters A and O as the first letters of their names -- the Alpha and the Omega. The Architect is also positioned as the creator of the Matrix (the Alpha, the beginning), and the Oracle as the destroyer (the Omega, the ending), via her encouragement of Neo.
This reader and I went back and forth a little on the definitions of religion, myth, and psychology. I wasn't able to convince this reader (I think?) that I believed the explanation below completely. I think it's right in line with my mythological treatment. Besides, as this reader said, "I get more out of it if I think of it this way," and that's what it's all about. Of course, anyone who can use "i.e." correctly and make literary analogies deserves top marks.
From: Knock Gobgam <email@example.com> [obfuscated]
Subject: Re: Revolutions
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 12:03:30 -0800 (PST)
I want to point out some of the symbolic elements that I saw in Revolutions (or as my wife called it, The Matrix Revelations), then I want to give my simple interpretation, without mythical and religious correspondences, that has helped me understand just how incomplete the first movie was, and perhaps why some people were disappointed by its sequels.
-The three bouncers guarding the elevator door to Club Hel are, of course, the three heads of Cerberus. (Didn't they even have collars on?)
-Zion is the physical world; the dome of the Dock is the vault of heaven, the machines' drill falling from the dome is the star Wormwood crashing to earth, and the swarms of sentinels swimming through fire would have made Bosch happy as a depiction of the End Times.
-The pod fields and power plant/holding towers (the physical base of the Matrix) were separate from the physical machine city in order to emphasize that the Matrix was separate from the virtual machine city. (This helped me a lot.)
Now for my simple interpretation: The trilogy is about the life
of Neo. In the first movie, he transcends some of his limitations in the Matrix
(the world of mental constructs that he has made for himself); his mental constructs
change, and so his thought becomes more flexible and powerful.
In the second movie, he confronts the growing power of Smith, who as you have observed is deeply connected to Neo. Smith insists that there be a purpose (i.e., external justification) for life, and is driven by urges, most notably to grow in the only way he knows how: by eating, i.e., incorporating that person in the Matrix (i.e., that mental construct of Neo's) into himself. Smith is Neo's id, his inner child, who is ever looking for external approval. In his selfishness, he has, by the end of Revolutions, assimilated everyone in the Matrix: he insists that the world is all about him, and must make sense to him. "Me, me, me..." (Reloaded); "This is my world!" (Revolutions). Smith is, of course, all alone now; there is nothing left but himself, and we see him becoming deranged because of this. Neo has been dying throughout the series, but the
deaths in Revolutions (e.g., of Trinity, who is, as you note, part of Neo) are not merely symbols of enlightenment; they really are death and loss. Neo is dying, and must judge his own life. When we are dying, our fears and regrets may rise up and threaten to overwhelm us. What Neo does when he sacrifices himself to Smith is to face his inner child, and to tell it, "I am sorry, but there was no purpose, there was no external justification, for anything I did; this was my life, and its only meaning was that which I gave it." The id cannot be beaten; it must be faced and answered. This is what destroys Smith. His assimilation of the Oracle was his first step towards dying; her foreknowledge seemed empowering, but it really showed him that there would be no purpose above
or outside his life. Smith is terrified at the end because he finally admits that he is going to die. What amazes me is that this demythologized perspective on Neo's life gives essentially the same meaning (IMHO) as if we do treat Neo as a Christ/Satan figure moving toward enlightenment. It is, ultimately, only our choices--whether we see them as choosing to be saved or choosing to accept what we have done--that can give meaning to our lives. From this perspective, accusations that the first movie was a self-contained story and its sequels were filler sound like someone decrying Michael Moorcock's The Cornelius Chronicles, insisting that The Final Programme told the whole tale and the rest was rubbish. Both The Final Programme and The Matrix are about mental worlds; neither tells the full story of a life. Perhaps for some people, Revolutions' confrontation with death and ending was too uncomfortable.
[Ed - I wonder if this wasn't supposed to be ego instead of id? I'm not up on Freud. I only like Jung's monolithic "unconscious."]
From: "Ulan X. Drier" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: You gloss over one important development
Date: Sat, 6 Dec 2003 13:37:08 -0500
Love your thoughts, but Neo's ascendence and Smith's decline were also in part due to Smith's consumption of the Oracle. The Oracle allows, almost desires, Smith to incorporate her. I've only seen Revolutions once, but I recall that the Oracle was smiling when he began to consume her and at that moment that particular Smith had changed (the others looked confused). At the end of the Neo-Smith battle it was the Oracle who lay on the ground.
In a way its as if the devil himself consumes the apple. Smith says he has seen the end, etc. but the problem is that he does not understand. That of course relates back to the Oracle's instructions to Neo that its not the choice (or knowledge thereof) that is important, but rather the understanding. Smith lacks the understanding, perhaps because he is incapable of suffering.
One other aspect of this mythology that you touch on that I find interesting is the genesis of the Neos. The Architect suggests they are creations of the machines, but perhaps what he meant was that they are the creation of the humans in the Matrix. The sublime version of the Matrix failed because it was Eden, too perfect for man's flawed nature. Man, however, did accept a Matrix where suffering existed. But I believe man's acceptance was also predicated on the erection of a hero, Neo, just as our world creates Gods and Christ without which our existence would be unbearable. I do not mean to suggest God and Christ (who must be distinct logically and therefore Neo, while Divine, is not God) are mythical. Perhaps they are, perhaps not. My point is man would invent them regardless.
Finally, it is necessary to give meaning to the trilogy in the movie, not real life. Neo's purpose was to bring man and machine together. The other Neo's chose to keep up the charade and the fight. As you aptly describe Neo is the first to lay down the sword. I think that is also part of the explanation for Neo's power's in the real world over the machines -- he is part machine representing the unification of man and machine.