by Jim Rovira
The Wachowski Brothers’ latest installment of their Matrix trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded, stretches about an hour of plot into almost two and a half hours of superb action sequences. This doesn’t mean, however, that the Brothers have abandoned the dense layers of imagery and references characterizing their first Matrix film for a sequel high in action and low on plot. What plot there is in the second film both assumes and questions the ideas and images set up in the first film.
|Jim Rovira has written a full length scholarly article about The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded: “Subverting the Mechanisms of Control: Baudrillard, The Matrix, and The Matrix Reloaded.”|
Neo, in the first film, was confronted by choices: between the red and the blue pill, between knowledge and fantasy, between comfort and truth. Now Neo is confronted with the seeming impossibility of choice as his very path toward enlightenment and emancipation, both for himself and all humankind, is discovered to be part of the Matrix’s plan. The Oracle, Neo’s guide in the first film, is revealed to be an intuitive program written to compensate for the Matrix’s inability — an inability stemming from the very perfection of the program — to stop all humans from discovering its existence and rebelling from it. As an intuitively run program that is 99% efficient, the Matrix still allows for 1% of error, rebellion, awakening, and critique because it must allow for some meaningful choice for humans to accept the Matrix. This 1% represents the resistance movement, Zion and Neo, or the One, who we learn has risen up and been destroyed five times before. The system hopes to eventually accomodate all possible random choices into its network and accomplish total control in that way, leaving Neo with a choice at the end of the film again: integrate with the Matrix and restart Zion, allowing his own unique insights to be integrated into the Matrix, or risk seeing the Matrix collapse which, along with the destruction of Zion, would mean the end of the human race. Neo chooses to risk the loss of all humanity, presumably sacrificing those already caught in the Matrix to a massive system failure and hoping, at the end, that the sentinels dispatched to destroy the humans outside the Matrix in Zion can be stopped. The Matrix Reloaded’s questioning of choice doesn’t end here: if human beings win in the end, humanity in Zion is still living in a Matrix of sorts, one still dependent upon machines and though run by human beings, still very much a Matrix. Cipher, in the first film, recognized the nature of this choice and betrayed humanity, chosing the machine-controlled Matrix where he believed he could live his life on his own terms. Given the nature of the world he was rejecting, was this an entirely irrational choice? The problem isn’t with human beings or machines: the problem posed by the Matrix trilogy is the problem inherent in instrumental reason, reason applied to the goal of dominating nature and other people. In the Matrix instrumental reason became self-conscious and self-directed so dominated humanity for its own sake, but is a conscious supercomputer really necessary for instrumental reason to take on a mind of its own? Once a system gets big enough and necessary enough, many of the decisions it needs to make for its survival have already been made. This is the impossibility Neo confronted throughout the second film: that all choices have already been made; the most we can do is learn what they mean. In this view, can human beings have any real freedom? The answer, I suspect, lies in the pervasive religious imagery of both films, religious imagery signifying union with the transcendent through the irrational. It is the irrational that is highlighted in the second film, either Persephone’s “irrational” jealousy, or her “irrational” demand for a kiss from Neo before she would turn over the Keymaker, either a Bacchanalia scene that signifies the abandonment of reason if nothing else, Neo’s “irrational” choice to save Trinity rather than humanity, or the inhabitants of Zion and their irrational food offerings to Neo, faith in whom is itself seen as irrational by the more practical minded members of Zion. It is this that the Matrix trilogy, intentionally or not, sets up as hope for the emancipation of humanity from instrumental reason. It is a dangerous emancipation; instrumental reason and its outworking in the world — technology — are becoming more and more the very means of our survival. The Wachowski Brothers hope for more than survival, however, and hope, I suspect, that their viewers do too. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 6 – June 2003