Reloaded offers a possible answer to this fundamental question that is, in its way, as hippy and humanist as the original Star Trek. Neo's fundamental choice, whether to save Zion or Trinity, may well be "known already," as the Architect says. But the significance of his decision lies not in messianic fundamentalism or some heroic, destiny-transcending gesture, but in what Caveh Zahedi in Waking Life calls the 'Holy Moment.' If everything is the Matrix and/or God, then there is no "point" to anything within it (enlightenment, sex, voting Republican, etc.), but there is nonetheless the recognition that in self-awareness we are in all times at once and rejoicing in the One. There is the moment itself, in its reality.
It is particularly difficult to portray that joy of the moment -- what the French philosophers that the Wachowskis love might call jouissance -- within the frame of the screen. I understand the much-criticized scene where Trinity and Neo's lovemaking is intercut with the bacchanalian party scene in Zion as a failed attempt to show this jouissance. Reminiscent of the overextended pan over the magically prepared feast in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, this scene tries to show how, as humans, our enjoyment overflows the moment and goes beyond the necessary. The sex scene shows the intimate knowledge of sexual union between two individuals, intercut with the pulsating ravers in the cave. The juxtaposition is an attempt to show how communities exceed mechanistic or ant-like interactions on a collective level in the same way that the union of sex exceeds procreation on an individual level. We are not just pre-rational; we are, as Ken Wilbur argues, trans-rational as well, and thus incapable of being reduced to knowledge.
Deliberately extending certain sequences (the sex sequence, the Smith/Neo fight scene, the party scene, the freeway scene) is a characteristic Hollywood trope, but I think it is also a deliberate strategy of the Wachowskis to get the audience used to being in the moment, to demonstrate the love of the thing in itself rather than its result. The amazing freeway sequence is a performative example of this. Clearly the result -- getting the Keymaker back to the ship -- is not affected by the sequence or its inordinate length. The medium is the message, the journey is the destination.
Though the characters of Matrix Reloaded are a letdown (gone is the tense, jerky B-movie storytelling that made Keanu such a compelling pawn messiah in The Matrix, the cheap titillations of Lambert Wilson's exquisitely cruel Merovingian come at the expense of his humanity, and Trinity and Morpheus appear increasingly two-dimensional), Reloaded lives its fiction. The film is disorienting, uncertain. Clear narratives are questioned. Reality and Matrix are intermingled. Orgiastic scenes are long enough to be inhabited, even despite the overarching narrative. Nothing was left certain.
There is hope for Matrix Revolutions. The battle for Zion is a
readymade context for special effects, the happy endings of the first
two films have been cleverly undercut, and there are seeds of character
development planted: foreshadowings of Morpheus' internal conflicts, Agent
Smith's nascent divinity and humanity (merged with Bane), Neo's uncertainty
in the final moments of the film. The main hope is that, as Milton found in
Paradise Lost, Lucifer is much more interesting than God. Revolutions
needs to learn from its genre, and embody the inversions of its conent.
Agent Smith is so much more interesting than Neo --
and Weaving so much more capable of dealing with a breadth of emotion than Reeves --
that Matrix Revolutions surely must show the partially
redeemed Bane/Smith as the future of man machine. I doubt this
will happen, but as early as possible in Revolutions --
in order to justify his bland invulnerability in Reloaded, and so that the Matrix franchise can live - Neo must die.
Thanks to Elliot Cravitz, Ken Ehrenberg, Saul Venit, Emily Sun, and Jay Michaelson for input on all this.
...and what to do about it
When life seems irresolvably absurd
With stories today about space aliens and the power of prayer, what are
the limits of your enlightened skepticism?
Harry Potter is cute, but is it a bad thing that adults crave escapism?
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here
Simulacra and Science Fiction
I Hear America
I wish I was...
Josh Gets Contacts
When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
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