My Unsolicited Dissertation on The Matrix, Part 1

15 04 2010

For the trilogy that brought Hong Kong-style action into the high-production Hollywood mainstream, The Matrix is awfully wordy. A lot of fans complain, especially citing the slow passages in the second movie as the point where the whole enterprise loses steam. I like the wordy parts. I’m impressed that the Wachowski brothers saw fit to weave profound philosophical questions into their orbiting-freeze-frame-CGI-chop-socky opus. Certain words crop up at key points, suggesting a theme for each of the three films: Belief, Choice, and Purpose. Each one is a rung in a ladder that Neo and the others must climb in pursuit of the fourth and primary theme: Truth.

The Matrix: Belief

Morpheus: “Free your mind.”
Neo: “Woah.”

Within the Matrix, belief and reality create each other. The flawless illusion keeps the plugged-in convinced that it is real; they act in accordance with the rules and reinforce a reality that is in fact totally arbitrary. (Some would argue, with what is surely a faulty understanding of quantum physics, that our reality works the same way. More on that in part 2.) However, it turns out the Matrix is not flawless; a tiny few have an intuitive knowledge that “there’s something wrong with the world.” The Resistance seeks out the doubters to build their ranks and weaken the Matrix.

Once someone is freed from the illusion, their belief can change things in the Matrix. Trinity and Morpheus can move faster, jump farther, and take more punishment than the laws of physics and biology would allow. However, as we see from Neo’s failure with the jump program, simply knowing about the illusion is not enough. It takes training and practice to make the leap from “knowing the path” to “walking the path.” This barrier between knowledge and belief is Neo’s dilemma.

Morpheus embodies the power of belief. More than anyone else, he believes in The One. He has absolute faith that Neo will learn to manipulate the Matrix and save the human race. Believing in the stories of the man who “could change whatever he wanted” allows Morpheus to push the rules of the Matrix farther than his crewmates; he is stronger, faster, and more daring. His unshakable faith allows him to risk everything at any given moment, and makes him an invincible leader; someone the machines consider “the most dangerous man alive.”

Like everyone else, Neo has to learn to walk the path. However, Neo’s path– being The One– is particularly unbelievable, and therefore much harder to walk. He can’t get there through practice and training. The more he tries to believe it, the more ridiculous it sounds. The Oracle has to trick him. She sets up a situation in which his unbelief works for him, rather than sabotaging him. Neo has to believe that he is not The One, that Morpheus is more important, in order to risk his life rescuing Morpheus. Only after experiencing the miraculous success of the rescue can Neo begin to truly know himself.

Presumably, anyone can be The One. The Matrix is an imaginary world, and as such it is subject to the imaginations of its inhabitants. Neo hacks it like he hacked computers in his plugged-in life. He doesn’t really have magic powers, he simply sees the Matrix for what it really is. Everyone else obeys the rules only because they can’t imagine any alternative. Openness to believing the impossible is what gives The One his power. Neo understands that everyone has the potential to do what he does, and he tells the machines he plans to share his understanding. “I’m going to show these people…a world where anything is possible.”

Unfortunately for the resistance, the illusion remains as convincing as ever in The Matrix Reloaded, and we learn that The One isn’t what the humans think he is. But in The Matrix Revolutions, we learn he’s not what the machines think he is either.




2 responses

9 08 2010
Sean+ Lotz

This is certainly one of the better commentaries I have seen on the first film, but… wait for it…. here it comes…. WHERE’S PART 2?

9 08 2010

What do mean? It’s only been….oh….4 months!?! Really??? Okay, I’m on it…

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