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I don't think it's fair to characterize Jenkins as saying that "most film critics are totally missing the beat" -- or that "The Matrix" is necessarily a "triumph" of transmedia storytelling, as opposed to an important experiment but possibly a failure.

Jenkins does say that film critics haven't made the effort to "get" the franchise because of their focus on a single medium, film, though he acknowledges that they "can see something new is going on here." (Then again, he also says that "You are always going to feel inadequate before The Matrix because it expects more than any individual spectator can provide," which seems not far removed from saying that no one can ever "get" the franchise, so why fault the film critic for not trying?)

He also makes a seemingly insulting, ignorant aside claiming that "traditional film aesthetics assumes not only that everything you need to know will be in the movie but that it will be repeated at least three times in case you blinked" (which may accurately characterize mainstream Hollywood summer blockbusters, but is hardly descriptive of anything that could be called "traditional film aesthetics").

But he also says that "The Wachowskis are violating a core principle which I described in my column: 'Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained enough to enable autonomous consumption. That is, you don't need to have seen the film to enjoy the game and vice-versa.'" Thus, it may be that "'The Matrix' experiment fails," even if it does mark "an important chapter in the emergence of this new transmedia aesthetic."


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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"The Matrix pushes this idea of transmedia storytelling as far or further than anyone has gone before..."

Great scott...this guy doesn't see much film. It is insulting that this little article makes not one mention of any of Greenaway's work. A much more informed discussion of these issues can be found in The Rise of the Image and The Fall of the World.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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"The Matrix pushes this idea of transmedia storytelling as far or further than anyone has gone before..."

Hmm. Metaphilm is also singing its praises, but more for its global outlook than the supposed "transmedia storytelling."

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Is Metaphilm singing its praises?

That chart is the funniest film analysis in tabular format I've ever seen. (Before you dismiss that as a left-handed compliment, check this out.)


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Ha! What a riot. Metaphilm is great. Stef, I don't think they were being quite positive on the trilogy as a whole.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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That Metaphile chart is great - intriguing new way to think of the series. However, I wonder if they are giving the Wachowskis too much credit. For example,

The Matrix: Reloaded, by contrast, was aimed squarely at the agnostic, atheist, and skeptical mindset

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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Interesting, while a lot of that Metaphilm article really resonates with what I am begining to see in the films, I agree with Tim that I wonder if that was really what the Wachowski's intended. The Bauldrillardian stuff was spot on IMO, and from the intro to the Enter The Matrix videogame guide, I know that the Wachowski's are familiar with Bauldrillard and likely the whole "Simulations and Simulacrum" was definitely intended.

I know I haven't chimed in the main thread re: Revolutions (quick summary: liked it more than Reloaded, wasn't quite satisfied), I am coming to the conclusion about the Matrix films that

a) I may not like the films much myself, however;

cool.gif I have no choice but to acknowledge their importance, whic I think is what Metaphilm really gets at.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I think the reason i liked the Metaphilm article is because it was a direct hit on one feeling i had when i exited the theater -- the same feeling that comes to me when i see certian Japanese anime: indifference. Everything is loose ends, nothing ties together, vague spirituality, big words and confusing moral lessons. It all leads to apathy, at least on my part. How they describe the third film's market appeal to the east really coincides well with the sense of loss i had at the end of the film, which is very close to the sense of loss i feel with narrative structures in anime.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Anders wrote:

: The Bauldrillardian stuff was spot on IMO, and from the intro to the Enter

: The Matrix videogame guide, I know that the Wachowski's are familiar with

: Bauldrillard and likely the whole "Simulations and Simulacrum" was

: definitely intended.

Likely? LIKELY!? Remember how, in the first film, Neo hides his bootleg software inside a copy of Baudrillard's book, and he has to open the book to the chapter 'On Nihilism' to get the discs? (Consider too that the book itself, being hollowed out, is now a simulation of a book!)

I believe Morpheus owes the phrase "desert of the real" to Baudrillard, too.

I keep going back to this essay on the original Matrix, which basically argues from a Baudrillardian perspective that the secret message of the film is spoken by Cypher -- namely, there is NO escape from the Matrix, from the system, from the hyper-real, because the system is so nihilistic, so devoid of any inherent meaning of its own, that it absorbs meaningful terroristic attacks against itself and turns those attacks into a part of the system; consider how the ostensibly anti-establishmentarian Matrix movies are produced by the very-established Time Warner conglomerate!

Not surprisingly, Cypher's job on the ship is to read the computer code or the "secret writing." Later, we see that he is the messenger of an important truth: That the war between humans and AIs is over and that the AIs have won. This in fact can be viewed as the "cipher" of the entire film, the Wachowskis' hidden prophecy that we are inescapably committed to living out our lives in a hyperreal culture.

[ snip ]

Cypher is no simple fool, no mere pawn in the AIs' game. His betrayal is particularly interesting because his motives are so rational. He is clearly extremely angry with and oppressed by Morpheus, whom he portrays as a kind of slave-driver. When Cypher and Neo share a drink together he says: "I bet you're saying to yourself, why didn't I take the blue pill? That's what I've been asking myself since I got here." Reality is extremely bleak and uncomfortable on the Nebuchadnezzar. Moreover, Cypher is no more free on the ship than he was in the Matrix. In both situations he is working to benefit others; the difference is that in the Matrix he at least has the illusion of being free and the experience of a pleasant life, while on the ship he feels oppressed. From Cypher's standpoint, there can be no point to "saving" people from the Matrix, because the Matrix is, by any measure, a much more pleasant place to live than "reality." To him Morpheus's entire project of redemption is deluded and misguided.

Moreover, the vast majority of the people in the Matrix (both in the film and, one would imagine, in the film's audience) have no desire to be "redeemed." Cypher forces the audience to ask a serious question: "If Neo is the ONE, from what is he redeeming the world? Where is the evil in the Matrix? How is it fundamentally different from the world in which we live today?" The answer to the last question is that there is no difference. We are living in a world saturated by simulacra controlled by mega-powers beyond our ken. We think we have choices, but we don't. We think we are free, but we aren't. Our bodies are batteries that provide the energy for the work of nameless, faceless corporations. Most of us in the Western world are corporate slaves. Even if we are not entirely happy, we are for the most part unwilling to make meaningful changes in our lives. Most of us would never forsake our hyperreal world for the desert of the real. If someone like Morpheus were to come along to "liberate" us, we would see him as an arrogant, self-righteous, fanatical, terrorist, come to replace our comforts and conveniences with his unattractive version of reality, complete with a new set of dictates on how we must now live our lives (media castigate Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, had the same sort of project in mind, which he hoped to accomplish by postal terrorism). Most of us would prefer to stay asleep and blind, to not be "born again." If Morpheus's desert of the real is the kingdom of god, he can keep it. This position is not superficial, foolish, or ignorant: it is pragmatic. Any freedom that might be experienced on the Nebuchadnezzar is as illusory as the freedom one feels in the Matrix. Human beings are never free. The film makes this point perfectly clear, and as such effectively deconstructs the categories of salvation and terrorism. From Cypher's perspective, Morpheus and his crew are a group of terrorists, and he is leaving them to rejoin legitimate society.

[ snip ]

A cipher is a "secret message," and in this passage Cypher represents himself as a messenger. We shall see in the third part of this paper that Cypher's perspective on hyperreality is quite Baudrillardesque, and is probably the position held by Larry and Andy Wachowski. The film then is not (just) a story about good defeating evil, as Schuart argues; instead, it is a multi-faceted description of our own hyppereal culture and an assessment that the war has already been won by the controllers of technology and that our concept of the real is a utopia that no longer exists.

[ snip ]

Morpheus and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar believe that the Matrix (a metaphor for our own technological and hyperreal world) masks and denatures a profound reality, into which "the dreamers" must be redeemed.
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:11)
Cypher disagrees, arguing, along with Baudrillard, that there is no reality left to simulate, that the simulacra (of the Matrix) are more real than "the desert of the real,"and that there is no longer a God to distinguish between the true and the false.

[ snip ]

Nihilism is a concept inextricably associated with terrorism. It is the denial of any basis for knowledge or truth and a rejection of customary beliefs. It is also the fanatic conviction that existing institutions must be destroyed to make way for a new and more meaningful order. Morpheus and his crew, at least from the point of view of the AIs, are nihilist-terrorists, who believe that there is no basis for knowledge or values accepted by mainstream culture. Like all terrorists, they literally think that the denizens of mainstream culture (i.e. those living in the Matrix) are living in a dreamworld. It is no coincidence that Baudrillard's essay "On Nihilism" is featured in the film. Baudrillard, too, would like to be a nihilist, to resist the hegemonic order, to fight the power . . . However, it is no longer possible to resist the system terroristically, because the system itself is nihilistic, agreeing with those who would oppose it that there is no basis for truth or knowledge. As such, it incorporates terrorist resistance to itself, embracing it while erasing the value of human life. The more insistent the resistance, the more indifferent the system's reaction to it.

[ snip ]

Baudrillard, like the Wackowskis, find the terrorist resistance to the system both noble and hopeless - even silly. This is why, in the original screenplay conclusion to the film, we see Neo flying away like Superman as a disbelieving child asks his mother whether people can really fly. Attempts to transcend the hyperreal are puerile, a fantasy for children, worthy of comic book characters. At the same time the possibility of such a transcendence inspires us with awe and a renewed hope for the existence of something solid behind the images. Significantly, Neo can be seen as a simulacrum of Jesus Christ and Superman - nothing about him is original or true. If there were still a reality left to represent, he would have to be described as a fake, a phony, and a false prophet. From the point of view of Baudrillard's bleak nihilism, the true prophet would be Cypher, who bears the "secret message" of the film; "You see, the truth, the real truth is that the war is over. It's been over for a long time. And guess what? We lost! Did you hear that- we lost the war." Since there is no reality left to simulate, Neo is not a fake - he is as hyperreal as the hyperreality he opposes.

FWIW, I seem to recall SDG dismissing this analysis in a thread on the old board, on the basis that this analysis was too academic and too removed from the dramatic structure of the first film, or somethign to that effect. But I think the sequels have proved these authors right.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I agree that the sequels make the nihilism angle more plausible, but at the same time I now find far LESS plausible the view that the film sees Morpheus and the Zionites as unreasonable and arrogant terrorists wrongly imposing their will on the residents of the Matrix who reasonably want only to be left alone, and that the film's sympathies are with the latter, not the former.

The fact is, after the first film, the franchise loses all interest in the plight or non-plight of everyone living in the Matrix, Cypher as well as the vast majority who have never had any involvement with the desert of the real. The only groups the sequels care about are programs (Smith, the Oracle, Seraph, the Architect, Seti and her parents, the Merovingian, Persephone, the Keymaker, the Train Man) and human freedom fighters (Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Niobe, Link, Lock, the Kid, etc.).

If the films' point were that "most of us would prefer to stay asleep and blind, to not be 'born again,'" and that attempts to bring wakefulness and truth amount to terrorism, one would at the very least expect to find the theme of resistance to, resentment for, or harm caused by attempted awakening or rescuing dramatized in the sequels. (The implication of the Architect's passing comment about freeing those who want to be freed does not, imo, count as dramatizing the point under consideration, not least because there is no indication how many people fall into either category).

To be sure, the first film does provide a single case of such resentment, Cypher, as well as a dramatic case of terrorist-like harm to others, the guards in the lobby.

However, even in the first film I find these examples unconvincing proof that the film means us to see Morpheus et. al as equivalent to terrorists. I agree that in the lobby scene Neo and Trinity in fact act as terrorists -- but I see no evidence that the film doesn't mean us to accept Morpheus's rationalizing why this is really okay.

As for Cypher, who murders his comrades in arms and leers over the helpless Trinity, and is obviously not meant to be sympathized with, I'm utterly unpersuaded that his point of view is that of the filmmakers and the film.

Turning from the first film to the sequels, the evidence for Morpheus-as-terrorist in the view of the films goes from slim to none. The sequels have no interest at all in dramatizing the plight of any Cyphers cruelly awakened from their Matrix homes, or of innocent bystanders being mown down in repeats of the lobby scene. (Peter has drawn attention to the plight of those killed by the shockwaves of Neo's speed flying in Reloaded, and while I'm willing to review the scene, certainly it didn't impress itself on me at the time.)

In any case, in the sequels I see no interest in the possibility that anyone in the Matrix is being harmed by the resistance or of anyone resenting the freedom fighters' efforts; so the idea that the movies see them as terrorists makes no sense to me.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Likely? LIKELY!?

Thank you Peter. I'd never read that essay before.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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SDG wrote:

: I agree that the sequels make the nihilism angle more plausible, but at

: the same time I now find far LESS plausible the view that the film sees

: Morpheus and the Zionites as unreasonable and arrogant terrorists

: wrongly imposing their will on the residents of the Matrix who reasonably

: want only to be left alone, and that the film's sympathies are with the

: latter, not the former.

I was going to obejct to this, until I realized that the point of your objection is that the new films show no interest in the residents of the Matrix, rather than that the film regards Morpheus as unreasonable and arrogant. Clearly, the sequels HAVE humbled Morpheus, so much so that he doesn't really have anything all that useful to do in Revolutions.

: If the films' point were that "most of us would prefer to stay asleep and

: blind, to not be 'born again,'" and that attempts to bring wakefulness and

: truth amount to terrorism, one would at the very least expect to find the

: theme of resistance to, resentment for, or harm caused by attempted

: awakening or rescuing dramatized in the sequels.

Perhaps. Or one could say that the first film had already dealt with all that, because the REAL point of the trilogy is not that people dislike terrorism, but that terrorism, and other attempts to introduce meaning into a nihilistic system, are ultimately useless because the nihilistic system can and will absorb all attacks against the system into itself.

: To be sure, the first film does provide a single case of such resentment,

: Cypher, as well as a dramatic case of terrorist-like harm to others, the

: guards in the lobby.

The second film also begins and ends with Trinity ambushing and killing a bunch of security guards; plus, of course, there is the untold damage that Neo does to the city as he flies through the streets.

: However, even in the first film I find these examples unconvincing proof

: that the film means us to see Morpheus et. al as equivalent to terrorists.

Even despite the film's explicit references to Baudrillard? Do you think the film can be adequately interpreted APART from Baudrillard?

: As for Cypher, who murders his comrades in arms and leers over the

: helpless Trinity, and is obviously not meant to be sympathized with, I'm

: utterly unpersuaded that his point of view is that of the filmmakers and

: the film.

Is there ANYONE in the first film who represents the filmmakers' point of view?

: The sequels have no interest at all in . . . innocent bystanders being

: mown down in repeats of the lobby scene.

True, by now, it's a sign of how accepted the killing of innocent bystanders has become that we don't even register the fact that Trinity kills a number of them at the very beginning of the film.

: (Peter has drawn attention to the plight of those killed by the shockwaves

: of Neo's speed flying in Reloaded, and while I'm willing to review the

: scene, certainly it didn't impress itself on me at the time.)

All those vehicles flying around and crashing into each other and into the buildings didn't impress themselves on you? You didn't stop to think that some of those vehicles might have been, oh, populated?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hmmm, this item from a recent Studio Briefings would seem to confirm that different territories respond to the films in different ways:

The Matrix Revolutions came close but failed to set a new record for a Wednesday-through-Sunday worldwide debut. The film earned $201.4 million, a scant $500,000 below the $201.9 million garnered by 2002's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The final segment of the Matrix trilogy outperformed the first sequel, The Matrix Reloaded in almost every area of the world, with the conspicuous exception of North America, where the film earned $83.8 million over the five-day period, well short of Reloaded's $134.3 million.

Conspicuous exception, indeed!


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Soliciting thoughts and opinions:

I'm writing an article about The Matrix for print, and thinking about incorporating this whole idea of transmedia storytelling (here's a post-specific link to the original essay that started the thread). So I am now more interested in the question of just how notable The Matrix is for pushing the transmedia storytelling envelope. I know that other franchises like Star Wars and Babylon 5 have included video games, comic books, novels, and so on, and I'm wondering just how singular The Matrix's achievement in this respect may be.

I don't suppose Star Wars related video games have included all-new footage of the original cast or developed the story in significant ways as I suppose Enter the Matrix did; and, based on my limited viewing, I hardly think the recent Cartoon Network Clone Wars is as significant to Star Wars continuity as the Animatrix shorts were in their franchise.

OTOH, the Babylon 5 novels are supposed to be at least quasi-canonical, and certainly represent a substantial development of B5 continuity beyond the world of the TV show.

So, how novel or remarkable is The Matrix's achievement here?

(M)Leary wrote:

"The Matrix pushes this idea of transmedia storytelling as far or further than anyone has gone before..."

Great scott...this guy doesn't see much film. It is insulting that this little article makes not one mention of any of Greenaway's work. A much more informed discussion of these issues can be found in
The Rise of the Image and The Fall of the World
.

Are we talking about Peter Greenaway? I'm not very familiar with his work, although I certainly didn't have the impression that he was involved in developing stories across different media. There's an intertextual element in a film like Prospero's Books, obviously, but that doesn't seem to be the same issue as transmedia storytelling, nor do I have the impression that Greenaway's work is particularly outstanding in regard to intertextuality, let alone transmedia storytelling. At least, I've never heard of any Pillow Book or TCTTHW&HL novels, plays, comics, video games, etc. Am I missing the point?

Any other thoughts?


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG wrote:

: I know that other franchises like Star Wars and Babylon 5 have included

: video games, comic books, novels, and so on, and I'm wondering just

: how singular The Matrix's achievement in this respect may be.

I don't think those examples compare to what The Matrix did, since in each case the original medium was "gospel" and everything else was a later spin-off and pretty much apocryphal. (I do recall that Lucasfilm once claimed ALL the Star Wars stories out there would be consistent with one another, but Episode II blatantly contradicted key elements in Kevin J. Anderson's novels, so so much for THAT idea.)

The Star Trek franchise comes to mind, of course, inasmuch as it switched from TV to film in the '70s, and then began to live in both worlds simultaneously in the late '80s -- though you didn't see any serious cross-overs until 1991, when Leonard Nimoy had a guest stint as Spock on The Next Generation to help promote the upcoming film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which had already been produced but was still a month or two shy of distribution. Mind you, if you had never seen that episode of the TV show, you could still have appreciated the film on its own terms -- but then, the film also happened to feature Michael Dorn in a cameo as his Next Generation character's grandfather (or great-grandfather, maybe?), and your ability to appreciate THAT would almost certainly have relied on some sort of familiarity with the TV show. (Also interesting is that there was an episode of Next Generation in which Riker casually addresses Troi as "Imzadi", which prompted my then-roommate Trent to shout "Book reference!" Apparently Peter David had coined this term of endearment for one of his novels, and one of the show's writers then incorporated it into that episode. It's not a plot point, and it's certainly a lot more arbitrary and haphazard than what the Wachowskis have done, but it's still something.)

There was also that X-Files movie which came out between Seasons 5 and 6.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I finally caught revolutions yesterday. couple of things hit me coming out of this discussion;

1 - If Cypher's role was that significant I'm surprised that he has no role in the later films. If he's been plugged back into the matrix then theoretically he could happen to walk past any of the characters at any moment which could have had any number of interesting possibilities. Instead he disappears from the sequels & I find it difficult to see his reasoning as much more than justification for his Judas act (a little like most Jesus films attempt to rationalise the actions of the real Judas). True the philosophy that they do it with is interesting clever and certainly ties in elsewhere, but I'm not sure how much of that is just the Wachowskis showing off / raising interesting questions, and how much of it is the central part of the film

:spoilers:

2 - The ending of the film leaves it very open as to what happens to people in the Matrix. Sure the machines and Zion have called peace, but the implication of that is that system will go on making human battery farms, but just leaving Zion alone. If the film is really about the desert of the real and all the rest of it it has very little to say about it at all in the last film (s)

3 - Given the popularity of Programmes in the sequels we haven't really considered the possbility that the security guards might be programmes. Would this put a different twist on it, or would Neo & Trinity be unaware of this anyway so their intent is still essentially terrrorist.

Matt

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From the Get Low thread.

: I still say that in The Matrix Cypher's worldview is clearly wrong, regardless what the sequels do.

I think the easy answer to this argument is that the Wachowskis had a clearer sense of the world they were creating than Lucas did. And I think the fact that the sequels confirmed the interpretations and suspicions of people who had paid close attention to the original film's philosophical reference points (and not just its plot twists) lends weight to those who said Cypher was on to something.

And I say that it is the material plot twists that speak to "what sort of world" the story takes place in, and the kinds of clues and reference points (Baudrillard, etc.) that may point in a countervailing direction indicate the filmmakers' interests and sympathies, but don't change the rules of the world of the story. So one can argue that the Wachowskis sympathized with Cypher's point of view, and to that extent didn't really believe in the rules of the world of the story they themselves told, but that doesn't change the fact that they still told that story in that world.

Cypher throws down the gauntlet when he challenges Trinity, "If Morpheus was right, then there's no way I can pull this plug. I mean, if Neo's the One, then there'd have to be some kind of a miracle to stop me. Right? I mean, how can he be the One if he's dead? ... Look into his eyes, those big pretty blue eyes, and tell me: yes or no." Trinity makes an act of faith, based on the Oracle's prophecy and her love for Neo ... and the universe backs her up. Cypher's last words are: "No. I don't believe it." Cypher is wrong. The movie has spelled it out as explicitly as possible -- and it confirms it again and again with the fulfillment of the Oracle's second prophecy, Neo's successful rescue of Morpheus, and his resurrection and return to the Nebuchadnezzar in time to save the ship and crew -- none of which makes sense in a world in which the phenomenon of "the One" is all part of the meta-Matrix ecosystem and the Oracle is (gah) a computer program. (Go ahead, give me some ad hoc harmonization in which all that makes sense -- an easy task, presumably, if the Wachowskis knew all along what they were doing and did it with more consistency than Lucas.)

Clues like the title of a book in Neo's apartment might be taken to suggest that the Wachowskis regard the meaning-indicators of the original film with a wink or even an eye roll -- and in the sequels that element of skepticism might actually take over the narrative in a way that it doesn't in the first film -- but the story of the first film is still the story.

Another way to put the point might be to say that the debate between Morpheus's worldview and Cypher's worldview is to an extent a matter of text versus texture. By text I mean the main plot and actions in the story; by texture I mean things like allusions to Baudrillard and so forth. The Matrix ends with Neo flying away like Superman. The essay you like to cite considers this puerile and childish. But it's how the story ends. In general, while I don't dismiss texture, but I give precedence to text.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG wrote:

: And I say that it is the material plot twists that speak to "what sort of world" the story takes place in . . .

Oh, absolutely. My point is that we cannot simply impose a certain story-structure template on a film and say, "This is what the elements in the film mean," especially when the elements have been constructed in a way that is deliberately subversive of such templates. It would be like Marcus Borg's approach to understanding the historical Jesus, which essentially reduces him to a collection of cross-cultural categories without giving due weight to the ways in which Jesus breaks out of those categories.

: . . . none of which makes sense in a world in which . . . the Oracle is (gah) a computer program.

That's interesting, as a friend of mine had theorized quite independently of any other theories out there that the Oracle HAD to be a program. I seem to recall he was rather happy to see his theory confirmed when the first sequel came out a few years later. (Hmmm, I should check my e-mail archives to see why, exactly, he came up with this theory in the first place.)

: Another way to put the point might be to say that the debate between Morpheus's worldview and Cypher's worldview is to an extent a matter of text versus texture.

Ah, but it's all code, isn't it? :)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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BTW, links to our threads on The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions and the Matrix DVD boxed set.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Aha, here 'tis! From a (slightly redacted) e-mail exchange that took place on Monday and Tuesday, April 12-13, 1999 -- less than two weeks after the film came out:

Me:
Incidentally, did you ever wonder where and what that Oracle is supposed to be? Presumably it's not just a part of the "matrix" itself -- so she's either living in a pod, which makes no sense, or she spends her entire life strapped to one of those chairs. But how does she eat? Maybe she survives by going to the exits every now and then when no one's looking, but I got the impression she was a pretty-much permanent resident within the "matrix". (Or does eating "fake" food satisfy your body, perhaps psychosomatically? I don't think so -- if it did, then they wouldn't be stuck eating that nutritious goop. Real food is real food.)

My e-pal:
Actually, I did wonder that. I have a theory, although I'll grant you that I made it up out of whole cloth: I think she's a rebel AI. Sort of a ghost in the machine. You remember that psychologist program called "Lisa" (I think that was the name), the one that would respond to what you say, within a limited range of expression? I think the Oracle is an advanced form of that kind of program. She tells you what you need to hear. Did you ever read "Taran Wanderer" by Lloyd Alexander? The main character is on a quest to find himself, and he tries to find this magic "Mirror of Llunet", but the mirror turns out to be a simple pond that shows him his reflection.

I don't think she's a human, or all those things you mention would apply. It wouldn't make sense for them to take Neo to her *inside* the Matrix. Too dangerous. But, if she's an AI, they *have* to see her within the Matrix. Also, if she's an AI, it would make sense that she would be able to evade capture, if she was able to create a "blind spot" around herself. I'm not even sure she needs to be a sentient AI in the same sense as the guy who was torturing Morpheus was. I kind of see her as a "natural" phenomenon, like the Mirror of Llunet. Presumably the Matrix uses non-linear mathematics, so I kind of see her as a stable patch of chaos within the Matrix.

Of course, this is never explained in the movie, and I kind of like that it isn't. I do think my theory fits the available facts, though. Who better than to train the minds of the young about the true nature of the Matrix than an AI? Although, that just kind of begs the question as to why one of those kids wasn't "The One". They seem to have grasped what it takes Neo the whole movie to grasp.

Me (replying to the sentence that ends "rebel AI"):
Well, it's not necessarily impossible -- Agent Smith, after all, was getting pretty human, almost rebellious, himself. However, she was predicting things that came true not only in the matrix, but in the so-called real world. Would an AI know that stuff? (Unless...)

My e-pal:
But what if "she" was a kind of neural-net prognostication program? (At least originally) If the simulcra of people are sophisticated enough to reproduce body language and that kind of thing, perhaps "she" does what fortune-tellers have always done: read people's body language and "tells", and use their knowledge of human nature in general to home in on what this specific human needs to hear. An AI in the Matrix would have the additional advantage of (potentially) being able to directly read all kinds of information about the person's mental state from whatever's encoded in their simulcrum (remember how Tank watched the Matrix as a flow of symbols, and how Neo saw it finally at the end? Perhaps the Oracle sees it directly that way). Remember how she asked Neo leading questions until he had specified what the problem was. None of her "predictions" were really that outrageous, when you think about it. If she picked up on Trinity's need and loneliness, it's no great leap to predict she'll fall in love with "The One".

Me (replying to the sentence that ends "directly that way"):
Even so, could she accurately predict that either Neo or Morpheus would die? And what do we do with the fact that Neo apparently dies and then gets resurrected?

My e-pal:
That one really bothered me. I mean, I know Neo had been struggling with the "there is no spoon" concept for quite some time (all through those gun battles and helicopter antics I was muttering "there is no spoon, people. This is all sound and fury, signifying nothing". Which begs another question as to why Morpheus couldn't jump to the helicopter. He jumped half a mile in the Matrix before, right?), but it bothered me that he only seemed to "grok" the idea *after* he "died". Within the context of the story, he should have grasped it just *before* he died, and then used that knowledge to pull himself through, recognizing that the bullets and the "death" were only simulations. Instead, he somehow wakes up, and *then* is able to grasp the true nature of the Matrix. i suppose it's a metaphor for being reborn into a new life and understanding, death to the old self, etc., but it felt jarring. On the other hand, the movie does flirt with old-fashioned Messianism a few times, like when the traitor says something like "if he is The One, then *something's* going to stop me from pulling the plug, right?", just before Tank shoots him. The old, "does God use us to shape His vision of the future, or do we create our own future?" question. So, Neo's death and resurrection could be that he's groked enough of what's going on for his subconscious to pull him back, or God pulled a Gandalf and sent him back with new power to save the world. I dunno.

And after that we wandered over into speculations about The Phantom Menace, which was still over a month away.

Four years later, in another film discussion forum, he began his first reactions to The Matrix Reloaded by writing:

First of all: I KNEW IT!!! Peter, you can back me up on this: I was saying the Oracle was an AI right from the start! Of course, to be honest, I did not figure out that she was working against the humans, but I knew she had to be an AI.

A few months later, when The Matrix Revolutions came out, he also noted at that forum that the movies continued to point in a "transcendent" or mystical direction by having the Oracle say that Neo is able to tap into "the source", and by showing that Neo can see everything in meatspace (as opposed to cyberspace) despite the fact that he has been blinded.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Oh, absolutely. My point is that we cannot simply impose a certain story-structure template on a film and say, "This is what the elements in the film mean," especially when the elements have been constructed in a way that is deliberately subversive of such templates. It would be like Marcus Borg's approach to understanding the historical Jesus, which essentially reduces him to a collection of cross-cultural categories without giving due weight to the ways in which Jesus breaks out of those categories.

I think the Wachowskis followed the Hero's Journey template pretty closely in the first film -- it's hardly something critics are "imposing" on it -- and I have yet to be persuaded that in that film there is any significant breaking out of that framework in a nihilistic direction. There is at least one notable story structure that I think could be considered subversive of that structure, i.e., the lobby set piece and Morpheus's ideological pre-justification for it (i.e., anyone in the Matrix is "part of the system" and thus a potential enemy). Other than that, though, I don't think that a level of subtextual ironic distance amounts to much in the way of subversion or breaking out.

Your friend's comments are interesting, particularly his acknowledgment that his theory is "made up out of whole cloth." His acknowledgments that the movie "flirts with old-fashioned messianism" seem to me ridiculously understated -- on the contrary, it embraces messianism and flirts with nihilism. Your friend's efforts to explain the Oracle's predictions seem unconvincing to me. Trinity's loneliness could have led her to fall in love with any number of prior candidates. Morpheus need not have fallen into the Agents' hands, leading to the crisis the Oracle predicts. ("It can't be coincidence.") And even if we take Neo's resurrection as a metaphor, there's no reason, non-mystically speaking, why Neo should return from the dead, defeat the Agents, and return to the real world just in time to prevent the destruction of the Neb.

Essentially, the Wachowskis are nihilists who told us a messianic bedtime story, and then came along with a couple of sequels saying "No, just kidding, there's no there there really." Although that account does leave out what your friend calls the "transcendent" or mystical elements (e.g., Neo's powers working in the real world) connected with "the Source" (maybe that's where they're only flirting with messianism?). Having seen the sequels only once, I don't pretend to have any understanding of what was supposed to be going on there.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG wrote:

: I think the Wachowskis followed the Hero's Journey template pretty closely in the first film -- it's hardly something critics are "imposing" on it . . .

They follow it, except when they don't. It's when seeing the film through the grid of the template blinds you to "when they don't" that you are "imposing" something on the film, I would say.

: . . . and I have yet to be persuaded that in that film there is any significant breaking out of that framework in a nihilistic direction.

If you limit your focus to the plot, sure. It's when you consider the film AS A WHOLE -- including the very way that it embodies and exemplifies the corporate assimilation of anti-corporate rebellion, thus underscoring the nihilism inherent in the corporate system and the difficulty in trying to do anything about that nihilism -- that the philosophical bits click into place.

: Other than that, though, I don't think that a level of subtextual ironic distance amounts to much in the way of subversion or breaking out.

I don't know how you could dismiss these things as merely "subtextual". The clues are all there in the text, and some people paid more attention to them than others.

: Your friend's comments are interesting, particularly his acknowledgment that his theory is "made up out of whole cloth."

Indeed, it seems most of his guesses were wrong as far as what KIND of artificial intelligence the Oracle was. But his PRIMARY guess -- that the Oracle was an artificial intelligence -- turned out to be spot-on, and it certainly answered one of the questions that the original film had left me with. I frankly don't know what other remotely satisfying explanation the series could have given us.

But perhaps I should ask you how YOU would have answered that question, back on April 12, 1999: Who, or what, did YOU think the Oracle was back then?

(One of the other big questions the first film left me with, of course, was how Neo's predecessor had gotten out of the Matrix without any help, given how Neo himself needed a lot of help to get out of there. The sequels answered this question too -- and I didn't like the answer any more than Neo did, but I did have to admit that it WAS an answer, and that on some level it made sense.)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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: I think the Wachowskis followed the Hero's Journey template pretty closely in the first film -- it's hardly something critics are "imposing" on it . . .

They follow it, except when they don't. It's when seeing the film through the grid of the template blinds you to "when they don't" that you are "imposing" something on the film, I would say.

I would agree in principle. You aren't giving me a lot here to agree or disagree with concretely.

If you limit your focus to the plot, sure. It's when you consider the film AS A WHOLE -- including the very way that it embodies and exemplifies the corporate assimilation of anti-corporate rebellion, thus underscoring the nihilism inherent in the corporate system and the difficulty in trying to do anything about that nihilism -- that the philosophical bits click into place.

But you could say that about any popular art form that expresses rebellion against the system but is really part of the system, from the Rolling Stones to Che T-shirts. The Wachowskis winked and nodded throughout The Matrix to say that they were in on the joke, but they still told the story pretty much straight. Cypher might have spoken for them, but he doesn't speak for the movie.

: Other than that, though, I don't think that a level of subtextual ironic distance amounts to much in the way of subversion or breaking out.

I don't know how you could dismiss these things as merely "subtextual". The clues are all there in the text, and some people paid more attention to them than others.

Subtext often is part of the text.

: Your friend's comments are interesting, particularly his acknowledgment that his theory is "made up out of whole cloth."

Indeed, it seems most of his guesses were wrong as far as what KIND of artificial intelligence the Oracle was. But his PRIMARY guess -- that the Oracle was an artificial intelligence -- turned out to be spot-on, and it certainly answered one of the questions that the original film had left me with. I frankly don't know what other remotely satisfying explanation the series could have given us.

But perhaps I should ask you how YOU would have answered that question, back on April 12, 1999: Who, or what, did YOU think the Oracle was back then?

I thought the Oracle was a plot device mediating the themes of fate and chosenness. I thought she worked well as a black box, but any attempt to peer more closely at her nature would yield absurdity and contradiction. I think my predictions were borne out brilliantly by the sequels; in fact, I think I am a shrewder analyst than your friend on this score. Do you actually find the sequels' explanation "satisfying," even "remotely" so?


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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