Sorry if Repost. http://www.corporatemofo.com/stories/031109matrix.htm Due to some oversight on the part of Warner Brothers, I had to wait until the Friday after Revolutions' Wednesday opening (and the Tuesday press screening) to see the last chapter of the Matrix trilogy. No matter: I took Friday-night kickboxing class at the dojo, crammed a bite to eat into my gulliver, and met my friend Gwinny at the Union Square movie theater for the 9:45 show. There's no better place to see an action blockbuster than surrounded by a bunch of sardonic NYU film students, and no better state of mind to see it in than just after having had some guy's knee rammed repeatedly into your solar plexus. Like its predecessors, Matrix Revolutions references a slew of canonical texts. Unfortunately, in addition to Platonic philosophy and Scholastic theology, these texts also included World War II movies, J.R.R. Tolkien, Aliens, Return of the Jedi, "Dragonball Z," and the bonus-round stage of Galaxian. There was a bit less kung fu in this one, the pace was quicker, and large portions of the special-effects budget was spent on constructing technological toys that would make good action figures. This means that the movie might seem more intellectually vapid than its predecessors, but it wasn't—it just decided not to bore everyone by showing the action rather than talking about it. Though it's a bit simpler than the original Matrix and Reloaded, the Brothers W still managed to get a fair bit of important ideas in. In brief, Revolutions' metaphysical themes can be summed by two very important quotes: "Love is just a word," and "Because I choose to." Oh, yeah: This is totally filled with spoilers, so consider yourself warned. "Love is just a word." When the movie opens, Neo is in Limbo, sharing an immaculately clean train platform with a lovely South Asian family who are en route to bring their daughter, Sati ("righteousness"), to the Oracle. The product of two programs, Sati serves no useful purpose, and so she is queued for deletion, but her parents, themselves daemons from the false computer world, don't wish their beloved daughter to be consigned to the great recycling bin in the sky, so they're taking her to where she'll be safe. But their actions are a bit perplexing to our hero. "You… love?" Keanu asks Papa Program, furrowing his brow ever so slightly. "Love is just a word," he replies. Yup. "Love," like "righteousness," or for that matter, "yellow" is just a word—but it's also more than that. Plato posited that these concepts—or Ideas—have actual existence and form, albeit in some transcendent form that we, being shackled in our material bodies, cannot experience directly. However, we can know them indirectly—an action is good, or a flower is yellow. These concepts passed into Christian theology when Augustine, writing in the fourth century, located these Ideas in the mind of God. In the Middle Ages, this position—called "Realism"—was challenged by another called "Nominalism." Whereas Realists held that there was some essence, some "quiddity" ("thing-ness") that makes something what it is—say, that makes a chair a chair or an elephant an elephant—Nominalists held that these were just words. After all, at what point is a chair no longer a chair? It can't be mere functionality—you can sit on a desk, too, while it's possible for some modern artist to create a chair that looks like a chair, but that is impossible to sit on. Likewise, at what point in genetic manipulation is an elephant no longer an elephant? At its most radical, Nominalism holds that there is no essential essence to anything, and things are only what we call them by convention, and that the words we give things do not match what they may actually be. Reality is fundamentally unknowable and, by extension, meaningless. This belief has theological implications, as well: Is there such a thing as Justice? Good? And, if not—never mind what this says for the possibility of personal transcendence—what was the point in striving for an unknowable ideal? Is the struggle to make the world a better place even worth the effort? In many ways, the Nominalist vs. Realist debate parallels the New Linguistics and postmodernism. Writers such as Derrida hold that language is just a series of signs not necessarily linked to the reality of the world. Baudrillard (whose work I'm more familiar with, and whose book Simulacra and Simulation makes a cameo in the first Matrix movie) writes that our society has made a fundamental break with anything that's real. When Baudrillard writes that the first Gulf War didn't really happen, he doesn't mean that people didn't really die in the Middle East and my friend Tony didn't get into a firefight with some Iraqis, but rather that for most of us, our perception of the event, how we experience it in our own universes, is entirely a media construct. We live in a world devoid of any real meaning. What the Wachowskis seem to be doing here is taking this thesis—that we can know truth and use it to give meaning to our existence—and its antithesis and arriving at a synthesis (shades of Hegel). Our names for things may be just words—but the things they signify really exist regardless of our ability to describe them. It's an important point, because without it, the rest of the events in the movie don't make much sense. And so on with the show. Passion and Warfare Much has been made of the fact that the Merovingian and his wife's breasts have fairly limited screen time in this installment. There are two reasons for this: One is that Monica Bellucci may be one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she smokes like a chimney and in the wrong lighting—i.e., not in a BDSM club—it really shows. The other reason is, as I pointed out last time, the Merovingian is a signpost, not a destination. He's one of the d(a)emons in Hell, not the Devil himself. In this case, he's just there bringing Neo back from the purgatory where he learned his important lesson about love and back to the "real world"—and finally ending his Dante-esque journey through Hell. Before he goes, however, he has to visit the Oracle, the Matrix's resident incarnation of the goddess Sophia ("Wisdom"), to get the 411 on what's up and refuse another red pill. (Note, however, that the song playing is Duke Ellington's "Beginning to See the Light." Mary Alice's Oracle is as good as can be expected as she helps Neo figure out exactly what he has to do. If Reloaded was a journey into the underworld, a la Dante's Inferno, then Revolutions is both the Battle of Armageddon and the story of Christ's Passion. No, it doesn't exactly follow either narrative, but then, the story's already bounced through half a dozen myths. Splitting the cast into two groups, besides reminding everyone of The Lord of the Rings, serves a symbolic purpose, as well. On the one hand are Morpheus, Niobe, and the defenders of Zion, representing Neo's disciples in the material world. On the other hand are the characters who represent metaphysical principles: Neo and Trinity, who set off towards highest reality, the machine citadel that controls all life on Earth. Neo's blinding by Bane is significant, and not only because his physical pain evokes Christ's passion (from the Latin passio, or "suffering"). Blindness, and vision, have special meanings in this movie—the Merovingian asks Trinity for the Oracle's eyes, and, later, Smith literally takes them (along with the rest of her body) when he assimilates her. (Note that he calls her "Mom"—with the Architect, she's the co-creator of the Matrix universe.) Though in Hebrew culture, the blind weren't especially blessed—in fact, anyone with a defect in their sight wasn't allowed into the Temple (Leviticus 21:20)—the Greeks saw otherwise. The poet Homer is widely depicted as blind, and, more significantly, the seer Tiresias was also visually challenged. (Tiresias, history's first transsexual, had spent seven years magically transformed into a woman. When Zeus and Hera had a dispute over whether men or women get more pleasure out of sex, they naturally asked him. Tiresias responded that out of ten parts of pleasure, women get nine. Angered, Zeus struck him blind, but Hera, to compensate, granted him the gift of prophecy. It would have been better if he had asked for multiple orgasms.) Similarly, blinded to the sometimes-false perceptions of his "real" eyes, Neo can now "see" the computer world more clearly with his mind. We've now reached a higher plane of reality than the Matrix or Zion: he's journeyed to the center of power, the light that casts all the shadows. It's like he's walked the Pattern and he's in the middle of Zelazny's Amber. Just like St. Paul, he was struck blind, but now he sees—albeit a bit differently. He can only see true reality—the power that controls the world. Neo and Trinity in fact reach the light quite literally: Evading the defenders of the machine citadel, they burst up above the clouds, and, in a glorious apotheosis, Trinity sees sunlight, actual sunlight—the first person to do so in hundreds of years. And then they crash back to earth, and Trinity is transfixed (wonderfully foreshadowed in the shot of Keanu Reeves in the pilot's seat with the spiky pylons in the background). Obviously, Trinity could not go on with Neo. Her death is both a plot point and theologically necessary: To fulfill the Christ parallel, Neo himself has to die at the end, and how is he going to do that with her around to save his ass? Also, if Trinity represents divine love, he has to go to the unholy place without her. ("Why have you forsaken me?" Jesus asks on the cross in Matthew 27:46.) Shit just happens like that in these extended metaphors: Dante couldn't hang around with Beatrice and Petrarch didn't have a happy ending with Laura, either. So, Trinity goes (symbolically) back to heaven, and Neo goes on without her. (Whether due to the tension of what was obviously intended as an incredibly sad moment, or whether because of the shock of seeing Keanu Reeves actually display emotion, the NYU film students all chose this moment to crack up laughing. Personally, I don't think he was acting. His ex-girlfriend Jennifer Syme, who had delivered their first child stillborn in 1999, died in a car crash in 2001. The man has had enough sadness in his life.) "Because I choose to." "Why get up, Mr. Anderson? Why keep fighting? Peace? Love? Illusions. Constructs as artificial as the Matrix itself," Elrond sneers, vamping as good as he ever did in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Neo's answer, of course, is because he chooses to. His offering himself for cyber-crucifixion by the giant floating Wizard of Oz head/Goatse man/Eye of Sauron-thing in the machine fortress is a matter of choice; his choosing to fight Smith was a choice; his allowing himself to be assimilated by Smith was a choice. And, as I mentioned in my exegesis of the last movie, Neo, being human, has that which the machines cannot fathom, nor control: Free will. Previously, Neo chose not to re-enter the Core because of his love for Trinity (who, as her name implies, represents the divine, and divine love for all humanity). Here, he chooses to keep fighting, even though it is pointless. What keeps him going is clearly not erotic love for Trinity (since she's dead), but agape, love for all humanity. Smith, on the other hand, is the Antichrist, Neo's equal and opposite. He has brought on Armageddon: The Matrix, the false world, is now entirely his. It is a gray, rainy universe of white men in suits, a corporate fantasy-world of unending conformity. In its sterile, terrifying monotony, it is stripped of joy, meaning, and life. There is no diversity, no choice. Because Smith has no true free will, he can't fathom it in others. Everything, for him, is predestined—he's foreseen it. And that is his greatest weakness. Neo defeats him not with kung fu, but with his will. Peace, love, and all that jazz might well not be real at all, but he chooses to keep fighting for them, anyway. It's not a rational choice, but in choosing it, he makes them real—and in so doing negates Smith's nihilism. Alas, just as Trinity couldn't have survived the final encounter, neither could Neo. (What kind of life could they have, anyway? They're archetypes, not characters. What would they do, raise a bunch of clichés?) So, Christ-like, Neo returns to the Core—ascending to computer heaven, if you will—as was originally intended, but, as the Oracle says, he'll be back one day. In the final scene of the movie, dialogue between the Architect and the Oracle (that is, the creator-goddess Sophia), it is revealed that Neo has brought free will to everyone in the Matrix. It's like Christianity: Those who want out of the illusion, who choose to believe in peace, love, and all that, can depart the false world. But with choice comes responsibility: We have to make up our own minds as to what our destinies will be, and we have to act on it. If we decide that the false world of Agent Smiths is not for us, and that love, justice, righteousness, etc., are real, then they are real. It's not an ending worthy of a Schwarzenegger movie, but it's far more profound. Me, I personally preferred the end of Michael Moorcock's Corum series, where the gods are all killed so mankind can decide its own fate. Which makes me wonder when the fuck someone will make a movie out of Elric of Melniboné. Now THAT would be worth deconstructing.