It's been over a year since I updated this blog... how the time flies! I've been meaning to write but just haven't had the time, Dev Null Productions' latest project Ledger City is gaining some serious momentum and it's pedal to the metal when it comes to development. I did take a few hours to see The Matrix Resurrections last night, and the more I reflect on it, the more I realize the genius of what the movie is. Going into it, I set the bar low on expectations which helped, but not only did it surpass that, it did so immensely. Below is my review of the movie.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW, IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, STOP READING
I was always a huge Matrix fan. The original came out in 1999, my sophomore year in high school. By senior year, when we were answering survey questions for the yearbook, I answered "What is your favourite movie?" with "The Matrix". Contrast this to the most popular choice, "American Pie 2"...
The Matrix series is a complex one, working on many levels. By blending eastern philosophy with western action, it was a ground breaking experience. The first obviously being the best, introduced the unwashed masses to new concepts only contained in books that were too long and boring to read up to this point. Ironically the most critical point of the whole series is presented in an extremely quick shot at the very beginning of the first movie, we'll get to this later.
The Matrix tells the story of human rebels who have broken out of an artificial world which sentient AI created to imprison humans so as to harness their energy. Putting the reality of thermodynamics and entropy aside, throughout the series we see the story of these rebels, particularly the main character Neo, as they fight to free humanity from The Matrix, and take down the system. While at points, it can be seen as over the top, it's a refreshing experience to those accustomed to the endless droll of brainless action movies, super hero movies, rom-coms, and more.<iframe allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YgJ5ZEn67tk" title="YouTube video player" width="560"></iframe>
The overall theme of the four matrix movies can be summarized with the following:
- The Matrix: Free will vs determinism
- The Matrix Reloaded: Fallacy of free will, no matter what we choose our paths are fixed
- The Matrix Revolutions: Reincarnation, everything new is old and everything old is new, the cycle continues
- The Matrix Resurrections: All of that is silly, what really matters is emotion and feeling, ala the human experience
And this brings us to the fourth movie. It was very different than the previous, it almost had a comedic / light tone to it, and this was done on purpose. It had to be satirical, the beginning summarized it perfectly 'Matrix' culture has become too serious: 'oh no we are all living in the matrix', 'you need to red pill', 'matrix means this, that, blah blah'. Any attempt at producing a "serious" extension to the cannon would have been impossible to pull off. The reviews would have been scathing and the series would have been ruined. Lana Wachowski (Lily did not participate in the fourth Matrix movie) did a great job at poking fun at Warner Brothers, the Matrix fanbase, and even herself as a director without it being too offensive. It almost felt like an episode of South Park.<iframe src="https://tv.getyarn.io/yarn-clip/9c6edc83-98c3-4b68-a52f-05502ead7c7b/embed?autoplay=false" style="width: 100%; border: none; display: block; max-width: 420px; height: 320px;"> </iframe> "At least it doesn't get all preachy and up it's own a$$"
The movie was a continuation of the series in every spirit of the word, but it almost felt as if it was a fresh reboot, a feat that is difficult to pull off. At the end of The Matrix Revolutions we see the "dawn of a new day", the dreary oppressive green hue of the matrix was replaced with a bright and colorful sunrise, implying the future will be bright and optimistic. The Matrix Resurrections continues this, but also takes it to the extreme. Neo, who is again trapped in The Matrix, continues his droll life, every day seemingly the same as the one before it, and there is an aura of depression. I find this very telling of the modern world and modern mannerisms. Even though modern life has never been better than ever in history, most humans have access to food and fresh water, many conveniences, and a plethora of entertainment options (to keep us plugged into the matrix), something is missing. It's almost as if all of this is the expense of the human spirit, which fights to be constrained (we're building up to Nietzche...).
My initial reaction to Neil Patrick Harris and the new Architect and the actor playing Agent Smith was negative. I could not shake the phenomenal portrayal in the original trilogy, every time Smith spoke I couldn't help but think of Hugo Weaving saying "Mr. Anderson!". But realizing the tone of the above, it's apparent that these choices had to be made. As NPH says in Resurrections (paraphrasing), "my predecessor was too logical, ones-and-zeros, formulas, etc. I realized the key to the human experience was emotion and feeling". In the same scene, he convey what is perhaps the penultimate point of the fourth movie, "humans generate the most output when they are being emotional and full of feeling, continuously seeking what they don't have, while trying not to lose that which they do". I'm sure every artist would agree!
Agent Smith on the other hand had become full blown human in all but tangibility, finally embracing the notion that human feelings are not to be shunned, he almost takes satirical glee in his new outlook on life, while at the same time taking pleasure in the continuing animosity with his adversary ("Tom" as he now calls him) due to conflicting goals.
The references to the original series were powerful, when Bunny rolled up her sleeves revealing the white rabbit, we felt a sense of peace in Neo, the conflict that dominated his psyche through the first hour of the movie was resolved, and the symbol allowed him to center his being, and follow Bunny to his ultimate freedom. Seti's appearance towards the end of the movie also had a similar calming effect, the character served as a guide through the madness, a path through which clarity can be attained and purpose revealed.
Which brings us back to the beginning. Go back and watch the first 15 minutes of the first Matrix movie, particularly the scene which Neo is introduced (the original "White Rabbit" scene). There Neo is woken up from his quest to find the truth by, who is later revealed to be Trinity, hacking into his computer. Shortly after, he is startled by a knock at his door. Choi, a client, seeks to buy contraband software from Neo. Neo takes the money and goes to retrieve the disk. The critical shot is of the book he stores the disk in: "Simulation and Simulacra", and even more particularly the chapter he opens to "On Nihilism".
Nihilism is the school of philosophy progenitized by Friedrich Nietzche, in which there is no intrinsic meaning, it is up to each and every individual human to "fight the good fight" against this cold unrelenting universe to impose our will and manifest our spirit. There is no easy answers, there is no external stimuli or answer that is "right". It is up to every single person to manifest their self being and define their reality, ignoring all external criticism and praise. There will be no point which the battle is "won", no predetermined path which you can follow, no day which you will wake up and rest. The soul is meant to fight against the insurmountable force of the universe which seeks to suppress it.
Unfortunately it's impossible to sell movie tickets on this premise (Baudrillard, the author of "Simulation and Simulacra" was critical of the first Matrix movie, essentially calling it "typical Hollywood hogwash"). Movies are meant to be relatable, presenting characters and situations which the audience can transpose their psyche too. When the characters experience highs and lows, good and bad, we feel the same. By nature, they guide us on a path of development and progression, with an ultimate resolution, good or bad. As Smith says in the Matrix Revolutions, they are "as artificial as the Matrix itself".
And that's it! Overall, The Matrix Resurrections, was a great movie, not perfect, the action was not on par with the previous (though I suspect this was done on purpose for the reasons mentioned above), and the pacing was inconsistent (slow in the beginning, rushed at the end). But overall it felt like a true sequel, while providing for a fresh and entertaining experience at the same time.Remember... there is no spoon!