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What really is the Matrix?


Please don't read this essay before seeing The Matrix Revolutions, unless you don't care.

First off: why stage the scene with the councilor?

Councilor Hamann could be one of the "original" 23 individuals who were 'freed' from the Matrix by the previous One to rebuild Zion. He seems to be privy to the knowledge that the humans and the machines are interdependent and that interdependency is mediated by the matrix. The machines need the humans for a power source in the matrix and they also need Zion as a spill valve for the 1% who reject the matrix but most importantly they need Zion as a place to nurture the One. The One is needed by the machines because only the One can reload the matrix. The reason for this is explored in the conversation with the Architect. Without the one, there would be no reinsertion of the prime program, ergo no matrix and eventually no machines, although they have levels of survival they are prepared to accept...


If the machines need the One and hence Zion then why do they destroy it over and over? Zion represents a potential threat and a danger to the machines that cannot be allowed to reach critical mass. It is a threat both in terms of the havoc free humans wreak within the matrix and potentially so (although far less so) in physical terms. Also, realize that much of the matrix and the programs that roam it are not subject to "reprogramming" - the matrix is a clockmaker's universe - once set in motion the dynamics cannot be altered. So the logic of the programs within the matrix is to preserve the fabric of the matrix at all costs - including the complete destruction of Zion. This is true despite the fact that the architect and oracle realize that preservation of the matrix "as is" is not possible. So the agents are necessary (without them the matrix would collapse before it could be reloaded) but they are ultimately doomed to failure in their aim of preserving the matrix "as is" - the reload process is ultimately necessary. One can speculate that eventually "static" builds up within the system rendering it more and more vulnerable to crash - hence the need to reload. But the reload cannot be accomplished by the machines themselves - it is not simply a question of programming or mathematics. The machines require something that they cannot produce and something they can't quite understand but something forced upon them by the nature of the material with which they are forced to work with - humans. They require an example of free human volition to reboot the system - think of it as the broadcast of one form of static to cancel out another: the insistent static of millions of humans "trying" (without realizing it) to wake up... and the machines cannot produce or reproduce human choice or volition - they need the One to do this for them. The inexplicable nature of free will is needed by the machines to "tune" the matrix, thereby providing for a degree of stability that degrades over time as the irreducible static of human "resistance" (unconsciously) builds up within the matrix again.

Why obliterate Zion? The destruction of Zion - like its refounding - serves multiple purposes. The destruction of Zion of course prevents humans from progressing to the point where they might actually pose a physical threat to the machines and also helps mystify the true nature of the matrix system to the majority of those in Zion, but the key reason the destruction of Zion is necessary is to coerce the One into willingly reloading the matrix - because the One is then faced with either reloading the matrix or the extinction of humanity. But Zion must be refounded in order to permit the matrix to be reloaded once again - and as before the reload occurs in despite the efforts of the matrix' agents.

Were the sex scenes really necessary?

Some of the scenes in Zion came across poorly, perhaps the least well done of any of the scenes in either movie. At one point I was reminded of the cheesy subterranean human community from the original "Planet of the Apes" movies. Yet, I can see why many might defend both the sex scene, and the religious ceremony to the death (even i still hold that they were WAAAAAY too long!).

The sex scene with Neo and Trinity not allowed the directors to foreshadow Neo's nightmare, creating dramatic tension, but it also illustrated in a way words simply cannot (and hence in a way in which movies can excel) the difference between the machines and humans - a theme again underlined by the rite.

Contrast the relations between Neo and Trinity with Merovingian and Persephone. The former couple experiences a bond that - despite its almost painfully embodied nature, what with all those sockets - is almost artistic in its realization of authentic love. The latter couple, however, in spite of all the polish, panache and elegance the matrix can conjure, are revealed as worse than children playing at love - because they have no true concept or experience of feeling or emotion. Sure, they know how to manipulate the sensations of others - and they are expert in so doing - but in so doing they are like bored children pulling the wings off a fly.

That is why those two maligned scenes - involving the cake and the kiss - are so necessary to the film, for they expose - in a visceral manner that the Architect's speech can only render as dry logos - the complete failure of any of the machines' attempts to grasp emotion and choice. Merovingian has all the outward appearance of refinement, culture and education but his marvelous abilities with regard to language are wasted on meaningless tongue-twisters and the cultivation of curse-words, just his prodigious skill at program-writing is expended on the basest form of manipulation. And unlike Mouse from the first movie, Merovingian is not even acting on instinct or urges - he is merely playing at having such urges.

The same can be said for the Italian eye-candy Persephone, but in her case her outfit speaks even more loudly than her banal adolescent desire for a kiss. Despite her outfit's obvious advantage in revealing her cybernetically perfect figure, there is something askew - the color, texture, cut - that, as with Merovingian's "manners," marks her as a monstrosity. Not because of what she is, but because what she attempts to pretend to be. Both are vampires for human feeling, hungering for what they cannot experience and do not even understand. Needless to say their "relationship" is equally devoid of any authentic feeling.

What of the Oracle - is she on "our side" or the machines?

The Oracle is the "intuitive" program originally designed to probe the human psyche. As such she comes closest to being able to realize the necessary means for integrating humans into the architectonic of the Architect's matrix. She seeks to fulfill the "prophecy" as a means of reloading the matrix, which from her perspective (as well as that of the Architect) is best for both machine and man. The machines continue to enjoy the energy and diversions afforded by the inherently unstable matrix and the humans avoid extinction. Hence the Oracle is not on the human's side any more (or any less) than a shepherd is on the flocks' side. She guides the herd as best she can and accepts that a culling of the flock as necessary for its ultimate maintenance - and for her (and the other machines) ultimate well-being. As for Neo making her a "believer," I interpret this as the Oracle acknowledging the distinct possibility that Neo will refuse the "proper" door (the potential of which even the Architect acknowledges) hence "redeeming" the prophecy - but in apocalyptic finality. Her sereneness in the face of such a potential reflects her understanding of the dependence of the matrix upon the One - it's simply out of her hands.

Why doesn't the Architect simply trick Neo into going into the door he wants?

The Architect could trick Neo, but in so tricking him the Architect would be deprived of what he needs from Neo. So the Architect is dependent upon Neo (and the humans both in the matrix and in Zion) in a way similar to that which the councilor hinted at early on in the movie. Sure, he could trick Neo, but that would only result in shutting down the matrix, because what he needs from the One is something he cannot simulate or provide, despite his mastery of mathematics. Even in its "unconscious" state, the human psyche "resists" the matrix. What is needed to overcome this resistance - if only temporarily - is an instance of choice and acceptance provided by the One, that no doubt the Architect propagates or amplifies throughout the matrix, influencing the unconscious millions who are unconsciously "resisting." For whatever reason, the Architect has found that no mathematical formula or chemical reaction allows him to reproduce or simulate the "feeling" of willing consent or choice. Hence the Architect cannot fool the One (nor the millions others - at least for very long) but must actually enlist the One's willing consent - if only through means of blackmail - as the means of preserving humanity not only within the matrix but also in a newly (re)founded Zion. So the statistically predictable anomaly becomes the savior of humanity - and the matrix as well.

As you have no doubt guessed, I don't share the enthusiasm that some have for the theory that Zion is actually another matrix within the matrix. Granted, this would explain some of the issues explored above (as well as the zapping of the sentinels at the end), but it would do so in such a manner that renders certain aspects of the film not only puzzling but unnecessary. One could ask, for example, why - if Zion is merely another matrix -does Agent Smith only replace Bane's psyche rather than his (presumably, under this theory) residual body image? More importantly, why would the machines need to the stage the whole Oracle-prophecy rigmarole? It would be one thing to send the "free" humans on a wild goose chase, but why - if Zion is actually a new and improved matrix that is as yet wholly perfect in its functioning - is the One needed to reload the matrix? Why would the matrix need to be reloaded if it is working as planned (indeed, better than any within the matrix have dared imagine)? Hence the "dual-matrix" theory, although attractive to some as a means of explaining the destruction/refounding of Zion, actually introduces insuperable difficulties when it comes to explaining the overriding necessity of the movie - the need to reload the matrix. Think of the extraordinary lengths that the extra-matrix programs (the Architect and the Oracle) go in order to promote Neo's reloading of the matrix despite the degree to which it runs counter to the programming of the matrix itself... and then ask how the dual matrix accounts for this behavior. It doesn't.

Me, me, me... Me too!

But let's explore those two anomalies - Agent Smith imprinting a human and Neo zapping the sentinels. Obviously, these two events are meant to represent a mirror-image of each other, and both stem from the entanglement between the two characters at the end of the original film. Somehow a little of each was imprinted on the other - Smith neglects his programming to become precisely what he accused humanity of being, a virus, and Neo can already "sense" the presence of sentient programs within the matrix at the beginning of the second movie. Each somehow has gained an "in" to the other's essential reality - Smith's sentience is able to commandeer human flesh and Neo's "brain-power" is able to command (or at least short-circuit) machines.

Neither example requires a "second matrix" to work - although that would be an easy (to my mind too simplistic) solution. No, what I think is happening is that each has become attuned to the essential nature of the other in a way foreign for all machines and humans before them. Again, Merovingian and Persephone provide a visceral contrast - not only to humans but to Smith, who feels true emotion, even if it is only hatred, rather than the pretense of emotion. Smith grasps for real power, he doesn't play at being powerful in false chateau in a false world. Likewise one can contrast Neo to Morpheus, who - for all his courage and tenacity - utterly and totally misunderstands the true nature of the matrix and the aims of the machines behind it. It is Neo, not Morpheus, who correctly divines the identity of the Oracle and Neo, not Morpheus, who is able to pierce the dream of prophecy - the most narcoleptic of all the illusions spun by the machines, and it only consisted of an appealing story: no images, smells, tastes or sensations! Smith and Neo are not in a second matrix, they are transcending the matrix as the primary human/machine interface and in so doing experiencing the power and vulnerabilities associated with their adversary. How this plays out is no doubt a large part of the Matrix Revolutions. I can hardly wait!

Essay Submitted 17 November 2003

by Dorayaki


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