"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku


[This column was originally written for HyperionX, so there may be some language. I assure you all of it was necessary]

I will not give away the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, but you do NEED TO HAVE SEEN THE MATRIX to read this. If you haven’t, go out and rent it RIGHT NOW, watch it, and then you can come back and read.

I’ve written this review thrice already and torn it up (metaphorically) each time. I’m not sure what I want to say. Actually, I am sure what I want to say, but it would be deep analysis of the film rather than a review for many people who haven’t seen it yet. So, maybe in a few weeks, after all the Hyperion X readers have seen both Matrices, we can do that. For now I want to focus on two main ideas: Pop-Psychology and Strunk and White.

First, let's dispense with the formalities. For those of you in the MTV generation, this sequel has been a long time coming. And, if will be a little longer, as the opening 45 minutes or so can drag a bit. I have a feeling most of that will be necessary, though, in the third installment, due in November. That's one of the problems of sequels, especially when there's a third film to come. They are dependent on the first, and open-ended to set up the third. For the Matrix, it might help to look at the 2nd and 3rd films as one big movie cut in half, which they actually are.

So, I can live with having plot threads not tied up or incongruous, assuming that 93% of the questions will be answered by the finish. (Hyperion’s Theory #27: all great stories leave 7% of the ideas unexplained and up to the reader, or in this case, the watcher)

The actual plot isn’t all that important, or to put it another way, you already know it: Computers have enslaved humans in the Matrix, a few of them are free, and Neo—the One—has to save everybody. And just like the first film, you don’t know what you think you know, and you probably don’t even know what you don’t think you know. And if you don’t know what that sentence just meant—or don’t think you don’t know—then you’re ready for The Matrix Reloaded.

“The Essence of Cool”

For those of you who’ve never written a term paper, Strunk and White are the authors of an English grammar book called The Element of Style. That’s part of what The Matrix is all about. My friend Ajax and I were discussing The Matrix the other day, and how, like Star Wars back in ’77, The Matrix was now the benchmark for Sci-Fi Fantasy films. I agree, but I also think it’s the new benchmark of cool. Along with the archetypes of good and evil, the rush of action, the mystical philosophy, and the at-the-time revolutionary special effects, what made Star Wars stand out what just how fucking cool it was. Han Solo was everyone’s hero, Darth Vader was the Big Bad, and Yoda was…what can you say about one of the three greatest characters in movie history? And the concept of Jedi Warriors? Fuggedaboutit. Too cool for words, but try this: in Britain, Australia, and Canada, there was a huge push to get Jedi listed as an official religion on census forms.

The Matrix has that cachet of cool. They want to be the benchmark for a lot of things. For example, the video game was released the same day the movie came out, with over an hour of movie footage shot just for the game, and reportedly thousands of moves available. The Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix, also asked several Japanese anime artists to make 9 short films explaining and filling in some of the back and side stories to the Matrix.

Most of the time you’ll hear a criticism of something flashy lamenting the “style over substance.” But in The Matrix, often the style is the substance. That’s why you have main characters wearing flowing black Prada outfits with snap-on shades, and fighting with sleek guns and kung fu. In Reloaded, they’ve added swords (both katana and wushu forks), maces, nun chucks, and what I’m guessing is a tetherball post.

There is also a 14 minute chase scene—of questionable plot necessity—that features, among other things: “impossible” camera angles, hellacious explosions, Evel Knievel-like motorcycle jumps, and the most vehicular destruction you can find this side of a monster truck rally. I sat in the theatre watching this spectacle, and a small part of me wondered what this had to do with the story. The other 98% of me, though, just sat there thinking, “This is so fucking cool!”

Part of the essence of The Matrix, the raison d’etre, if you will, is to put stuff like that in there. That’s why they went to the trouble to invent technology for these movies; the reason Edmund Hillary gave for climbing Everest and the reason Bill Clinton has for screwing every big-haired girl in a skirt: because it’s there and because they can.

“No one can tell you what the Matrix is”

Fans of the first film will note how many different stories and philosophies are represented in The Matrix: everything from Alice in Wonderland to the Bible, all teeming with echoes of Japanese anime, the genre the Wachowski brothers are most influenced by. The Matrix Reloaded, if anything, is even more of a grab bag. Students of philosophy will perhaps recognize the great cave of Zion and connect it with Plato’s allegory on the subject. (For more on that, check out: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/myth_allegory_cave_plato.html)

There is also some Bram Stoker-inspired monster mythology, a homage to a famous Star Trek episode, some post-apocalyptic book of Daniel references, and more psychology than you can shake a phallic stick at (with everything from Skinner to Adler to Jung, and if my friend Zachary is right, a character who’s supposed to be Freud); not to mention the fact that every time Morpheus opens his mouth he sounds like Socrates, Jesus, Hamlet, Abraham Lincoln, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Spock all rolled into one.

The figure I think of most, though, is T.S. Eliot, the late great poet of such masterpieces as The Wasteland, The Love Song of J. Alfred Pufrock, and Hyperion’s personal favorite poem, The Hollow Men. Not so much that Eliot’s poetry is in the film (though you could make that case), but for Eliot’s philosophy on art. He once said “Great art can communicate before it is understood.” Eliot also declared, in his essay The Music of Poetry, that we needn’t know precisely what art means in order to perfectly understand it, which some will recognize as a Stevensian condition that put another way, might read, “great art must resist the intelligence, almost successfully.”

Eliot is famous for saying, when asked what the hell he was talking about in his own cryptic poetry: “I meant what I said. If I’d meant something different I would have said it differently.” All of this is a fancy way of saying that one of the smartest things the Wachowski brothers have done is not to discuss The Matrix, or the philosophy behind it. We live in an age where we look for the meaning in everything, whether or not it exists. We pour over song lyrics, cartoons, and even the pictures on our dollar bills, all hoping to find some deeper conspiracy to explain the world.

The Matrix is all of this and more. The movie offers an explanation—or seems to, anyway—that explains how the people and the world around you—and more importantly, your own dreary existence—could have come to the point it’s at now. Characters in the Matrix movies seem to talk in esoteric riddles that offer a glimmer of the truth. Is it really that deep? Who knows? The point is; it sounds deep, and in our post-modern, jaded, cynical analyze-everything-to-death culture what you don’t see is what you might get, but even then you might not know it.

How fitting then that the Wachowski brothers have given us a vision of the world where nothing we know is real. In The Matrix Reloaded, they up the ante considerably. Not only is nothing in the world real, but also nothing in the first movie is real. Or maybe it is. That’s the whole fun.

I can’t promise you that you’ll love The Matrix Reloaded as much as you did the first film. I can promise you won’t be bored, and you won’t think the creators are out of ideas. You may not like the ideas, or even know what they are, but you won’t think this is a pure surface movie. I know it will take at least another viewing for me to soak it in, and I can’t wait to see it again.

That’s got to be one of the signs of a great movie. (And also perhaps a brilliant marketing scheme: make a movie so confusing that people need to see it repeatedly to get a grasp on it). I know I won’t get tired of the action any time soon, and I love trying to figure out exactly what is going on. Sequels are hard-pressed to live up to the original, especially when they’re so ground-breaking, like the first Matrix, which will, after all, always be the first time many of us saw some of these ideas mixed with this array of effects and psyche. But after seeing them thousands of times, many people think The Empire Strikes Back might be better, or at least deeper and richer, than Star Wars. I’m not saying The Matrix Reloaded will rise to that plateau, but I’m not saying it won’t.

Skepticism Scale: The world itself is, of course (as far as we know), utterly ridiculous, and so in that vein it would get a 9. However, within the confines of the world they’ve set up, they do strive for some harmonic consistency. Not as good a job here as the first, but that’s pending the final chapter, which may explain things more fully. Within the Matrix world, I’d say a 4.

Genre Grade: in the realm of Sci-Fi fantasy movies, I’d easily give it an A.

Pantheon Percentile: Reserving the right to move it up or down a little after seeing it again, I’d give Reloaded a 90. Even for its faults, this movie is saying something on a grand scale (or at least, I think it is), and that’s worth a lot. Plus, it’s so fucking cool.

No comments: