Principalities and Programs:
Engaging the Powers in The Matrix: Reloaded
A Review by David Dark
Hyperreality of communication and of meaning. More real than the real,
that is how the real is abolished.
--Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
doesn't believe in chance. There are no accidents. And the forces of this
present darkness will not be defeated by the might or power of a strong
military." When reminded that not everyone believes as he does, he
calmly asserts that his beliefs do not require them to. In short, all
the metaphors are still intact, and they've been, to my mind, very effectively
elaborated upon. Including the ever-broadening irony of a film series,
based upon the notion that humankind will forfeit its soul for bright,
shiny images, delivering more bright, shiny images. Or as Jada Pinkett
Smith describes the Wachowski Brothers, "They know how to balance
eye candy with deep thoughts."
This is a
bit of a trick, and many will argue, with some justification, that the
two can't be balanced, that what has come to be referred to as the Zion
orgy scene forever soils the Matrix experience, and that a new video game
is no way to free the minds of a culture with little to live for save
the prospect of a new video game.
you're a very religious people." This is one of my favorite lines
New Testament. It's the Apostle Paul's opening remark to the Athenians
as he stands in front of the Areopagus commenting upon their objects of
worship. One reason it strikes me as great line is because he doesn't
begin with naysaying or condescension, and he isn't even working his way
toward it. It's all affirmation, as it probably has to be when you're
dealing with a very religious people. Here's taking seriously the things
that hold their hearts captive, and here's improvising. He even quotes
one of their poets (as if Sappho put it best) in his explanation of the
creator's relationship to the created world. He's going for the broadest
appeal he can manage in this particular context. Apocalyptic for the people.
All of this
brings to mind the odd and chronically underestimated witness of a lesser
known Jew, Rod Serling, who, in 1959, insisted upon viewing television
as a medium of broad, positively sociological possibilities. With The
Twilight Zone, Serling would keep the airwaves weird and wonderful
while noting that, "Things that couldn't be said by a Republican
or Democrat could be said by a Martian." As something of an anti-fascist
crusader, Serling was unwilling to leave the biggest game in town, television
(the drug of the nation), to the soap and aspirin companies. With a record-breaking
opening weekend, an anime series, and the videogame Enter the Matrix on
the shelves, perhaps the Wachowski are among Serling's heirs.
we make of their artistic vocation, they're certainly doing their homework.
And I should forewarn our beleagured geek community (of which I consider
myself an unashamed member) that we're entering the SPOILER section.
The Oracle isn't quite what we thought she was and, as an exiled principality
or program, she is not alone. Like the weak and beggarly elemental spirits
of Pauline theology (featured foremost in 1st Corinthians as well Galatians,
Ephesians, and Colossians), they are made for redemptive purposes which
they occasionally forsake. Seraph, for instance, escorts Neo to the Oracle
as he explains that his purpose (the purpose of all seraphim, I'd guess)
is to protect what matters, while the Keymaker only approaches what he
was "meant to do" with a bit of persuasion. And the Merovingian
maintains that causality is all there is with choice an illusion created
by those with power for those without it. He is initially unmoved by Neo,
Morpheus, and Trinity as he explains that Neo is only another link in
the chain. But the passion of humans is a mystery into which a program
like Persephone (like the angels of Hebrews) longs to look. For a glimpse
of the fatalistic and convoluted historical authority with which the Merovingian
speaks, I'd like to recommend a Google search for "Merovingian"
alongside "Thomas Jefferson," "Knights Templar," "Gnostic,"
"America as Third Chosen Nation," and/or "Illuminati."
the Wachowskis will not give such madness the last word (though the Merovingian
himself insists otherwise), as the Oracle herself has been effectively
engaged by the hope of Zion ("You've made a believer of me.")
The Architect believes of himself (perhaps with the support of a Freemason
or two) that he will reign forever and ever. But such confidence among
the principalities has been called into question by the end of the film.
I won't hazard
too much of a guess as to where it's all going to end up, but I'm
happy to note with Zion's Councilor West (Cornel West) that "Comprehension
requisite of cooperation." And a mostly unforeseen reconciliation
intelligence is likely around the corner. How worthy of Zion, after all,
would "Death to the Machines!" ultimately be? According to all
the ancient wisdom available, there's more to life than homeland security.
The substantiation of their faith will be something other (something more)
than what they've asked for and imagined. Do we want anything less for
Zion? END OF SPOILER SECTION.
But with a humility typical of a Serling, a Coen, or a Flannery O'Connor,
Wachowskis wisely eschew any grander scheme than making entertaining films.
Though when asked which of the possibly religiously allegorical bits were
deliberate, their cryptic response implies a bit more than your usual
profit motive: "All of them." In my perusal of the media surrounding
the film, my most edifying discovery involves the naming of the Burly
Brawl (the Neo vs. multiplying Agent Smith's scene which WIRED's Steve
Silberman calls "a raging river of whup-ass") as a reference
to the Coen Barton Fink (played agonizingly by John Tuturro), who hoped
to change the world with his much tortured-over screenplay, The Burly
Man. As the Wachowskisan partner-in-crime John Gaeta explains, The
Matrix, like The Burly Man, is essentially a wrestling picture.
"The Burly Man" has served, throughout their
creative process, as the top secret code-name for the Matrix screenplay.
Take the eye candy for what it is, and, like the inanimate objects of
Athens, see what you can do. Religious people beware.