by Travis Mateer
On March 31st, 1999, a movie about living in a false reality called The Matrix was introduced to audiences and a new cultural relationship with technological skepticism was born. I was just two years out of high school and, in the following year, would find myself moving from middle America to Missoula, Montana, to finish college.
The Matrix trilogy features characters like “the oracle” and “the architect” who control a virtual reality so that machines can feed off human bio-electrical energy. The most familiar concept from the film is the choice offered by “Morpheus”, as seen above, with the pills. Will our messianic protagonist take the blue pill, and stay plugged in to the false reality, or will he take the red pill and start his hero’s journey? You obviously know the answer to that question.
The question for THIS post is why make movie number four? And why make it in opposition to the stated wishes of the franchise’s creators, the Wachowskis? The simple answer is this: to ensnare a new generation into another cinematic mind-trap for the REAL world controllers.
The courting of a new generation is more obvious than the blue hair of our new crew’s leader, “Bugs”–as in Bugs Bunny, she clearly states, then later flashes a white rabbit tattoo so our aging messiah knows she’s legit.
I’m always keen on paying attention to rabbit references–since it’s relevant to my meta-analysis of film symbolism. Rabbits are reminiscent of the trickster archetype known to many different cultures under different guises. If there’s a movie out there trying harder than this one to be a “meta-movie”, I certainly haven’t seen it, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
Thomas “Neo” Anderson is no longer a cyberpunk computer-programmer/hacker in this new iteration of The Matrix because this isn’t 1999. Instead, Thomas Anderson is the creator of the most popular video game out there, and it’s called…THE MATRIX! Do you see how meta we’re gonna get?
In “real” time, it’s been 60 years since Neo pulled his kamikaze/messiah stunt with Trinity to save Zion from getting annihilated by the machines, so he’s an old, reluctant messiah who takes a lot of prodding to red-pill himself. When he finally does red-pill himself, the transition is rough, and some of the most insightful dialogue between Bugs and Neo follows. Here it is, starting with Bugs (emphasis mine):
“How you doing?”
“If this plug is actually real, then that means they too my life and turned it into a video game–how am I doing? I don’t know, I don’t even know how to know…”
“That’s it, isn’t it. If we don’t know what’s real, we can’t resist. They took your story–something that meant so much to people like me–and turned it into something trivial. That’s what The Matrix does, it weaponizes every idea, every dream, everything important to us. Where better to bury the truth than something as ordinary as a video game?”
Questioning what’s real, and hiding truth in something trivial, are themes that bring to mind the most important science fiction writer (in my humble opinion) America has ever produced, and that’s, of course, Philip K. Dick. The book this dialogue specifically made me think of is Ubik, so I refreshed my memory on the plot and possibly ran across the seed for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
By the year 1992, humanity has colonized the Moon and psychic powers are common. The protagonist, Joe Chip, is a debt-ridden technician working for Runciter Associates, a “prudence organization” employing “inertials”—people with the ability to negate the powers of telepaths and “precogs”—to enforce the privacy of clients. The company is run by Glen Runciter, assisted by his deceased wife Ella who is kept in a state of “half-life”, a form of cryonic suspension that allows the deceased limited consciousness and ability to communicate. While consulting with Ella, Runciter discovers that her consciousness is being invaded by another half-lifer named Jory Miller.
When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter Associates to secure his lunar facilities from alleged psychic intrusion, Runciter assembles a team of 11 of his best inertials, including recent hire Pat Conley, a mysterious girl with the unique psychic ability to undo events by changing the past. Runciter and Chip travel with the group to Stanton Mick’s Moon base, where they discover that the assignment is a trap, presumably set by the company’s main adversary, Ray Hollis, who leads an organization of psychics. A bomb blast apparently kills Runciter without significantly harming the others. They rush back to Earth to place him into half-life, but they cannot establish contact with him so his body is set to be buried.
From the moment of the explosion, the group begins to experience shifts in reality. Many objects they come into contact with (especially cigarettes) are much older than they should be, some being older types of the same object, and are rapidly deteriorating. They gradually find themselves moving into the past, eventually anchoring in 1939. At the same time, they find themselves surrounded by “manifestations” of Runciter; for example, his face appears on their money. As the novel progresses, members of the group one by one begin to feel tired and cold, then suddenly shrivel and die. Joe Chip attempts to make sense of what is happening and discovers two contradictory messages from Runciter, one stating that he is alive and they are dead, and another claiming to have been recorded by him while he was still alive. The latter message advertises Ubik, a store-bought product which can be used to temporarily reverse deterioration and which often appears as a can of aerosol spray. Chip deduces that they may have all died in the blast and are now linked together in half-life, and unsuccessfully tries to get hold of Ubik.
I think cultural context like this can be helpful when trying to uncover the underlying message of a movie, so some other things that stand out from Matrix Resurrections is a Jim Morrison reference (mojo rising, specifically) and a psychedelic drug-culture reference to the concept of set and setting. From the link:
Set and setting, when referring to a psychedelic drug experience or the use of other psychoactive substances, means one’s mindset (shortened to “set”) and the physical and social environment (the “setting”) in which the user has the experience. Set and setting are factors that can condition the effects of psychoactive substances: “Set” refers to the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations; “setting” to the physical and social environment. This is especially relevant for psychedelic experiences in either a therapeutic or recreational context.
Would Timothy Leary agree with this? I think he would.
If we take the red pill, expand our minds, and face the harsh reality of a machine-controlled future dystopia, what will we learn? We will learn that “The Architect” has been replaced by “The Analyst” because energy scarcity during the preceding 60 years led to a machine civil war and new methods of energy-harvesting had to be developed.
In the predictable scene where the over-arrogant antagonist (The Analyst) discloses important plot points, the actor I once knew as Doogie Howser explains to Neo why he had “The Suits” rebuild BOTH of them. Here’s the key dialogue, delivered as Neo is stuck moving in slow motion toward the object of his love/desire, Trinity:
Alone, neither of you has any particular value. Like acids and bases, you’re dangerous when mixed together. Every sim where you two bonded–let’s just say bad things happened…
The opening of this monologue might be difficult to track for younger generations, since they’ve been sunk into a purposeful confusion over things like gender, but what’s “bad” for the machines being described here is, I believe, the union of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. When you keep that in mind, things like the name of the new video game (Binary) and the name of the new Zion (Io) makes much more sense.
…however, as long as I managed to keep you close, but not too close, I discovered something incredible…
Now, my predecessor loved precision. His Matrix was all fussy facts and equations. He hated the human mind, so he never bothered to realize that you don’t give a shit about facts–it’s all about fiction–the only world that matters is the one in here (taps Neo’s forehead).
And you people believe the craziest shit! Why? What validates and makes your fictions real? Feelings. Allow me…
The Analyst then manipulates a nearby NPC character (because “swarm mode” is “sick fun”) to fire a bullet at the similarly stuck and totally unaware Trinity (she can’t hear anything) before disclosing WHY both Neo and Trinity are needed by the machines (emphasis mine):
You ever wonder why you have nightmares? Why your own brain tortures you? It’s actually us, maximizing your output. It works just like this: OH NO! Can you stop the bullet? If only you could move faster.
Here’s the thing about feelings, they’re so much easier to control than facts. Turns out, in my Matrix, the worse we treat you, the more we manipulate you, the more energy you produce.
Bam, there it is! But there’s more (emphasis still mine):
It’s nuts. I’ve been setting productivity records every year since I took over. And, the best part, zero resistance. People stay in their pods, happier than pigs in shit. The key to it all? You. And her. Quietly yearning for what you don’t have, while dreading losing what you do. For 99.9% of your race, that is THE definition of reality. Desire and fear, baby. Just give the people what they want.
The points of emphasis at the conclusion of The Analyst’s soliloquy remind me of the LOVE/FEAR binary Jake Gyllenhaull’s character reacted to in Donnie Darko.
No, Donnie, life isn’t that simple, just like movies aren’t simply about entertaining us; they’re about programming us as well.
In an effort to see if this well of rage I have inside me has some sort of bottom, I’m kicking around the idea of hosting a Sunday men’s group at my studio, so hit me up at willsking at yahoo dot com if that sounds appealing.
I’m also going to be having an open-house/pre-party for the opening of Oppenheimer at the same location (email for deets) in one week. I’m VERY curious to see what director, Christopher Nolan, has in store.
Thanks for reading!