The Matrix Revolutions Review

by Ram Samudrala (me AT ram DOT org)
January 7th, 2004

The Matrix: Revolutions

It's a shame to see a promising concept be totally wasted in its ultimate execution. The promising concept arose in /The Matrix/, and expanded upon in /The Animatrix/, which was a prequel of sorts. Even given all the deficiencies (what would power the humans that served as batteries?), the first film, in terms of the creativity of the filmmakers, the plot development, and the action sequences, was enthralling. The decline began in /The Matrix Reloaded/ where it was evident that the sequels (filmed simultaneously) were just tacked on and wouldn't have been made at all if /The Matrix/ had bombed (in fact, the sequels may have well been inspired by films like /The Thirteenth Floor/ and /Existenz/ which came after the first film). Still, I held out hope that in the third installment, /The Matrix: Revolutions/, that things would come wrapped up better.
In this film, Neo fulfils his destiny as The One, which is really another means of control, like the Matrix itself, created by the machines to keep (at least the rebellious) humans happy. In this way, the Matrix turns out to be more about human nature than the nature of an artificial intelligence, since its goal is to enslave humans by creating a pretense of what humanity is. The question, not alluded to in the film, is whether a machine that can truly anthropomorphise (which it needs to do in order to control) can ignore the feelings it must feel when it controls. This may explain why the Oracle aids the humans.

But there's not even a pretense here of the pretentiousness that existed in the first two films (or in the above question). This film zips along just fine and can be viewed purely as an action-adventure. The music here is as good as the previous two films, and the visuals are top-notch, even though people should be used to them by now. There is heavier use of computer-generated images here, which is fine with me (I happen to think that the game Halo is quite fascinating).

It's clear by the end of the third film that a lot of what is happening in Zion and the Matrix is metaphorical. Perhaps they're both the same since the boundaries between the two diminish further here (which is my take on it). However, for these type of metaphors to work, it requires a great deal of bookkeeping and meticulousness, which was displayed by the filmmakers of /The Lord of the Rings/, but is not present here.

The only way I have been able to resolve the incoherency in the Matrix mythology is by viewing the whole trilogy as a big simulation, with perhaps an arbitrary number of illusionary levels, as seen in /Existenz/, or just two, as seen in /The Thirteenth Floor/. (This also leads to some Eastern mythology, but that's another point.) In other words, the whole concept of humans being batteries (which is an inane idea -- humans can't generate power without taking in more power realistically), the concept of the war between machines and humans, etc. could all be a big lie too.

Why create this lie? This could be due to several reasons: humans themselves may no longer have wanted a physical world, preferring to live in the Matrix. They may have done it to create a perfect world since they weren't happy with the physical world they lived in. However, in the end, they couldn't get away from their base tendencies (i.e., the perfect world didn't work out and therefore modifications were required by the caretaker of the virtual world, i.e., the architect). This wouldn't be inconsistent with the view that in the end, the humans are still "freed" and go back into the real world. Likewise, the Matrix could've been created to keep a huge population of humans in a state of suspended animation until the ravaged real world was recreated. Finally, Humans may have never existed or have become extinct, and everything and everyone seen in the film is a program. In other words, we're all just an AI's dream.
The way the /Matrix/ films have turned out offer some interesting observations about the nature of life: In the film, everything that happens can be explained away by the weird set of rules that must be followed while in the Matrix, i.e., it's all a matter of mind over matter, unless there's a another rule to prevent the mind from taking precedence (I suppose one could invoke G"odel to explain this and other contradictions that occur within the Matrix). This "mind over matter" phenomenon however only serves as an inconsistent, albeit convenient, plot device. In the end, the "rules" that matter are those that will let the filmmakers extend the film to their desired running time and conclusion. Which all leads to this one inevitable conclusion: the rules that we all live by are arbitrary.

Even given my criticisms, I recommend checking it out on a big screen, since I think this film is better than /Reloaded/. I still love the visuals; I still like all the things about it that have become associated in our pop culture ("that is the sound of inevitability, Mr. Anderson"); and I can watch it rehashed again and again while ignoring all the pseudo-philosophical garbage. But the sequels to /The Matrix/ simply don't live up to the freshness of the first film, as well as the cool ideas introduced in it.

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