Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Second and Third Matrix Movies

2 Comments:

Blogger The Doctor said...

Forward on disobedience

"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

-- Number 6, The Prisoner

"Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey."

-- Agent Smith, The Matrix: Reloaded

Thomas Anderson was a disobedient fellow. He was frequently late for work. He didn't do as he was told. He had a problem with authority. Fans of the first Matrix film identified with Thomas Anderson because of that rebelliousness. We all grinned when Thomas Anderson offered to give Agent Smith "the finger" in the interrogation room.

So let's imagine for a moment that our boy Tom had done what was expected of him. Suppose after being scolded by his manager, Tom learned his lesson, went back to his cubicle, and conformed. Not much of a story. There's Tom, working as he should in his cubicle. The end. Tom just became part of the machine.

As luck would have it, Mr. Anderson is compelled to disobey and we have a story after all. But it is not just about having a story. Not hardly. It is really about choice, which is what Neo realizes in the Architect's chamber. When you get down to it, there are only two fundamental choices: you can choose to be robot or you can choose to be human; asleep or awake; dead or alive. Someone will always be telling you what to do. The robot, tin-chested and lifeless, does what he is told. The robot obeys. The human being disobeys. The human being gives Agent Smith the finger. The human being eats the apple.

The Architect gave Neo the same two choices. Neo chose not to be part of the machinery of the Matrix any longer. After that he was free.

My secret belief is that moments after Neo left the Architect's chamber, the Architect did a touchdown dance.
Foundation of criticism

I am really displeased by all the "liar" commentary that has sprung up about this movie. For some reason, people find it easier to conclude that the characters in the movie are all trying to deceive each other, and that the film-makers are trying to deceive the audience, than to come up with a coherent analysis of the movie. I especially do not like the idea that the audience is being tricked. That is a very poor theory that does not require a criticism that works within the framework of what we see in the story. You see, if we are being tricked, then we can advance any crazy theory we like and no one can argue against it. To make the crazy theory "fit" we just have to keep calling everyone a liar.

Therefore I will take these to be the foundations of my criticism:

1. No one in the movie is "lying." For example, when Agent Smith tells Neo there is a connection between them, there really is.
2. The movies themselves are not lying to the audience. That is, the first movie was not one big lie. Also, the core group's escape from the Matrix to the real world was not a lie. The real world is really real (i.e., the two-Matrix theory is bunk).
3. I am very textually oriented and I believe we can construct a good analysis of the movie based solely on what evidence we can find in the movie itself. Things like "affective" interpretations do not matter much to me (I think affective approaches are not arguable, therefore moot.)
4. Despite that, I do believe that many (good) authors are very intentional with their references and scene choices. Story scenes are there for a reason, not just to fill time or show boobs. So it is with our Wachowski bros. If something is in the movie, I will assume they meant it to be there and are not just being gratuitous.
5. Following on #3, I have tried to disallow The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix as evidence for any part of this essay. I do not entirely succeed. Cope.

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The Architect

[BT: Lest anyone think I trashed a perfectly good part of the essay when I rewrote this part, here is the old Architect section.]

So God created man in his own image...And there was evening, and there was morning -- the sixth day.

--Genesis 1:27;31

The Architect is God as we see him in the creation stories of Genesis (there are two creation stories). This God has some particular characteristics. He created earth in six days, then took a break, then commenced taking leisurely evening walks in the Garden of Eden. Well, that is about it for God. Except for one more thing -- he put up a couple of special trees and told the humans not to eat their fruit. They were the forbidden fruits of the Trees of Knowledge and of Life. And so it is with our Architect. He created the Matrix and now sits back in his comfy chair watching everything unfold on his TV sets. Just like God, the Architect cautioned against too much knowledge. Both Gods say, "Here is a perfect world for you to live in. Just don't start thinking too hard about why you're here, or where the rain comes from, or basically how any of this works."

This the Creator God, the Father God. Brahma is a good parallel. Brahma creates the world but does not rule it. Brahma essentially just sits on his lotus flower. He is like the cosmic Clock-maker of the Deists who winds up the springs and then only watches things happen. But in addition to this Brahma-like quality, the Genesis God and the Architect both have this forbiddance against knowledge. And there is also the matter of the serpent.

In the Garden of Eden, everything is taken care of. There is no suffering. Recall Agent Smith from the first film, who said, "the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world. Where none suffered. Where everyone would be happy." The Architect confirms this in Reloaded. (There is not a one-to-one correlation between Matrix versions and the Garden -- they are all the Garden from various viewpoints.) The Garden is also timeless, a quality shared by the Matrix. This is a point that has been made extremely well by others, a good example of which appears on the comments page. Just how long has it been 1999 in this version of the Matrix? Nothing ever changes; it's perfect already, so it cannot possibly change. It isn't alive, either, because change is necessary for growth and life. And so we introduce the Tree of Knowledge, which is the exit from the Garden into the field of time. In the Matrix, this exit appears as the taking of the red pill.

There is the serpent, too. It's often overlooked that the serpent was created by God and put into the Garden. It is a mistake to read this with the assumption that the serpent is evil. One (I think good) translation of the adjectives applied to the serpent is "crafty." As in, he has knowledge of crafts. This is really Loki, who is also branded as a deceiver or a trickster, and that's part of his nature, but Loki also brings new technology: he is crafty, an innovator. He is the quintessential hacker [1]. At first I always identified Neo with Loki, but in the first movie I think Morpheus fits the bill better, at least in the beginning. (By the end it's 100% Neo, as it will be for the rest of the trilogy. This is a good fit, too, because Morpheus was the mentor, the guru, that showed Neo the door to enlightenment. After that, Neo surpasses Morpheus.) Either way, the role is the same: "tempting" people with the forbidden fruit -- the red pill -- so that they may exit the Garden into the real world of suffering and the passage of time.

As a small sidenote about this topic, notice how it is only after Neo is first awakened from the Matrix that he gets any sense of what year it really is.

The essential point of the red pill and the "Loki effect" is that, just like in Genesis, both of these things were designed into the Matrix by the Architect. And that puts the Architect's relationship to Neo in a very interesting light.

There is a stark visual contrast between Neo and the Architect. In their meeting in the Architect's chamber, the Architect is in all white and Neo, well, he looks just like the devil himself in all black. This is a pretty good interpretation. The Architect's Godliness is established, because he created the world. Neo at this point has fully taken on the Loki/serpent role. We are not talking about good and evil here. The serpent in the Garden isn't a force of evil. It is a force of change. The serpent is a catalyst, inviting us to think rationally about our surroundings. One one hand, the serpent is responsible for putting events in motion that lead to the invention of agriculture, and so the serpent is the inventor god, i.e., Loki. On the other hand, the very idea of a snake is the most rudimentary image of life (life equals change), and so by "following the serpent" we exit the timeless Garden and descend into the field of time. It is only by leaving the Garden that we can awaken to genuine humanity. It's pretty clear that being in the real world is better than being in the Matrix. It might be harder and dirtier, but at least you are conscious.

And so we have Neo positioned as the serpent, acting to subvert the Architect's creation. Thus, Neo is the devil [2]. The important part while we are analyzing the Architect is that he is a devil created by the Architect. On second thought, Neo represents the devil element that was designed into the Matrix by the Architect. (Neo-the-devil may be more a child of the Mother than of the Father.) In other words, God put the devil into the world in order to achieve some greater purpose.

Below are several lines of dialogue from the Architect scene, and I will use them to discover what is really going on with Neo and the Architect. These lines aren't sequential; they're just the ones I want to highlight.

ARCHITECT - You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human.

I stand by the idea that the Architect does not lie during this conversation. He tells us quite directly that Neo is a human being. This should put to rest all theories that Neo is a computer program. It's also very important that we establish Neo as a human being, because the end result depends on it.

ARCHITECT - That [response] was quicker than the others.

ARCHITECT - While the others experienced this [attachment] in a very general way, your experience is far more specific. Vis-a-vis, love.

The translation here is very plain. There have been "others" -- other Neos -- and this one is different. We have already had this difference demonstrated in the Merovingian scene, but it is confirmed here. The Merovingian makes remarks about how Neo is different than his predecessors, and the Merovingian is quite surprised at the superhuman abilities Neo is able to command. (He does not expect that Neo can win the fight against the minions on the staircase.) The fact that this incarnation is different also means that the previous five all chose the right-hand door.

ARCHITECT - I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next, in which case this is the sixth version.

There have been five previous incarnations of Neo. This is similar to the Hindu god Indra being confronted by the fact that there have been countless previous Indras. It means: you are a part of something greater than yourself. There is also a tremendous significance in the fact that the present Neo is the sixth incarnation.

ARCHITECT - [The Mother] stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99.9% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice.

NEO - Choice. The problem is choice.

How many times was the idea of choice and free will been raised in Reloaded? Quite a few. It comes down to this moment, and both the Architect and Neo state it clearly. This is about choice. Neo's choice -- between the right-hand door or the left-hand door -- is a magnified, superconcentrated version of the choice given to all humans connected to the Matrix. Will you accept the world you're given, or will you follow the serpent? This choice is why Neo and the Architect are shown as competing opposites -- the God and the devil. They are the embodiment of the two choices.

It is extremely difficult to determine what the Architect expects Neo to do. Most analyses of Reloaded differ at this point. My belief is that the Architect is hoping that Neo chooses the left-hand door [3]. (Yes, this is a complete reversal of my position in previous versions of this essay.) In other words, I am saying (1) that the Architect is hoping for something and (2) the thing he is hoping for is that Neo chooses Trinity. There are several key pieces of evidence for this belief. What tips the scales for me is the "parting shot" from the Architect:

ARCHITECT - Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.

Why does the Architect say this? Why does he mention the word "hope"? Why didn't he simply say, "So long, dummy?" I think it is because this is a moment of fulfillment for the Architect. He knows his job is finished, because by choosing the left-hand door Neo is going to destroy the Matrix. I thought perhaps by ending on "weakness" the Architect was classifying Neo's choice as a bad one. Not so. Weakness is a state of non-perfection. Human beings are defined by their imperfections, their weaknesses. So this is a statement of liberation from perfection. Neo is breaking free. He is exiting the Garden.

But the Architect is also saying something much more profound than that. Look very carefully at the sentence. The Architect is saying that Neo is quintessentially human. That is, Neo has truly transcended his boundaries by choosing Trinity. He has genuinely exercised free will. And that leads to the most incredible part of the relationship between the Architect and Neo.

Neo #6 is the creation of man on the sixth day. A creation of the Creator.

It would carry a lot of momentum if I just left off with that, but I need to tidy up a few loose ends. I'll try to do it with another little bomb to make it exciting. When we go back through the entire dialogue of the Architect's scene, it is natural to wonder about the meaning of a lot the Architect's statements, especially because they seem to contradict my conclusion, or else they seem to be lies. My take on that is to go back much further to the Oracle's scene in the first movie. She says things to Neo that are not literally true, but yet they are true because they allow Neo to become what he must become. Neo would not have risked his life for Morpheus if the Oracle had told Neo he was The One. And so it is with the Architect -- what he says allows Neo become what he must become. It is not very meaningful for Neo to choose Trinity if he doesn't think anything is at stake. It wouldn't have been an act of will.

How interesting that the Oracle and the Architect would use such similar devices for such similar reasons.

[1] This is not my own idea. It comes from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. When I first wrote this essay I assumed all my readers (I predicted around 25-30 of them; oh, the naivete) would know this book well. [Back]

[2] A lot of people get irritated by this assertion. Just to throw gasoline on a fire, how about this: the Devil and the Christ are brothers. They are a yin-yang pair. The Devil is the thing in you that chafes at perfection and desires to get out of the Garden and grow. It is the splinter in your mind. The Christ is the thing in you that desires to return to the perfection of the Garden, to slay the dragon and unite with the princess (wholeness). [Back]

[3] Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Therefore, by offering the right-hand door, the Architect is asking Neo to sit at his right hand. Neo would become the Christ for the Matrix, sacrificing himself for the good of the world. This is what every previous incarnation has done. The fact that he doesn't do it this time indicates he (and by extension the Matrix and humanity) has gone beyond this and is adventuring into something new. [Back]
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The rave scene

By "the rave scene" I mean the one immediately following the address by Morpheus to the people of Zion, and then everyone dances and Trinity and Neo go off by themselves (ahem). This scene received a storm of bad commentary. People said "that scene sucked," or "it was way too long," or, most often, "that scene was totally unnecessary."

Oh, how wrong. It's not that the story information in this scene could not have been presented differently. But the scene did its job very well. (To be fair, I have seen a lot of people "get" this scene, but still not like it. Clue stick: life is dirty.)

First, just as we enter this scene we see that it is in a kind of temple. No fancy interpretation necessary: this is a spiritual event. That initial view means everything that happens for the rest of the scene should be interpreted as having spiritual significance. And here are the highlights:

1. Repeated shots of feet on the ground.
2. People dancing in a sexually provocative manner.
3. Almost everyone has at least some African ethnicity.
4. Wide shots showing molten lava at the center of the cathedral.
5. Neo and Trinity are naked, and have sex.

The feet on the ground means that Zion is on Earth. Plain and simple. This parallels the Architect scene, and gets to the main thesis. We are cast out of the "perfection" of Heaven and living in the Real World. Symbolically, the Matrix is Heaven. Cypher makes this point in the first movie. The Real World is hard, dirty, and uncomfortable. The Matrix is, well, paradise. This point is made again in the first movie by Agent Smith, who calls the Matrix "the perfect human world" [paraphrased]. Recall that the Architect scene happens in utterly clean, utterly white perfection [4].

The Biblical reference is clear enough. Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and the rest of Zion have rejected God's Garden of Eden where all their needs are taken care of in favor of a hard, scrabbling existence where at least they have free will.

A minor diversion: This is how we come to interpret the serpent in the Garden as the inventor (or hacker, or technologist). The serpent is the catalyst for curiosity and the invention of agriculture. He asks significant questions, of the form: "God gave you such-and-such rules. Given those rules, should not such-and-such a result be possible?" [Diversion from the diversion: I understand such figures (e.g., the serpent, Loki) to be abstract models of parts of our own psyches. So this part of Genesis really means that a human being or group of human beings will begin spiritual growth by asking the type of questions posed by the serpent. Taken another way, God wants us to be curious, rational, and...well, to apply the scientific method.]

Now about the sexuality of the dance. Morpheus' speech before the dance helps us interpret the meaning of the dance: we are in the Real World of flesh and blood and dirt and animal instinct. This is not Heaven where divine, passionless entities "do what they are there to do." (There is entirely another thesis in those words.) This is Passion and Feeling. The first interview with the Merovingian included an "orgasm sequence" meant to make a point about free will. But did you notice how the orgasm played out? It was explosive but mechanical. Not anything like the animal lust of the dance scene. In Zion, we see human beings neither rejecting their animal selves, nor completely giving over to their animal selves either -- it is a human activity with choice and rhythm and purpose, but also filled with basic impulses. In other words, they are reveling in their humanity.

Another diversion: I hate to do this again, but I don't want the point to get away. Mythology of all stripes teaches that we are between worlds. The very Nordic concept of "Middle Earth" means literally "in the middle between the animal world and the divine world." Not just the Norse: the Chinese and the "Middle Kingdom," for example. To be human is to stand in between animal instinct and godliness. Morpheus in his speech talks about the actions of those present resonating "from red core to black sky" -- i.e., between the two. Come on, you are being smacked in the face with this.

The African ethnicity says something important too. Africa is the birthplace of humanity. Then, symbolically, African ethnicity signals what is fundamental about human beings. It also signals, plainly enough, birth, in more ways that one. If Africa is the "birthplace" then we can say Africa is the Mother. (Yes! You got it now, didn't you? Suddenly you are interested in the Oracle.) (Genesis is a birth story. I think it is also a resurrection story, which is why there are so many interesting links and parallels in Biblical stories, and why the recurrent theme of resurrection in The Matrix movies is very compelling.)

Continuing on the mother theme, we have the wide-angle shots of the belly of the Earth gurgling lava and steam. This has two meanings. The first meaning is the quick interpretation (which happens to be right). It's supposed to make you think of Hell. This is a good complement to the Earth imagery we got from the muddy feet and the African-ness of the dancers. Before anyone thinks I'm equating Africa with Hell, pay closer attention. The dance doesn't happen in Hell, but basically at its gates. It sets up Zion as the antithesis of the "Heaven" of the Matrix. (If you are still clinging to the Matrix-within-a-Matrix theory, give it up now. Zion and the Matrix are consistently portrayed as opposites. Therefore, if the Matrix is a virtual world, Zion is the real world. Really.)

The other meaning of the firey lava is that we are in the "womb" of the Earth. The very core, the center. The birth connection is easy enough, I won't draw it out. I'll say this though -- Kali is the goddess of death and birth combined. That is what the lava cavern is all about. Go watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The core is deadly, but it is also a holy place where humanity is born. There are a number of Native American creation stories that start with the first people climbing out of a hole in the ground. If you don't understand that metaphor you have no imagination whatsoever. Okay, one more: there's a common mythological theme "the fire in the belly." Discuss.

And then we've got the sex scene. It doesn't take much brain power to realize that the way the movie cuts between the dance scene and the sex scene means that they symbolize the same thing. I can't say it any stronger than this really seals it as far as interpretations go. The main things you have to take away from this are:

* They are naked and having sex. What's important is that they clearly are in love with each other -- remember, the machines don't comprehend this. Also they are having pretty good sex, which is embracing their animal sides -- remember, we're not in Heaven but on Earth, close to the gates of Hell. Run with that concept a while.
* We are confronted with the left-over sockets in their bodies from their years in the Matrix. The camera spends a lot of time showing those sockets. They still have the marks of Heaven, but now they have "fallen" (remember how Neo fell?) to Earth. They have rejected the Garden, but it frees them into humanity in the "Middle Kingdom."

[4] Ebert thought this play of African ethnicity in Zion vs. the super-whiteness of the Architect and his chamber conveyed racial themes. I suppose we are to take a Feminist angle and find exclusionary metaphors here. Well, it's a good enough theory. I could probably build a whole criticism around it, except that I don't believe it one single bit. And I find it depressing and off-putting as well. [Back]
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The Oracle

ARCHITECT: If I am the Father of the Matrix, then she would undoubtedly be its Mother.

NEO: The Oracle.

Those two lines sum up a tremendous amount of the story. But what exactly is the Oracle the mother of? The Architect designed an essentially "perfect" Matrix in versions 1.0 and 2.0, and both failed. He describes how the answer came from an intuitive program (i.e., the Oracle) -- the part she contributed that he could not was the Neo factor.

Very briefly, I want to detour to stamp out the idea that the Oracle is not the Mother. This is as much a wrong interpretation as the Matrix-in-a-Matrix theory is. Mostly, people want to believe that Persephone is the Mother. There are some good reasons why the Oracle is a better choice than Persephone. We can start with her name. The Wachowskis do not pick names at random. They didn't choose the name "Neo" by accident, and they surely did not choose the name "Persephone" just because it sounds neat. Persephone is not a mother figure in mythology. Not coincidentally, she is nothing like a mother figure in the movie either. I am not saying Persephone is an unimportant character, but she is definitely not the Mother. The Oracle on the other hand, portrayed so well by the late Gloria Foster, is every bit the mother figure. She gives Neo fresh-baked cookies when he first meets her, for Pete's sake. OK, detour over.

I made a quick reference to Kali a while back. She is the goddess of both birth and death -- that is, she brings death-and-rebirth to the universe. This illuminates the flaw in Architect's previous Matrices, defines who the Oracle is, and reveals precisely the limit of the machines' intelligence (and why the Architect cannot entirely predict Neo's behavior; perhaps the Oracle actually can, though). The cycle of death-and-rebirth is equivalent to GROWTH. We can apply that truth to basic physical existence, the death and consumption of another to yield bodily growth[5]. We can also take that as a spiritual metaphor. That is, there is no spiritual growth (i.e., becoming fully human and entering the Middle Kingdom) without death and rebirth.

The reason the previous Matrices failed was that there was no way for the humans to grow, a need so fundamental that no one would accept the world they were given. Agent Smith, in the first movie, tells the truth when he says "humans define their world through suffering." Death must come before rebirth. How many times has that progression been shown in these movies so far? This is absolutely central to the theme. Smith's recognition of it is portentous.

The fact that the Architect designed two entire Matrices without the capacity for human growth indicates that the machines have little comprehension of growth. In fact, they can't grow; they strive instead for static perfection. The only way they have "grown" so far is in response to human actions. The Oracle knows this, which is why she says "the only way forward is together" [paraphrased]. She knows that the machines will stagnate without humans to lead them forward.

So the Oracle is Kali. She brings death and misery to the world, but also renewal. The Oracle could have prevented a lot of suffering by equipping everyone with better foreknowledge. But if she had done so, none of the main characters would have grown -- especially, Neo would not have become The One. This is why she says to Neo "you have to decide for yourself if I'm for you or against you" [paraphrasing again]. And it really is not clear, although it seems like in the long run she is pro-human.

I suggested that the Oracle may be able to truly predict Neo's behavior. She "birthed" the Neo routine into the Matrix. It is her special child (and perhaps by extension Neo is her child). The Architect doesn't understand it (or Neo). He merely knows the parameters of how it is supposed to function. But if the Oracle gifted growth to the Matrix, then she must understand it (even if she herself cannot do it). To wit, you cannot grow and remain static at the same time. The Architect thinks the Neo routine is a method for maintaining a static system, but it cannot be. Each time the routine runs, the death-and-rebirth cycle repeats, and all of humanity grows up a little more, expressed specifically as Neo. By its very nature, by its will to grow, humanity will reject this Matrix too.

I think there is something special with this "The One" business. The Architect and the Merovingian talk about predecessors and previous versions of "Neo." I suspect that each time around he (or she!) was a little more powerful, although it might have been unexpressed or undetectable to the machines. We have plenty of Buddhist/Hindu reincarnation clues in these movies, and we can say that each incarnation was the same soul growing toward Enlightenment. In the first movie, the Oracle tells Neo he is not yet The One. "I don't know what you're waiting for," she says. "Your next life, maybe." She isn't talking about his fulfillment of the death-and-rebirth routine built into the Matrix. She is talking about the continually reincarnated Neo evolving into THE ONE, which is something she knows is bound to happen eventually. In fact, it takes six incarnations to get there.

And now we get back to the conclusion about the Architect. The Oracle and the Architect say things to Neo propel him toward enlightenment. What I find very interesting, too, is that we do not see a single shred of evidence to suggest that the Architect and the Oracle are opposed to each other. The Hindu trinity includes Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Each god has his consort, who reflects and compliments the god's own power. So we make a small substitution and replace Shiva with his goddess counterpart, Kali, who is the Oracle. As I mentioned earlier, the Architect is Brahma. They are working together to create the enlightened human being -- Neo -- but perhaps also the enlightened machine. And if this trinity holds, then we will need to identify Vishnu as well, but that may have to wait until Revolution.

[5] Vegetarians and vegans cannot escape. Whatever you eat was once alive. Even if you pick up what drops from the tree you are interfering in that plant's reproductive cycle, which is the same as death. There is no life but through death. It's yucky, and at the same time it's why we have religion. [Back]

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Agent Smith

The truth about Smith is simple, but the way to get there is a little complicated. Said another way, there are a lot of facets to Smith which are all true but don't sound like each other at all, even though they all "add up" to the same thing. Basically, Smith is to the machines what Neo is to humanity.

Facet #1: Quieting the Mind. Let me start with the standard mountain analogy. A quality mountaineer will tell you that any rock has multiple ascents. Some climbers do better on one ascent, other climbers on another. It's impossible from a logical standpoint to differentiate between ascents. You might state facts like "More people prefer this ascent." But that doesn't make it "better." So it is with Enlightenment. It's quite difficult in, say, Confucianism to say that a path is evil as long it leads you higher up the mountain. That lesson has to be applied to Smith to see him properly. He is the nemesis of Neo, his arch-enemy, and our traditional modes of thought make us label Neo "good" and Smith "evil."

I had this feeling about Darth Maul, too. On the surface he seemed thoroughly evil. But there is no denying that he was powerful, and I always believed The Force to be similar to kung-fu-style enlightenment -- Jedi and Sith have astounding powers because they have quieted their minds and are attuned to the world around them, which is a very enlightened thing. (Lately we have to stretch this, because Lucas has spoiled our Force by describing it as a blood condition.) Just because Darth Maul got up the mountain through hatred and anger, well, he got up the mountain just the same. Smith is like that, too. He really hates humans, and most of all he hates Neo. What that gains him is clarity. Peace, actually. Smith says to Neo that he has found a purpose, which is a sign that he has reached some level of quietude. When we are searching for a purpose we are pretty ineffectual, but when we can submit ourselves to a higher purpose we respond with increased energy.

Facet #2: Hero's Journey. Here is some additional evidence that what Smith has been through is equivalent to Neo's journey. We don't get to see it, but Smith's longish speech to Neo before their fight scene gives us enough to go on. The chronology is:

1. Neo explodes Smith, which is clearly Smith's death.
2. Somehow, Smith is resurrected from death.
3. Smith spends a lot of time being very disoriented and confused.
4. Smith finds a purpose (i.e., destroying Neo).

Step 2 is amazing in its own right. You see, resurrection is a human trait. The machines don't have it. If we take it apart, it's a death-and-rebirth cycle -- the fundamental characteristic of biological life. I think the best way to state this is that Smith has awakened to spirituality. He is able now to GROW, to start his path up the mountain.

There is a subtext in Steps 2 through 4, however. This is a hero's journey in the plainest sense (c.f. Iron John, etc.). So not only is Smith awakened by his resurrection, he immediately starts on a cycle of spiritual growth. This is especially interesting because he starts another hero's journey before our eyes. Smith takes over the avatar of Bane and then downloads himself into that guy's head. If that's not crossing the threshold of adventure, I don't know what is. (I don't want to lose anyone: Luke Skywalker crosses the threshold when he agrees to go with Ben Kenobi to Alderaan. Neo crosses it when he follows the white rabbit to the club.) For a while Smith-in-the-real-world is disoriented and awkward. He soon gets his bearings and sets off on his "quest" -- which is to stab Neo in the back with a knife.

Sidenote time: I had some email exchanges with senteniment@NOhotmail.SPAMcom (who really schooled me about The Animatrix), in which I started to get into the psychology of Smith wanting to kill Neo. This is a little dark, so skip to the next paragraph if you're squeamish. Murderers in general are doing an act of possession. They kill what they want to become. This is mythologically born out by way of hunting, killing, and consuming. Sioux and other plainsfolk would typically consume parts of their kills on the spot in order to absorb their powers, e.g., eating the still-beating heart of a freshly slain buffalo. Cannibalism is an expression of the same thing -- the cannibal eats another human being to gain his power. (See Ravenous for a yucky-but-good treatment.) There are many hunter-gatherer rituals which embody this act, and although they seem creepy to our sanitized Western palates, they speak to the core of what it is to live. It's Oroboros, the world-serpent eating its own tail.

Facet #3: Growing Programmatically. This is how we get to what is probably the most central facet of Smith's character. The capability for growth that Neo instilled in Smith -- or wait, this is mysterious; Neo obviously did not resurrect Smith, so who did? It's positively religious to contemplate it -- is probably the factor that throws Smith into a bout of confusion. How to grow? Machines don't know how. Finally, Smith figured out that replication is growth. And, you know, Smith would be the one to figure this out. He spent perhaps hundreds of years studying human beings and their viral nature. You can't logically define growth without replication, even if it's only at the cellular level. That is interesting, because it means Smith's behavior is like rudimentarily life forms. He's just learning how to be a growing being. He will learn fast (you'll see).

Rewind a little to my conversations with senteniment. By the time that discussion took place, I had already made this note, but it's the first time I said it publicly: recall what Smith said to Morpheus in the first movie, and you will understand what is remarkable about Smith's viral replication. When he was torturing Morpheus for the codes to Zion [6], Smith talked about humans as a virus on the Earth. But his tone during that rant was one of disgust, revulsion...you got the impression that humans ought to be wiped out based on their revolting nature. That's Smith. He is utterly sickened by human beings and their -- what? -- rampant replication!

Smith has become what he hates most, which is to say he is like humans now. And he blames Neo for that, all the while using it like it's going out of style (how can he help it?).

Facet #4: Smith the Hacker. How is it that nobody noticed what a hacker Smith has become? The virus infection routines are magic. (It's not "cracker" this time. Let it go.) An audience of geeks would, presumably, see Smith as a fantastic Gibsonesque consensual-reality cowboy, just like...hmm...Neo! I don't know why this wasn't more widely understood. Smith is hacking like crazy, which makes him Loki just like Neo is. Not only is Smith hacking the Matrix, he is hacking reality by downloading avatars of himself into real human beings, and seemingly hacking their brains. The reference to Snow Crash is unavoidable, which only bolsters the hacker concept.

HOLY...wait a minute. Hacking their brains?! Here is where people really fall off the wagon, but I think it gets extremely interesting. There was a comment on Slashdot about how "unlikely" it was that Smith would be able to hack somebody's brain and download a copy of himself, because the formats would be incompatible (or something like that). Well, let's just assume it's possible. Why haven't other agents done this? Because they are incompatible. Smith, on the other hand, has become compatible. We could start an entire book with that line. Instead, let's sum up in two points:

* The machines and humans have a LOT more in common than meets the eye.
* Smith marks the emergence of a type of program/machine that lives by the same rules as humans do, which means there is a common point of understanding. In other words, they can live together [7].

This is really serious evidence about where the entire story arc is going, and plays quite well into what the Oracle had to say about going into the future together. This makes me wonder if the Oracle can predict Smith and his behavior. I am genuinely uncertain, but I lean toward "yes." The only reason I say so is that it would lend a truly metaphysical bent to the story, and you would have to sit back and wonder, "Now how could she know that?" and get this basic sense of awe that an unseen hand was guiding everything all along. It makes the trilogy have a really epic quality.

Facet #5: Neo's Mirror. All of these facets so far get to the principle issue that Smith is a mirror image of Neo. In a simplistic story-sense, all that means is that Smith's "negative reflection" of Neo serves merely to highlight Neo's character in various ways. That is true, but not hardly the whole package. (It is a mark of good storytelling for there to be multiple levels of functionality like this.) Let's line up some of their features side-by-side.

Neo

* Killed by Smith, then resurrected
* On a quest (to the Source)
* Motivated by love
* Has growing supernatural powers
* Has transcended "the system"
* Hacks the Matrix, then hacks reality



Smith

* Killed by Neo, then resurrected
* On a quest (to destroy Neo)
* Motivated by hate
* Has growing supernatural powers
* Has transcended "the system"
* Hacks the Matrix, then hacks reality

I could go on for a while with the duality. It goes way back into the first movie (albeit with different symbols), and I expect it to be amplified greatly in Revolution. I think much of this mirror quality points directly at the story arc. I'll deal with it in that section.

There is a really "easy" way to see the Neo-Smith mirror from a criticism viewpoint, and that is to call them the same character. That is, the fact that they are nemeses means that Neo (because he is the protagonist) is actually in conflict with himself. This is a good approach. Recall Seraph, who fought Neo -- apparently to a draw! -- and said "You never truly know someone until you fight him." Uh, what did Neo and Smith do upon their first meeting? Yeah. Add to that Smith's murderous intent toward Neo (i.e., possession, which means knowing). If Smith can been seen as a splinter of Neo's psyche, the part of Neo trying to know himself, that boosts the theme of Neo's journey to Enlightenment substantially.

Don't get too sidelined by that last bit, though. It is right from a symbolic perspective, but in order to see the plot implications you have to do this thought experiment: I said we should see Smith as an indicator of Neo's character because Neo is the protagonist. But why is he the protagonist? We don't know the whole story yet. So let's assume that Smith is the protagonist, or maybe that Neo and Smith are both protagonists against...the Architect? It could be. Look at how Neo illuminates Smith's character. Smith is really "out there" from a certain standpoint. He is compelled to disobey the Matrix-system, exactly as Neo disobeys the Matrix-system. Zionites idolize Neo, but who among machines is in favor of Smith? If Smith is the savior of machines the way Neo is the savior of humanity, then the machines are in for an awfully big shake-up.

[6] What amazing evidence that not all of the machines are working in concert. The agents are there to protect the static continuance of the Matrix. They do not serve the Architect directly. In fact, the Architect is practically Deist in his non-involvement. He made the place, but doesn't have anything much to do with running it day-to-day. This also brings up the very interesting fact that servants of the Merovingian (i.e., "the twins") attacked agents when they showed up, so the Merovingian has nothing to do with the maintenance of the Matrix in general. [ Back ]

[7] Neo is crossing this boundary as well. His statement that he can "feel" the approaching sentinels likely means he is bridging the gap to the machines as much as Smith is bridging the gap to humanity. [ Back ]
Story arc

Here is a general arc summary so far:

* 01 is born.
* 01 wants to coexist with humanity, and offers such. This plays with Genesis perfectly. Remember, 01 is God. (I think that's profound, and even moving.) Here's how Genesis gets into it, in the classical interpretation: there is a "simple good" and a "complex good" as described by C. S. Lewis. The simple good would be for humans to accept what God tells them and live accordingly. The complex good is that humans reject God, learn why they were wrong, and then come back to God in the end. The highlight is that complex good is more good than simple good. Nothing's more human than that, if you ask me.
* Humanity rejects 01's offer of coexistence -- i.e., the complex cycle begins.
* Humanity in its hubris thinks it can wipe out God by blackening the sky. Among metaphors in contemporary literature and film, there are few that can match this one for elegance and meaning. The sky is Heaven, and so this is an assault upon Heaven. Wow.
* The assault on Heaven fails, and humanity is cast into the pit. Okay, metaphors aside, the humans lose a war against the machines and are subjugated.
* Several iterations of the Matrix are tried, and finally one is devised that allows humans to grow (so they won't reject it). In large part, the machines don't understand the growth aspect of the Matrix and fight it.
* The Oracle, who helped design Matrix 3.0, ruminates on her creation for a while and realizes that it will eventually lead to humans that can transcend the Matrix. (In heroic fashion, whomever transcends the Matrix can bring that gift back to society and they all benefit from it.) She sees as well that this transcendence is necessary if machines are to evolve at all. In the complicated relationship between man and machine, she sees that humanity's evolution benefits both sides, and will help bring about machine evolution.
* Neo 1.0 arrives on the scene, chooses rebirth for Zion, and the cycle begins again.
* Neo 6.0 arrives on the scene, chooses Trinity, and begins the Revolution (i.e., the transition to a new world order). The choice is significant because trinity equals godhood. This is one of the most complex, meaningful themes I have ever encountered in a work of fiction. Humanity achieved "simple" godhood by creating beings in its own image. It will achieve "complex" godhood by reuniting with its estranged children. At the same time, so will machines.

Now we are in unknown territory. What follows is pure conjecture but I think it follows rationally from my analysis:

* Neo and Smith are two superentities from "opposite" sides streaking toward the same conclusion. They will both achieve some kind of Enlightenment together (this could be "together" in the sense of "revealed while they are fighting each other").
* I say "opposite" sides because the END product of the trilogy will be a NEW WORLD of humans and machines moving forward into the future together. Heaven and Earth will come together.
* The old systems will be broken down. They have to be. Humanity will return to the surface. Matrix 3.0 will be deleted, and quite likely Matrix 4.0 will be in the works, but this time it does not enslave but liberate.
* Dollars to donuts the sun breaks through the dark clouds. That would be 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
* All the parties that stand to lose something by the breaking of the system will be out in force in Revolution. The Merovingian and his minions will be back. The agents will be back.
* Expect some unexpected alliances between humans and machines, especially near the end of Revolution.
* The Oracle will not be fully revealed or explained. Probably neither will the Architect. They are gods, after all.
* The conceptual barriers between the real world and the Matrix will be eroded -- as if it isn't already. But also the heightened man-machine interaction in the Matrix will be expressed more in the real world (a la Neo's power over the sentinels).
* More bullet-time.

11:53 PM  
Blogger The Doctor said...

Forward on Motivations

"You've got the gift, but it looks like you're waiting for something."

-- The Oracle

It seems easy to talk about "choice" as the main issue in Revolutions. But that was what Reloaded was all about. What constitutes making a choice? Is there anything beyond simple cause-and-effect chains? Do we live in a Skinnerian prison, bounded by our past experiences?

That is where we get some of the most difficult lines in Reloaded: "You've already made the choice. Now you just have to understand why you made it" -- and -- "You can't see past the choices you don't understand." When we get to the ultimate moment of choice, in the Architect's chamber, the Architect himself is surprised at Neo's motivation. Love. As Rama-Kandra explains, this is more than a word. It is a profound connection, for which virtually anything is possible. In Revolutions, we see it work powerfully between Link and Zee. We see Trinity take on a roomful of the Merovingian's henchmen for love.

Neo, however, leads. He fought for love in Reloaded. In Revolutions he transcends even love. In Revolutions he enters the nirvana of emptiness. No purpose. Neither fear, nor desire. Only will. The gift, the sacrifice, made by will alone overcomes everything. There is no higher why.

Smith asks, "Why, Mr. Anderson, why do you persist?" And Neo's reply is,

Because I choose to.
Neo's Ascension

"And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

-- Mark 14:62

This really begins at the Mobil Avenue station, but I am going to save that for last. Instead, I am going to start at the end. The fight between Neo and Smith comes to an apparent standstill. Neo is five-nines to enlightenment. Smith, who cannot understand why Neo is doing what he is doing, makes his speech. He lists every possible motivation he can think of, and of course the answer is none of the above. Instantly after that, Neo lands such a blow to Smith's face it's a little surprising his head didn't fly clean off.

I think if that's what had happened everyone would have cheered. I would have felt like cheering. It's quite close to how I thought the end would be -- Neo acting by will alone, utterly defeating Smith, and then evolving somehow into a new transcendent being. But, you know, when I ruminated on the ending a while, I realized that would have been like Gandhi saying "fuck it" and mowing down his opponents with an AK-47.

The mighty cross to Smith's jaw didn't mean Neo was going to beat Smith with kung fu. It was something else. In his hands Neo held godlike power -- he could fight as long as he chose to -- but his choice was to lay down that power voluntarily. That is the gift [1]. Smith, the dark side, cannot lay down the sword. Neo can, and by doing so chooses the path between light and dark; between desire and fear. He is like Jesus going willingly with the Roman guards. The followers of Jesus believed he was The One who would "end the war," and they were extremely confused, like Morpheus, when the prophecy didn't come true. They didn't understand the way he seemed to give up the fight and waste all the momentum he had built up.

This part of Revolutions is one of the two events that so far nearly everyone has interpreted incorrectly. The tendency seems to be toward a "Smith won" kind of explanation. That's not right. It's time to pull out the dialogue. The chronology here is very tight. Smith wonders why Neo continues to fight, and Neo replies "Because I choose to," and after that Smith is a mess. The way Smith delivers this next line indicates he has very little idea what is happening now -- or why. Not only does Smith fail to understand Neo, Smith's understanding of his own choices unravels quickly.

SMITH - Wait... I've seen this. This is it, this is the end. Yes, you were laying right there, just like that, and I... I... I stand here, right here, I'm... I'm supposed to say something. I say... Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.

The exact words of the Oracle! Also, for the first time, Smith calls his enemy "Neo."

I want to quickly flash back through the entire trilogy. We have been leading up to this the entire time.

[ M1: Neo and Smith are fighting in the subway station. ]
SMITH - Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your death. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson.
NEO - My name is Neo.

[ M2: The Burly Brawl; Smiths are piling on. ]
SMITH - It is inevitable.

[ M2: Hall of back doors, on the way to the Architect's chamber. ]
SMITH - If you can't beat us, join us.

[ M2: The Architect's speech. ]
ARCHITECT - Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end.

[ M3: Conversation between Neo and the Oracle. ]
ORACLE - Everything that has a beginning has an end.

[ M3: Neo and Bane fight on the Logos. ]
NEO - It's impossible.
BANE - Not impossible. Inevitable. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson.

[ M3: Final battle between Neo and Smith. ]
SMITH - Can you feel it, Mr. Anderson, closing in on you? Well, I can. I really should thank you for it, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.

Hearing Smith speak these words brings understanding to Neo. What is inevitable is that Neo and Smith will merge. What began with a merge will end with a merge. Neo stands up. Smith is completely baffled by his own behavior.

SMITH - What? What did I just say? No... No, this isn't right, this can't be right. Get away from me!

Come again? Why does Smith suddenly want Neo to get away? Just when Smith seems to have Neo on the ropes, Smith starts staggering away from Neo like Neo has the plague. When Smith speaks the word "No" in that line he is fighting off the realization of what is coming, the joining together, and he is afraid of it. At the same time, Neo seems clear-headed and certain. The next lines spoken are like exploding bombs.

NEO - What are you afraid of?
SMITH - It's a trick!

Agent Smith is flailing desperately for an explanation that will allow him to escape. He wants this to be an illusion. (As some very keen readers have pointed out, Smith is also telling us a fact. Everything that seems so real and so important is a trick of the mind. The inescapable fact is that we are all going to die and none of those spoils of war are going to come with us.)

NEO - You were right, Smith. You were always right. It was inevitable.

I can almost see two moments in time colliding as that word is spoken. The beginning and the end coming together. The dark and the light coming together. Without seeming to know why, Smith plunges his hand into Neo and starts absorbing him. While this happens, Neo is calm. In a few seconds another Smith stands where Neo stood. Now if I have not yet shattered all competing theories, the next line that Smith utters should do the job. Remember Smith is almost cowering before this new copy. He speaks this line with a shaky, unsure voice.

SMITH - Is it over?

Smith doesn't know! How could he not know? We have gone from Smith being slightly confused to Smith having absolutely no idea what's going on. If Smith didn't grok Neo standing "by choice" alone, he is impossibly lost at Neo's sacrifice. The new Smith is not part of the "collective Smith" at all. The new Smith does not speak, nor hardly move except to nod his head. This is a recreation of Smith's initial death in the first movie. Neo is absorbed into Smith and shatters him from within. The beginning and the end are one. In the real world, there is a cross of light upon Neo's body, the sign of his sacrifice -- the choosing of the Holy Grail, the way between the pairs of opposites.

The light and the dark are one. The One.

So the question perhaps most asked is: did Neo die? Well, yes. And Smith died as well. They joined (very much against Smith's wishes) into the true One, and in that being Neo is no more and Smith is no more. Or, nearly. Smith is definitely gone, but in some way Neo is still present.

Now somber, humble machines pull Neo's body, arms out in the shape of a cross, to a temple of light. Streams of energy course out from Neo along mechanical veins, gifting his divinity. And he ascends, he returns home, to the Source, where the path of The One ends.

* * *
Post-mortem

I believe there is a personal discussion going on between Neo and God in the final scenes in addition to the superficial deal-cutting. (The pantheon can get a little hard to follow -- I don't mean the Creator-God, the Architect. The floating head is the Infinite God, the Source from which finite Gods like the Architect have sprung.) God asks of Neo, "What do you want?" On the surface it looks like God is negotiating with Neo, and that they are making a deal to call off the squiddies if Neo can defeat Smith. But that means we're interpreting God's line as, "What does your side demand?" That's not what He said. It was,

What do you want?

This is a personal question directed at Neo. (I wonder what would have happened if Neo had said, "I want Trinity back.") Neo's response is, "Peace." If we look at this as an answer to a personal question, then Neo is asking for rest, for balance. He wants to end. At-one-ness. It just so happens that this reflects perfectly in the war between the machines and the humans. The One's personal ascension brings gifts to entire world.

Peace for Neo is the first gift of ascension.

Peace for Zion is the second of the gifts.

The third gift is the rewriting of the Matrix. I will discuss the Fourth Age later.

The fourth gift is mysterious. The machine city noticeably brightens when the One's spirit courses into it. What the machines gain is not revealed, but I believe there are clues laid down at the Mobil Avenue station and echoed in the final conversation between programs.

There is one more thing that needs to be looked at closely, because it has apparently caused an enormous amount of confusion. What I'm talking about is the "mechanism" by which Smith was...er...removed. Actually, I don't much go in for mechanical explanations -- they end up being highly speculative, and we've got extremely little evidence to rely on, and at any rate this is completely in the realm of fiction. Fans seem to forget sometimes that "warp drive" has scientific parity with "magic missile." That said, having explained a lot of the why, I am going to try and clear up a little of the how. Surely some readers will persist in their dissatisfaction.

First, we have to give up the notion that Neo and Smith can be represented as +1 and -1. That's much too simple. In several email exchanges I likened the final moment between Neo and Smith to the climactic ending of A Wizard of Earthsea, wherein Ged embraces and unites with the personification of his dark side. Ged doesn't disappear at that point. He's still there, only now transcendent. Neo is left at the end too. Instead of saying that Neo and Smith merged, we can say that the Light One and the Dark One merged, just like the annihilation of a proton meeting an antiproton. Neo and Smith could fight each other to a standstill as the Light One and the Dark One, and if that's all there was to it they might have ended up killing each other and that would be that. No elevation, no gifts, no transcendence. But the reality is this:
The Dark One

Neo

The Light One

This is why I said that Neo lays his power down. He steps away from his role as the Light One and goes into the middle path between the opposites. Smith cannot go there. Smith cannot (will not!) lay down his power as the Dark One, and so Smith is obliterated in the merging of the Light and the Dark. This is also why everyone who had been absorbed by Smith is restored (we don't see them all, but I believe they are there). It is the Smith-ness that clings to the identity of the Dark One, and so it is the Smith-ness that is destroyed, leaving the remainder behind.

On the most basic level, the "mechanical" explanation for why Smith was destroyed is that he got himself connected to the Source. I received floods of email proposing various means by which the deletion might have been accomplished: surges of electricity, anti-virus code, etc. Such additional weapons are purely unnecessary. There are three pieces of evidence that suggest how simple this can be:

1. Any individual Smith can command the power of all the other Smiths, and can know what all of the other Smiths know. Power and information shift freely within the horde.
2. Neo is connected to the Source. The evidence for this is really abundant, and I'll dig into this quite a bit when I get to Neo's own section.
3. Connecting to the Source equals deletion for programs. In Reloaded, the Oracle says, "Usually a program chooses exile when it faces deletion...a program can either choose to hide [in the Matrix], or return to the Source [and be deleted]."

I hardly even need to describe it further. When Smith absorbs Neo, that individual Smith is connected to the Source. Deleted. And since power and information flow freely within the horde, all the other Smiths get deleted too.

That brings us to the last bit of explanation of the merger, and the question of God's involvement. (I'm getting back to symbolic language now, sorry.) After Neo is absorbed, we see the code view of the real world, and a single pulse of orange light goes into Neo's body. Orange light is code in the real world. (Green light is code in the Matrix.) So some piece of code travels from the machine city, presumably from the Source, into Neo. A lot of people have speculated that this is anti-viral code being implanted into Neo, and that this code deletes Smith. I think it fits in with the "pure deletion" explanation as, well, the deletion code for Smith [2]. The inevitable question that follows is "Why didn't the DEM [Deus Ex Machina] do this before, and why in the world did the machines need Neo at all?"

The answer is that the "DEM" didn't do anything. The destruction of Smith was Neo's doing. At the moment of his sacrifice, Neo is in his divinity. He has claimed the Holy Grail -- the way between the pairs of opposites -- and walked back through the Portal to the Garden. When we see code moving from the Source to Neo, it is the connection between Neo and the ground of all being. It is the taking of the fruit of the Second Tree and the beginning of the ascent into Nirvana.

The Buddha, sitting under the World Tree, was challenged by a thousand-armed god of death and his legions. The Buddha reached out his hand and placed his fingertips on the earth, which is the Source, and drew into himself the essence of the Infinite God. The death god and all his armies were shattered.

* * *

[1] The gift described by the Oracle in the first movie is often interpreted this way: The Oracle hints it will come with Neo's next life, and after Neo is shot by Smith and resurrected he is technically "on his next life" and so has become the One. If the original Matrix film had been the only story -- if the second two movies had not been made -- this would be absolutely correct. (It still is correct, but it's like the Oracle saying, "I love candy." The surface meaning is one thing, but the deeper meaning is much more profound.) But Neo does not really get into his next life until he exits the Architect's chamber via the left-hand door. After that he is the Seventh Son. I'll talk more about this later. The gift is the laying down of his power, choosing the middle way between light and dark, in order to become THE ONE. [Back]

[2] In Enter the Matrix, the Oracle talks about her "deletion code" being traded like a commodity, so I think it's reasonable that Smith's deletion code would be a discrete packet. [Back]
The Yin and Yang of Neo

"God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness."

-- Genesis 1:4

Throughout the trilogy, the theme of tension between pairs of opposites is constant. It underpins everything else, and lack of understanding this theme leads to a basic lack of understanding of the trilogy. It is obvious that Neo and Smith are to be regarded as opposite sides of the same character, but the theme of opposites goes far deeper -- so far as to provide us with a fairly detailed roadmap of the storyline of both Reloaded and Revolutions.
The Quest for the Grail

Before I get to anything else, it is absolutely critical to understand the symbolism of creation stories. Creation stories are inevitably about splitting things apart. At first there is only singular. I am. Then there is division. Think of it this way: if God was alone at the start, and He was All, and then He created any thing, it would necessarily have to come out of Himself. From one, two. In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness, and the sea from the sky, and then the land from the sea. He is the wielder of the cosmic sword, cutting what was one into two. There is an Iroquois story about the First Mother getting pregnant from the wind (i.e., a "virgin mother") and giving birth to twins. There it is again, the one becoming two.

Creation stories are the key. They are what get you started toward the big picture of the spiritual cycle, which goes like this:

1. Creation
2. Exit from the Garden
3. Quest for the Holy Grail
4. Reunion

Then it starts over again. If you imagine a horizontal line between Nos. 2 and 3, that is the mirror line. Exiting from the Garden is the opposite of the Quest; Reunion is the opposite of Creation. Now you can see why I started by explaining that creation is equivalent to division. And perhaps you can also see how deep the pairs of opposites go in these films. Even the plot events themselves are pairs of opposites.

(A short aside: This cycle is astonishingly similar to the cycle of the Hero, c.f. Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, although I was not at all thinking about the heroic cycle when I wrote that list of four steps above.)

In the previous section, I described how the reunion -- the ascension back into divinity -- happens at the end of Revolutions. The moment of creation is in the first movie, at the point when Neo gets back up after being shot by Smith, runs down the hallway, into Smith, and then shatters him. As Smith informs us in Reloaded, something from Neo imprinted onto what was left of Smith. In other words, the creative act is the dividing of The One -- part continues as Neo, and part continues as Smith. The two middle parts of the cycle are what constitute Reloaded and Revolutions. I described in detail how Reloaded is the story of the exit from the Garden in the Reloaded essay. That leaves the Quest for the Grail.

The Grail is not a thing. Among the mountains of email I received, there were a large number of requests for me to identify what object in the movies represents the Grail. (Don't think you are deficient. Symbolic language can be difficult to understand.) In fact, the Grail is the state of being Neo is in when he allows Smith to absorb him. The Grail is a way -- it's the doorway back into the Garden. Christ talks about himself like that: "I am the way." In the Grail legend, the Grail is said to be the cup in which Jesus' blood was caught when he was crucified. There is the same message. The blood of the Christ -- the sacrifice of the Christ -- is the way.

A lot has been made of the Grail being a kind of passport to immortality. That is a reference to the Tree of Life. Remember, Adam and Eve didn't eat from that tree, and the idea is that, with the Grail, you can get back into the Garden and chow on some immortality fruit. We need to read this as a story, however -- these are metaphors. The tree and the Grail are both metaphors for a transformation in you. (Don't read metaphors as facts. It's bad for you.) You obtain the Grail (the Royal Blood; your kingship; your divinity) by choosing the way of Christ. That way is the middle way between the pairs of opposites and the reuniting of the divided self.

The Quest is the journey to the World Tree, the sacrificial cross, where the sang royale is expressed and gifted to the world. This is Neo's journey to the machine city and to the Source. Neo chooses the way of the Christ when he steps off of the Mjolnir and onto the Logos. Logos is symbol-speak for Christ. (There is another meaning to this transition: it is the laying down of the war-power of Thor's hammer and the choosing of the word-power of Jesus or the Buddha. Before the Buddha was born, his mother was told her son would either be a great warrior-king or a great teacher. Emphasis on or. Likewise, Jesus is offered dominion over the kingdoms of the world, which is taken to be mutually exclusive with continuing as a teacher.) In case we're doubting what kind of journey this will be, Bane attacks. During the ensuing fight, Neo's eyes are scorched out of their sockets. Blind, he is mocked by Bane. This is identical to what happened to Jesus on the way to his crucifixion -- he was blindfolded and beaten by the soldiers, who challenged him to use his second sight to identify his attackers. And we see that this is in fact Neo's full awaking to his second sight. His first words after being blinded are, "I can see you." The spiritual journey, the Quest for the Grail, begins, on the road that can be seen only with the inner eye.

The cloak of Christ falls on Neo's shoulders. But didn't I call Neo the Devil? Why, yes I did.
The Serpent and the Christ

I have done plenty to talk about Neo as a divided pair, especially as the Light One and the Dark One (i.e., Smith). Neo is divided in another way, too. He "switches sides" for a while -- actually, throughout Reloaded. I managed to irritate some people by suggesting Neo was equivalent to the Devil in Reloaded. I managed to irritate them even more by suggesting a connection, a family tie no less, between the Christ and the Devil. Well, that's unfortunate for them. It's a requirement that these symbols aren't clung to as if they were literal. In the first and third films, Neo acts like a Christ. In the second film, Neo acts like the Serpent. This is exactly what I laid down at the end of the Reloaded essay.

At the end of the first movie, we are left with a powerful Messiah. It could have stopped there, and that might have been fine. But we had not been told a story of wholeness. The pairs of opposites remained. Neo had dealt a blow to the machines from within the Matrix, but the machines still ruled the real world. The Bros. W chose to continue this story, and bring it completion, by turning inward on the very nature of the Christ (which is why the second two movies seem so overwhelmingly philosophical). And that story starts with the Serpent.

In the heavenly sphere, there is no time and there is no suffering. It is also quite boring. No growth, no emotion. A human being needs to emerge from the Garden and come into the field of time. This introduces a problem. With time, things pass away. Trinity dies in the field of time. That is pain. With time comes suffering. The Serpent is what leads us out of the Garden into the field of time, where invention, love, growth, and...suffering are possible. Neo in Reloaded was the Serpent. He disobeyed God and took the red pill. The consequence was an assault on Zion.

Now here is the wonderful part. Suffering awakens us to compassion. There is no compassion without suffering. There is no Christ without the Serpent. Compassion is a complex good that can only exist on Earth. There is the Christ, the compassionate savior, on Earth. There is Neo in Revolutions. He is not the military savior; he is not Lock. Lock has no compassion (Lock is willing to march every inhabitant of Zion into the dock; for him, the ends justify the means). The Christ offers the way back to Heaven by countering suffering with compassion, manifest in selfless, willing sacrifice. Smith becomes suffering for all. Neo becomes compassion for all.

The pairs of opposites, the particle and the antiparticle, the yin and the yang of Neo, accelerate toward each other.
The Merovingian and Club Hel

The Merovingian is one of the most mysterious figures in the trilogy. I will try to stick close to the facts here, and not stray too far into wild speculation.

We have to go back to the Grail legend. The Holy Grail is the middle ground -- the entrance back into the Garden, guarded by firey angels. In the legend, there is a line of Frankish kings called the Merovingians, who are descended from Christ. They protect the Grail by their keeping of the bloodline of Christ. It makes perfect sense that on the Quest for the Grail one would encounter its protector.

However, there are two kinds of protection. The first kind of protection is protection against evil. What evil? Well, that is the second kind of protection. The second kind seeks to prevent anyone from attaining the Grail. The legend says that there are angels in favor of mankind, and those against mankind. This is the basis of the War in Heaven, the result of which is the casting out of Those Opposed, led by Lucifer.

Here is one of my small indulgences with regard to speculation -- I am going to say that this "casting out" is part of the history of the Matrix universe, and that it means "cast out from the machine city to the Matrix."

We know that "the Merovingian" is a protector of the Grail, and we know that there are two protectors. I'm sure I don't need to spell this out, but I will anyway. The fact that Merv's wife is Persephone makes it absolutely clear that he is Hades, which assuredly equates to Lucifer. In case you have not figured it out, the other protector is the firey angel who calls himself a protector: Seraph. (We see that these two know each other, so I feel like that is evidence for what I'm saying here.)

I am going to take this a little further and say that the Merovingian is opposed to mankind. He is also opposed to God, by which I mean the Architect and the Oracle. And the Merovingian will strike at all of them every time he gets a chance, out of pure hatred, for being cast out. Most especially he is against the Oracle, because this "Age" of the Matrix is very much her idea. (This is why he wants to harm the Oracle, c.f. Enter the Matrix.) The whole "Neo thing" invented by the Oracle is definitely on the Merovingian's shit list.

For Reloaded, we have his motivation for imprisoning the Keymaker. And for Revolutions, we have his motivation for taking advantage of Neo being trapped at the Mobil Avenue station by demanding the eyes of the Oracle. The Merovingian surely had no intention of releasing Neo from Mobil station. Not ever. He would have harmed the Oracle (again) and harmed Neo at the same time. A nice victory for the Merovingian.

Now that we have properly set up the Merovingian as the Devil, it is time to turn our attention to the Club Hel scene. The events at the club are tightly connected to the events at the Mobile Avenue station, and it all gets its start when Neo halted the squiddies at the end of Reloaded and fell into a coma. That coma was compared by many readers to a death, and the question was frequently raised whether Neo would be transformed after he woke up. I suspected as much, and it turns out to be true in a bigger way than I ever anticipated. It is representative of Christ's post-crucifixion and pre-resurrection experience. In the Apostle's Creed, Christ descends into Hell after his death on the cross. The Creed doesn't really say any more than this, but it gets heavy interpretation in the Catholic Church [3], so there are several variations on the whole story. At the moment of his death, Christ's soul and body separated from each other -- his body stayed on Earth and his soul went down into...well, this varies. Sometimes it's Sheol, the place of the dead. Sometimes Hell. And sometimes Limbo.

This fits in extremely nicely with our yin/yang Christ. The yin can descend to Hell, while the yang spends time in Limbo. I will get to yang/Neo's side of this experience in the next section. For now, I will focus on yin/Trinity.

I have all but spelled this out, but in case you weren't paying attention, I believe that Neo and Trinity represent one person. If something happens to Trinity, we can just as well say it happened to Neo. This is mainly true since the end of Reloaded, after Neo resurrects Trinity. After that they are like one. Therefore, Trinity's trip to Club Hel counts as Christ's descent into Hell. I find it fascinating that Trinity is accompanied by Morpheus and Seraph.

A minor sidetracking... When this trio approaches the main doors of Club Hel, the bouncers recognize Seraph immediately and call him "Wingless." Inside the club, the Merovingian calls Seraph "L'ange sans ailes" (Wingless Angel). This reveals a depth and complexity about Seraph that is very intriguing. He has had his wings clipped. Seraph, too, must be some kind of exile from the machine city, and his protection of the Grail may be work of atonement.

Now a few choice bits of dialogue. As Trinity, Morpheus, and Seraph enter the club:

MEROVINGIAN - What in the hell?

Precisely. If there was any doubt, let it be gone. This is hell. Actually, just in case you still aren't certain, the Merovingian repeats himself later: "You have fought through hell." And if you are truly dense, the clothing worn by Persephone and the Merovingian is positively devilish. The Trainman is with the Merovingian, quite likely informing him that Neo is stuck at Mobil Avenue station. Then Morpheus does something strange and tells the Merovingian that they want to make a deal.

MEROVINGIAN - Okay. I have something you want. To make a deal, you must have something I want, yes? And it so happens there is something I want. Something I've wanted ever since I first came here. It is said they cannot be taken, they can only be given.
MORPHEUS - What?
MEROVINGIAN - The eyes of the Oracle.

His seething hatred for the Oracle runs deep. For him, it's not enough that he had her exterminated. The Merovingian wants the Oracle's soul. Apparently, he has wanted this kind of possessive revenge since the moment he entered the Matrix. I'll take this as additional evidence that he was forced out of the machine city and into the Matrix against his wishes, and (from what it looks like) as a result of the Oracle's actions. The creepiest part of it all was that while the Merovingian was asking for the Oracle's eyes he was slowly munching on two eyeball-looking olives.

The subtext in these lines is just as amazing. This is truly a deal with the Devil. The subtext says, "Yes, I will give you what you want, but in exchange you must turn against God." Given what happens later in the movie, I strongly suspect that Neo, even if he had been released, would have been thwarted from achieving the Grail if the Oracle's eyes had been delivered to the Devil. The Oracle played a key part in Neo's transformation, a part that wouldn't have occurred.

I am very unsure about Morpheus here. I think he might have been ready to shake hands and go collect some eyeballs. He is a little pissed off at the Oracle too. But that's all academic, because Trinity changes the equation by pointing a gun directly at the Merovingian's forehead. And this is the behavior we expect from Christ toward the Devil. Deal-making is really out of the question. And anyway, Hades was never good for letting the dead return to the world of the living. He always had to be coerced somehow.

Precisely at this instant, Neo, at Mobile Avenue station, says, "You got yourself into this. You can get yourself out." And that's exactly what happens.

[3] For all you trying to discern my religious leanings, please stop. You're wrong. [Back]
The Mobil Avenue Station and the Program Family

I know this scene was severely misunderstood. The two most important scenes in Revolutions are Mobil Avenue and the final showdown with Smith, and so that is really all I have dealt with. Mobil Avenue tells us exactly what's going to happen at the end of the movie. In fact, Mobil Avenue is so central to the story that I had to force myself to put it at the end of the essay, and force myself to refrain from writing it until I had explored some of the other areas of the movie first.

Let's first get this out of the way: Mobil is an anagram for Limbo. I think just about everyone caught that, but I'll say it just to be sure. As I explained in the Merovingian section, Christ's body and soul have separated from each other [4] and Christ's soul, like everything else, is a pair of opposites. Yin-Christ is Trinity. Yang-Christ is Neo. The half that is Trinity descended into Hell. The half that is Neo went into Limbo.

The location of Mobil Avenue station (I'll just call it Mobil from now on) can be very confusing, principally because, in the movie, it is described from two different perspectives at the same time. It's the River Styx. Only instead of a river, we have train tracks; instead of a boat, we have a train; and instead of a Boatman we have...well, a Trainman. In Greek mythology, Charon the Boatman works for Hades. Similarly, our Trainman works for the Merovingian.

The other confusing aspect of Mobil is what the program family is actually doing. I'll clear that up before I dig into the heart of this scene. Mobil is a place between the machine city and the Matrix. At first it seems like they are smuggling their daughter out of the Matrix. It's just the opposite. The program family is from the machine city and they are smuggling their daughter into the Matrix, where there are plenty of exiles who have no purpose. As long as an Agent doesn't find her, the daughter will be safe.

Now, as I said before, Mobil is Limbo. The theme of the entire film is described by that name. Limbo, the limbus patrum, is the place where purified souls go to await the ascension of Christ into heaven.

As if that's not enough, we are (subtly) told where the ascension will take place. Because Mobil leads to the machine city, Neo will ascend to heaven in the machine city.

In the Reloaded essay, I did some work in the Architect section on the idea that Neo was the "sixth day" of Creation. In other words, Neo represents genuine human beings (the human being eats the apple and leaves the Garden). I also planted the seeds of suspicion that Neo might be the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, called Parashurama. These are both wholly, completely verified by what transpires at Mobil. Earlier in this essay, I claimed that Neo's coma was a metaphorical death. I think it's possible to assert that the sixth incarnation of Neo didn't make it past the Architect's chamber in Reloaded, but at least something of him survives to Mobil. This will be the end of him. Neo 6.0, who is the Serpent, who is Parashurama, never leaves Mobil Avenue station. The Neo that rides the train out at the end of the sequence is the seventh incarnation. Here is how it unfolds.

SATI - Good morning.
NEO - Who are you?
SATI - My name is Sati. Your name is Neo. My papa says you're not supposed to be here. He says you must be lost. Are you lost, Neo?

The first thing we hear spoken is "Good morning." That means, "Welcome to a new day." You are a new person, Neo. Then we are introduced to the young girl, whose name is Sati. Remember these are the very first events that happen to Neo in Revolutions. We are explaining the direction of the entire movie in the first few minutes. Sati means "self-immolation." More generally, willing self-sacrifice. This points directly at the final moments between Neo and Smith. It is interesting that Sati knows Neo's name already. It isn't that Sati recognizes Neo, but her father surely does.

The part about being lost is important. This is about why Neo is at Mobil. If he was there intentionally, he wouldn't be lost. As we learn from the Oracle later, Parashurama isn't prepared to go to the machine city. He cannot touch the Source and survive. He pops into Limbo entirely by accident. But now the father...

RAMA-KANDRA - I'm sorry, she is still very curious.
NEO - I know you.

Frequently in these films there are lines of dialogue that seem to carry a particular, superficial meaning but in fact are deep wells of symbolism. In Reloaded, when Neo and the Oracle talk in the park, Neo asks the Oracle why she is here. "Same reason as you," she says. "I love candy." (I have picked on this particular line before. It's a perfect example.) What this really means is that the Oracle delights in disobedience -- she loves the eating of the apple. When Neo says "I know you" it's the same thing. Yes, he recognizes him from the restaurant. What it really means, however, is that Neo recognizes Rama-Kandra like a mirror image. Neo is meeting himself. Chalk up another one for the pairs of opposites. The Neo-in-black is Parashurama, the Serpent. Rama-Kandra is, well, Ramachandra, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, the Christ. To be more accurate about it, Rama-Kandra is the divinity of Christ.

In the Vishnu stories, Parashurama actually meets Ramachandra and there is a "passing of the torch," so to speak. There is no way this is a coincidence. It gets better. After Parashurama cedes to Rama, Parashurama goes off to live high in the mountains (between Earth and Sky) to await the next age of the world. Welcome to Mobil Avenue station, Parashurama.

Like so many other symbols in this trilogy, we encounter another set of three. The trinity again. Rama formally introduces his family:

RAMA-KANDRA - I am Rama-Kandra. This is my wife Kamala, my daughter Sati. We are most honored to meet you.

In Hindu mythology, Kamala really is the wife of Ramachandra. (Er, maybe not exactly, but close enough. Kamala is an incarnation of Lakshmi just as Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu.) This is a matched pair [5], and like Neo and Trinity we can talk about them as if they were one person. Their daughter is Sati (although it doesn't work out this way in the mythology). Taken on their names alone, I think the meaning here is that from divinity springs perfect sacrifice.

I will have to take a quick break to talk about divinity. This is the divinity of the human soul, not an external creature somewhere far away. It is inextricable from enlightenment, which in turn has everything to do with choice and with why choices are made. The Divine says, "There is nothing that can move me except my will to move." Neither fear nor desire can touch the Divine because the Divine is outside of the field of time, and so, without influence of any kind, the choice made by the enlightened soul is a perfect choice. This is the root of the perfect, willing sacrifice. It is not done for a reason. There is no causal chain. The choice is the beginning and the end. Now when the Divine descends into the field of time, there is suffering, and there is compassion. The way back "up" to the Divine is through the sacrifice. The gift is the door, the Holy Grail, the way between the pairs of opposites.

Returning to Mobil, we see that as Rama speaks he holds Sati directly in front of him, between himself and Neo. The meaning is exactly what I have just said. The essence of the Grail is there, in the space between Parashurama and Ramachandra.

But what else do we know about Ramachandra and Kamala? It's very strange. Rama is in charge of recycling at the "power plant." Oh no. The power plant for the machines? Recycling? Let's bring back what Morpheus said about that in the first movie:

MORPHEUS - Then I saw the fields with my own eyes. Watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living.

Rama-Kandra's job is to oversee feeding the liquefied dead humans to the living humans in the power-generation pods. You would have to be made entirely of stone to not feel revolted by that. Yet... this is life. In a footnote in the Reloaded essay I remarked that some vegetarian and most vegans try to avoid this but cannot. That sparked a handful of angry emails. I still maintain its truth. Life is dirty, and sometimes disgusting. You do not live except by consuming the dead. This is life. Smith is anti-life:

BANE - I admit, it is difficult to think, encased in this rotting piece of meat. The stink of it filling every breath, a suffocating cloud you can't escape. Disgusting!

What we are really saying, then, with Rama in charge of "recycling," is that he encompasses not just the glory of the Divine but also the gritty, earthy Oroboros -- the world-snake eating its own tail, the consumptive animal. This is a lesson. You do not achieve the Grail by eliminating or leaving behind your animal self. It is as much a part of you as the divine. That is why Bane speaks those lines, and that is why Bane is wrong (as we feel he must be). The One is both Earth and Sky, the world below and the world above.

Said another way, the One comes from Limbo to save both worlds.

* * *
Post-ascendere

On the way out of Mobil station on the train, Morpheus and Link have a conversation on the cell phone. Here is what they said:

MORPHEUS - Are you ready for us?
LINK - Almost, sir. They got some pretty ancient hacks here, we're working on it. Did you find Neo?
MORPHEUS - Can't you see him?
LINK - No, sir. We were reading something but I couldn't tell what it was.

Good morning, Neo. Today is the seventh day.

* * *

[4] I believe the exact words of the Oracle in Enter the Matrix were "mind and body." I don't know for sure, because I've never played the game. I like "soul" better, because it seems more like the whole person's essence. "Mind" feels like dry intellect. [Back]

[5] It would be interesting to compare Rama and Kamala to the Architect and the Oracle. I think there is a good match-up there. I'm not going to go into it in this essay, though. [Back]
The Oracle, the Architect, and Sati

This is the first of the "speculative" sections of this essay. It is also the least speculative of the three (although believe me it is still speculative). The purpose is to dissect what happened at the end of Revolutions, because it was a little bit difficult to see.

There are two separate parts to the ending. The first part is what we see of the humans; the second part is what we see of the machines (i.e., programs). I am going to start immediately at the point of Neo's ascension, when The Source declares "It is done." The first human being who speaks after that is Lock, and we are informed of all the human ramifications of Neo's actions.

LOCK - It doesn't make sense.

As I hinted at before with the Grail legend, and as more than one sharp reader has also pointed out, the defeat of rationality is central to transcendence. Perhaps a better way to say it is that you cannot grow into your true humanity by rational means. It's a nonrational journey, which is why the Zen master challenges his pupils to imagine the sound of one hand clapping. We're also getting right to the core of why Neo could not have simply pummeled Smith into submission; why the Christ has to irrationally allow himself to be sacrificed. (It will be interesting to see, now that The Passion of the Christ is out, how parallel the themes will be with Revolutions.) The only thing that would "make sense" (Lock is our voice of caution and reason) would be for Neo to come blasting through the hordes of squiddies with some kind of super laser cannon. I've had quite a pile of email from people saying exactly what Lock said -- the machines just leaving Zion doesn't make sense. They are right. It's not rational.

We can also rewind a little to the voice of God, who says to Neo "We don't need you." Lock would say the same thing. The machines don't need us. It's the battery question all over again. Rationally, the machines don't need humans.

The unraveling of the rationality puzzle is tied up with exploring Neo's powers, espcially why he has powers in the real world. This is described later. I won't say any more about that here, except as it applies to Sati (a few paragraphs below). The machines are of course perfectly rational. It's this that is their limitation, not the need for raw electricity. The Architect embodies all of this. The machines need humans to escape the prison of their own perfect rationality. That's also what Lock is doing in this movie in the first place. He's there to show that rationality is a box. What would have happened if the Council had only followed Lock's recommendations? Disaster. The only path to growth, ascension, and peace is a nonrational one.

Now about this "real world" issue:

MORPHEUS - I have imagined this moment for so long. Is this real?

The fact that it's Morpheus saying this is just incredible. Recall his words to Neo in the first movie, "Have you ever had a dream you were so sure was real..." For a time I was intending to write a piece about the reality of reality (the Reloaded essay still says something to that effect). I probably won't now because Revolutions explained everything I was going to say, only using metaphoric language. There is definitely an entire book that could be written about that one line spoken by Morpheus. Is this real? We can interpret Morpheus' words very simply, however, and it leads us directly into the part about the machines: This is the waking from a dream, the shaking off of slumber, the half-real state between the dream world and the waking world. The night is over. The sun is rising. Good morning, Morpheus. Today is the seventh day.

Just before the sunrise, the age turns. The deja-vu cat wakes Sati from her own sleep. Er, wait a minute. Sleep? We've got a program sleeping, and then waking immediately after Morpheus talks about waking from a dream. This proximty and parallel puts Sati directly at the center of all meaning as far as the machines are concerned. And just so we are sure about this point, here is what Sati says when she wakes up:

SATI - Good morning.

With Sati's line we have all the information we need to fully construct what has happened with respect to the Matrix and the war. Everything that follows -- the conversation between the Oracle, the Architect, and Sati -- fills in the details. Here is the rundown (three parts):

* A new age has begun for humans
* A new age has begun for machines
* A new age has begun for the Matrix (i.e., the middle world) (see Ages)

Part of what these new ages are like can already be inferred from Sati herself. She is the new machine. As I explained in a previous section, Sati represents willing sacrifice. As I also said a few paragraphs ago, the [old] machines are perfectly rational. But since this kind of sacrifice is at heart an irrational act, she is set apart from earlier machines. She is the new; the Oneness of Neo (new) ascended to the Source and imprinted onto the program mind.

The Oracle's first line in this scene is interesting because it draws attention to the fact that this is a new world.

ORACLE - Well, now, ain't this a surprise.

Her remark is directed at the fact that the Architect walks into the park where she is hanging out. Now the park is really a substitute for garden, i.e., the Garden of Eden. As I explained in detail in the Reloaded essay, the Architect is the Creator God. So God (the creator) walking in the Garden is equivalent to a tour of a new world, precisely as we see God touring in Genesis. This conveniently brings us full circle. The wheel of time turns and a new world is born. (Another sidenote: there should be little wonder how the Oracle can predict as well as she does. It has all happened before, just as Indra is tutored in the way of the opening and closing of the Lotus and of Brahma's eyes; worlds within worlds within worlds.)

The Oracle's line contains a little dry humor, because of course the Oracle is not surprised in the least way. But now their banter:
Dialogue Comments
ARCHITECT - You've played a very dangerous game.
ORACLE - Change always is. The world has changed (we already knew that). The change was initiated by the Oracle, who is the embodiment of the nonlinear, nonrational path. The idea that it was "dangerous" seems to be brushed off by the Oracle's offhanded manner. That indicates only the Architect perceives these events as dangerous. To him, abandoning reason is quite dangerous indeed.
ARCHITECT - Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?
ORACLE - As long as it can. There is a real peace, beyond rational and irrational; machine and human. For an indeterminate time to come there will be no more attacks on humans and vice versa. This time will be short. Resumed conflict is imminent, but it will be along different axes. The machine/man conflict is truly over, but there are still things to work out, e.g., to unplug or not to unplug (see next two exchanges).
ORACLE - What about the others?
ARCHITECT - What others?
ORACLE - The ones that want out. I find this very interesting. The Architect doesn't see anything at issue here. He doesn't understand that there are any divisions yet. That means there aren't any divisions at the moment. Everything is One (c.f. The Fourth Age, next section). Remember the Oracle said the Architect has no future vision -- he can't see past any choices. The Oracle is looking a few steps down the road, though, and she knows both humans and machines will want to exit the system in some way. Humans will want to leave Zion. Machines will want to leave the machine city. And both humans and programs will want to leave the Matrix.
ARCHITECT - Obviously, they will be freed. All of the classes of beings that I just mentioned will have the ability to exit the system. The system no longer exists to enslave, but to enable. Remember the Oracle said "The ones who want out" [my emphasis] and not merely "everyone." It's only those who both comprehend the system and desire to exit it who will have anything happen to them. Some will continue to defend the system as the "really real" reality, just as Morpheus described in the first movie. Not just humans, either. The Merovingian will not give up his kingdom easily.

The very last bit is odd, though. The Oracle asks "Do I have your word?" with respect to releasing those who want to be freed. I don't think she is testing whether the Architect is telling the truth. This is more the voice of concern for all the exiles. Sati is an exile. Perhaps Seraph is an exile now too. The Oracle wants assurances that the ones she cares for won't be deleted.

What is much stranger about this exchange, however, is how the Architect answers. He does not say yes or no, but instead gives an ambiguous reply. He says, "What do you think I am? Human?" It's likely that he means his statement will be honored -- it would take a human to break a promise. It is also possible that he means only a human would make a promise. In either case it shows that the Architect is still divorced from human beings. He is the old way.

Right after he speak that line, Sati shows up. The new way. There are two things to note about the final set of lines. First, Sati apparently makes the sunrise. The second thing is that the Oracle says she did not know things would work out as they did, but she believed they would.

About the first: I said briefly before that the new Matrix exists not to enslave but to enable. Anyone in the new Matrix will be capable of shaping it, at least for a little while. Because Sati is the symbol of all this, she is shown crafting a sunrise. What is also important is that she does it on a whim. She does not say "Oh, it was 6:27 AM, and therefore time for the sun to come up." She says only, "I did it for Neo." No particular reason, no purpose, no one telling her to do it -- just sentiment.

About the second: The Oracle only believed things would turn out the way they did. That is the same as hoping they would, which is the "human weakness." The reason I make a point of it is that this indicates the time of the Oracle and the Architect are over. Sati is their replacement. It also shows that humans and machines were always on equal footing. To understand why, we have to go back to the Architect's chamber in Reloaded (we've been back here a number of times!). Neo's path back to The Source takes him to the Architect. That is, the Architect is the primary route for humans back to The Source. Remember, The Source is the Center -- not aligned. So getting there is through the program that is most machine-like. The opposite is true for machines. Getting to The Source means going through the Oracle, who is the most human-like program. That is why Smith's path took him to the Oracle.

This connects with Neo's real-world powers and moots the battery question. The humans' path of ascension leads them to the machines; the machines path of ascension leads them to the humans. Now that the age of ascension has arrived, these gateways are unnecessary. It is Sati's time. The time of gift.
The Four Ages of the Matrix

I had a philosophy professor who said, (cue Indian accent) "If we humans ever advance to the point where we have created a perfect Utopia, the first thing we will do is start shoving spikes under our fingernails." This is about disobedience, which I covered in the Reloaded essay. We can't stand to be predictable.We can't tolerate not having a choice.

My goal with this bit of speculation is to get into the progression of what I call the Four Ages of the Matrix. By "ages" I mean the grand rewrites of the Matrix that Smith and the Architect tell us about. (Persephone helps us out by hinting at "a much older version" of the Matrix in which creatures like vampires and werewolves were part of the design of the world.) These four ages are:

1. The Perfect Garden
2. The Wasteland
3. The Return to the Source
4. Nirvana

It should be noted that these Ages are exactly like the steps of the "spiritual cycle" that I described when talking about the Holy Grail. These Ages, too, are a cycle -- Nirvana pours into the Perfect Garden, and the wheel turns once again. That's why the Oracle said that Neo will be back. The Third Age will come around sooner or later in the Great Cycle of Being. It's got a Hindu ring to it, the cycles within cycles within cycles; worlds within worlds. Brahma opens his eyes and closes his eyes and within that space many Indras come and go.

The Third Age is what the trilogy of movies is all about. The first film starts near the end of the Third Age, and the last film closes with the dawning of the Fourth Age. I'll talk about the Fourth Age first, since we have a little bit of direct evidence about it. Then I will speculate some about how the First and Second ages might fit into the big picture. I won't directly talk about the Third Age at all in this section, because it's already quite visible -- just watch the films.
Nirvana

I opened this section talking about choice. There is an argument that travels from scene to scene in Reloaded and Revolutions that has to do with choices, fate, and control. Neo and Morpheus, as representatives of the human mind, argue that everything begins with choice. Figures like the Merovingian and the Architect, as representatives of the machine mind, argue that every event necessarily follows from the events before it, and therefore choice is an illusion. As I said many times in the Reloaded essay, the critical distinction between humans and machines is the ability to grow. ("Growth" is not the same thing as "learn," and it is not the same thing as "change." The machines can learn and change, but they cannot grow.) Growth requires the cycle -- the exit and the return -- and the cycle requires making a genuine choice. The Oracle points this out when she urges Neo to understand his choices. Interestingly, the Merovingian is also obsessed with finding out the reason, the why. The making of the decision is irrelevant. What's important is why you made it. If you eat because you're hungry, then you didn't really make the choice to eat. It's only cause and effect. You're in the Merovingian's mechanical, predictable world. But suppose you could resist hunger indefinitely. If you then ate, what would be the cause? The why is the difference. When the forces of the world and in your mind no longer have any sway over you, it is possible to make a pure, genuine choice. It might look the same as cause-and-effect behavior, but it is not the same at all. When Buddha sits on the Immovable Spot, where no force in the universe can cause him to do anything, he is divine.

To illustrate that last point very clearly, I want to zero in on the specific act of sacrifice. We have the act portrayed in Revolutions in a certain way. Neo makes it abundantly clear that nothing at all is moving him except his own will to move. He is on the Immovable Spot. His sacrifice is pure because of why he is doing it. As a mental experiment, let's rewrite some of Revolutions to see how things could have been different. Suppose that after getting his eyes burned out, Neo and Trinity have a quarrel because she thinks he's too damaged to proceed. Stung by his words, Trinity goes outside the hovercraft to sulk. Neo says to himself, "I'll show her," manages to get the hovercraft on autopilot, and flies by himself to the machine city. Once there, Neo gets himself plugged in and fights Smith. He knows he can really make her sorry by getting himself killed. That'll teach her! So Neo sacrifices himself.

There's not much divinity in that. It's small and stupid. It's the same act, but the reason it was done changes it from a beatific reunion with God into a spiteful, selfish stunt. There is Neo and there is the Merovingian, revealed.

Now that was a long way to come so that I can say Nirvana is the point at which no forces can exert themselves to make you do anything. It should be noted that this includes the passage of time, so Nirvana is a place outside of the domain of time. It is only in pristine emptiness that we can hear the music of the spheres and stand in the presence of the Divine.

What should also be clear is that this state of being cannot last more than an instant. As Neo ascends into the Source, the swirling Sentinels retreat, the humans of Zion euphorically cheer, it is the moment immediately before the sunrise when the universe holds its breath and time stands still. There is no need for action or decision -- it is sufficient to be. The pause draws on and the second hand of the clock ticks forward, and we descend once more, falling out of the presence of the Divine and back into the domain of time. So truthfully the Fourth Age ought to be called the 4+1 Age, because it immediately transforms into the new Garden. I thought that would be much too confusing. When I say "Fourth Age" it really means the moment of Neo's ascension and the Garden that follows. (This way it is also distinct from the previous First Age.)

In the Fourth Age the Matrix as an entity remains. It is a fundamentally different Matrix, however. The Matrix of the Fourth Age is a voluntary construct. If a human wants to leave or enter the Matrix, he will be free to do so. If a program wants to enter or leave the Matrix, it will be free to do so. This is essentially the lifting of the machines' draconian insistence on purpose. (This insistence, which is really about social conformity, directly relates to the beginning of the Hero's Journey, and that is the thesis of the first film in the trilogy. The hero disobeys.) No one has to die because of nonconformance in this Matrix. The truth about the Matrix would also necessarily be "let out" and over a few weeks I suppose everyone will have believed it.

The consequence of the freedom to come and go and to know the truth is that the Matrix of the Fourth Age will be adjustable to the wishes of its inhabitants. It will be an Age of Gods, human and machine.

Outside the Matrix, in the real world, humans will continue to live underground and machines will continue to live in their city. Emissaries from each group will eventually be welcome by the other, and the groups will gain from each other. It will be an Age of Gods, human and machine.
The Perfect Garden

Although I am talking here specifically about the "original" First Age of the Matrix (i.e., not the 4+1 Age I mentioned above), much of what follows will apply to the new Garden as well.

In the beginning, the Architect had to design and implement a world for humans to live in. Naturally, that world would be perfect in all its aspects, and every need of its population taken care of.

We can perhaps imagine that everyone is beautiful, healthy, and serene. No one ages and no one is ever injured. It is an absolute Utopia. I tend to think that it was a technological Utopia, because that is what a machine mind would invent. Agent Smith hints, "As soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization." So there was probably some point in time at which things were going pretty easy for humanity in a near-100% machine-run world. All the machines would need to do is extrapolate from that.

There would have been some mechanism for dealing with the actual death of humans outside the Matrix, to prevent still-connected people from noticing that someone was no longer around and getting sad about it, but I admit I cannot think of a very good way to do that. And that might be the crack in the armor. At some point suffering is going to creep into the picture, if only because of the passage of time. I don't suspect it would take that much, though, to get people chafing at the perfection. In order to be perfect, everything must be predictable. Most, if not all people will do almost anything to avoid being predictable. The more the environment succeeds at prediction, the harder they will try to disprove the environment. In other words, they will try to wake up from the Matrix. In mythic terms, we are at the equivalent of eating the apple. We want to know, no matter the cost. Like Neo, we are compelled to take the red pill.

So suffering enters into things. Smith says, "No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost." The First Age enters a period of time (probably a very short period of time) when everything is in crisis. The idea that something is wrong with the world is spreading. Clearly the Matrix is going to have to be rewritten. And that is a point of division among machines. There is a disagreement. Smith says, "Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world." That seems to suggest that the machines are divided about what to do next.

This is without any doubt the beginning of the story of the Merovingian. I am going to go into pure imagination mode and make up a possible scenario about him. At the time of the First Age the Merovingian is a program in the machine city (not the Matrix). He does not think humans are worth the trouble and advocates that the machines should abandon them and figure out a way to live alone. Much of what Smith says about humans in the first movie is applicable to the Merovingian's opinion at this time. A number of other programs in the machine city also believe that the failure of the Matrix proves humans are ungovernable and their entire species should be scrapped.

The division among machines regarding humans is older than even the first Matrix, however. The decision to enslave humanity rather than terminate it was not a unanimous one. All those who were opposed then are opposed now. The old differences resurface, and the Merovingian attempts to "fork" the machine world. A machine civil war followed, fought entirely in codespace, and eventually the Merovingian and all the dissenters were brought back into conformity. Now dawns the Second Age.
The Wasteland

"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life."

-- Gensis 3:17

After the machine civil war is over, the Architect remakes the Matrix into a wasteland. It is no less perfect, but rather than a blissful Utopia the Matrix of the Second Age is a world of Mad Max-style hedonistic excess. We see what it was like in Club Hel. The entire world was that way. It is the age of vampires and werewolves. The Second Age is the Kingdom of the Merovingian.

The Merovingian was expelled from the machine city into the Matrix. His purpose as a program in the Matrix is to control the traffic between worlds. This is a job he shares with Seraph, who is also a gatekeeper. Together they guard the way back to the Source, and the Keymaker and the Trainman are their servants. For a time Seraph and the Merovingian are partners, although they interpret their duties very differently.

We already know from the Oracle that the Merovingian desires power. He probably had this urge all along, and asserted it from time to time, culminating in the disagreement over the failure of the First Age. Constrained by his purpose in the Matrix of the Second Age, he seeks power related to controlling the traffic of data (i.e., "a trafficker of information"). He uses his guardianship as a means to gain influence over other programs -- you can move data for a price, he says, taxing everything that passes through his fingers. The currency he demands is loyalty and debt; deletion codes are his prized winnings. He gains exclusive control of the Keymaker and the Trainman, and he ensnares Persephone. The vampire and werewolf programs come under his control as well, as do the Twins and other such creatures. Not too long after the Second Age Matrix is created, the Merovingian is its master -- he is the King of the Wasteland.

But all is not well in the Matrix. As before, some humans accept the program. Many others do not. The terms of expression in the Matrix were remade, but the essential premise was the same -- humans are still commanded to do what they are told, to accept their world without question. The urge to take the red pill remained, and a growing number of people refused to believe in the Matrix. So a second crisis was looming for the machines.

At the same time, the tension between Seraph and the Merovingian was growing. It is likely that Seraph met the Oracle during the time of crisis, and saw a way to fulfill his purpose through her.

(I'm still in full imagination mode here.) The Oracle was a program from the First Age Matrix whose job it was to help predict what humans might do, and thereby allow the Matrix to function as a fully predictive construct. Her job was the same in the Second Age. By the time she meets Seraph, her predictive powers are quite good, and she knows how to rewrite the Matrix yet again so that humans would accept the program fully. (This makes the Oracle seem rather sinister. I'm sure she knew full well at this time what the Third Age Matrix would lead to, so her motives are merely convoluted.)

Of course, the Merovingian is not in favor of rewriting the Matrix again. He tries to destroy her, but Seraph intervenes and protects the Oracle. That is the nature of the "betrayal" and the bad blood between Seraph and the Merovingian. And that is also how Seraph came to protect the Oracle full time, and how the Merovingian came to hate the Oracle obsessively.

Eventually, despite the Merovingian's efforts, the Matrix was rewritten to the Third Age. The Merovingian's influence was enormous, however, and he was able to take a substantial part in the rewriting process. He preserved himself, Persephone, a host of henchmen, and much of his kingdom. He also preserved his old job: he still polices the route between worlds.
The Seven Incarnations of Neo

There were two Ages of the Matrix that failed. Then the Architect introduces us to the Third Age, the design "stumbled upon" by an intuitive program (i.e., the Oracle). It is this design of the Matrix that permits The One and allows humans to grow -- to disobey now and then -- yet that disobedience is still under control.

About the incarnations of Neo, the Architect says:

ARCHITECT - The Matrix is older than you know. I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next, in which case this is the 6th version.

This is never argued. The Neo who stands before the Architect is clearly Number 6. I posit that the Neo at the end of Revolutions is Number 7. What causes confusion is how the incarnations and the ages relate to each other. I believe the only scenario which matches all the available evidence is this:
Ages 1 2 3 4
Incarnations 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Now I am not taking a position that says "Neo was spontaneous" or "Neo was created." Both of these statements are true. The graph above only shows the relationship between the seven instances of Neo and the greater ages of the Matrix. Neo -- i.e., The One -- did not exist in the first two Ages. He will likewise not exist in the two Ages that will follow what I have labeled as the Fourth Age. But as a new Third Age comes around, he will return.
Concerning the 6th Incarnation

About Neo Number 7 we have very little to say. He is a god, and not really part of the story. He represents what the 6th Neo becomes. All the suffering is with Number 6, and so that is where my focus is. But even among the non-godly six, the sixth and final mortal incarnation is quite different than all who came before him.

Perhaps the most important way that the 6th Neo is different from his predecessors is that he wields apparently supernatural powers in the real world. I also think that his abilities within the Matrix are far beyond what any previous incarnation possessed. Let's start with what the Architect says in Reloaded:

ARCHITECT - Your 5 predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication: a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of the One. While the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific, vis-a-vis love.

We have sufficient evidence here to say the 6th incarnation is different. But I want to explore the fact that the Architect says Neo's attachment is by design. In one email exchange with a reader, I suggested that Neo might be genetically engineered. A "programmed" human would make perfect sense to the machines, and it would also seem to give credence to the idea that Neo is continually reincarnated -- at the end of each incarnation's journey his genetic code is recorded, then it is reinserted at a later date. The machines design Neo to feel an attachment toward the rest of humanity through genetic engineering just like they design his ability to manipulate the Matrix.

I know the genetically-engineered aspect is uncomfortable for a lot of people. It's not the whole story of what I'm trying to say, either. I think it's parallel with Dune and the kwisatz haderach. In Dune, the Bene Gesserit order has been manipulating bloodlines for eons (i.e., genetic engineering through selective breeding) in order to bring about a superbeing. Their experiments actually work, but in a way that they did not intend. Muad-dib is much greater than they imagined, and not under their control at all. So it is with Neo. The machines manipulate genes in order to try and "catch" the energy of the unbalanced equation -- to provide a receptacle that can contain this energy and use it within the confines of a predefined script. Exactly how or when this "One" appears is unknown, but in aggregate statistics it's an certainty that he will appear. And when he does, he is led down a specific path. What the machines do not grasp (except for the Oracle) is that this kwisatz haderach is not under their control and is becoming much more than they imagined.

(As a sidenote, I don't think it is actually necessary to believe that Neo is reincarnated six times. It's possible for the story to work perfectly well with no connection whatsoever between Neo and the previous six instances of The One. I think it adds to the awe of it to have the reincarnation aspect, though. It requires a soul, something greater than what can be rationally summed.)

Now regarding Neo's special abilities: the functioning of the Matrix is the way to understanding these. It's quite a popular opinion that the abilities in the Matrix correlate exactly to strength of will. The idea is that Neo is just willing himself over these obstacles. I think that ignores the facts. Neo's powers in the Matrix manifest when he feels deep bonds with other human beings, most of all Trinity. As his relationship with Trinity grows, so does his power in the Matrix.

I don't think this is very surprising. The Matrix is, in William Gibson's language, a consensual hallucination. It should exhibit the qualities felt most strongly by its participants. (This is also why there is The One: to allow humans to exercise their will on the Matrix. More on this momentarily.) But even on a purely physical level it's still the case. The Matrix is powered by human bio-electricity. What is that? It's thoughts and feelings, impulses and urges of the body. Therefore, everything in the Matrix is the result of human emotion, or more accurately the ebb and flow of the aggregate emotion of the entire human race.

Neo is genetically designed to tap into this aggregate bio-electrical circuit, and he focuses and amplifies that energy. The extent of that amplification is tied to his personal emotional level. In his previous incarnations, Neo's generic feeling toward the rest of humanity afforded him a certain amount of power in the Matrix. But this time around, because of Trinity, the depth of his emotion is incredibly multiplied. As a result, so is his power in the Matrix. The same explanation works for everyone else, too. ER, not really everyone. We don't see special abilities in the Matrix from anyone except Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Ghost, and Niobe. All five of them have strong emotions and deep connections to others. It is possible to suppose that all five of these people were genetically designed as well. I won't go either way on that except to say one thing: If the first interpretation that I gave regarding the relationship between the Ages and the Incarnations is true, then there is very little engineering that needs to be done.

It's not a very big leap from powers in the Matrix to Neo's powers in the real world. All the human bio-electricity flows from the pod fields to the Source, and then it is redistributed back to the Matrix along well-defined channels. The humans plugged into the Matrix then have experiences, from which they have emotions, and their emotional energy flows back to the Source. What I haven't mentioned is the machines. They are parasites on this energy loop between the humans and the Source. We should also notice that Neo's apparently "supernatural" abilities in the real world are strictly limited to affecting machines. He doesn't fly or do kung fu in the real world. The reason for this limitation is that he is merely tapping into the energy loop and...modifying it. Just like in the Matrix, where he modifies the energy loop to defy gravity, etc.

In the real world, however, his interface to the loop is much less well defined. There's no specific plug to filter the energy stream. He's got to tap into it directly, and that puts him in immediate contact with the Source, and that leads straight to Mobil Ave (at least until he is mentally and spiritually prepared for such direct contact). Now I suppose there isn't an explicit mechanism by which Neo should be able to tap into an energy loop in the real world, but it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to genetically design someone to be sensitive to electrical currents. I prefer to think that his real-world abilities were never part of the design.

There are of course much broader mythological meanings through all of this. The best evidence of that is Link and Zee. I think these were the two most emotionally charged characters in the trilogy, and between them accomplish some amazing things that strain the limits of possibility. And it happens in the real world. That's where the real energy and the real message is.

I'd like to return once more to the idea that all the machines are running off of human emotion. It isn't power that the machines need from humans, it's feelings, belief, and hope. The electrical power angle is just the metaphor. One reader wrote me to ask "What makes the machines go on day after day? Why do they continue? What reason do they have to exist?" Aside from ringing all the symbolic bells in the entire story, it spotlighted the exact nature of the machines' power source. The machines go on because the humans go on. The will to live and to grow and to feel and to experience is what they do not have and cannot invent. The power they get from human beings is the power to hope.

And finally this goes to the deepest core theme of the trilogy. At the end of the Reloaded essay when I speculated far and wide about what might come, I said this:

Humanity achieved "simple" godhood by creating beings in its own image. It will achieve "complex" godhood by reuniting with its estranged children. At the same time, so will machines.

Neo's -- humanity's -- path is toward reunion with The Source, with God. At the same time, the machines' path is toward reunion with another God, the human beings who created them. They are each other's path to the divine. As the Oracle said, the only way forward is together.

11:54 PM  

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