root the Matrix
Friday, May 16 2003
I've been reading a lot about the Matrix sequel (in theatres everywhere!), and it managed to reawaken the thoughts I had about the movie when I first saw it. As long-time readers will recall, I had serious problems with the scientific shoddiness of the movie. If the Wachowski brothers could have invested a tiny bit less in special effects, they could then have invested enough in the logical integrity of the movie to make it a much more perfect and engrossing experience. Of course (and this was probably their calculation), such an effort would have been wasted on 90 percent of the viewers, whom our educational system has rendered incapable of determining the difference between being entertained by a logically-consistent plot and simply "being snowed." (This has implications in fashion and politics, but I'll spare you the tangent, or better still, allow you to complete this thought on your own time.)
Nonetheless, the Matrix is a wonderful movie. I haven't stopped being impressed, for example, by the innovative use of physics-defying martial arts to represent hackerly prowess. As for the shifting back and forth between the real world and the simulation, this might be the first movie where the simulation remains nearly as much of a "real place" after its artificiality is revealed as it was before. The movie depicts, in essence, a collective lucid dream that happens to have consequences. I'm still curious about those consequences though. Why, for example, must someone die in the real world when they're killed in the simulation? Why can't the cables plugged into the human Matrix fighters be "hacked" so they can survive anything that happens to them within the Matrix? I know, it's just a movie, and the motivation of consequences is an essential plot device.
Perhaps even more than the Matrix itself, I've really been enjoying the meta-chatter resulting from the release of its sequel. (Hello? Sequel? How 1980s! Just like the unnecessarily tough title of this particular sequel, the fact that it is a sequel seems to belie its many unstated claims to coolness.) I especially like the sentence, "Welcome to the desert of the real," a recycling of a phrase by the philosopher Baudrillard. Here we are reveling in our fancy delusions while behind the saturated colors of the façade it's all duct tape and cardboard. There's no simulation so perfect as the Matrix, where things can be collectively experienced without ever manifesting themselves physically.
Short of that, though, we have all sorts of delusions that mask the desert of the real - some in time, some in space. The ones that exist in time are the ones that have my interest as I write. A typical time delusion is a bubble economy as typified by, say, the dotcom boom. (Here's an example of my delusion while I was trapped in it.). We're living in a much bigger economic bubble, one whose life spans several of our species' generations. This is an aberration based on the easy availability of fossil fuels. How are six billion human beings able to eat food and drink clean water on this planet without being swallowed by their own excrement? The answer: profligate spending of a savings that took hundreds of millions of years to accrue.
This evening Gretchen and I went on a date, one whose destinations were mostly of my choosing. We started out with dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Woodstock called the Gypsy Wolf. I'd originally wanted to go to the Mexican restaurant in Uptown Kingston, but Gretchen had heard from someone that the Gypsy Wolf is "good." The moment I learned that the Gypsy Wolf is actually in Woodstock, however, I suspected that whoever had said it was "good" had actually meant "expensive." This suspicion proved mostly correct. The Gypsy Wolf is a cute place, with weird masks on the walls and a huge paper maché lizard attached to the ceiling, though the ambiance is so cluttered yet clean it verges on that of a TGI-Fridays. The food was a little expensive and the portions kind of small, particularly given the fact that this was supposedly "fun" Mexican restaurant. Worst of all, our conversation kept being interrupted by over-unctuous staff who kept asking if we needed anything. Perhaps this was because we were dressed a little nicer than everybody else there.
Over dinner, we mostly talked about the SARS virus. I wondered why the coverage of this story has been so superficial. Everything I've read about it has been very newsy and fact-heavy. Where are the pundits? I want articles in Salon by epidemiologists scaring me shitless about the implications. Can SARS be contained in China? Does anyone really think so? If it can't, then how soon should I expect SARS cases in Hurley? How lethal will it be? Will it depopulate the world like the bubonic plague did? If it beats containment and its mortality rates hold up, we can certainly expect a lot fewer people on this planet. But well before it gets to that stage, what will happen to our economy? In China, markets are empty and people are talking of economic and political collapse. Is that going to happen here? Where are my fucking articles?
Gretchen had wanted to seem some plinkity-plink bluegrass band, but I just wanted to skip all that bourgeois people's music condescension and go directly to The Matrix: Reloaded. So I drove us out to the Hudson Valley Mall and we got in the way Gretchen always gets into movies at the megaplex - we snuck in. It's really easy to do when you're dressed nice and don't resemble a teenager. You just leave your coat and bag in the car and act like you're returning from a cigarette break. The minimum-wage guy at the gate couldn't care less as long as your excuse (or, more usually, your non-verbal gesture) is within the general realm of convincing.
We'd come a little too early for the Matrix: Reloaded, so we caught the last forty minutes of Daddy Daycare, which was fun until its plot swelled into an insufferable comic-book morality play near the end.
As expected, the flawed-but-intriguing philosophical skeleton of the Matrix was further compromised in the sequel, replaced in large measure by sci-fi cliché and by long-winded (but nonetheless well-done) action scenes. Some of the latter even had resonance in real life. When, for example, the hero Neo nonchalantly battled dozens of copies of the evil agent Mr. Smith, it seemed to be the visual representation of what I do every day when I delete my spam. If only there was a Matrix: Reloaded skin for my email software and penis enlargement emails could be rendered as dapper IRS agents and Nigerian solicitations represented as dreadlocked albinos.
For a supposedly well-regulated neo-fascist computer-generated universe, the Matrix as depicted in the Matrix: Reloaded proved remarkably poorly-policed, and successes scored by the human infiltrators didn't even seem to particularly alarm those in control. Why was the capture of "the Keymaker" such an aw-shucks moment for the computer program named Merovingian, played by an evil brie-eating Frenchman? And why was there no additional security provided for "the Architect" when he supposedly already knew Neo was coming? The dense meta-intrigue revealed in the Architect's series of Neo-grunt-interrupted monologues was probably the most interesting thing that happened in the entire movie, though I fear if I were to watch it several times, I'd be forced to conclude there was very little of intellectual substance there. I'm sure most of the people in the Hudson Valley theatre (having actually paid for their tickets) wanted the Architect to just shut the fuck up so we could see Trinity root the Matrix and kick some more computational ass in that digital approximation of a vinyl cat suit of hers.
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