Saturday, 24 May 2003

The Matrix: Reloaded – Fides et Ratio

I’ve seen The Matrix: Reloaded twice now. Fittingly I will give it two entries, one on philosophy and one on its cinematic qualities. This is the philo one. Most likely they will both contain spoilers.

To start out, those who say that this second film lacks [in substance and thought provoking material] are idiots.

They must have ignored [slept through, dismissed because they did not understand] the Oracle, the Merovingian [who is ridiculous awesome], and the Architect. Granted, much of the rest of the film is cotton candy [to be covered in the next entry], but the aforementioned segments are anything but.

Continuing the debate that was exhumed in the original Matrix, this film deals time and again with the antagonism between choice/free will and causality/predetermination. Its pretty ho hum, and the screenwriters are either geniuses or stayed up all cramming and then regurgitated the answers. I lean toward the bile side myself, because the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all contradict themselves in their soliloquys on choice v. causality.

The Oracle

An ‘intuitive’ computer program that created a version of the Matrix that 99% of test subjects accepted as long as they were offered a choice. Neo looks to her for guidance and questions her regarding choice. If she knows the answer to the questions she asks him, what does his choice matter? She tells him that his choices have already been made, Neo is now supposed to understand why he made/making/will make these choices.

But then, ‘we can’t see past the choices we don’t understand.’

All of this time, while discussing choice, the discussion has really centered on causality, the Oracle seems to be hinting that choices do not matter. At the same time, she tells Neo to makes choices.

For her it appears that choice is merely an illusory mechanism of causality. But not seeing past the choices we do not understand gives her the lie, for unless she understands all choices, how can she see the future. To me it appears that for causality to function is must be concerned only with hindsight. It can only prove its veracity by showing completed cause and effect relations as something inevitable. It should only be able to postulate the future, not predict it.

The Merovingian

This guy is my favorite character in the entire film. We’ll just get that out of the way.

This exquisitely contemptible French program apparently touts causality as its champion. He says choice is an illusion given by those with power to those without it. Ostensibly, as a means of control [see The Architect]. He states the humans run on instinct, and proves this by enchanting a hot chick with a programmed piece of aphroditic chocolate and making her all horny. Thus, doubly proving his point [if you were even listening to his monologue] because most likely the audience watching the film was more interested in the warm spot in hot chick’s crotch than what the Merovingian was saying.

He says that those with power are those who ‘understand the why’ of things.

To me ‘why’ is a word that deals with choice. To know ‘why’ you do something is to know the reasons you made the choice. To understand ‘what’ is to understand causality. ‘What made you do something’ – this recognizes that an outside, predetermined, non-willful stimulation resulted in an act. Why is subjective, thus controllable, What is objective, and causal.

When Persephone screws him over, in a beautiful throw-away remark after his recent homily, he demands to know the reason she lets Neo have the Keymaker: she says something about causality and retorts with – Cause? There is no cause for this!

The Architect

Like the Merovingian sequence, The Architect uses a shitload of monitors showing different things to distract the viewer from the discussion.

The Architect explains about the means of control within the Matrix, that Neo is an expected anomaly resulting from the inability of the cause/effect nature of programming to adequately cope with the demands of imperfect human desires and choices. The human mind is lesser or, perhaps, not bound by the demands of perfection. To deal with this the machines use life outside the Matrix, and Zion, an apparently oft destroyed and rebuilt city, as another method of control. Neo is also apparently the sixth anomaly, so Zion is in its 5th reincarnation.

Besides all that, The Architect points out the flaws between causality and choice. He offers Neo a Lady or Tiger choice, choose a door. This is where the philosophies get a bit shallow for me. Cause and effect seem to hang on Neo’s choice. Except, Neo seems to think he only has two choices, one door or the other. He has plenty of options.

Other

Where is the religion? TM:R uses the devices of religion [Morpheus as a prophet, mentions of providence, the need for faith, etc] but never deigns to illustrate the efficacy of these demands, nor to explain what it is people are to have faith in. Are we to assume that faith should be placed in Neo. Who should Neo have faith in then? Only himself? Morpheus faith seems bound to his ideas about choice and providence, but at odd points these eat each other. He says everything happens for a reason, his providence, but he also says everyone has a choice. In the dialectic set up within the Matrix, these are at cross-purposes.

They could however, be explained in regard to faith. Yet, they never are.

Last BS

I think, though I am quite prepared to admit that this could very well be wrong, that what the Architect spoke of, that 99% accept the Matrix as long as they are offered a choice, hints at a possible twist. Perhaps while Neo and Trinity, and Morpheus, et al. think they are outside of the Matrix, they are actually still within it. Thus, The Matrix encompasses both the Zion-world and what we have come to know as the Matrix itself.

This is explained both through what the Architect says, as well as in Neo’s freaky lightning abilities at the end. He can sense the sentinels in the ‘real world,’ and can EMP-bake them with his hand in the ‘real world.’ I think he realized he was in another level of the Matrix, and sent his consciousness forth into a higher state of mind. Yeah, it sounds a bit new-agey.

or, perhaps while he was in the mainframe, he gained a new ability, to transport himself directly into the Matrix, without plugs.

Hell, like I know what I’m talking about.