Friday, 2 March 2012

Debugging The Matrix

The year is 1999 and the world of cinema is about to be rocked by the arrival of a sci-fi film which would revitalise the genre, make it's audience reconsider reality and ponder if their own daily lives were part of a computer simulation.

This film is of course Star Wars - The Phantom Menace!!

Of course not, it's the Wachowski brothers mind bending, dystopian, bullet-time, binary masterpiece The Matrix.


We shouldn't be surprised that a breakout film was released in this year, it shared the stage with such pedigrees as Fight Club, All About My Mother, Being John Malkovich and the best picture winner that year American Beauty.

Fresh from writing and directing the critically acclaimed, love story/heist flick Bound the Wachowskis took three years to bring their next project to release. (incidentally Wachowski regular Joey Pantoliano features in both, not Speed Racer though!)

The film tells the tale of Mr Anderson, a software engineer who works in an atypical modern office, flush with office space cubicles and cornflower blue tie wearing co-workers, all happy trundling along in their daily lives, drinking coffee, picking out new lounge combinations from Ikea and blissfully ignorant of the manipulation happening within their own jobsworth minds.

It's 1999 and all is well in this generic, sparkling cityscape(Sydney to be precise) until Mr Anderson becomes the subject of a virtual tug-of-war between the uber-hackers (Morpheus and Trinity) and the system (Agent Smith). The end result of this is that Mr Anderson has to make a choice, to take the blue pill, wake up in his bed and believe whatever he wants to. Or to take the red pill, stay in wonderland, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Thankfully for the purpose of this blog, Mr Anderson takes the red pill, gains a new moniker - Neo and we see how deep the rabbit hole goes!(to an underground rave apparently).

SPOILER ALERT! I'm going to discuss the film in some depth from this point so either take the blue pill and go watch the fucking film man - it's been our for 13 years!!! Or take the red pill and we'll see how deep my drivel hole goes.

Ok to preface this I realise that this film has been deconstructed ad infinitude in blogs, discussion boards and generally every corner of our own Googletrix. But fuck that!! This is my take on it.

The look and feel of the film is heavily influenced by cyberpunk technological ideas found in such material as William Gibsons masterpiece Neuromancer and the Anime standard-setter Ghost in the Shell. Along with the wire based stunt work of the Honk Kong film industry and obvious androgynous leanings of Larry (now Lana) Wachowski, it developed a unique style and subject matter, not really seen in mainstream action films at the time or even now. It almost became it's own genre of film, being parodied, spoofed and downright ripped off in the prevailing years which I suppose is a back-handed compliment to the vision and single-mindedness of the filmmakers.

The most eye-catching technique to be used in the film is definitely bullet-time, this is used to great effect in the film to show the protagonists moving at incredible speeds to dodge bullets and perform other features of reality bending ability. Essentially camera's are placed around a central person/scene and that person/scene is filmed by all of the camera's at the same time. With some clever editing a 360 degree shot of that particular action is produced, which when slowed down gives the viewer great insight into the person's ability to escape the impending lead.

Now onto my deconstruction of The Matrix and what I believe we can take from this film. (I work in IT so I apologise for any jargon or terms that are used!!)

We are told The Matrix is a computer program, designed to create a believable virtual reality for human beings to experience so that the machines can harvest our bio-thermal/electric energy as a power source for themselves. This is because of a past war between man and machine where it was believed that scorching the sky would take away the machines main power source.

The whole idea of a system being put in place, esoterically to control the general public and lull them into a false sense of reality is a dystopian sci-fi mainstay, it can be seen in material such as Orwell's 1984 just as well as this film and gives the viewer good reason to empathise with the main protagonists.

Morpheus tells Neo that he is the One and that he is the lone saviour of mankind, destined to change the world as he will be able to do things in the Matrix that no other person has been able to. There are obvious religious, saviour overtones here which are expanded upon later in the trilogy and also we get our first hints about Neo's real genesis and purpose.

Neo reversed is One which in the world of computation and binary is crucial, in binary communication the number one has the ability to change values in terms of binary input and I believe this is why Neo has the ability to literally change the world around him.

More of Neo's abilities and origins are explained and expanded upon in later movies (by the colonel/architect) but there is enough here to deduce that Neo himself is an errant program inadvertently placed into a human body, yes thats right Neo is a machine himself.

This explains Keanu's robotic machine-like delivery and expression! Just kidding Bill and Ted fans!

It does explain Neo's ability to absorb and assimilate information and programming when training for the Matrix or when in the Matrix and certain skills need to be learned quickly. I also feel the character of Neo, right from the point of rebirth is at odds with the world around him and seems to find it hard to accept the world as it is in reality, even breathing is a learned process for him.

Through the film we see Neo's transformation from unsure, naive junior programmer to the eventual realisation of agent exploder with god-like hacking skills, plugged or un-plugged Neo is a force of nature. However this only becomes apparent to Neo after Trinity falls in love with Neo and subsequently kisses him after his supposed death in the Matrix. I believe this is another hint to Neo's true identity as he realises that he can still carry on in the Matrix after his human body has ceased living.

The film still stands up today and although the other two films in the trilogy have received less critical and fan acclaim I believe the first of the three stands on it's own in the sci-fi genre, blending classical dystopian themes and cyberpunk technologies to create a real anime experience in a live action film.

I think Trinity and Neo's relationship seeks to prove that man and the machine can live together in harmony which is a welcome change from the carnage of most AI/sentient machine films which predict an apocalypse rather that diplomacy and co-operation.

I believe the film questions what reality is to us, and if it has a constant or is based on a perception or experience that we are having at the time. For instance the character of Cypher chooses to be inserted back into the Matrix, but with the caveats of having money, power and no memory of his former life. This then becomes his reality as he has no knowledge of anything more real than the simulation around him.

One question that arises from this scene is that if all of the people still inside the Matrix were given the option, would they actually want to live in the real world, living underground, eating synthetic gloop and having the ever present threat of being hunted by killing machines?

I know what most of them would answer and after nine years, you know what I realise?

Ignorance is bliss!

Rob.













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