Sunday, March 01, 2009

Movie Review: The Matrix



You might say this this philosophical sci-fi film is one of the most famous movies of all time. I assume that most of my readers have seen it, but will also assume that some haven't. I should also say that I will not be reviewing the two other sequels as I am aware of some sexual content in them. Perhaps this limits my understanding of the philosophical implications of this first installment, but sorry peeps, I'm not going for it.

Note: if you are at all interested in this film and have not yet seen it, then you might not want to read my review, as it is filled with spoilers.

And now to begin....

Basic premise: Humans vs. machines. Simple, right? Well....

I'm going to have to spoil the whole plot like I warned, right off the bat. Okay. We are told that humanity created artificial intelligence in a race of robotic machines. In a reference that reminds one of the Tower of Babel, apparently it was then that humanity reveled despicably in its own marvelousness, and around this time the machines apparently further evolved of their own ability. War commenced, and the humans lost the war. During that war we somehow blocked the sun's rays from coming to earth (something atmospheric?) as the machines' were solar powered. Apparently extremely resourceful, they soon found another power source: us. Humanity soon became nothing less than batteries, grown and kept in large "crops", and to occupy our minds, the machines create a computer program, called the Matrix. Fashioning it after the world circa 1999, they plugged each and every human in to it. That is all that the humans know--they see it as real, but it is not.

Evntually, one man somehow became free, frees more humans, and starts a civilization. This man prophesied his return. This returning savior, "The One" that the characters of the film are looking for, particularly the mentor Morpheus, may be the one they call Neo (Keanu Reeves). As the freed humans possess the ability to re-enter the Matrix, they do so to rescue Neo. And the rest is movie history....

First of all, the film is well-made. The good production quality even extends to the fact that an entirely new method of studio filming was created for this picture (one that creates really "cool" scenes in slow-mo). I have no objections on this score. And as the whole story line is nothing short of humans vs. robots, we get plenty of action as well. It is possible to appropriately categorize The Matrix as a martial arts film, and it was in this that I was most pleased. A traditional Kung Fu scene, another fight with Neo vs. Agent Smith (an AI program inside the Matrix that basically keeps any and all potential resistance under control), and the famous shoot 'em-up scene in the lobby are all extremely pleasing.

The lobby shoot-out is one of the best in any movie I've ever seen, and I can't really tell you much about it other than it is awesome. The final fight is also very impressive, with some amazing moves. Yes, many of the moves are a little far-fetched, but at least the film explains it in the way of it only being possible inside the Matrix program. (And for someone who's seen downright unbelievable martial arts techniques first-hand, it instantly becomes more plausible.) If you watch movies for the combat sequences, as I do (so long as I have no other major content to object to that I am aware of beforehand), then you should at least see this film once.

Another minor little thing I found nice (is "nice" too weak of a word?) was the style. A guy like me can't go wrong with Neo's style of apparel (must...have...trenchcoat), and this as well as much of the rest of the film was "cool."

So, you might think I liked this film. Well...not...really.

It does not contain gratuitous violence, however it does contain some harsh language. There is no blatant sexual content other than when one techie character, named Mouse, offers to plug Neo in for a some time spent with a computer-generated women in a red dress. He declares, "To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human."

Another issue is that the freed humans, citizens of the (underground?) city of Zion, kill other humans still trapped inside the Matrix, coldly and without remorse. Morpheus tells Neo, "The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

It is true, they do not know "the truth" and are blinded and therefore the opposition, but we see this very same thing reflected in the spirtually lost people of the world. Do we as Christians have the license to kill any or all of them if they get in our way? This, in my opinion, seems to be nothing less than a license to kill.

The problems I had with this film are it's reality, shall we say. (Ironic, isn't it?) We are expected to believe in little besides infinite possibilities. For one, Neo has superhuman powers in the Matrix world. He can do what no other human can. He can move faster than any other human can, and he can dodge and even stop bullets, as well as fly, eventually. (This is all explained through the idea that computer rules can be bent or broken, and also with some spiritualistic ideas sprinkled in heavily.) And in one particularly blasphemous scene, Neo is even raised from the dead, without explanation (was Trinity's kiss really that amazing?). This "Christ allegory", much-touted by the Christian community, is, in my opinion, nothing more than cheap. Yeah, yeah, it has a paralell or two (Neo dies, rises again, there is a Judas character, etc.) but are the Wachowski brothers (who made the film) really trying to convey scriptural truths? Somehow, I doubt it.

Morpheus is Neo's mentor, and he constantly tries to "free your [Neo's] mind." He makes religious-esque statements such as "Don't think you are, know you are.", "Try not to think of it terms of right and wrong.", "You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.", etc. One of the most compelling questions seems to be when Morpheus Socratically inquires, "What is 'real'? How do you define 'real'?"

You want to know how I define it? What I can see, hear, taste and touch. The computer I'm using right now, the electricity it takes to power it. The body I am using and manipulating, the air I am breathing. And...reality is what can touch me, as in my dear God.

To help understand the nature of this topic, let's hear it from Neo's arch-nemesis, the creepy Agent Smith: "Have you ever stood and stared at it? Marveled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious. Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization because as soon as we started thinking for you, it really became our civilization, which is, of course, what this is all about: Evolution, Morpheus, evolution. Like the dinosaur. Look out that window. You had your time. The future is our world, Morpheus. The future is our time."

What I often bring up to people is, with Evolution, anything is possible. There is no reality, there is no basis for truth, there is nothing. Can humans really create a race of robots that can evolve to surpass us? Sure! Can we really act with superhuman powers, can we manipulate objects ("There is no spoon.") and possess psychic abilities? Why not?

I would wager a guess that many atheistic Evolutionists would scoff at that idea long with me, but here's the thing, that's where their philosophy leads them. There was a time when some Evolutionists feared that computers and AI would be the next dominating species, and that they would out-evolve us (I kid you not), as we see that in The Matrix. And with Evolution, I ask, why not? What is life? A bunch of strings of amino acids? Primordial sludge? A collection of cells, and cells are a collection of conveniently oriented chemicals? Without a firm basis in truth, in the Scriptures, without a belief in the Creator and Savior of the Bible, we have nothing to go by, nothing to build upon (remember, Evolutionary science stole the foundations of Creation-centered science that began hundreds of years ago with Christendom). Anything goes. If we came from nothing, and if the universe itself came from nothing, what is there?

And with the pile of religious references (including a prophetess called the Oracle, who has the unexplained power to predict the future, amongst other things--we see her reading Neo's palms), most of which sound akin to Eastern philosophies (I am not an expert and therefore will not even attempt to pin down what exact doctrine or concept each little statement in the movie may or may not have come from) but seem to be mixed and manipulated at the will of the almighty Hollywood directors, we don't get a very compelling picture. As a born-again believer and as a logical thinker I must reject what others apparently find convincing.

Sorry, but I simply do not buy it.

Spencer

All quotes from IMDB, except Agent Smith, which was from Wikiquote.

12 comments:

olde.fashioned said...

Would I be being a broken record if I said again how much I love your reviews? ;-P Very well-written (as always) and to the point.

Don't ya just love those "anti-religion" people who have to go and steal from every other religion to create their "non-religion"?? *headdesk*

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

I forgot to mention how I noticed that this movie was, well...God-less. Yes, there are lots of religious-like references and comments, but everything in the film pointed to humanistic philosophies, and not once did we get a reference to God. It seems that God simply does not exist in The Matrix world, for if he did such horrific events would never have been possible.

duva said...

Hey there, I guess I m going to have to play the Devil's advocate here since this is one of my favourite movies of all time ;)

First of all I will say that I do agree with you on most points but some places need commenting:

"And in one particularly blasphemous scene, Neo is even raised from the dead, without explanation (was Trinity's kiss really that amazing?)."

The way I saw this is that he BECAME the One through the love of Trinity. The Oracle had told her that she would fall in love and that the one she loved would be the One. Therefore when she confessed her love he became the One and as the One he couldn't be dead, do I make sense? Also one could of course ask if he really was dead, sure his heart had stopped beating but humans have survived that before.

As for your remarks about Evolution I do agree and that's why I, while not being a believer in the Creation of Genesis, don't quite buy Darwinism either. Anyhow, I don't really see how that concerns this movie. Agent Smith believes (or pretends to believe) in Evolution and the humans probably do as well, but that doesn't mean Evolution has to be real. I don't see why the creation of AI couldn't be achieved by humans created as they are just as well as humans evolved from apes.

As for the Oracle, her role is explained more in later movies but in short she is a very powerful program within the Matrix and her predicting the future is rather knowing how the Matrix works. I don't see her as particularly "Eastern" though, she rather reminds me of Graeco-Roman religion, especially with the message "Know thyself" written above her door (in Latin for some stupid reason) just as it was by the door to the Oracle of Delphi.

"It seems that God simply does not exist in The Matrix world, for if he did such horrific events would never have been possible."

I don't see why that would be the case. Why couldn't the machines be a scourge against humans just as the Flood and all locusts and what not? You could even see them as harbingers of the Apocalypse I guess..

I think you are right though in believing that the message of this movie is more in tune with Dharmic relgions than Abrahamic. The Matrix in itself is extremely close (even in the name though that might not have been intended) to the Hindu idea of "Maya" which is sort of a veil that hides the true reality from our eyes.

Another common reasoning is a sort of Socialist metaphor that is quite far fetched but still quite spot on as well. The Matrix being the Capitalist world where humans are trapped having to work, having to earn, having to spend, just to keep the system going for no real reason but the survival of the system in itself.

I'd also by the way recommend you to watch the two prequels because I think you'd like them. Apart from one scene early on in "Reloaded" there's nothing for you to fear in the way of nudity and sex. I for one do prefer the first movie but you being a fan of the style and the fighting, the fights and special effects in the later movies are even snazzier.

Oh, and by the way (again!), I must say that I found it curious that you have no objections against a musical score involving bands like Marilyn Manson and Rage Against the Machine... or are the reports of opposition against those in the US simply overblown here?

Anyway, I found this review interesting. Keep 'em coming ;)

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

I didn't know you liked this movie!

I guess I m going to have to play the Devil's advocate here

Fair enough. ;-D

I don't see why the creation of AI couldn't be achieved by humans created as they are

In a sense I agree, I even had a posted article about AI a ways back. What I mean is that I don't believe that something we created could ever "best" us or become better. To become better a machine would have to evolve, thus that is what I meant when I discussed the idea of computers becoming the dominant "species". And if we were really just batteries in chambers imprisoned in a false reality, we could not know our Lord Jesus nor be saved by Him, could we? Not possible.

On the Oracle, my apologies. I did not intend to give the impression that I found her Eastern--I agree with your Graeco-Roman analysis.

As to the whole end-of-the-world/human-race-is-going-extinct idea is a fantasy unreconcilable with Scripture. More on this in my up-and-coming Reign of Fire review.

And as to the music, I was unaware of what you mentioned. Yes, I oppose Marilyn Manson but know nothing about the other group. My guess is that I feel that way you assumed I would though. :-D

And the other two are PREQUELS??? But...but...but.... What?!?

Spencer

duva said...

"In a sense I agree, I even had a posted article about AI a ways back. What I mean is that I don't believe that something we created could ever "best" us or become better. To become better a machine would have to evolve, thus that is what I meant when I discussed the idea of computers becoming the dominant "species". And if we were really just batteries in chambers imprisoned in a false reality, we could not know our Lord Jesus nor be saved by Him, could we? Not possible"

You have a point there, or two actually! But the way I see it the machines haven't won yet, so therefore they aren't a "dominant" species.

And of course one couldn't know Jesus, living in a false reality but that would make the struggle to free human minds all the more urgent, no? Then again that's not of course what the characters in this movie seem to be striving for but that's another story..

"And as to the music, I was unaware of what you mentioned."

It seems someone didn't watch the end credits ;)

"And the other two are PREQUELS???"

My bad.. I meant sequels of course and nothing else :P

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

And of course one couldn't know Jesus, living in a false reality

To re-explain (boy I was tired last night!) what I meant, the Bible makes it clear that there is ALWAYS a way to know him, over and over again in Scripture.

Re: prequels, ah...you confused me greatly. :-D

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

And of course one couldn't know Jesus, living in a false reality

To re-explain (boy I was tired last night!) what I meant, the Bible makes it clear that there is ALWAYS a way to know him, over and over again in Scripture. To mention just one,
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" (Romans 1:20)

Re: prequels, ah...you confused me greatly. :-D

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Dr. Paleo,
I consider this movie to be pure fantasy, so that it can use a story to study or address certain questions or philosophies that come up in the real world. The fantasy world simplifies it. When Jesus spoke in parables, there was not always a God figure. He was making a point about truth, that applied to the real world, would be associated with God.

Some stories can obviously be making different points. From what I've seen of the brothers who made this movie, I would confirm that they are anti-Christian. But they cannot escape the gripping examples of sacrifice and hope after death that come with Christianity. The questions raised in the Matrix sound like ones that could be asked by someone searching for the truth.

Did you read my review of the Matrix?

Dr. Paleo wrote, 'It is true, they do not know "the truth" and are blinded and therefore the opposition, but we see this very same thing reflected in the spirtually lost people of the world. Do we as Christians have the license to kill any or all of them if they get in our way? This, in my opinion, seems to be nothing less than a license to kill.' But those who are not regenerated by the Holy Spirit in our real world are enemies, and we are occasionally called to fight them in drastic ways, like the Israelites to the Canaanites. I don't see that as a license to kill. We might address the morality of the killings on other grounds, but the best argument is that these human minds, truly alive and choosing most of what they do in the Matrix, are responsible for their choices. If you believe in consciences and will, then it makes sense that people would know whether participating in security for the Agents is wrong, and they chose that. Jesus said if you're not on His side, you're against Him.

I didn't see the "resurrection" as blasphemous any more than calling Neo "The One." It's just part of the story, an undeniably effective device - because it is based on eternal truth and a common human dilema: conquering death. Trinity's kiss did not revive him, I think, in itself. Rather, knowing that someone loved him, his non-braindead mind was able to argue with the information fed him by the matrix, and overcome. He only died because he thought he died. When he stopped thinking he was dead, and thought he was alive, then he was alive again. It's all mental.

So I'm not arguing for the worldview of the Matrix, or saying that it's a Christian movie or anything. I'm just saying that it has more value in studying philosophies than you give it credit for. I for one would just as soon skip the fight scenes, though, so we're obviously hitting this movie from a different perspective.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Lisa:

I'm sorry, but yes I did read your review and your comment and I am still confused as to why you recommend the film. I don't think you can use parables as an example; Jesus's parables were little stories used to illustrate a point, whereas The Matrix created its own world and worldview. Jesus did not "leave out" a God figure, it just wasn't necessary for the quick little illustration.

But those who are not regenerated by the Holy Spirit in our real world are enemies, and we are occasionally called to fight them in drastic ways, like the Israelites to the Canaanites. I don't see that as a license to kill. We might address the morality of the killings on other grounds, but the best argument is that these human minds, truly alive and choosing most of what they do in the Matrix, are responsible for their choices. If you believe in consciences and will, then it makes sense that people would know whether participating in security for the Agents is wrong, and they chose that. Jesus said if you're not on His side, you're against Him.

As you said this film is fantasy so I cannot apply the true Biblical view to it, so-to-speak. Yes, we are ALWAYS responslibe for our actions, but taking the film's idea that the people are unwillingly and unknowingly imprisoned, it simply wouldn't be their fault. The Agents described Morpheous as a terrorist; would a simple security guard know the whole story? Also, this idea that they really are unaccountable was part of my issue with the film.

And as to the Neo's death, you cannot conquer death any other way than through Christ. The ONLY way we can do that is if we believe in him (etc., etc.) and then our victory is in our eternal home in Heaven. We can't conquer death by coming back to the real world! That is a strongly unbiblical idea.

I hope that makes sense? Also, sorry for the late reply, I've been swamped!

God bless,

Spencer

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Dr. Paleo,
You said that The Matrix is different from parables, but I'm not satisfied with your reason for why you dismissed my point. The purpose of story (fiction) is to take a truth or a question about truth out of the real world and put it into a situation where there are less issues so that we can magnify the one question and study it.

Also, the fact that bodies were imprisoned does not excuse the choices the people were mentally making to participate with the oppressive agents. Neo and others caught on and started an underground. What excuse do those have who were just going along with things? It's so common in our world today, the real world where this really matters, for people to consider themselves good people, innocent bystanders, not deserving judgment or punishment - just because they are going with the flow, "ignorant" and imprisoned, enslaved. All men are without excuse.

Finally, I contend that Neo was not dead. His body was in the process of coping with the information fed his mind by reason of being in the matrix. Maybe I'm choosing to reinterpret, but that was the force of what I saw in the movie. The central theme of the Matrix is, in my opinion, the power of the mind/will. In the context of that theme, the climax of the comeback power of the mind is not necessarily blasphemous. (Elijah raised some people back to physical life separate of any mention, as far as we are told, of Christ. Jesus is the source of the resurrection to eternal life, for sure.)
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

olde.fashioned said...

Butting in here...hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes. ;-)

The purpose of story (fiction) is to take a truth or a question about truth out of the real world and put it into a situation where there are less issues so that we can magnify the one question and study it.


I don't think that the purpose of all stories is to study a truth or question outside of reality. Assuredly many, if not most, fall under this category, but I'm not so sure that The Matrix was one of the "let's explore a moral quandary" type movies. Then again, my view of this film runs more along the lines of Spencer's than yours, Lisa, so I'm sure you'll disagree with me. ;-) I cannot help but find it amusing how secular and godless films borrow from Judeo-Christianity and eastern religions in order to create their own worldview. It's almost Star Wars all over again, minus Jar Jar and Yoda.

Also, the fact that bodies were imprisoned does not excuse the choices the people were mentally making to participate with the oppressive agents. Neo and others caught on and started an underground.


While watching the movie I got the distinct impression that the people still stuck inside the Matrix program had no idea that their "lives" were a virtual reality, and that they would never have even suspected such a thing as the Matrix if someone else hadn't enlightened them. Neo seemed to be a bit ahead of the crowd in that respect; perhaps due to his hacking abilities, he discovered some information he wasn't supposed to have? That wasn't fully explained, but what I do think was obvious, was that he never ever would have known about his "true" life outside of the Matrix if he hadn't been informed of it by Morpheus & Co. Therefore, if an innocent being trapped in the Matrix has no way of knowing about the Matrix in the first place, has no knowledge of agents or any other such thing, then how can they be accused of "going along" with what the agents do with their bodies/minds? It seemed more a form of possession, with the agents taking over the bodies of the innocent citizens whenever they pleased, without the innocents having given any prior consent.

I think it would have been perhaps more effective if the "good guys" had shown more mercy, and made a greater effort to enlighten the lost, rather than just writing them off as "dependent" on the system, or Matrix.

The central theme of the Matrix is, in my opinion, the power of the mind/will.

Therein lies part of the problem. The human mind cannot conquer all, and is not this great weapon capable of defeating death, such as is suggested by Neo's "resurrection." Even if you believe his mind only thought his body was dead, surely you can't deny the intentional parallels to the resurrection in the New Testament, which hovers dangerously close the boundaries of blasphemy, IMVHO.

One of the reasons I have a problem with the whole "mind over matter" type thing, or whatever you want to call it, is because our minds are flawed, fallen, fickle, and fallible things. The God of the Bible is what we should be looking to as our Power and our Salvation, not our minds or our powers of reason. The message that the truth is within ourselves or that inside each one of us lurks "The One" or whatever, is a very dangerous one I think, because it shifts the focus from God to humanity.

Okay, I'm going to get off my soapbox and shut up now. ;-)

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Lisa: I was gonna give you a good reply, but Lauren said it all better than I could've.... :-P I can but echo her last two paragraphs!