back to the Black Table
           
  IN DEFENSE OF THE MATRIX.  
   
  They all looked utterly confused outside the theatre in Chelsea last Wednesday, those blank faces streaming out of the previous showing of The Matrix: Revolutions. But those faces, full of doubt, listlessness, even a hint of blind anger, betrayed nothing. Their expressions were eerily similar to that of Neo himself when he first emerged from the pink, embryonic mucus that first set our minds spinning. After four  
 

years of endless fascination, superfluous hype, and post-apocalyptic glee, how was this volatile chapter in our cultural lives supposed to end? What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?

Only one thing was for certain, echoing Neo's ultimatum to Agent Smith, "it ends tonight."

In 1999, at the peak of the Internet boom and clamor of Y2K madness, Joel Silver gave two young, fairly inexperienced directors about $80 million

 
  to make a science fiction film that, let's face it, had dorky written all over it. The heroes were hackers, transformed by their nerdiest skills into leather clad, machine gun-toting, king-fu fighting bad asses, complete with designer sunglasses. The mere image of Carrie Ann Moss whispering, "I know why you sit alone at your computer" was enough to give every computer geek in America wet dreams for a month. A perfect mirror for the rise of the young Internet entrepreneur, all of the sudden, nerds were rock stars, and their rage, repressed behind a keyboard since adolescence, was unleashed upon the American public. "Like a splinter in your mind," the looming idea that you always knew you were cool -- it's just that no one else did -- was finally realized, and realized with a vengeance.

The first Matrix film not only contained a premise that could be sufficiently described as "really cool," but employed a unique cultural nexus of ideas unmatched in popular American cinema since the independent film boom of the early 70's. The over-arching theme of man versus machine, while certainly well worn territory, was explored in a totally new and contemporary fashion. Resurrecting William Gibson's idea of "jacking in" to an entirely computer generated reality succinctly reflected the way the Internet was changing our entire society at an alarming rate. Structuring the story with a confluence of eastern philosophy, biblical symbolism, Greek

 
 

tragedy, and post-modern discourse kept armchair intellectuals in barroom conversation for months. Anime-inspired Kung-fu fights, uncompromising killer robots, and blaring machine guns made the film fun as fun to watch as it was to talk about.

To put it simply, The Matrix ruled.

As if this wasn't enough, the film also pioneered a combination of traditional special effects, computer graphics, and a new style of cinematography that will be forever imitated in filmmaking.

 
  Bullet-time, the method of shooting single moment of action from a series of still cameras and then assembling concurrently photographed images as contiguous frames of film represented the first real innovation in that aspect of medium since the introduction of the steady-cam. Computer-generated environments rendered with a keenly comic book sensibility gave the film the kind of visual scope that avid Marvel fans had been hoping to see in a movie since they were 12 years old. And, perhaps the most ingenious bit of all, the technology was not a crutch for these filmmakers. With an army of PhotoShop animators at their disposal, they still had the wherewithal to build an entire building, line it with explosives, and crash a helicopter into it. Why? Because it looked better that way.

Now, add to all of this the fact that The Matrix itself is an entirely new plane of fictional reality, so comprehensive and original as to be unmatched in American popular cultural by anything short of The Empire, Middle Earth and The United Federation of Planets. Four years ago, The Matrix mesmerized us with this perfectly blended and deliberately executed soup of innovation, genius, and sheer madness. When people questioned exactly why we were so excited and, let's face it, obsessed with this series, we could only retort with, "Why aren't you?"

The Matrix universe is such a momentous artistic achievement, functioning on so many levels, that the negative popular reaction to the last two installments of the series doesn't just sit poorly with us, it's positively infuriating. This is not to say that everything in the last two movies is perfect. Sure, some of the dialogue is even more stilted than usual, parts of it are cheesy and overdramatic, plot holes abound, and a few of the characters are just annoying. But it would defy everything we love about the series to focus on our own need to nitpick plot details and directorial decisions. Let's save those critical impulses for the next film that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer crank out of their Oscar factory. As for the Matrix, we were sold on it so

 
 

long ago that we're better served by enjoying it for what it is.

It's surprising that so many people seem to have missed this notion entirely. The suffocating layers of irony that totally engulfed hip, urban intellectualism have made it near impossible for people to get excited about anything anymore, least of all something so universally popular. We've created a culture of hating stuff, where it's not just easier, but safer, to be disappointed then to go out on a limb and say, "you know what, I really enjoyed that." Unless it's so esoteric and ambiguous that no one can reasonably make sense of it, it can't be cool.

 
 

 

Well, let's put a stop to this nonsense right here. Reloaded didn't have the unity of plot and action, in which even the fight scenes move the plot forward, that the first movie had. The word "believe" was used a few too many times in Revolutions. I really wish I knew a lot more about The Merovingian. Despite anything on the laundry list of "I wish they'd..." the entire Matrix trilogy was awesome. Where a lot of people around us seem to get off on being let down by it, we're just going to sit back and enjoy the ride. Embracing the fantastic journey that the Wachowski brothers have taken us on is as easy as embracing the philosophy on which it's based. It's simple, don't try to bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, realize that it is not the spoon, but yourself that bends.

After gasping and sweating through badass gunfights, epic martial arts battles, and a full-scale war between humans and machines that clenched our fists and left our jaws dangling around our ankles, the end was finally near. Oddly enough, as the young kid comes into the cave and screams to everyone that the war is finally over, it was ultimately Morpheus, our wise mentor to the world of The Matrix, with whom we really identified. "Is this real?"

We had waited for so long, it was difficult, damn near impossible to believe that it was truly over. He isn't overwhelmed with triumph, or joy, or even relief. He is utterly confused.

The architect tells the oracle, "that was a dangerous little game you played." Huh? Excuse me? What the hell does that mean? And wait, how does that little girl fit into this? What, exactly, happened to Neo and Agent Smith? Are there still humans stuck in The Matrix? If the war is over, can humans and machines really live in harmony? The end The Matrix: Revolutions leaves us with more questions than answers, and frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Walking out of the theatre, it became immediately obvious that our expressions matched those of the people we'd seen on our way in. Lost, confused, and confounded with questions and feelings that would linger in conversation and repeat viewings for a long time to come. Exhausted, exasperated, we looked towards the people standing in line for the next showing. The anticipation glimmered in their eyes, their excitement palpable, and the only thing we could think was, "just wait, you'll see."

 

*BT*