Philosophers' Commentary - Film 3
In many ways this is the quietest of the three commentaries by the philosophers,
which speaks to the way that the film holds back most of its important ideas until
the rush through at the end, and it is only at the end that this commentary really
comes alive with a level of richness that reflects what West and Wilber did with
the previous two.
I would take issue with the insulting suggestion they make towards other sci-fi
or action films in what they assume to be a "Manichaean" standard for resolution, which
"The Matrix" trilogy is somehow rising above. Sci-fi often tackles deep themes
while providing big action sequences, and usually articulates and resolves itself
with a bit more grace than is managed here. I think this trilogy very much wanted to
rise above that so-called standard and do it as a last-minute trick question,
but really didn't figure out how to pull it off very convincingly.
An interesting contrast to Neo's surrender is Wilber's preparation to
"defend his interpretation". Wilber may indeed have accurately deciphered
the Wachowskis' intent, and thus it's great to have that on a commentary
to help us wrap our minds around what was possibly in theirs, but I still have a
great sense that the Wachowskis didn't really achieve what Wilber thought they were
aiming at, if that was their intent.
A lot has to do with the fact that the characters never set themselves that goal
of integrating three domains. A lot has to do with the fact that after smashing the
dogma of the messiah, Neo's actions return to being that of a messiah in many ways.
A lot of thought and energy in the commentary seems to be spent splitting hairs over different
kinds of surrender, be it stoic, or whatever. Does it really matter, if the
end result is so similar as to be indistinguishable?
When the Oracle hints that Neo should return to source, Wilber quickly adds
that she is referring to the "real source", and not the machine mainframe source
that the Architect talked about at the end of the previous film. Well, where is
his evidence to support that the Oracle isn't talking about the same limited idea?
And besides, returning to the "real" source is easy - all you have to do is die, which typically
doesn't do anyone else any good. The question is, how the hell will that help Zion
and the pod-dwellers (or anyone else) resolve their problems? Returning to the
machine source, not to die but say to fix something or reprogram something,
now it might carry some practical weight. The real kicker is that if you look at
film 2, when she first mentions the idea of "returning to the source", Neo asks
for clarification if that means the machine mainframe, and she says yes. Has she really
changed her mind between films?
The show of the people of Zion coming together collectively to defend their city
doesn't really assist Neo's final actions, but have to be done because Neo's final
actions are as late as they are. So, despite the grand map that West is laying out
for this part of the film (and I do personally agree with the nobility and wisdom
of that map), the territory of the movie's actions doesn't quite match up to it.
Additionally, a lot of the "events" that support Wilber's interpretation
occur more in his own mind than on screen, particularly in terms of who is
resurrected and who is integrated.
Perhaps one of my biggest beefs that applies to this trilogy as elsewhere
is that death doesn't really work as resolution, even after inferring a rebirth.
There are so many "new agers" who believe they need to resolve issues from past lives....
in other words they died and were reborn, and that didn't do the trick - the issue still nags at
them and still needs resolution. I'll buy that Neo and Trinity are reborn in the world of spirit,
but so is dock guard #5 who got throttled by a tentacle, and so is sentinel #87
who got shot down just after entering the dock, and so is pod inhabitant Otto Greene
whose life functions ceased while he thought he was driving down the freeway into
a multi-vehicle pile-up. They might all reincarnate as we know it, if they choose to.
I come into a viewing of the trilogy in 1999 and 2003 knowing that spirit is democratized
already and more and more people already know it, and find it hard to re-separate
those ideas in order to follow Wilber's interpretation. To me it feels like excessive
complication for something so simple, yet something that still seems to elude Wilber
The kicker is when they look at Sati during the coda, wondering if she will be
the next saviour. Why do they even still need to look for a saviour? I suspect Cornel West
wants to try to go further with the idea of letting everyone have their own direct
connection with God, and is somewhat toning himself down while Wilber has the floor,
but that would be the direction I would ultimately like to have seen pursued much further,
and I was disappointed in many ways that the third film traveled so little in that direction.
The folly of waiting for a saviour may be best demonstrated by the string of
downbeat endings delivered in
"The Animatrix". Although the Wachowskis were apparently
quite open to having new writers and directors bring their ideas to the table, the making-of
featurettes for each segment reveal how the Wachowskis put limits on what any of the characters
were allowed to achieve in terms of waking up, discovering the truth, or (so it seems to me)
achieving some sort of happy ending for themselves. Why? I'd guess that all these achievements
were being reserved for Neo. Thus, the messiah winds up stunting the growth of those around him,
to maintain his main-character-hero status.
Conclusions, and On Beyond the Films....
It is interesting to note how well the interest generated by the Matrix trilogy seems to have
achieved what J.R.R. Tolkien termed "applicability", explained by Dr. Patrick Curry
in the "Creator of Middle Earth" featurette on
the Extended DVD Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,
meaning that people of widely different backgrounds and belief systems tend to see their
own views reflected in the Matrix trilogy, and feel a sense of kindred connection with it.
Nicely, this is done in very open-ended ways, through the various names of the characters
and their ships, and the reflection of various other stories in the elements of the trilogy's
plot, even if the Wachowskis may have intended their story to be more "allegorical", which Tolkien
regarded as the opposite, or too literal a one-to-one substitution of in-story symbols for
real world situations and ideas.
At the same time, I think it is a mistake to read too much philosophical wisdom
into the trilogy merely on the basis of what it may have referenced. At times, I think
it probably tried to merge too many conflicting philosophies (half of them probably
outdated and/or limited) into a single narrative and wound up losing its way. I think
the act of trying to make the second and third films, plus the "Enter the Matrix" footage,
plus the Animatrix, basically all at the same time, exhausted most people concerned
to the point where the third film lagged behind the others, and the will to tighten things
up waned. I don't think these films managed to change anyone's opinions about beliefs or
taught much philosophy, rather they become a place in which you can remember whatever it is
that you already know and enjoy and celebrate it. If it triggers debate and conversation,
great, because it is in those conversations external to the films that you may learn something.
And with that, perhaps we should now turn to one such hour-long conversation in one
of the documentaries included in the set which deals with philosophy.
- The Matrix (first film)
- The Matrix II: Reloaded
- Beyond (Animatrix segment 7)
- Matriculated (Animatrix segment 9)
- The Matrix III: Revolutions
- A Detective Story
- World Record
- Enter the Matrix video game cutscenes
- Final Flight of the Osiris
- Kid's Story
- The Second Renaissance