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Friday, May 16, 2003

What matrix?

Hooray! Adam Gopnik thinks long and hard about The Matrix and The Matrix: Reloaded, and comes up with some fascinating parallels — like the Cathars!

The basic conceit of "The Matrix"—the notion that the material world is a malevolent delusion, designed by the forces of evil with the purpose of keeping people in a state of slavery, has a history. It is most famous as the belief for which the medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars fought and died, and in great numbers, too. The Cathars were sure that the material world was a phantasm created by Satan, and that Jesus of Nazareth—their Neo—had shown mankind a way beyond that matrix by standing outside it and seeing through it. The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all. It is not unusual to take up a sword and die for a belief. It is unusual to take up a sword to die for the belief that swords do not exist.
The Cathars, like the heroes of "The Matrix," had an especially handy rationale for violence: if it ainít real, it canít really bleed. One reason that the violence in "The Matrix"—those floating fistfights, the annihilation of entire squads of soldiers by cartwheeling guerrillas—can fairly be called balletic is that, according to the rules of the movie, what is being destroyed is not real in the first place: the action has the safety of play and the excitement of the apocalyptic.

Gopnik spends a good amount of time discussing the speculative itch that the movie scratched: Could our experience be fake? Could we be living in some demon's dream, or some advanced computer programmer's elaborate game? He much prefers the speculation offered by the first movie to the spectacle offered by the second:

Especially in view of the conventionality of the second film, itís clear that the first film struck so deep not because it showed us a new world but because it reminded us of this one, and dramatized a simple, memorable choice between the plugged and the unplugged life.

What's up with sci-fi dystopias? Paul Kane ponders this question in the British e-zine Spiked.

Update 5.18.03. What is Cornel West doing in The Matrix Reloaded? His character's one line — "Comprehension is not requisite for cooperation" — is apparently already on T-shirts. But does it mean anything?

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 16 May 2003 at 5:36 PM

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