Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Sunday, June 29, 2003
Spoiler alert. I'm in Michigan for work this fortnight or so. I'm working on sorting out my thoughts re the Big Decision that made my alma mater so happy, but at this moment late at night I'm thinking about something of less import. I finally got around to seeing Matrix Reloaded. In fact, today I went with my brother to see it for the second time this week. From which you can gather that I do not concur with those who claim it sucks. I actually enjoyed it more the second time, because I could sit back and focus on details and try to put together the stuff that leaves you nonplussed the first time. Like the scene with the Architect, which is about the only time I can remember wanting to stand up in a movie house and go, "Alright, would you please stop the projector and hand me the screenplay so I can read this scene?" I don't know where people get off saying "Oh, they went so overboard on the special effects too bad they didn't write a good storyline." That's the stock reaction of someone who has decided the film is beneath them and therefore is not willing to invest any mental effort to engage with what the film is offering you. Talk about spoilers. (Here, by the way, is the one notable exception I've found. Read what he has to say--and follow the link at the bottom to his redux post--and tell me if you still think the movie uninteresting.)

It's a question of tact, you know? Yes, it's just a movie. Yes, you have to do something called suspension of disbelief. Yes, it has some scenes we could have done without, and some logical inconsistencies that can only be resolved by accepting the fact that it's a movie damnit, and they have to make it fun to watch as well as perfectly coherent. So many of the reviews I've read, by bloggers and non, have struck me as lazy potshots by someone who just wants to make easy points. Even a fanboy at heart like Lileks, sad though it is to say. (I bet on a second viewing he'd appreciate it more too.) But I don't see how if you liked the first one you can find this one so irretrievably inferior. It's dealing on the same level of intriguing philosophical ideas woven into a plot structure that, granted, you can't think about too much without it falling apart, but that still rewards thought if you're capable of thinking while respecting the lessons Icarus learned the hard way. And maybe, just maybe, it doesn't fall apart. Because if the whole thing, the Matrix and the "real world", are both artificial constructs--which is what this film seems to suggest--then the implausibilities are not flaws in the plot but flaws in the construct. Which you'd expect any construct to have, wouldn't you?

Maybe I liked it because I was once really engaged in the whole causality v. free will conundrum. I remember spending many hours writing missives arguing Spinozistic compatibilism to an email list full of Objectivists who thought this proof that I was a non reasoning creature. Do I think these movies are going to resolve the problem? Of course not. But I did find it valuable and interesting to see the quintessential antimony filtered through the cyberpunk mysticism of this particular scenario. Choice as the anomaly that makes the ordered system sustainable. Come on people, the Wachowskis are aiming pretty high here. They're taking on pretty basic intractable questions, and trying to address them in an entertaining way. So at least meet them half way, will you? Are we so spoiled that we can offer people bearing such gifts as these the peremptory back of our hand? I mean Jim, if you could muster gratitude for the wonderful explosions George served up in Episode 2, can't you breath a sigh of appreciation for the two trailer trucks giving us a physics lesson in bullet time? Or for the sheer choreographic complexity of the Burly Brawl? (And enough already people, with the "If he could fly away why did he fight them at all" bullshit. I'll tell you why. Because he was curious. Because he wanted to see what Smith could do. Because he wanted a challenge. Because it was personal. And if you were paying attention, you'd have seen that when he finally does fly away, it looks as though he's afraid they might actually eventually overwhelm him if he doesn't.)

And I have to say I enjoyed the acting as well. Yeah, even Keanu. Say what you will, he's in character. And even if you can't stand him, how can you not love every expressive moment the Oracle's face is onscreen? May she rest in peace. And what about the Merovingian and his Italian goddess of a wife? (Yes, I do wonder what would lead sentient programs so thoroughly to internalize human psychosexual dynamics, but I'm willing to go with it. The answer may simply be that they're stuck between living in exile in the Matrix and deletion, so they may as well enjoy themselves.) Call me a philistine, but these are simply not unintelligent performances. And mark my words: Hugo Weaving has created an indelible cinematic archetype with his manneristic Rod Serling extrapolation. He's always on the verge of self parody, but he does it with so much conviction and enjoyment that you can't help loving every cadenced phrase to come out of his smirking lips. And yes, Morpheus too is on the verge of self-parody. But whereas his somnolent messianism would be intolerable were it to triumph, it becomes suddenly tragic at the end when his messiah informs him that in fact there is no God.

I for one am looking forward to seeing how they resolve things in the third film. With a lot of apprehension, mind you. Because they've raised the bar, and it could easily come crashing down on their heads like Neo's metal pole. The end could really suck and vindicate everyone who trashed the first two films. Or it could be amazing. For now, I'm clinging to Hope. Like the Architect says, it's our greatest weakness. And our greatest strength.

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