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May 14, 2003


Tomorrow is the day. Or, if you're in a major media market, today is the day. As Salon puts it:

Four years of waiting are finally over for "Matrix" fans. This Thursday will mark the simultaneous release of "The Matrix Reloaded," the first of two sequels set to hit movie screens this year, and "Enter the Matrix," a companion video game. The second wave will arrive on June 3, with the release of a DVD titled "The Animatrix," containing a series of nine animated film shorts set in the world of the Matrix. The DVD of "Reloaded" is expected to follow in late October, clearing the way for the release of "The Matrix Revolutions," the third and final installment of the "Matrix" saga, in early November.

But while the press goes googy over the onslaught of Matrix merchandise, it not surprisingly has very little to say about what—besides guns and kung-fu—makes "The Matrix" such a brilliant cultural artifact. I was going to point out a big windy rant to explain what I mean by that, but instead I'll just point you to Jane Dark's Reloaded Questions, which says most of what I wanted to say. After running through a list of the many allusions that comprise the world of "The Matrix"—i.e.: messianism, gnosticism, metaphysical and existential conundrums— Dark says all of those are neat, but not quite the point. Instead, it's all about power (in all senses of the word):

When I asked Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, if he followed the first flick's philosophy, he announced he'd mused plenty in his life about "all that, you know, spiritual fucking voodoo fucking mumbo jumbo kind of shit." He said this in his Othello-goes-drinking voice, tinged with the gentle irony of someone who has actually gazed long and hard at his navel and come out the other side. For him, the religious reading wasn't the film's hard core. As he put it, "The idea that machines are using us for batteries is pretty fucking severe."

Marx thought so, though in his matrix the master class of machines was just called the master class, the enslaved humans just the workers, and battery power was called labor. Same shit, different name (though not very different: Matrix is just Marxist avant la lettre s).

This is the dystopia on offer in The Matrix. The war between intelligent machines and humans is a sci-fi cliché, no less than hey-this-could-all-be-a-simulation. What the Brothers got is that the masters of reality don't want to destroy us. They want us jacked directly into the economy, stupid, and they want it 24-7. The concept of "the matrix" might stand for abstractions like "ideology" or "the spectacle," but it resembles more concretely the endgame of millennial merger mania—what happens when all the corporations of the world become one seamless super-entity within which you labor, eat, make love, pay rent ( The Truman Show offered a different version of the same surmise). The evolution from Warner Bros. to AOL Time Warner required only a few years of corporate copulation. From AOL Time Warner to the matrix—it's just a kiss away.

Dark obviously took the red pill. I'm guessing "Reloaded" will confirm the accuracy of Dark's reading of "The Matrix"—at least I hope it does.

Spoiler Alert: Near the end of her article, Dark also gives a few little details about "Reloaded," so if you haven't seen it yet and want to do so w/out any spoilage, skip the last couple of paragraphs of Dark's piece.

Posted May 14, 2003 05:54 PM | ai movies

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