|By A.D. Freudenheim||
26 May 2003
Let me get a few things out of the way first: Are you sick of reading about the new movie The Matrix Reloaded? Me too; but I hope youll keep reading about it here, regardless. And have you actually seen the movie? Was it, well, not necessarily great, but not awful either? Precisely. Glad youre still with me.
All of the hype and all of the criticism notwithstanding, there are some interesting things about The Matrix Reloaded that merit consideration. I think it must be a Hollywood first to have a big-budget, mega-dollar-grossing film whose cast is so multi-ethnic; where there is more than one African-American in a leading role; and where those roles are not confined to being either the good guys or the bad guys, as is usually the case. There are some stereotypes in the film: did the bodyguard for The Oracle have to be Asian, with fancy footwork, a pathetic accent, and toss off something akin to a bad Chinese proverb at the end? Yet every time the audience hits a caricature like this, something else breaks through and pushes it away; for example, while The Oracles bodyguard may have been Asian, The Oracle herself appears as an African-American woman in her 50s or 60s (although the persona The Oracle has adopted also comes across as a stereotype, too). The Council of Zion also appears to be heavily peopled with minorities (including a cameo by Professor Cornel West), and if there is anything less true-to-American-life it may be the scene where the Council is shown being lead by a woman.
Likewise, most of the really evil folk in the movie are white, whether its Mr Smith in his 1950s-style FBI outfit, or The Architect, who appears to be a cross between Sigmund Freud and Donald Sutherland. (Could anything be worse?) Neo and Trinity are the exceptions to this, and frankly, it is hard to argue the point; certainly white men are responsible for a lot of destruction and death in the world. With that in mind, it is also possible to look at this movie and say that the reason for the diversity of the cast is that it mirrors the classic view of American society projected in the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s: the man in The Matrix Reloaded is quite literally a white male, and his minions are knock-offs, one just like the other, seemingly ever-present, looking to crack-down on the life being lead by the impoverished Black men who are nonetheless ready to fight for justice.
Early in the movie is a scene that continues to captivate me: Morpheus (part rebel leader, part prophet, for those who have not seen either movie) has announced to the people of the underground world of Zion that they are about to be attacked, that they will face the greatest battle they have ever known and that they must not be afraid, because he has a vision that they will prevail. After he finishes his speech to the people, assembled in a vast underground cave that most rave-goers would envy, the people do what any self-respecting minority group would do when they know theyre about to be slaughtered.
More importantly, they dance dirty, they dance in revealing clothing and in close proximity to one another, sweating and gyrating, jumping and pumping, with a level of abandon that the audiences probably envy. It looks almost like an orgy, a great, swelling, undulating orgy. What I cannot make up my mind about is whether this sequence was included solely to set the stage for the sex scene between Neo and Trinity or if the directors want us to believe that the people of Zion, having already fought several wars, and knowing that their survival now hangs in the balance, are so full of life and energy that, well, they just had to party.
Im being very cynical; forgive me. In fact, I left the movie thinking that this dance sequence was a marker of the movies humanity, its desire to portray people as very human, as sweating, vigorous, sexual beings, in direct contrast to the lifeless energy cells called humans who serve only the will of the Matrix. Bravo! Then I started to wonder if there wasnt some concealed racism in this scene: the natives are restless, and they must party to get their ya-yas out; and when you look at the crowd (digitized though they must be), the same diversity I was talking about is certainly visible in the dancing masses. Or perhaps the people of Zion, as people everywhere, are simply foolish, and just do not know any better. They must do what they can to feel human, knowing that they may soon die.
The worst part of The Matrix Reloaded is the sheer, unbridled cynicism of it all. Forget about the various mixtures of philosophies, and the endless philosophizing by people like me looking to decipher the movie. Put down the religious texts, and definitely drop the Christian web sites looking for meaning in characters named Neo and Trinity. The unreality and mythology of The Matrix Reloaded is staring you right in the face.
You paid, what, $10 to get in to see it? You went wearing clothes made by some generally faceless corporation, whose visible face is likely a model, well-paid to wear the clothes but lacking any more meaningful connection to them. You got the $10 you needed for tickets by working ... and probably by working to support the system, the corporate system, the same nameless, faceless set of systems that use you, just like in the movie, as an energy cell and which make you think youre happy about it, to boot.
The Matrix Reloaded is a terrific rebel flick, and not just because it is beautifully made and fun to watch. (And it is both of those things, absolutely.) In its own way this tale of rebellion precisely nails the problems of modern society: the fears people carry about being cogs in a machine they do not comprehend; of working to support someone elses vision of the world, and not being properly remunerated for it; and of being, in ones heart of hearts, a rebel. This last concept is very much at the core of the American psyche, and the movie plays to this sensibility.
Alas, it does so under the guise of those same corporations, the corporations which will happily take your $10, along with another $10 or more for unhealthy food, and then send you merrily on your fat-assed way. You will not be able to fight like Neo or Morpheus or Trinity. If you are lucky, you will feel enlightened and enlivened, maybe even enervated, but the most you will do to act on those feelings is go home and have sex (if youre lucky). And if it works out properly for the companies that make up our matrix, you will come back in the fall to see Part III which is all they really want.
Copyright 2003, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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