by The Inmate
Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case–With Exceptions
—essay title by Stanislaw Lem
A creative writing teacher I once had opened class by stating that she would accept all genres of writing except science fiction. No discussion. No argument. No debate. I love good science fiction and took offense at such a rule. She certainly had good reason to dislike sci fi because so much of it is dreck, but not all of it is. John Gardener, author of The Art of Fiction and other books on writing, once called Stanislaw Lem not only a great science fiction writer, but possibly our greatest living writer. Just because most science fiction is hopeless does not mean that it all is. There are exceptions. The same could be said for science fiction movies.
The Matrix Reloaded, the sequel to the Wachowski brother’s The Matrix, is one of those exceptions though most critics I read did not have the eyes to see it. At times I wondered if they, like my professor, had a prejudice against the genre because they’ve had to sit through so many lousy sci fi flicks–one of the great disadvantages of being a movie critic. The major criticisms of Reloaded were that it generally did not attain the level of The Matrix, that it descended into pseudo-philosophical discussions and that the plot was far less satisfying than the original. I am going to argue that this sequel not only reached the height of The Matrix but surpassed it and that the reason many fans and critics were disappointed is because of their unwillingness to mature with The Matrix Reloaded. This movie, like its predecessor, transcended the genre.
Let us begin with The Matrix. I went to The Matrix with my brother expecting anything with Keanu Reeves to be at the very most an entertaining action flick, not a thought-provoking film. The Matrix, however, was like a blind date that works out. Unlike most blind dates this one was gorgeous. When that door opened I was stunned, but would it be able to sustain my interest for two hours? Fortunately I had no time to consciously consider this. If one has the mental opportunity to weigh such a question the answer is already obvious. By the end of the movie I was not only enamored with my date’s appearance and personality, but also with her brain. I decided I wanted to go out again. We did. We went out one more time after that. Then I proposed: I bought the video. This one was not getting away.
However, as good as The Matrix was, with its great special effects, a great plot, the philosophical questions it raised and the metaphors for life from both Eastern and Western religions, it was, nonetheless, a tidy movie. Neo is the one, the agents are running scared, Morpheus was right, Trinity gets her man and all is seemingly right with the world. It’s the honeymoon and honeymoons are great and are to be enjoyed as much as possible, but honeymoons end. The choices are to move beyond the honeymoon or wish for it to come back. The Wachowski brothers, to their great credit, take the former course.
Anyone who wanted the same experience they had with The Matrix while watching the sequel was going to be disappointed. The Matrix showed us where we were and like Neo’s realization that his life had been a dream there is nothing that can duplicate that initial emotional experience of realizing the illusion with Neo. However, that does not mean that there are not more and better things to find in The Matrix Reloaded. The best experience I’ve ever had at Disneyland was with my three-year old son and I didn’t even ride the Matterhorn.
The Matrix Reloaded is deeper than The Matrix on a number of levels. After writing this I suppose it is necessary to address the critics who considered the philosophical discussions as distractions. This is the kind of critic who thinks that interesting conversation should only occur in the pages of a book, particularly any conversation that is phil-o-so-phi-cal. In any good movie conversations such as these should pertain to the subject of the movie, that is, like sex scenes, they should not be gratuitous. Do these discussions fit within the context of the film? Are they interesting? Do they raise important questions? Do they add and not detract from the action? The answer on all accounts in The Matrix Reloaded is, yes. That some critics and fans disliked these portions of the film is more probably an indication that they did not understand them or did not want to exert any effort in the attempt to do so.
As only one example take the conversation about cause and effect when Morpheus, Trinity and Neo go to see Merovingian to get the Keymaker. The cause and effect question is extremely important particularly when one considers that it occurred within the matrix. Computer programmers will tell you that computer programs are based upon this cause and effect relationship. The code determines what will happen. The code even determines if several things can happen. Even randomness has to have a code written to allow it. The code causes every effect. Or does it? Are there effects that have no cause? Can codes be written that in turn write their own codes? What happens when something goes wrong? Is it always the fault of the program? Transfer this to life. Are our decisions and lives the inevitable effect of the billions and billions of causes that have preceded them? If that it is so, do we have a free will? Am I writing this only because preceding causes have determined it? Or is the idea of cause and effect simply a theory we impose upon that which eludes our grasp? These are hard and disturbing questions and extremely pertinent ones in relation to the subject matter of Reloaded and The Matrix.
Even if the movie didn’t have the philosophical discussions(There are others with the Oracle, in Zion and with the Architect) it is still a deeper, richer and more complex movie than its predecessor. Consider where we are after viewing Reloaded:
The Oracle is a computer program. From her we learn that there are many renegade programs loose within the matrix. Though the matrix is consistent overall, it still has variations and mutations that make it unpredictable.
Smith is no longer an agent. He is a renegade program with the ability to duplicate itself. Something happened between him and Neo when he was, we thought, destroyed in the first movie. At the end of Reloaded it is agent Smith and Neo head to head on the two tables. What does this mean?
There are two interesting developments regarding Morpheus. In The Matrix Morpheus was a kind of prophet, the all-knowing, wise sage in whom we could have an unguarded confidence. In Reloaded with the visit to Zion we learn that some people view him as a fanatic, with an inability to see anyone else’s point-of-view but his own. To some degree this is true which is the reason that the second and most important development is so astounding: after the destruction of Zion Morpheus loses his faith. At the end of the movie he says, “I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream has gone from me.” The confident, wise, assured and dogmatic Morpheus loses everything that since seeing the Oracle has been his reason for living. What now?
From the Architect we learn that Zion has been destroyed before. Can we believe this? If so, what does it mean? This possibility and Neo’s power to destroy the sentinels leads us to the most incredible revelation of the movie: they’re still in the matrix. They never left. Zion and the “real world” may be just another level of the matrix, a safety net constructed by the machines so that if anyone became aware of their predicament their “escape” would only be another illusion. Who’s to say that an escape from this level would not lead to another one and another one and another one? Maybe Neo is the One in the sense that he will be the first to truly escape from the matrix.
In Reloaded we are forced to consider the same questions that Neo, Morpheus and Trinity must now consider–questions neatly answered at the end of The Matrix. Are we still in the matrix? If we are, how can we ever know if we are truly out? As viewers how can we know if they ever get out of the matrix? We thought they were out in the first movie. The philosophical questions Reloaded raises(I apologize to the critics for bringing this up) are these: Are we capable of truly seeing reality? How do we know when or if we do? How do we know if our beliefs are valid? Can we know anything beyond a shadow of a doubt and if so what? Like life, Reloaded leaves us with many questions that we hope will have answers, but there is no guarantee that the mysteries can or will be resolved. Welcome to adulthood.
Many marriages end because one or both parties keep looking for that initial, infatuated, all-consuming emotional experience they had when they first met. Since it doesn’t feel like that after a year or two or three they assume that something is wrong or that they don’t love each other anymore. They wrongly conclude that that earliest state of love is the most important and most satisfying. A marriage, however, must grow if it is to continue to be compelling. Partners must progress intellectually, emotionally and spiritually in order to fully develop their relationship. Only then will they be able to see that those first stages of love were the foundation for something deeper and better.
For those of you who loved Reloaded, isn’t it great to be in a good marriage? If you were disappointed, don’t leave because it didn’t meet your expectations. Maybe it’s time to evaluate those expectations to see if they are valid. It might even be time to ask yourself why the light hurts your eyes and why your muscles are so weak. Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now? Hmmm?
Note: Stanislaw Lem is considered by some to be the greatest science fiction writing living, perhaps the greatest ever. He has written both satiric and dramatic science fiction. He also writes essays about science fiction writing and authors. Titles include:
- Return from the Stars
- The Futurological Congress
- One Human Minute
- Tales of Pirx the Pilot
- Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
- Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy
Visit the official Stanislaw Lem website.