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Under The Matrixscope is a series of columns by guest writer Scott Potter. In each piece, Scott will expand and illuminate on aspects of the Matrix Trilogy.
This essay is one in a series in an attempt to return to the fresh perspective upon the first viewing of the Matrix, released in 1999. The public was first introduced to the feature film during the Superbowl preview - a good 2 years before the events of 9/11, and just before the election of George W. Bush. The question was simple, but intriguing, "What is the Matrix"? Audiences gave it mixed reviews, but a few of us saw much more than did the critics. We saw our own personal challenges in life elevated to modern mythology. How? Why? These were the burning questions that ignited the imagination of viewers in ways philosophy professors could only dream. Where they try to make students write papers, the Matrix inspired hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to write and think about issues as old as civilization. This essay is the first in a series that explores the method by examining only the first 5 minutes as if it were new to us all over again.
The script begins at [Fade In:]. Yet, as with nearly all movies, all three Matrix movies have an introductory montage, which offers a clue to the nature of each film. The first Matrix is about birth. The first thing we then see is darkness and a blinking cursor. We hear a brief phone conversation between a man and woman. We don't yet know their names, but their names are important to understanding the philosophical context of the discussion and why we see "TRACE PROGRAM: RUNNING." In fact, the names and their roles are as important as rock-paper-scissors or chess. "Agent" Smith is the blind leading the blind in pursuit of "one little girl" (Trinity). How did they know to find her at "Heart o' the City Hotel"? I guess we'll just have to Cypher it out.
IN THE BEGINNING the womb [matrix] was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the Deep. Thomas A. Anderson (Neo) is asleep at his computer screen in a small low rent apartment. We later find he works by day for Metacortex Inc., a software firm. I personally related to this protagonist, because I lived a very similar existence at that time. These names mean nothing to the viewer, until we consider much later that Thomas Aquinas was one of many early philosophers with a tremendous impact on the development of modern western civilization. Anderson is also a variation on andro-son (son of man). Furthermore, metacortex is a higher order of magnitude in consciousness than the cerebral neo-cortex. In evolutionary biology the human brain is understood to have emerged from a core R-(reptilian)-complex, limbic (mammalian) system and the uniquely human neocortex. Our DNA is our memory.
While Neo slumbers at his desk it is apparent he has been searching for Morpheus (Greek god of dreams). His screen briefly displayed news headlines of a known wanted terrorist written in Arabic and a picture of Morpheus. We later find out Morpheus is a legendary computer hacker - and so much more. As his screen goes blank, The words, "Wake up Neo" appear on the screen. "The Matrix has you." This is Trinity's first contact with Neo. Trinity's name has too many possible meanings to elaborate. But the Wachowskis have since revealed that the Matrix is a commentary on the Hegelian dialectic, which includes stages of enlightenment from thesis-antithesis to synthesis or resolution. As I continue to submit essays over time we will later begin to see that the entire trilogy is an exploration of consciousness and growth through conflict and see the religious, artistic, historical and philosophical strands that also lead Ken Wilber to aptly describe the trilogy as, "The defining myth of our age."
The first few minutes of the film leave open to interpretation the timing of the sequences between Neo's apartment and Trinity's narrow escape. Its not all that important to the overall interpretation, but it may raise red flags from readers who see the timing of these sequences as linear and not overlapping. We in fact know they are overlapping, since the comments of the agents indicate that they are now targeting Neo. However, Trinity could not possibly have known there would be a knock at the door unless she was "unplugged" and could see what Neo could not. The only way to explain this is to suppose that her laptop gave her the same access as those on the ship if she were unplugged. It is easy to get lost in the details of the story. In fact, this is the problem with most critics. They are not well enough initiated regarding "the question that drives us" to observe the connections.
Fortunately, before the agents catch up with Trinity, she makes one last transmission. 'Follow the white rabbit. Knock knock.' Just then, there is a knock at Mr. Anderson's door. Meanwhile, Trinity realizes her communique has been traced. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a hardline connection to exit the Matrix. Morpheus informs her that a hardline (phonebooth) is near on 'Wells and Lake.' Until placing these films under the Matrixscope I hadn't even considered the Wells-Lake connection. H.G. Wells and David Lake co-authored 'The Invisible Man,' and what do you think happens when Trinity arrives at the phonebooth?
This distinction between hardlines and softlines (cell phones) is interesting, as is the use of old, antique dialup phones to sharpen the contrast between older and newer technologies. Cell phones are quite portable and disposable. We will only a little later see how and why Cypher actually uses one to setup the gang in their next visit to the Matrix. The distinction between these technologies is greater still, as we shall see. Trinity must find a hardline to escape the police and agents. Why? For the same reason, as we will further see in the second and third movies that Neo no longer needs anything to 'jack in' at will. Trinity at first seems like a wicked ninja, easily disabling a room full of Police in seconds. I wonder if there is some significance between the room number, 303, or the fact that Mr. Anderson's is 101? Hmmm. Perhaps there is further significance to the fact that these rooms are low rent. In fact, Trinity's Heart Hotel appears condemned. The moment Trinity disappears from what would otherwise have been a crushed body in a phone booth we are now totally confused. The police are obviously working with the agents, but just who are the agents, and for whom do they work? What is going on in this movie?
Thomas Anderson, a hacker by night, can't figure out who or how somebody just hacked his 'system,' much less how they knew there would be a knock at his door. Cautiously, he answers to find one of his customers in the hacking trade along with some friends. His customer notices that he looks 'whiter than usual' (in an early version of the script the customer is Chinese). After hours Mr. Anderson becomes Neo and takes the $2,000 in cash and retreats to his stash of illicit software, which, oddly, is hidden in the book, Simulacra and Simulation, by Jean Baudrillard (one of several books Keanu Reeves was required to read for the trilogy).
Closer still, we notice he opens the book to a chapter on nihilism, from which the remainder of the book is hollowed out, 'empty' of any literary content. He places the cash on the chapter and rummages through disks. The message is clear. Nihilism is an anti-doctrine. It is neither ethos, pathos nor mythos. To believe in nothing is to value nothing. If you see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, then neither can you see well, speak well nor hear well. (Recall a later scene when Agent Smith easily 'silences' Mr. Anderson. 'What good is a phone call if you are unable to speak'?) The allusions are subtle, but clearly suggest what happens when a society forgets its past.
Back to the apartment, Mr. Anderson seems to be asking a question, but is really only thinking out loud, still not sure if he's awake or dreaming. This is a very common phenomenon. Most of us brush off the experience, but it is central to understanding how our minds work. Anderson's customer actually refers to him as his own personal Jesus Christ, figuratively speaking of his programming skills, and invites him to get out and loosen up, which he declines, until he notices a small tattoo of a white rabbit on the shoulder of another little girl. The white rabbit is also derived from Alice and Wonderland. Many such literary references fill the script. The religious reference in the context of programming likens software development to a kind of literature, which is an underlying theme throughout the trilogy. We will not meet the Merovingian until the second movie, but we know in retrospect that he is proficient in many 'languages.' If writing a program is a science, then writing literature is an art, and so too is reading it, 'like poetry.' It seems that Neo is merely Thomas Anderson's alter ego. But we will soon come to realize that Thomas Anderson is in fact Neo's alter ego. He is gradually beginning to learn how to read the universe like a good book, just as we are learning to do the same through this trilogy. But there is much more he will have to learn first. The allusions to both arts and sciences spill over the rim like water in every frame of these films.
So, Neo accepts the invitation and goes out with his friends to a loud noisy club, but stands alone tuned in on a different wavelength. At first it seems he doesn't fit in with this crowd, but, as Trinity whispers so softly upon her introduction, 'It is the question that drives us.' Agent Smith will later repeat this maxim in the second film when he too becomes 'unplugged.' The club, or mob mentality is too loud and noisy to drive anyone anywhere but numb. These are not so much corrupted people as they are desensitized people. Trinity chose to meet Neo in a place where they would be safe. The desire to know our origins is what unconsciously separates people like Neo and Trinity from the rest. They are seekers of truth, for better or worse. In the absence of anything in which to believe and value the others traffic in drugs and play games, not so much to escape reality as to no longer care for it. After all, what has reality ever done for them? I guess we'll just have to de-Cypher that one as well as I submit future essays. In the meantime, consider the Hollywood Cliche that the set is also a character. That is to say, that the interactions of any two or more characters in any given scene can only be properly understood in the context of the background setting, just as you cannot play chess without a chessboard. There are many more examples of this to come.
'Well, there's too many windows in this old hotel,
and rooms filled with reckless pride.
And the walls have grown sturdy and halls have worn well,
but there is nobody living inside
Nobody living inside.'
~Heart Hotels, Dan Fogelberg
At one point in Matrix: Reloaded the Oracle asks Neo [paraphrase] "What do you see when you go through the door of light in your dreams?" He tells her, and then she tells him "You have the sight now, Neo. You are looking at the world without time." At first, such a statement seems mystical or supernatural. Has Neo become a prophet? Visionary? What did the Oracle mean? Believe it or not, these words can be understood by carefully considering three simple facts already well known among physics undergraduates in today's world. After you have had some time to consider this we'll see what this has to do with the historical Socrates and his Oracle.
Below is a little Kung Fu of my own, a simple equation, followed by a description and explanation:
CM --> speed of light & light-matter interaction CE --> DS is in direct proportion to DT CH --> DS is in direct proportion to acceleration -------------------------------------------------- Therefore, --> DT is in direct proportion to acceleration
CM = Maxwell's Constant:
The history of science has been one of unifying ideas. Before the 19th century virtually everyone held that light travels infinitely fast, as if to suggest that all we observe around us is an instant snapshot of the state of the universe at a point in time. In fact, many people still tend to believe this. However, James Clerk Maxwell introduced the world to his four famous equations, thereby unifying electricity, magnetism and light-matter interaction into a single phenomenon: the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Through his experiments he found a specific value that never changed. This constant represented the speed of light. Light neither accelerates nor decelerates in a vacuum. Its velocity is constant. The speed of light had been deduced earlier through very clever scientific observations, but Maxwell linked it to all other phenomena through mathematics and revolutionized physics. The Universe is a sea of light, although our eyes are receptive to only the finest slice of frequencies. Through Mathematics our 'I' sees so much more than our eyes.
CE = Einstein's Constant:
Albert Einstein introduced the world to the realization that the further we peer into space [DS = distance in space] the further we peer into time [DT = distance in time]. Their relationship is said to be in direct proportion, just as it would if a typical high-school student were to graph a function between dependent and independent variables. This relationship seems counter-intuitive, because light travels so fast, but not infinitely fast. When we consider the large-scale structure of the universe, distances can only be properly understood in terms of time (light-years). If the speed of light is a constant, then it becomes a means for measuring temporal distances (history) as well as spatial distances.
CH = Hubble's Constant:
Not long after Einstein introduced the world to his theories of Relativity, Edwin Hubble peered deeper into space and time than any predecessor. The Palomar observatory in Southern California employed the use of a 100" telescope. When viewing objects in deep space the light is very, very faint and virtually invisible to the human eye, even with a powerful telescope. The observatory was designed to function as a huge mechanical clock turning the telescope in such a way as to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. This allowed Hubble to use highly sensitive photographic plates exposed over many hours to capture truly distant images. Hubble noted that all distant stars and galaxies had similar chemical compositions, as revealed by their spectral signature absorption lines (Maxwell's light-matter interaction).
However, he also noticed that this signature bar-code of stellar chemistry rested along varying points on the spectrum according to objects of varying distances. Although the speed of light is a constant, the relative speeds between any two given objects may vary greatly. An object moving away from us at great distances and speeds will present a signature at the red end of the spectrum, while objects approaching us at great speeds will present a signature at the blue end. This Doppler effect is a part of everyday life and is used to hand out traffic citations on our highways, as law enforcement is now armed with the portable radar gun. For sound it is why a siren increases in pitch as it approaches and decreases in pitch as it recedes. Given CM above, Hubble found that the greater the distance away in space an object, the greater the rate of acceleration the object is moving away from us, as if the result of some primordial Big Bang. And the most distant and oldest objects in the known universe, Quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources) are receding away from us at nearly the speed of light. Here we see the same direct relationship as expressed for CE - The further, the faster.
Even today, astrophysicists strive to peer deeper and deeper into space hoping for a glimpse of our origins. However, they continue to overlook the obvious. If space is expanding, isn't space-time expanding? The three constants discussed reveal what can be no less true of history. In other words, all our memories and events in recorded history (ie. the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Civil War, high-school graduation, breakfast, etc...) are getting older faster, and in direct proportion to their distance from the present. It might seem at first that we are moving into the future faster, but actually the opposite would be true. The future is getting further and faster away from the present by the same direct proportion. Tomorrow never comes. The sight without time is the realization that time is an illusion, and the enterprise of philosophy is in knowing our variables from our constants in life as we know them in mathematics. Only then can we realize that the dream world and the real world are the same world, which is exactly what happens when Agent Smith blinds Neo on the LOGOS. Now he knows what he must be willing to sacrifice so that everyone else can see I to I.
~John Milton, Paradise Lost
Morpheus: "Time is always against us."
"Objects do not exist 'in' space in the way we ordinarily think of an object displacing space around it. Rather, objects are spatially extended. "In this way the concept 'empty' space is meaningless."
~Einstein, (preface to the 15th edition of his Relativity added three years before he died.)
We ARE the Word, the Way and the Light.
Trinity: "It is the question that drives us."
Agent Smith: "It is purpose that drives us."
Namaste = The place where my spirit meets your spirit, I to I.
Did You Know?
A reason for the 'sixth' One: In the TV show, 'The Prisoner', which contains similar themes to 'Matrix', the main character who seeks to be free from the hidden system of technological control which imprisons him is called 'No. 6'. But in the final episode, the ever-changing 'No. 2' who answers No. 6's repeated question, 'Who is No. 1?' puts the emphasis where it belongs for the first time: 'YOU ARE, No. 6.' (As opposed to 'You are No 6.') Indeed, No. 6 takes the monkey mask off the figure in the No. 1 chair and sees himself. Like Neo, the Prisoner's answer to his quest for freedom has always been within himself, as the Oracle so often tells Neo. Thus, Neo = No. 6, the sixth No. 1, but really, the first One.
- Suggested by Wes Howard-Brook