WARNING: Title might not accurately indicate content.
I’m rewatching The Matrix, for laughs. Best one so far: Humans scorched the sky because the machines were dependent on solar energy. This takes destroying the village to save it to another level, and then again to the level above that. It’s not only destroying the village you live in, but making sure you’re home when the bombs fall.
For realz, though: I’m always fascinated by the way absurdities make movies possible. It’s a multi-dimensional issue.
In the first place, I suspect there’s a deep connection between such absurdities and the ethos of a film. This is, I imagine, a standard observation of film school. Not sure if it’s film school 101, or 307, but whatever the case, I imagine that every school of film criticism involves observing how movies reflect values at the time in which they were made. My suspicion is that the really absurd bits are especially revealing. They’re the pieces that the filmmakers felt compelled to use, even though they were idiotic. They had to make it by aesthetic and rational sense.
Scorching the sky to kill the machines, for example, is a completely idiotic idea. It’s no coincidence that Morpheus and Neo are sitting in front of a 1950’s era TV. The tactic Morpheus attributes to human beings is a perfectly Cold War solution. It makes sense as an act of Mutually Assured Destruction, which is built on a willingness to destroy the world rather than surrender it.
Thing is: what makes sense as a deterrent makes no sense as an act, particularly in this case. Even granting the idea that the machines ran on solar power, there’s no doubt on which side is more dependent on the existence of the biological world. Scorching the sky would likely end life on Earth.
So, in this one stupid idea is a complex of insane perspectives. The stupid idea is a prompt into a particular frame of mind. And, I submit, this stupid idea couldn’t be replaced with a better one. It’s idiocy, while not necessarily intentional on the part of the writers, is nonetheless essential to the black and white, all or nothing, perspective being laid out.
The idea that human beings have been reduced to batteries is another instance of this same relationship between idiotic idea and eschatological frame. That is: the physics of cultivating humans to serve as powercells is absurd. Yet, the psychic rearrangement it provides, should you suspend your disbelief, is again essential to the jihadist program Morpheus lays out. It offends us on a basic level to be downgraded from creature to food.
It make a nice transition for me to declare that Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde is one of the few perfect works of Science Fiction, but I really can’t say.
I mention it because I was just thinking there are three sorts of Science Fiction: the perfect ones (who achieve their ends without recourse to idiocy); the good ones (who achieve their ends by means of idiocy); and the bad ones (who go for the idiotic but get nowhere). I might add a fourth category, and the worst: the unwritten ones, stifled by an excessive abhorrence of idiocy.
another little thought on the Matrix: “What you must understand is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some rules can be bent, others broken.”
Truth be told, I never made it past BASIC programming, but in my memory of things, the rules within a computational system are especially inflexible.
It seems to me that Morpheus is taking how easy it is to screw up a program and treating it as if it’s an expression of how easy it is to break the rules of a computer. Yes, you can easily violate the rules of code. Problem is: most of the times that just breaks the program.
This is what I described in my last piece as “idiocy”. Idiocy is distinct from stupidity in the following way: stupidity is a state of ignorance; idiocy is a positive attachment to a wrong idea.
As I wrote last time, I’m fascinated by idiotic elements in movies, when such elements express the deep perspective of the film.
This particular bit of idiocy – conflating how easy it is to break code with some vague way in which rules in a coding language can be productively bent or broken – is part of the basic metaphorical conceit of the film as a whole. That being: social laws conventions are just the tip of a computational iceberg that encompasses the whole world, down to your experience of incarnation itself.
It’s these systems and conventions that are the real “code” referred to with The Matrix metaphor. These are the laws that can be bent and broken.
On the other hand, perhaps Morpheus isn’t talking about programming, but about experience within a simulation. Even still, it’s not the rules in a simulation that are bent and broken. It’s rather that things aren’t what they seem. There is no spoon. But, then, this just opens the possibility of hacking the code… since the rules that really rule the world are not the apparent rules.