I’ve been accused of not having understood “The Matrix”, for that was the only possible way one could prefer the second movie over the first. But, frankly, that is not so.
(Let’s try NOT to mention that when i was 14 i probably already did know more about philosophy than that person who said such things will know in his life…)
In one of the most quotable moments of matrix 1 (let’s use numbers to avoid confusion) we have this dialogue: “Do not try to bend the spoon. Instead, only try to realize the truth.” “What truth?” “That there is no spoon.” To be more precise, there is no truth. It is the very attempt that contains the impossibility of succeeding — and not in the sense that you are trying something stupid.
In the sense that to actually be able to attempt to bend the spoon you have to accept a set of ideas that, ultimately, contain the impossibility. In order to bend the spoon, you have to accept that there is a world, that in this world there are spoons, and that spoons have some properties, one of them being not-bendable. And what’s more, if you did have this very world, except with a “spoons are bendable clause”, you would still not be able to bend the bendability of spoons. That is, if you break the rules you are creating the rule-of-breaking the rules.
Let’s try to put this in a less messy way.
Any set of rules or ideas you accept will have constraints. Without constraints it cannot be a set of rules or ideas. Without a set of rules or ideas, you cannot have hopes, desires, dreams and any sense of grasp over our own condition. So, there is a dilemma, in which to give yourself freedom you have to restrict your own freedom.
This dilemma exists not only in the very, very visible form of institutions, dogmas, ideologies, political parties, the family, and so forth, but also in more basic — and therefore deep — instances. The notions of “good” and “bad”, for example. They are constraints. It does not matter if killing is really, REALLY, bad, believing that killing is bad will constrain your actions. It will diminish your freedom. And we can go still deeper — what if, for example, the notion of freedom is a prison? And, believe me, it could get even worse.
In order to express this notion that one can give up his certainties, that one can choose to shed some very basic ideas and notions — for example, choose not to believe that this computer screen is there, in front of your face — Matrix 1 does a visual, neat, trick: it shows “reality” and then it shows reality disappearing. It show something “behind” reality. But this is, obviously, completely nonsensical. If you “turn off” reality to see the “true reality” that is behind it, well, you are just struck in reality again. Ant the dilemma is still there.
To stress the point beyond absolute clarity, the dilemma never says that there is an enemy, that you have to break the chains that enslave you. With rules and ideas, partial freedom. Without them, no freedom at all. There is no way out. In order to fight for real freedom, you must begin by acknowledging that it is not a negative question, it is not a matter of what takes your freedom away. The matter is how you build your own freedom. In Nietzsche’s words:
“Free, dost thou call thyself? Thy ruling thought would I hear of, and not that thou hast escaped from a yoke.”
Matrix 1 is just the wrong answer to the question: let’s crush the agents. Let’s fight kung-fu. It’s Thundercats. It’s a clear cut, obvious, unredeemable, obnoxious and completely evil foe. And it’s gorgeous, beautiful. It’s just fucking fun.
But it’s no deep philosophy. There is not much to be understood there.
You want the same idea (Plato’s cave), but without teenage hormone-overflowed, prejudicial, clear cut, simple answers? Go watch Truman Show. At the end, the producer, in a voice coming out of the skies, tells Truman: “the world out there is ugly, it’s cruel and it does not want the good for you”. And what is really devious is that he is saying the truth. He is being really, really sincere.
Matrix 2, in a turn i certainly didn’t expect, does go beyond the simple answers and says it with all the letters: there is no difference between the machines that recycle Zion’s water and the ones who farm babies. The idea that ones control us and the others are controlled by us is naive, almost beyond naive.
(The real problem with the baby-farming machines is that they work. That they do what they are supposed to, instead of being always breaking on our faces. Because, in the end, you will be controlled by the system and you will desire so.)
According to Matrix 2, the only thing that allows us to go beyond the circle of cause and effect, the dilemma of the impossible truth, is purpose. So much better than Matrix 1, for Bog!
Obviously, still naive. Because, certainly, there is a purpose in the idea of purpose. If you don’t like enigmas: the very notion you have of having a purpose, of wanting to succeed, to accomplish something, is merely a way your dad’s genes’ found to force themselves into your children. You are a gear in a bigger machine, and having a purpose will certainly make you more a part of that machine.
Still naive, but at least it makes one wonder.
That is, except if you didn’t understand Matrix 1.
By the way, I cannot speak about Matrix 3, as Neo going blind but still seeing everything is so much a ripoff from Dune that i simply cannot stop my own disgust. Neo is no Muad’Dib! The Muad’Dib would so kick Neo’s arse in a DeathMatch!