The Wachowskis discuss the meaning of The Matrix Trilogy

By Paul Martin October 17th, 2012, in The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, The Matrix Trilogy

During a press junket for Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis commented on The Matrix Trilogy.  This is insight into the films that, nine years later, makes the differences between the films make a lot of sense.  Here’s what they said:

What we were trying to achieve with the story overall was a shift, the same kind of shift that happens for Neo, that Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life. And we were like, ‘Well, can the audience go through the three movies and experience something similar to what the main character experiences?’

So the first movie is sort of classical in its approach, the second movie is deconstructionist and an assault on all the things you thought to be true in the first movie…and the third movie is the most ambiguous, because it asks you to actually participate in the construction of meaning.

To summarize:

The Matrix – Classical, i.e. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

The Matrix Reloaded – Deconstruction, tears apart what we thought we knew based on the first movie.

The Matrix Revolutions – Re-Construction, but from a personal point of view.

My thoughts. Nine years on, I’ve become frustrated with where the trilogy went, and now it is clear to me why. I just hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until they explained it. This makes it clear.

This means that the first film was the construction of the hero, who goes on the same sort of journey that Luke Skywalker went on.  The major difference is that, while Luke lost his mentor, Neo saved his.  I’m wondering if that’s where the deconstruction actually began…

The second film, being deconstructionist, tore apart everything that we thought we knew to be true.  That could be why a large percentage of the audience seems to hate the sequels.  They didn’t stay true to the setup of the first film, and were a betrayal of the rules put into place.  Instead of Morpheus returning to Zion as a hero, he returned as a social pariah who believed a prophesy that was established to be true by the events of the first film.  Neo also can’t seem to understand his role as the One, and rather than being shown doing his thing as The One, is instead displayed as someone that is questioning (somehow, inexplicably) something he shouldn’t have to question.  Especially since he witnessed, took part in, and experienced the change that he did in becoming The One.  Because of the deconstruction concept that the Wachowskis wrote, we lost momentum.  The kind of momentum that The Empire Strikes Back did for Luke Skywalker, we didn’t have with Neo.

The third film then returns us to the realm of the first.  Neo was finally being Neo again.  The idea that the Wachowskis wanted to make something that ambiguous, which left people feeling betrayed once more, is a good explanation for why.  Because we had finally gotten to the epic final battle with Agent Smith, and everything was going great, and then we get to the end of the fight (which should have been extraordinarily simple for The One after the first film).  Neo should have just been able to fly through all of the Agent Smiths, but thanks to the explanation that he gave us early in Reloaded: “Upgrades,” we didn’t have the opportunity.  Somehow the rogue Agent Smith got the same upgrades that the other agents received.  Okay, we’ll except that, this battle is awesome.  But the end of the fight… Neo has been beaten.  Our hero has been so terribly beaten that now he’s going to sacrifice himself.  What was the point of the battle then?  That was the plan the whole time?  To get Agent Smith riled up when all he wanted to do was exactly what he did?  “Because I choose to.”  That line was weak at best, and told the audience that we’re not going to be getting the heroic ending that we were promised.  Instead, we have to figure out for ourselves if Neo was successful.  Was peace between non-feeling robots that just happen to have artificial intelligence and human beings like us the outcome that we wanted?  Could we accept that there would be peace between the humans and the machines?  Did anyone else notice that the trilogy actually ended with machines talking to machines about the deal?

Well, it was about re-construction, bringing Neo back to the point he was at the end of the first film, now that he’s come to grips with that position, but by now he can’t even wield it to the full potential, and in the end, he chooses peace.  This is weak because at any time one side could decide to take down the other.  There is no finality, no closure, and that is why the personal point of view is a problem.  Ironically, ABC’s Lost provided an ending that was not only not ambiguous, but very clear on what happened, and I (like half of America) loved it.  People love closure.  The people that didn’t find closure in the end of Lost were looking for answers to many of the mythology questions that weren’t actually important to the story that was being told: the story of the people.  The mythology was just in place to give the world they inhabited a lot more depth.  Returning to The Matrix… the lack of closure for anyone took people by surprise.  At least those that saw it.  I’ve read so many times that people stopped at Reloaded.  The deconstruction of the hero, it shows, was a bad idea.

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9 Comments

  1. Simran Sidhu says:

    Hey Specter,

    First off, allow me to express my extreme gratitude and admiration for what you do here. Well done for working hard, keeping this place running, and collecting every sliver of information you can about these films and their makers.

    Secondly, I’d like to say that I came to an interpretation of these films quite some time ago that was very close to what the Wachowskis are saying now. I’ve always been a fan of the sequels, and it’s wonderful to hear from the director’s mouths exactly what their intention was.

    Just to clarify, the reason Smith has the powers he has at the end of ‘Revolutions’ is because he is the Oracle-Smith. In other words, he has all the powers of the Oracle, including foresight and godlike strength and speed to match Neo’s.

    Also, in terms of how Neo destroys Smith, the Oracle says very clearly in ‘Reloaded’ that the only way a program can be deleted is by returning to the Source, and not merely exploding their shells the way Neo exploded Smith at the end of the first film. Neo is jacked into the Source at the end of ‘The Matrix Revolutions’, and thus connects Smith to the Source — the one place he can be deleted — when Smith absorbs him.

    That’s all for now. Keep up the good work, sir.

    • Specter says:

      Thanks for the compliments!

      I’m a fan of the sequels as well, but over the years I’ve become increasingly aware that there was a story there that I would have found far more fulfilling coming from the end of the first film.

      Thanks for the explanation about the reason Neo couldn’t just wipe out the Agent Smiths at the end of Revolutions. His fight with Smith in Reloaded, however, is still typical Agent Smith, and should have been a walk in the park for him.

      That said, what I was talking about as far as the final battle in Revolutions is concerned is the idea that Neo was at the source the entire length of the battle. When they were running toward each other at the start of the battle, Neo could have just let Smith win. It wouldn’t have been as epic, but it was his goal. Why would he keep fighting when he knew that he wasn’t going to win.

      • LordTJ says:

        I don’t think Neo actually knew he wouldn’t win, notice he doesn’t give in until the Oracle speaks through Smith saying: “Everything that has a beginning has an End Neo”. It is then Neo realizes what he must do give in. Yin and Yang can not beat each other for they oppose each other, but when they embrace each other you have harmony, peace and balance. Therefore both must be destroyed for one can not exist with out the other. Neo can not exist without Smith and vice versa.

        • Specter says:

          I had forgotten that she spoke to him through Smith. It’s kind of odd that both had to be destroyed, though, because it doesn’t actually allow Neo to have a choice. To create peace, he must allow Smith to destroy him, and he really doesn’t have a choice. What kind of choice is that?

          • Simran Sidhu says:

            “To create peace, [Neo] must allow Smith to destroy him, and he really doesn’t have a choice. What kind of choice is that?”
            — Specter

            Neo says two key and, apparently, contradictory lines at the climax of ‘Revolutions’. They are:

            “Because I choose to,” and, “It was inevitable.”

            Contextually, the first statement is in response to Smith inquiring about Neo’s persistence; and the second statement is Neo letting go of the first. Clearly, in the debate of Fate Vs. Free Will, Neo appears to have gone from the latter to the former within mere seconds.

            What changed?

            As discussed in my earlier post, it appears Neo was clinging on to the final vestiges of free will, fighting with all his might to resolve the battle with Smith in a manner that would be both physical and absolute. However, it takes a little encouragement from the Oracle for Neo to realise that, “No. The only way this can be resolved is by connecting Smith to the Source through me. It is inevitable.”

            Is Neo giving up?

            Personally, I think the Wachowskis are saying there’s a difference between “giving up” — a very nihilistic, fatalistic sense of hopelessness — and “letting go” — a far more holistic and, dare I say, enlightened state of mind.

            And it is my opinion that Neo is “choosing to let go”. In other words, he is walking the path of enlightenment. The path of peace. The path of The One.

      • Simran Sidhu says:

        The way I see it, there are two possible reasons Neo didn’t simply let Smith absorb him at the outset of the battle.

        Either:

        a) Neo didn’t realise that he could do it until the Oracle spoke to him through Neo; or
        b) Neo wanted to at least try to defeat Smith physically, knowing that the had a trump card (i.e. self-sacrifice) if he absolutely had to use it.

        Therefore, the Oracle’s words would either be a revelation or encouragement respectively.

        I find the complexity and ambiguity here very enriching. Personally, I’m inclined to go with the second explanation — that Neo basically needs a little encouragement to finally let go of life, to be told, “Neo, it’s okay. You can let go now. It’s time.”

        Finally, I’m curious to know which direction you’d have liked ‘The Matrix’ to go. I know a lot of people were fond of a Matrix-within-a-Matrix idea, though I personally think that would have been an exercise in crowd-pleasing, attention-seeking, pseudo-complexity à la ‘Inception’. That said, I’m interested to hear your thoughts that have formed over the course of nearly a decade.

        • Specter says:

          Thanks for the replies. I am very glad that I posted this story with my perceptions as it instigated some conversation on the site the likes of which haven’t been seen in a long time, here.

          I’ve actually posted on the forum what I would have done with the sequels. My concepts have to do with taking the first film, and using only elements of what happened in the sequels, but overall, from my own perspective, with a more fulfilling outcome:
          http://forums.matrixfans.net/showthread.php?102-If-you-could-change-the-ending-what-would-you-do

          • LordTJ says:

            Let’s look at something here the MWM (matrix within a matrix) theory could be very be true or can not be true.

            A.) If the MWM Theory was true then Zion is just another form of control. Why? Because those who make it out must be contained. The Matrix in whole represents control, we all know this, but Zion it’self represents control as well. The people in Zion are fighting for freedom, that means for the last 100 years they have been servants to freedom. But if Zion was apart of MWM that means that the machines in the machine city and those who come to destroy zion are under just programs, and are under control. The Thing is do they know it, it’s obvious the humans dont’ but does the machines know it, does the Architect and oracle know it? They know about zion so do they know that there’s another matrix and may be that how the oracle knows that the power of the one extends far beyond the source.

            B.) If the MWM theory isn’t true this will mean that Neo is not human but in fact pure machine or the son of the machines. In order to have power that extends beyond the matrix and into the source means that Neo is pure machine because he can tap into it. He doesn’t know he is machine, and in fact those born in the matrix are half human half machine. This is the reason why Neo is symbolic for Jesus the Son and Deus Ex Machina as God the Father. When Jesus died on the cross God said ” It is Finished”. When Neo died or if he did Deus said “It is done”.

            Since the second movie was deconstruction this could be why Neo himself as the One is a mystery and will always will be. Instead of building on him and showing what he really is and can do they stripped him down once more, and I don’t know if this was a good idea. In the end though the Matrix was complete it is still the set of movies that are incomplete. There is so much we or those in the movie don’t know in the beginning, middle, and end. It’s a movie that make sense but doesn’t at the same time. I don’t know if this was intentional or if the Wachowski’s botched it. It’s possible they thought it was solid when in fact it wasn’t.

  2. DJ Drummond says:

    The final battle between Neo and Smith ties in with this theme. Neo’s mission is to save humanity, but in the second movie he learns he cannot win the way he expected. However, Neo also comes to realize that The Architect was wrong in his own assumptions, and this can – and does – work to Neo’s advantage. Smith has no existence without Neo, this is actually established in the first film, as Smith senses his own mortality (remember why he wanted the Zion access codes from Morpheus so badly? because he needed a sanctuary from his own doom) and tries to escape his fate in a number of ways (multiplying himself, trying to take over the Matrix to thwart the program, and in the end to eliminate Neo who was sent to destroy him). The first film is the rise of Neo, the second the rise of New Smith, and the third resolves the conflict. An elegant solution is created to an untenable problem. Zion cannot survive because the Machines will destroy it. The Machines cannot survive because they cannot stop Smith. Smith cannot prevail against Neo so long as Neo fights. But Neo allows Smith to kill him, which removes the reason for Smith to exist, which allows the Machine to destroy Smith. But the Machine cannot destroy Zion now, because to do so will resume the old cycle which would recreate The One, which in turn could regenerate Smith – the only way for the Machines to assure their survival is to keep the peace promised to Neo. It all comes together nicely.

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