Monday, November 16, 2009


Why is it that now, years after I first saw the films, and even more years after they first went to air, that I find myself met with a sudden urge to write about how horribly, awfully, terribly bad the Matrix Trilogy really was?

The films were bad, after all. But perhaps it is only now that we can really appreciate their badness - for they have a badness that reaches across the years, that only seems to deepen and be enriched by the interval of time, a badness that has an immediacy and a force now that is even greater than when they were first released. Of course it is easy to feel apathetic about a film that has not been released yet - at the start of the last century, the entire world felt apathetic about greats of the cinema such as Citizen Kane, and The 39 Steps. But it is only truly, wretchedly bad films that are able to inspire ever greater bouts of apathy following their release: such are the Matrix films.

Many of the smaller filmic elements were uniquely bad, of course, possessing their own special quality of indefinable crapness, alternately disappointing or boring or sickening you according to their own particular metric. The murky, pond-scum green wash in which the entire trilogy seemed to have been shot, for instance - who thought that up? Is this really what they use for mood lighting these days? Or the presence of Keanu Reeves, who somehow spends most of the time being upstaged by Carrie-Anne Moss's boots.

But what really elevates these films beyond the individual badness of their elements - connects all these individual badnesses, if you like - is the plot. It begins as something merely unoriginal (guy finds out that the entire life he's been living is a hallucination), but rapidly becomes completely implausible (humans are used by robots as an energy source - WTF? - to power the Matrix - WTFF? - which is used, principally, it seems, to keep humans in check so they can continue to provide power to the Matrix, in a neverending chain of circular unreasonableness), before becoming utterly ludicrous (for no particular reason at all Neo, the guy who discovers his entire life has been a hallucination in the first film, gains messianic powers and is packed off to defeat the robots).

What horrible, horrible films they were. Naturally, they made an absolute motza at the cinemas. None of which, thank God, was contributed by myself.

There are some things which remain unchanged by time, things which "age shall not weary nor the years condemn." Cheese will always get mould on it. Socks will always grow extra holes. Trains will always continue to run late, no matter how many upgrades a train station gets. And the Matrix will only continue to be bad, no matter how many times we revisit the films over the years. These truths are eternal, and should fill us with a great, warm wave of reassurance and gratitude.


Steve said...

I saw the first but didn't bother with the sequels because they were so poorly reviewed. (Especially no.3) The first film was liked by some as being an interesting update on Gnosticism, but, like you, I found the reason the humans were kept alive was just plain silly. (I also bet the movie looks dated now for the widespread use of cathode ray tube displays, rather than flat screens which were not yet popular at the time.)

It also ran with a particularly morally vacuous line that few critics seemed to pick up on: Neo is told that "if they aren't with us, they are against us", allowing him to blast away without worrying a shred about whether the victims are actually worthy of destruction or not. It was, I thought, a good way to inspire psychopaths who own a gun and think killing strangers is cool.

TimT said...

Update on gnosticism theory? Possibly coming from those philosophers who natter away on the DVD version about the philosophy behind the film?

Now here's another thing that annoys me about the Matrix: grand claims are often made about its philosophy, but it ain't all that. The idea that the universe was an imperfect entity formed by a Demiurge is one of the oldest sf ideas around. Phil K Dick used it, Borges used it, even Primo Levi used it. To much better effect, too.

I think you're right about the
'with us or against us' thing, too - the film is just a justification for Neo's solipsism. Almost everyone else in the film are just figures in a bland green backdrop. Boooring.

nailpolishblues said...

I thought it was all moodily lit Keanu. Which, really, is not a thing I find at all bad (so long as he doesn't speak, oh dear gods please stop him talking).

You should see Twilight. A whole new bad. So bad that I nearly choked laughing.

TimT said...

I'm wondering if you've see and what you thought of A Scanner Darkly in that case, since it is apparently even-more-moodily-lit-Keanu. Hallucinogenically lit, in fact. (Haven't seen it myself).

nailpolishblues said...

Looking for a lowbrow opinion?

Have neither seen it nor read the book. Hard to decide which way to go there. One is bound to make the other look a bit rubbish but which? And which does one go for first?

TimT said...

The book was good but tended to go on a bit in a stream of consciousness way. Apparently the thing with the film is, it was almost too faithful to the book, so it probably has the same problem.

Mitzi G Burger said...

Wow, just this week my Flatmate n Son were preparing to sit down together for a bout of Matrix 3. I steered clear and waited til the TV was free for my get-together with John Safran.

Maria said...

A Scanner Darkly is Keanu, but he's painted over so it looks animated. It;s a special effect they're trying to achieve - actors acting then paint on top of them so it looks like the actors are really cartoons.

I saw this flick back in 2006 with Mr Coffee. I remember commenting that the painting over at least made Keanu look as if he had a bit more expression.

Have you ever seen The Thirteenth Floor? Has some ideas of The Matrix in it.

As for movies that allow for people to blast others away without wondering whether they're worthy of destruction or not, I think that's another older than time itself concept.

I've always thought it's interesting that censors can be so down on something like sexual suggestion or foul language (in Gone With the WInd the districutors got all upset because Rhett said "damn" at the end - naughty!) ...

Yet much violence is ok. All right, if it is very explicit people jump up and down, but "violent suggestion and reference" isn't questioned the way "sexual suggestion and reference" is.

It seems to be enough in many movies to say blast that guy away, he got in my way and I am obviously the hero, or blast him away, he must be the enemy because we've given him a funny accent/made him an alien/given him a different costume from the goodies/we've just been told they're on the other side. In many movies no one is really told "maybe you should make an assessment of whether this is the right thing to do and contemplate it and maybe you're wrong" and critics don't seem to say "you know, this could lead people to killing aliens thoughtlessly without pondering to think about the moral consequences, I mean, just say they have friends and family just like us and we didn't even try to negotiate with them, we didn't even try to find out whether they were just here to see a few touristy things or whether they were here to blast the planet away. We panicked and we've runied the lives of aliens who can feel!"

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