Following a link from digg, I just finished reading a lengthy explanation of the Matrix trilogy, written by an engineer, who attempts to deconstruct the films on a purely logical level. That is, he looks at what The Architect and The Oracle are trying to do, and how Neo fits into the plan, without any philosophical or pseudo-religious explanations.
I was originally just going to put a link to this in the Off-Topic list, but figured that might be construed as a tacit endorsement of incoherent blockbusters.
Thus, this short rant.
I should preface this by saying the engineer’s last name isn’t Wachowski, so there’s no way of knowing how his speculation fits with the writers’ original intention. But reading his essay, one thing becomes crystal clear: narratively speaking, those movies are a clusterfuck.
I remember going into a pitch meeting with Lorenzo Di Bonaventura at Warner Bros. shortly before Go came out. Before getting down to business, he played me the Matrix trailer. “This movie’s going to blow yours away,” he said. (I’m just barely paraphrasing. The point is, he was kind of a dick about it, and was absolutely right.)
I saw The Matrix in the theater, then bought the DVD, like every third person in America. And loved it.
Sure, there were nits to pick. For one, the idea of “humans as batteries” feels very first-draft. But even beyond the special effects, there was a really interesting, compelling story. I especially liked the two worlds of it: scary, but you kind of wanted to be there. I even bought the animated Matrix mini-movie DVD, which was enjoyable (if uneven).
So I was psyched to see The Matrix Reloaded. And then disappointed. It felt sluggish and indulgent, with slo-mo dance orgies that didn’t feel like part of the world. But I was more than willing to accept one slow movie to build up for the exciting conclusion that would no doubt be The Matrix Revolutions.
And here’s how I knew that the final movie — and thus the trilogy — didn’t work: When it was over, I had no idea what had happened. Worse, I had no idea how to feel. Hopeful? Despondent? Unsettled? The Oracle and The Architect were having a conversation, and I couldn’t even process it.
Lord knows, I’m not pining for simplicity or tidy answers. I’m happy with some ambiguity. But “incomprehensible” is not a synonym for “clever.”
My friend Rawson has a good phrase for it: “Playing obscurity for depth.” It’s the tendency of a screenplay — or an actor — to make weird choices that the audience won’t understand. The audience, fearing that they just didn’t “get it,” will label the writing or performance brilliant.
But it’s a trap. Once you get away with it, you inevitably do it again. It leads to laziness, which ultimately leads to bad movies. The time, money and energy spent shooting those two movies back-to-back could have been vastly better channeled if the Wachowskis had buckled down and done a few more drafts.
However well-intentioned, I think the second and third Matrix movies were playing obscurity for depth. For whatever reason, I’ve been reluctant to call bullshit on them. Well, bullshit.