Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Matrix By Way of Fight Club (Mr. Robot is Awesome)


Let's get that right out of the way. Over the past few years, it's become a thing to point out it's flaws. It's dated, pretentious, over-indulgent, and immature.

It's still the coolest damn movie ever!

So cool in fact that I borrowed my name from it.

But especially in light of the sequels and 15 years of looking back,  the old gray mare just ain't what she used to be.

Still,  both The Matrix and the sequels  (including the underrated Animatrix) are chock full of unfulfilled ideas of promise.

What if knowing what we know now about its flaws we could go back. We could do it all over. We could redo The Matrix but right.

One of the central "problems" of the Matrix is that it has a very dream logic permeating all of it. And that dream logic makes it hard to take it seriously as a conventional story. It's not surreal enough where I can excuse it and say, "but that's the point". But that dream logic is very much a part of what the Matrix is trying to accomplish intellectually.

By the way stick a pin in A Scanner Darkly.

Anyway, everything on screen when watching The Matrix is some sort of metaphor and the movie doesn't ultimately care if it all holds together narratively. And honestly it doesn't, but that's not the point. It's one of THOSE movies.

But it kind of does hit all my buttons.

Mr. Robot wants to have it's cake and eat it too. By commenting on and subverting the Matrix's dream logic and in doing so taking it's ideas further. And to explain why you kind of have to spoil the end of the first season.

Both Fight Club and The Matrix as films philosophical texts first and narratives second and are about examining the relationship between the self and the world.

The Matrix casts the self in opposition to the world, within a constant struggle to not be subsumed by it.  But Fight Club is all about the futility of that struggle. The self is always pushing and pushed by the world around it.

The sequels try very hard to call the original out on that but by then the Matrix had become a phenomenon, while the original takes a lot of risks the sequels are afraid to go to the mat in nearly every instance it counts. They are smart movies trying as hard as they can to pretend to be stupid."

And that dissonance destroys them.

For instance the scene everybody hates is the one I find most intellectually interesting.

Once you get past all the verbiage and the smugness what the architect says upends the original's central premise. Neo and Morpheus's resistance is ultimately futile because it itself is part of machines' structures of control and sublimation. All of Neo's powers and even his very existence is derived from the machines' system of control.

Neither he nor Morpheus will ever succeed in fully separating themselves from it.

The self not only pushes but is pushed upon by the external world around it and can not be considered as an entity independent of it.

Despite everything the original said and did Neo is not special. The rules do apply to him and nothing he says or does will change that.

That's a really interesting place to go but the movies ultimately do nothing with it. It couldn't, What had become an odd mid-budget cyber-thriller had become a Hollywood blockbuster franchise.

Like it's own characters it can not be separated from the vast systems that gave rise to it and can only go so far in destroying them before it begins to destroy itself.

Hmmm. We need a healthy dose of nihilism. A movie or a character who will acknowledge those systems and revels in destroying them.

Fight Club is...

Damn it. I have to say it. There are a lot of people who just don't get Fight Club.  The late great Roger Ebert dismissed it. Even people who like it don't get how smart it is.  Fight Club is a filmic textbook on the relationship between Nihilism and Existentialism as you go through the narrator's journey of discovering just how empty the world is and how that emptiness pulls on his psyche.

It is about the lack of inherent meaning within the world and the systems human beings construct within it. It is about how that lack of meaning leaves the individual adrift and in a constant state desperation and confusion, as the search for meaning outside of the self is futile.

To that end Fight Club is unafraid to destroy even itself as the last third of the movie is a deconstruction of the first two as even Tyler Durden the character who voices the movie's nihilistic philosophy is proven to be just another meaningless construct the narrator and audience are using to make sense of this meaningless world.

The Matrix constantly wants to cast Neo as an over-man unconstrained by the structures of the Matrix yet the movie is still constrained by the structures of society and Neo must remain a heroic character despite everything he says and does hinting at a certain type of amorality.  While Fight Club, on the other hand was unafraid to cast Tyler as an amoral force of nature whose morality is beyond the point of his character.

That The Matrix has to frame Neo as a good guy while also trying as hard as it can to tell the audience that that is beyond the point.

And it creates this irreconcilable dissonance within the franchise.

Aside: This is why love Agent Smith so much and wish the movies did more with him. He has no pretensions about being a good guy. He's just a force fully outside of the control of The Matrix and not even he knows what he's going to do with that freedom. That the heroes ally themselves with the machines to destroy the being closest to the freedom they wish to grant the world is the movie subtly commenting on its own limitations. 

Mr. Robot tries to retell the story of The Matrix with the benefit of 15 years of contemplation and dialogue.

It makes a lot of subtle references, updates and changes but by far the most intriguing one is using Fight Club's nihilism to comment on the characters and premise of the Matrix.

The end of the first season of Mr. Robot reveals that Elliot the protagonist, the show's Neo is schizophrenic, and that his mentor, his Morpheus, Mr. Robot is his way of coping all of the aspects of his life he can not reconcile with his vision of himself.

The entire series is the supposition that Cypher was right. Ignorance is bliss. We are watching Neo's mental breakdown as he is unplugged and forced to deal with the fact that he is not a special little snowflake. He is not going to hack the planet.

The duality between reality and illusion is irrelevant as both are chaotic and disorienting.

Life sucks get a helmet.

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