Mysteries, mistakes and meanings
Here is a collection of questions, some of which bother me, some are interesting and for some maybe I have the answer. I must first of all say that despite some criticisms I make here I still see the Matrix series at or near the top of the list of best films ever made.
First the more philosophical questions:
Plain mistakes or maybe a deeper significance:
Plain mistakes, or too much poetic licence
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there is only one answer for the first group of questions. Call it convenient if you like, but I cannot see any alternative - the physical world (at least the one we see in the film) including Zion and Machine City is really just another aprt of the Matrix. ‘Plugging in’ is just a metphor for a system of jumping to another level of the Matrix without having to comply with the laws and equations of the system. Different rules can be made to apply in different elvels of the matrix. It could very well be that there exists a whole normal world, and that the whole thing is just a simulation, or one of many running on a computer at some (say) 22nd century research center.
What are referred to as programs, are the programs at the lowest level of the Matrix, the level where Neo can do all his spectacular tricks. The programs that are written for the lower level are fully constrained by the normal physical laws of that level, except when assisted by someone at a higher level (by some sort of hack or another).
The ‘real’ people exist on the next higher level. Within their level they are constrained by ‘normal’ physical laws, whereas they can bypass to some extent the physical laws of the lower level. The machines also exist entirely on this level and appear to be the creators and keepers of the lower level Matrix (which the people and the machines think are the whole and only Matrix). Again, just like the people they have no awareness of the multi level nature of the Matrix, seeing their level as the real world and the level below as the Matrix. This of course also means that Deus ex Machina may not be that significant after all.
It is likely that many of the other higher order programs (such as the Merovingian, Smith and the Oracle) exist on a level on par with the ‘real world’ level but segregated from it (as if different regions of the same plane).
The next higher level could be the real real-world or maybe yet another matrix level. The Architect and possibly the Oracle would originate in this level. At some point (though I don’t remember where) it was mentioned that the Architect was also a program, which would prompt me to believe that this level is also within the Matrix.
It has been suggested that Neo’s superpowers were only in connection with controlling the machines. The explanation is that he maintained a connection with the matrix even though he was unplugged. I don’t see this as possible, as there must necessarily be some physical link between his mind and the Matrix, something which we know there wasn’t. Moreover, when he was blinded he could see not only the machines, but also inanimate objects, which means that his vision could not have been obtained through the connection with the machines. The only remaining way would be something metaphysical or supernatural, which I think would be be a very sad departure from the theme. I don’t think that the W brothers ever intended to fall back onto the supernatural to keep the story going. If Neo exists as a program on the perceived real world level, then it is perfectly feasible for all sorts of software hacks to bypass the rules of the Matrix, even to the extent that Neo could bypass the rules on his own level.
Further evidence that Neo is actually a software creation comes from the Architect’s speech to Neo. It was made abundantly clear that Neo was a creation of the Architect. The Architect’s creations are necessarily software residing in the Matrix. The way the architect talked seemed so much like that of a scientist executing numerous runs of a simulation, possibly even in parallel. The battles between Zion and the Machines are therefore just a simulation being run for some purpose or other (who knows maybe it is even someone doing it as a hobby!). Of course one needs to consider the possibility that the Architect was just making up things to confuse Neo, though I prefer not to believe that.
It should be obvious to anyone that there is something strange about the Merovingian. He is meant to know pretty much everything that is going on, however he does not seem particularly preoccupied about Smith, which he should be, given Smith’s intention (and capability) of bringing down the whole Matrix. The only explanation I can think of is that he lived on the higher level (probably on Par with the Architect) and occupied the lower level just for the easy life (who knows, maybe he was just an insignificant technician in his own level (or the real world) who figured out some cool hacks). If the Matrix is brought down he just gets out in time, then presumably someone does shutdown and restart and he hacks his way back into the Matrix. Alternatively it could be that the Smith’s threat was not real after all and the Merovingian knew that. However this would be a bit disappointing.
What is the purpose of the farms?
A lot has been said about why the machines need the humans. The most common explanation is that the machines use them to generate power. Apart from the fact that this is pure nonsense from an engineer’s point of view, one must also realise that the only way we ‘know’ the purpose is by what Morpheus and other humans said, however there is no reason why they cannot be mistaken. It is perfectly feasible that they think so just because they do not know better. My guess is that the machines use them more to learn from them, having them plugged in to what they (the machines) think is ‘their’ matrix. Presumably their observation of the behavious of countless millions (billions ?) of independent minds would help them develop new thought processes and algorithms for all sorts of uses. My guess is that the ‘farms’ and the matrix (as they seee it), rather than being the single biggest preoccupation of the machines are just some little known research center set up by the Machines someplace in the world. The destruction of the Matrix, Zion, the Farms and Machine City would be just an expensive disaster in some remote corner of the world as far as the whole machine population is concerned.
It is perfectly possible however that the Smith problem could have far wider consequences for the machines. Just as a mistake in a biotech lab in our world could spread an epidemy, it is just as feasible that the Smith virus could spill out of the research facility and bring down the whole machine civilisation (if you can call it that).
Why didn’t the machines just nuke the dock, and the rest of Zion for that matter ?
This is smeting which really bugs me in many SF films. You see swarms of complex machines launching all sorts of beams of energy and things like that, and all that impressive machinery achieves less than a 1950s invention would have. I am of course speaking of the H-Bomb. It strikes me that many impressive destruction scenes are far less impressive than the footage from actual H-Bomb tests carried out in the 60s.
The first digger breaking through the dock wall could easily have carried a 20MT thermonuclear device. As the digger broke through and started falling it would detonate the device when it was about half way to the bottom. It would instantly vaporize anyone or anything in the dock, would send extremely high pressure ht gasses through any surviving shafts and most probably bring down the whole dome. The sesimic shock of the blast followed shortly by the collapse of billions of tons of rock onto the floor of the dock would almostt certainly result in total collapse of the whole structure of Zion all the way down to the temple. Even if it didn’t, all that would be needed would be another digger eating its way through the rubble, breaching the roof of Zion and letting off another nuke. Of course here I am making the extremely unlikely assumption that the machines would be relying on 1950s technology - they could almost certainly create something even more powerful.
So why are nukes avoided so much? In most cases the answer is just that is is much easier to write a good story if you ignore the existence of nuclear weapons. It is possible to write a story with them in almost all cases, except that it has to be far more complex and large scale, and may also be much more difficult to present in a way understandable to the cinema goers.
In some cases there is a (usually weak) excuse. Sometimes it is an arms control treaty which miraculously is abided to (Dune for example), sometimes it is the presence of shielding force fields, as in Phantom Menace, sometimes it is a strategic decision (as in Starship troopers, where only the smallest nukes are used because they want to capture the queen spider thingy). In most cases, the weaponry used is particularly unimpressive with a few notable exceptions (such as the Death Star).
I find it particularly strange that many people see the destructive power of SF weapons as awesome and do not even realise that far worse weapons exist in reality, and have exsited for decades. The destructive beam created in ‘Visitors’ was impressive, and many people I know actually thought it was stretching the imagination too far even for an SF film. To me it looked much less impressive than a film documenting the 1950s test of an H-bomb, showing its effects on trees, vehicles, buildings and even the ground itself.
One could discuss at length the merits of these examples, but if I remember correctly I was talking about the Matrix.
So in Matrix, one could apply any of the above excuses and lots of others, but there is a great opportunity for something much better. Since I believe that the ‘real world’ is actually another level of the Matrix, it is perfectly feasible that the architects of the system would have decided to remove the ‘easy’ solutions for both sides of the war, just to make it more interesting to observe, or maybe just simpler to program. Seeing that the nuclear option would almost certainly end the simulation prematurely they opt to alter the physical laws of the simulation such that nuclear reactions just cannot happen, or simply interfere with the matrix each time someone or something is about to invent an atom bomb.
As with all films there are mistakes, but the most annoying ones are those that go against all common sense.
The APU is an exceptionally good piece of SFX, but is let down by one thing. Why on earth is the operator of the APU placed in such a vulnerable position. Even the driver of a simple excavator has more protection than that. What is the point of making such a heavily armored machine and then making it so vulnerable by putting the operator on its outside. Any odd piece of shrapnel or even bits of rock falling from the dome would easily kill the operator in such an unprotected position. Even a kid with an air pistol could put an APU out of action, as the operator doesn’t even wear a helmet! Even if the operator needs to have good visibility (or a multitude of other excuses) they could always have put him in an armored glass bubble. They seem to have armored glass and use it to good effect in the hoverships, so why not on the APU? If the intention was to keep the character visible, then with the armored glass you have that as well. If you want to achieve the same story line, you could have exactly the same people dying. All you need is to have the sentinels drilling through the glass or otherwise breaking it. Same result, but achieved in a much more credible way.
There was a similar issue in Aliens with the machine used in the final fight with the alien. However there is a big difference, since that machine was not designed for combat, but merely as a sort of fork lift truck. Even so, it at least had a protective cage of heavy (steel?) tubing protecting the operator (the cage actually played a significant part making it rather more difficult for the alien to get at Ripley)
The bit about the shells being home made is stretching poetic licence way too far. It is not credible that an organisation that can maintain all sorts of machinery including the all sorts of ammunition would need to resort to shells being made by hand. Even if they needed to, although one could possibly (though unlikley) make the explosives to put in it, the shell itself still needs to be manufactured by some sort of machine. I seriously doubt there could exist a situation where there is a surplus of empty shells complete with guidance mechanism, proximity fuse and all that but then have to manufacture the explosive material by hand. If they needed to show the importance of the individuals’ contribution to the war effort, I’m sure there were many better ways to do it.
The tactics used by the machines didn’t make much sense to me. Of course one could easily say that the machines are stupid and that’s the best thay can do, but I shall not consider that option.
The first crazy thing is what I mentioned in the list of questions - why didn’t a second digger (or group of diggers) bypass the dock and go straight for Zion. The diggers (and even the sentinels) seem to be invulnerable to attack while drilling through the bedrock, so it would make perfect sense to branch off before reaching the dock and have the two groups reaching the dock and Zion itself at the same time. I counted at least two diggers, though there were probably more.
The other thing is the way the sentinels fly aroung in long chains, thus creating the best possible targets for the Zionite shooters. Cannon fodder is probably the best way to describe it. There is ample evidence throughout the series that the Sentinels can act independently (ie they don’t need to be in a swarm to operate). If they had split up as they entered the dock, they would have presented an impossible target for the machine guns. Instead they fly around in neat long chains to make sure that every bullet fired hits one of them.
And why don’t the machines use EMPs? Assuming that they cannot use nukes for reasons already mentioned, I cannot see any reason why they cannot use EMPs. We saw that a single EMP rendered useless every piece of machinery in the dock. The Zionites use them, so why not the machines. Maybe the machines don’t know how to make them? Unlikely, since even if they didn’t have them they could easily reverse engineer them from a captured hovership. As with the nuke, if the first digger to break through carried an EMP it would have neutralised the entire defenses even before the first sentinel came through the hole in the dome.
That’s just about all I have time to write. My apologies for the confused and unstructured way it is written, but I hope its legible enough to make at least some sense.
If for any reason you wish to quote any or all of this stuff in newsgroups, websites or whatever just go ahead and do so. An email to me to let me know would be appreciated.
Page last updated on 22nd November 2003