I saw The Matrix: Reloaded again. This time I went prepared. I had a sheet of paper with a few names written on it, suitable for taking notes on those character’s conversations. The Architect’s speech had never penetrated my skull very deeply, and it was fading with time, so I jotted down some quotes from it. After doing so, and watching the film again with my wild theory in mind, I have to throw some of it out. Most of it, actually.
The same warnings apply to this as last time. Please don’t read any more if you haven’t seen the movie. If you do, I’m going to ruin it beyond all measure, quoting entirely huge swaths of conversation from the final minutes of the movie, revealing all. Don’t do it. You’ve been warned.
The Architect especially seems to be quite clear. He states that he created the matrix, but also refers to himself in ways that make it quite clear that he is an AI. He refers to The Oracle as an intuitive program. Now it is possible that both of those characters are still human and merely choose to see themselves as programs. After all, given a determinist philosophy, aren’t we all programs? As the Merovingian said, it’s all about causality. Cause and effect, and as we respond to stimulus, how are we more than programs?
Still, if we take The Architect at face value, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to, he is an AI that created the matrix to handle the human problem. As we’ve been told before, the first matrix was a failure, because something in human nature apparently renders us inacapable of accepting a conflict-free life. As The Architect put it, “The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect; it was a work of art. Flawless. Sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being.” He then goes on to explain that the second matrix failed as well, despite being populated with conflict. Success with the matrix only came when the character we know as The Oracle, described by The Architect as “an intuitive program,” came up with the solution: Choice.
Again I am drawn back to The Merovingian and his pondering on causality, and to The Oracle and her pondering on choice. I’ll sidetrack myself here long enough to point out that The Oracle may be wise and able to see many things about the future, but she sure doesn’t give it away much, and she sure doesn’t know everything. In the first film she told Neo that he had “the gift” but seemed to be waiting for something instead of telling him one way or the other whether he was The One. That’s odd, because her “prophecies” seemed to be much more explicit for Morpheus and Trinity. Given the new information from the new movie, I can now understand the specificity of her prophecy to Morpheus – it was part of the overall scheme of the matrix. But her prophecy to Trinity had to do with Trinity falling in love with The One, yet The Architect makes it clear that none of the previous The Ones had been motivated by love. Was the role of Trinity originally destined to be that of one pining for The One, love unrequited? Is there a bigger plan underneath it all to try to provoke an AI into true love, as I posted in my previous essay on the new film?
So The Architect and The Oracle together devise a plan that handles 99% of humans. They all have a choice, though they don’t realize it, and the existence of the unknown choice is apparently enough to satisfy most mind, and they live life within the matrix, blissfully. That remaining 1% escapes to Zion. So Zion, we learn, is an escape valve. It must exist to enable the 99% to function correctly, and it holds the 1% that won’t play ball. It’s a system that works better than the previous two, but that 1% is dangerous. Again in the words of The Architect, “While this answered function, it was obviously fundamentally flawed thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly that if left unchecked might threaten the system itself. Ergo those that refuse the program – while the minority – if unchecked, would cause an escalating probability of disaster.”
I happen to think that it is important to pay close attention to what The Architect says. He describes the matrix as “older than you know.” From the perspective of the humans in Zion, it is around a century old. Yet it might easily be 600 years old, or even older than that. The Architect said that he prefers counting “from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next,” making this the sixth version. Imagine a system in which cruft slowly builds up. That shouldn’t be difficult – just imagine your desktop PC. Every now and then, enough garbage builds up in the system that it is necessarily to reload it. If you are a program running on the PC, you would count reality from the moment it was last rebuilt, because you would have no way of knowing what came before. Morpheus wasn’t lying to Neo or the people of Zion, he was explaining reality as he believed it, as all of the humans in Zion believe it. But he was wrong.
It would be easy to determine from these statements of The Architect that everything will be reset to avoid the “systemic anomaly,” but I’m not sure he explicitly says so. He does state that Zion will be destroyed, but I think that the rest of the matrix is safe from the direct intervention of The Architect or his compatriots. Instead, after Zion is destroyed, that “systemic anomaly,” unchecked, will eventually disrupt the matrix. While there is a very short window of time during which Zion can be saved, the matrix itself has no such stated time limit. Instead, Neo is told that “failure to comply with this process [of selecting a new batch of 23 people to start rebuilding Zion] will result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix.” One presumes, based on the previous statements of The Architect, that this will be because the 1% will no longer have that escape valve, and nobody will really have a choice, unconscious or not, and so this matrix will at some point achieve the same instability that plagued the first two versions of the matrix.
The Architect plays this up by pointing out that if everyone connected to the matrix is killed, and Zion has been exterminated, the entire human race will become extinct. I’m not sure I buy that, for several reasons. First and foremost is that the first two versions of the matrix failed in just the way that this one apparently will, and yet there were apparently still humans around to populate the third version which is the current version. It is possible that they never risked the entire human population in the first two versions, but that does beg the questions of what they did with the humans during that time of testing, and how long it took to realize that the systems were unstable. The second reason I don’t buy it is that The One has obviously developed in ways somewhat unexpected, or at least unpredicted, by The Oracle or The Architect. When The Architect describes The One (or the 1%) as a “systemic anomaly that, if left unchecked, might threaten the system itself,” was he referring only to system stability, or to some sort of ability for The One to actually seize control of the system and take control away from The Architect?
So far I’ve kept myself within the framework of the film, preferring to solve the puzzle within the rules laid down by the Wachowski brothers, but it is worth noting that there is another two-hour film coming, and whatever happens next must surely fulfill the expectations of movie-goers for raising the bar, as well as living up to the title of “Revolutions.”
Now we come to the crucial part of the conversation with The Architect, the reason for Neo’s existence, the “Why” that is the only true source of power according to The Merovingian. The Architect questions first whether Neo is ready to “accept the responsibility for the death of every human being in this world.” Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the choice of “this world” instead of “the world” means anything, since it may not, I wonder about the overall construction of the sentence. Is the goal of The Architect that Neo does accept that responsibility, or that he does not? There is no question that The Architect is exercising another system of control, manipulating Neo, and he seems to try to manipulate Neo into making the decision to save Trinity. When control meets choice, which wins? The overall system of the matrix is designed to exert control on those plugged into it. For the system to work, there must be a choice, but only 1% of the inhabitants of the matrix make that choice, or are even aware of it. This is a systemic anomaly that seems to defy absolute control, leading Neo to state that “the problem is choice,” a statement with which The Architect does not disagree.
Does the entire existence of the matrix, the success or failure of the matrix, depend on Neo’s choice? Remember The Oracle’s statement that, “You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it. Now you must understand why.” How applicable is that to this situation?
The Architect says “Your five predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication – a contingent affirmation – that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of The One. While the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific vis a vis love.” From this statement we can understand that whatever choice the previous five anomalies faced, it either wasn’t between saving the world and saving someone the anomaly loved, or it was a much easier choice for them to make. Perhaps that is the point. The previous five anomalies faced no real choice at all. They simply did what was clearly right for them to do given the circumstances, and they picked out the next 23 inhabitants of Zion so that the matrix would continue. What then is the challenge? How is it that The Architect has failed so miserably that despite its “sincerest efforts” to eliminate the anomaly completely, the latest eventuality is actually more powerful and more human than the previous five? Either The Neo is truly an anomaly among anomalies, or The Architect has an unstated goal that runs counter to his statements.
“Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end. There are two doors. The door to your right leads to The Source and the salvation of Zion. The door to the left leads back to the matrix, to her, and to the end of your species. As you adequately put it, the problem is choice. But we already know what you are going to do, don’t we? Already I can see the chain reaction, the chemical precursors that signal the onset of an emotion designed specifically to overwhelm logic and reason. An emotion that is already blinding you from the simple and obvious truth. She is going to die and there is nothing you can do to stop it.”
An echo of the red pill – blue pill choice lays before Neo again. It seemed clear to most fans of the movie that Neo could have made no choice other than to take the red pill. For one thing, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie otherwise, would there? For another, who would spend the rest of their lives wondering what things would have been like otherwise? So too here, Neo’s choice seems obvious. So obvious he had really already made it. Now he must understand why, and even that seems clear. One could even assign mathematical values to each choice. I forget the proper way to do this, but let’s say that taking the door to Neo’s right is 100% certain to result in Trinity’s death and 100% certain to result in Zion’s repopulation and the survival of humanity. That seems to balance out with a score of 0 (-100 and +100). Now let’s say that taking the door to Neo’s left is 80% certain to still result in Trinity’s death and only 10% certain to result in the survival of Zion in any form. Now we’ve got a score of -70 (-80 and +10). But wait! Add the numbers differently. The first scenario gives a 100% chance of failure for saving Trinity and a 0% chance of failure for saving humanity, for -100. The second scenario gives a 20% chance of success for saving Trinity and a 10% chance of success for saving humanity, for 30. Of course, such a reckoning is silly. A 10% chance is very nearly no chance at all, and percentages don’t add together. But such is the human mind that any chance at all seems worth taking. Even a 1% chance of saving both Trinity and humanity beats a 0% chance if you take the other option. The Architect describes it as “Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion. Simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness.”
But what can The Architect have been expecting? Knowing that Neo is what he is, the choice is already made. The why seems clear, but perhaps it isn’t as clear as we thought. Digging deeper, I suppose that the question of “why” could refer to why Neo is different from the previous five that held the role of The One.
One of the new concepts introduced in this film are “exiles,” or programs that refuse to die. As a unix hacker, I’m familiar with runaway and zombie processes, and certainly processes blocked on I/O contention can resist termination quite stubbornly. In none of those cases would I consider the processes in question to be fully in control of themselves, but I can accept that in the much more complex computing environment of the matrix, things are a little different. Lending further support to my theory that the matrix itself has not been reset six times is a statement by Agents Smith. Early in the film, Smith states that, “It’s happening exactly as before.” Another copy of Smith replies, “Well, not exactly.” Smith seems to have some memory of the earlier cycles of The One traveling to The Oracle and The Source, and is able to show up at the appropriate places and times to try to put his own plan into motion. What that plan entails isn’t clear, since Smith is obviously acting on his own as an exile now, but his memory of previous cycles is a clue.
Similarly, The Oracle is obviously aware of previous cycles, as is obviously The Architect. What about the others? The Merovingian and Persephone, the werewolves, the twins, the other agents, are all of them aware of the cycle? I need to watch the first movie again with this frame of reference to see how well this awareness and this repeating cycle might fit with Agent Smith speech to Morpheus about humans and their stench. The agents are certainly aware of exiles, as they are very concerned with recovering the Keymaker and refer to him as an exile in the process. But Smith might be more aware of things than the other agents. After all, something is different. This cycle has changed, because Neo is different.
It appears that everything was going according to plan in the first movie until Neo destroyed Agent Smith. That was “unexpected.” But Smith went into exile, refusing to die. Not just refusing to, but “compelled” to. In addition, he gained new powers, and perhaps a new awareness. There is a link between Smith and Neo now, the exact nature of which is unclear. Smith seems to be alternately pursuing his own nefarious goals and acting under some sort of compulsion to either kill or assimilate Neo. Perhaps in the cource of “destroying” Smith, Neo left a part of himself behind, so there is a little bit of The One in Smith. Maybe Smith’s plan is to disrupt Neo, to stop him from fulfilling the cycle. Maybe Smith’s plan is to instead replace Neo, taking on the role of The One himself. Why he would want to do either is not certain.
One thing is certain, Smith is now operating near Zion, in “the real world.” Seeing the movie again has only confirmed that Bane was taken over by Agent Smith before being recalled out of the matrix. Whether Smith’s control of Bane is total, I’m not sure. Perhaps Bane cutting his own hand represents a struggle between Smith-within-Bane and Bane himself, or perhaps not. But Smith-within-Bane attempts to get his ship sent along on the mission to recover Neo, and failing that attempts to murder Neo in Zion. After that comes to naught, he apparently manages to prematurely trigger an EMP, drawing the wrath of the sentinels down on hidden ships of Zion and incidentally dashing any slim hopes Zion might have had of surviving the onslaught from above. When we see Bane for the last time within this film, he appears to be in some sort of coma similar to Neo’s. At what point exactly he entered that coma is unclear. I’m inclined to believe it was the exact moment Neo entered his.
So how is Smith operating in “the real world.” The obvious first idea is that “the real world” is itself another construct like the matrix. An “uber-matrix,” surrounding the matrix we’ve known about. After all, if we’re concerned with systems of control, would The Architect truly be satisfied to let 1% of humans just escape into the outside? And how would humans who had truly escaped into the outside “threaten the system itself?” Wouldn’t they still have to be within “the system” to affect the system? It is possible that the threat would be from whenever members of the 1% reinserted themselves into the matrix and caused problems that way. While it seems unlikely that The Architect would be willing to give up that much control, it might be forced upon him “as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being.”
I would like to believe in the uber-matrix because I’m not sure how else to explain Smith operating in “the real world” or Neo stopping the sentinels. But The Architect does refer to “those that refuse the program,” implying that they might actually have done so. To paraphrase Neo, there are only two possible explanations. Either there is an uber-matrix, or there isn’t. If there is, why? And if not, how? Although the Merovingian explained that Why is a much more interesting and important question than How, I don’t know that we was referring to this situation. After all, working backwards, the idea of an uber-matrix is not without a bunch of questions of its own.
If there is an uber-matrix, then those within Zion are under some level of control. Just as cleaning robots came along in the first movie to dispose of Neo’s body when it appeared he was rejecting the matrix, so too could whoever controls the uber-matrix simply dispose of that pesky 1% that reject the program of the inner matrix. Instead, they are allowed to survive, and grow and thrive. Why? Perhaps a choice that results in certain termination soon afterward is no choice at all, in which case the survival of Zion is required by the same human flaw that requires its existence to being with. Still, I wonder why 250,000 sentinels would be sent, even if they aren’t real, to destroy a bunch of humans that could be destroyed just as easily by unplugging them all. With none left alive, would it matter that they all just fell to the ground, empty?
These are but a few of the many questions that run through my mind when I question the concept of the uber-matrix. While the irony would indeed be delicious if the five-minute rave/love scene, intended to showcase humanity, turned out to be itself an artificial construct, I’m not nearly so sure that this is case as I was.
Then how does Smith operate in the real world? And how did Neo stop the sentinels? I’ll take the last question first. It remains a slim possibility that Neo did not in fact stop the sentinels, but that an EMP was sent at just that second, coincidentally. Or not-so-coincidentally, if one thinks about the supernatural aspects of coincidence involved in the events of both films. While the prophecies guiding Morpheus may have been false in certain details, there are still the questions of the prophecies that came true, Neo’s prescient dreams, and the startling coincidences involved in collapsing bridges and impaled operators that necessitated Trinity plugging into the matrix in the first place. When I consider that Neo stated, “Something is different” as he realized he could sense the sentinels, and thinking back to the scene with The Architect and how we slipped through one of the monitors at one point to focus on one of several Neos, each having a slightly different reaction to The Architect’s statements, I’m almost willing to believe that Neo stepped back into a different “real world” than the one he left, or that he never actually stepped back into it at all. After all, Morpheus managed to get out of the matrix by stepping through a door, a first. Maybe Neo and Bane both collapsed from the EMP because they are artificial constructs. I don’t think I can stick with such a theory, however, because that switch, if it took place, happened long after Smith had already taken over Bane, a “how” question for which I don’t have an answer. And if they were artifiical constructs, I think the other might have noticed after getting them on the medical table.
How then did Neo stop the sentinels? It is worth noting that he didn’t control gravity or pull any of the other fancy tricks he is able to inside the matrix. He “only” stopped five sentinels. That could imply no more than a peculiar connection with them, similar to the odd connection between Smith and Neo. His ability to “broadcast” something to them would indeed be unusual, but they were pretty close. Why then did he go into a coma? Maybe it was exhausting work.
The more important question to answer without the assumption of an uber-matrix is how Smith operates in the real world, or why no others can. Perhaps the why is easily explained by that fact that nobody else shares Smith’s ability to replicate himself and exist in more than one place at the same time. Agents can jump from body to body, but not occupy two bodies at once. Smith can. Asking the follow-on question of why an Agent wouldn’t just take over the body of someone about to be recalled out of the matrix simply leads one to question why they don’t do that anyway, taking over the bodies of anyone who plugs into the matrix from outside. Obviously being part of the 1% has its advantages.
What is it like, being taken over by Smith? For an AI, it might be as simple as overwriting the memory of the previous process with a complete copy of one’s own memory. Since people within the matrix are digital projections of their mental selves (or is that vice-versa?), a Smith-infected person would be indistinguishable from Smith within the matrix, but their real body would simply have a different brain in it. Of course, this ignores the issues of how a brain is structured, and whether links into the matrix from outside are two-way. An altered projection doesn’t necessarily affect the projector, but how closely can we follow that analogy? Could activity within the matrix cause the neural pathways of a human brain to spontaneously completely rewrite themselves? Why not?
So Smith might have been able to truly replicate himself into the real world by rewriting the neural pathways of Bane, giving Smith a new body in the real world. I’m willing to accept that. Neo might have some sort of special connection with both Smith/Bane and the sentinels by virtue of his status as The One or his encounter with The Architect. I might even be willing to accept that. So I can’t be 100% sure about the uber-matrix.
On the other hand, again, it might be an easier way to explain how Smith was able to travel into “the real world” and allows for two possibilities with the apparent comas at the end of the film. One is that Neo is attempting to deal with the sudden realization that reality is not real – we’ve heard reference to this being a difficult process for some people, especially older people. Another is to recognize the similarities between Neo’s collapse and the collapse of the three bodies at the power station. Is it possible that something happened to the bodies of Neo and Bane outside of the uber-matrix, and their bodies are currently “empty” of control?
I’m left with more questions than answers, which is obviously the intent of the movie. In addition to all of the questions I’ve left unanswered above, I have questions about The Keymaker. Is he part of the cycle each time? Why did the Merovingian try so hard to keep him safe? He seemed quite at odds with The Keymaker himself, who replied to a question about how he knew everything he knew with, “I know because I must know. It is my purpose. It is why I am here.” The Merovingian described him saying, “The Keymaker is a means to an end.” If the team had not recovered The Keymaker, how else could they have gotten to The Architect?
Also, who was being escorted out of the Merovingian’s presence as Morpheus and the team were coming in? He seemed to be led forcibly out, and I suspect we may see him again.
Much has been made of The Merovingians and their belief that they are descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. However, I think that most of that speculation overlooks the fact that The Architect says that Neo is the first iteration of The One to experience love. Of course, that also shoots down my own previous theory that The Merovingian and Persephone were an earlier iteration of The One and his girlfriend. At this point I must conclude that Persephone’s statements were just what they appeared to be and no more. Then why “The Merovingian”? They are also known as the keepers of the Holy Grail, and The Merovingian did keep the Keymakers. He may also be holding other items important for the future, but I suspect that the name means no more than that.
There is no conclusion. The “real world” might be an uber-matrix, or it might not. The prophecy might be mostly true, or not. Neo never did actually make it to The Source, though Morpheus thinks he did. Neo’s choice might have been expected by The Architect, or maybe not. Perhaps humanity will die. Perhaps Neo will achieve some sort of power and control over either the matrix, or the uber-matrix, or both. And the “Why” behind The Architect is still vague. Are we still running with the “humans as batteries” concept? Maybe. But knowing why is the only true source of power, I heard.
Neo will certainly be back in the next movie, as will Smith. Many Smiths. Smith evidently does a little more of assuming Neo’s abilities, as the preview appears to end with Smith flying. Everything else flew by so quickly it’s hard to draw any conclusions.
(This essay first appeared at W6 Daily.)