Matrix 4, Audience 2
You know who is a smart man? Harrison Ford is a smart man.
One of the many pleasures of the original Blade Runner is the ambiguity as to whether Deckard is a replicant.
The movie is much more interesting and layered if Deckard is unwittingly hunting down his own kind (as implied by the unicorn dream cutaway). In recent years, Ridley Scott has explicitly confirmed this: “He is definitely a replicant.”
But coming down on the other side of the “debate” is…Harrison Ford! He said, to him, Deckard was always human, and he proceeded on that assumption. (I put “debate” in quotes because it was never an issue in the 1980s: Deckard was human, always and obviously human, and the ambiguity only came up later from the Director’s Cut.)
I was disappointed in Ford’s answer, thinking it would rob the movie of such a cool, added layer. But when I heard his reason (I can’t remember where, and I can’t find a good clip), I was impressed: the audience needed to have a human point of reference and relatability amidst all the hardware and worldbuilding.
I was like, hot damn…that is a smart man.
He is absolutely right! And it’s not a surprise that Ford has been atop the movie star hierarchy for over forty years. He thinks about the audience.
I’ve noticed the best screenwriters and filmmakers are always thinking about the audience. Like…duh!
It’s such a basic point, it’s easy to look down on it: “You’re a world-famous movie creator, why do you pander to the slowest dopes watching your movies?”
But no, it’s the other way around—they got to where they are by always thinking about those folks. Always!
I saw a making-of Fury Road piece, and George Miller was yelling at his camera operator, “Center frame, center frame!” This had to do with shooting action: he always wanted the operator to have the most important “business” of each shot right in the middle of the frame. That way when he cut from shot to shot, the viewer’s eye didn’t have to waste time moving around to figure out what to look at! (This is one of many reason why Miller’s action scenes are so watchable.)
Anyway—Matrix 4. This isn’t a movie review. I didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.
It is absolutely true that when the characters arrived in Io (the new Zion), I literally fell asleep in my chair. I woke up and rewound the film around ten minutes (thanks, HBOMax).
If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand what the Wachowskis (and now Lana, solo) were doing with the Matrix sequels.
The original Matrix is pretty near a perfect Hollywood blockbuster. It has ideas, thrills, weight, emotion, humor. It breaks new ground but remains accessible to people who can barely spell their own names. It’s a phenomenal achievement.
And…I remember the deflating experience of seeing the second movie, thinking that, obviously, Neo (the messiah) was going to start freeing people’s minds inside the Matrix—leading to a revolution that became a civil war. Right?
Isn’t that what it obviously had to be about?
The original Matrix has so many great scenes, but the one that really makes it work, for me, is Joe Pantoliano eating steak. “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”
This is great! Because it’s about the Matrix.
The Matrix is, first and foremost, about the Matrix!
What are the second and third movies about?
“You must find the keymaster, who will take you to the dry cleaner, where you will find the car dealer, who will introduce you to the accountant, and only the accountant can open the gateway, within which is the source, who will take you to the architect…”
That’s from memory—I don’t think I got it quite right.
But I remember when they finally reached the Architect in movie no. 2, everybody in that movie theater created an energy field of such hatred, you could power Las Vegas with it.
Although the scene is funnier than I remembered:
Now, movie number four...
It starts off with a truly audacious idea: that Neo is a meek videogame creator who actually created the first three movies as videogames. And Trinity is just some local mom named “Tiffany” he admires at the local coffee shop.
Seeing our stars again, apart and yearning for each other but not realizing it—that’s cool. We like them. And they look good.
One of the things I learned about screenwriting is the importance of not adding ideas to solve your story problems. It’s so tempting to add cool idea on top of cool idea! But it only dilutes it.
The right way to do it is to mine your existing ideas for all their possibilities—and, especially, emotions.
You want the greatest possible simplicity. This means even huge, sprawling, epic movies have something simple at their core. In the first Matrix, it was the hero’s journey.
One of the most frustrating things about Matrix 4 is how passive Neo is. But the real problem is that every 15 minutes, the movie changes its paradigm, conflict and goals—to the point where we just give up caring.
And sadly the action isn’t very thrilling, either, due to the sin of escalation: when people are super powerful, it becomes boring to watch, because there are no real stakes or consequences.
For some reason the action doesn’t seem shot or staged as well as in the previous films, even though the colors are beautiful. I also missed Don Davis a tremendous amount.
So, it is what it is. I’m sure a lot of people like it.
I still don’t know why they never made the movie that the first Matrix promised: the revolution of the minds inside the Matrix!
There’s a brief moment in Matrix 4 where it looks like they’ll address this: how can get they get Trinity to leave the Matrix (and take the “red pill”) if she is attached to her husband and kids?
They end up blowing it off by having the husband and kids just turn into more bad guys—and then there’s a throwaway “kiss-off” line from Trinity about it at the end.
Quick question: When you have kids in the Matrix, do the machines create an actual kid for you in the real world, and put that kid in his or her own pod? They’d have to, right?
The real Matrix franchise was always going to be found in that dilemma: what is more important—the truth, or protecting the ones you love?
Because that has not just conflict, it has humanity.
The best characters are the ones still inside the Matrix—who discover it and each has a very different but human reaction to it. Because they’re the ones like us…the audience!!!
If you’re going to add characters—and, of course, you must—add them from inside the Matrix, and find all the complications and variations of people waking up to the fact that their world is a lie!
We saw how Neo handled it, and Cypher. But there are so many other variations…
The person who discovers Neo-like superpowers but wants to keep the people enslaved, because he or she just wants to rule them.
The person who has always known the world is unreal, and thinks she must be going crazy, but stays out of loyalty to her family.
The precocious kid who realizes the world is fake, and is abused by his parents for exposing it.
And what about the plot twist that the machines engineer a matrix-within-a-matrix in order to fool the hero?
If the world really is just a matrix, why can’t we “time-travel” using it? (In other words, have other little matrix worlds in different time periods.) If you must add ideas, add them within the matrix—not without.
Wouldn’t that be the coolest opening scene ever, something that looks like it’s out of medieval Europe, and barbarians are marauding through some village—and some little kid manifests Neo-like powers to kill all the bad guys? And the movie becomes a search for that kid?
Every audience member who saw the original Matrix was touched by the fantasy, the eerie but very real possibility—what if our world is a lie?
For the life of me, I will never understand why the Wachowskis were so eager to discard that idea and live in this dramatically inert world of Zion and giant machines and people who talk like they’re on bad versions of Star Trek.
The “real world” of Zion/Io is visually spectacular—but it’s boring. You never know where you are, how far apart anything is, how dangerous anything is. Nobody feels like a real person. And it looks fake, all these C-G caves and tunnels and glowy things.
If the Wachowskis or any of their team find this piece and read it, somehow—forgive me. You’re rich and successful, and I’m not.
But I just don’t get how people could create the coolest thing ever and then be so eager to run away from it—to trivialize and joke about it—instead of leaning into its humanity.
P.S. Does anybody care that the Matrix itself is founded on a premise that is false? It takes way more energy to birth, feed and house a human being for its lifetime than that human’s brain would ever generate as electricity. But if the machines wanted all those human brains for their processing power or imagination, maybe, that would work. Of course this is not actually important, but it’s hard to forget once you’ve realized it.