The Matrix Re-re-re-revisited

The nice thing about cable TV is that you don’t have to wait very long for one channel or another to rerun a movie. Surfing usually turns up something acceptable to watch, and for me at the end of a long day it’s usually mind-candy. So lately I’ve been stumbling across the two sequels to “The Matrix” – “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” – and if there’s nothing else too pressing to attend to, I’ll watch the visual pyrotechnics. The past few nights, it appears, have been my nights for catching the last half hour or so of the third film, “Revolutions.”

I remember when these two films premiered in theatres; the anticipation had built to fever pitch in the wake of deserved success for the original “Matrix.” The first movie could easily have stood all on its own. It was tantalizingly complete just as it was; a stylishly unexpected commentary on the nature of perception, reality, and choice. It was – and still is – a perfect little gem. (As Wendy put it, “It has its own little wisdom.”)

It was probably inevitable that the Wachowski brothers, flush with both praise and cash, would want to complete what they said was their original vision of a huge sprawling story in three parts. Thus the buzz grew and grew, and the packaged hype outgrew even the buzz, and then the movies opened…

…and a whole lot of people left the theaters shaking their heads, wondering out loud what the heck was that all about? I was one of those people.

But I’m also a very uncritical date when it comes to video entertainment that flows in via the cable (since I don’t have to do anything but turn on the TV); my list of “guilty pleasures” is long. I’ll watch reruns of really horrid films like the remake of “Godzilla” or “Lost in Space” simply because they’re dependable in their awfulness. And, as I said, when I’m working on other things, I don’t have to pay attention to the tube.

So I’ve been able, lately, to immerse myself in the “Matrix” mythology and – as often happens with repeated exposure to anything – I think I’ve managed to tease a hint of the original philosophy out of the two sequels. I feel good about that. The first film was all about perception and belief, and how those concepts affect each other. (I’m a big believer in the idea that belief shapes everything we think, feel and do.) The second and third films seemed, at first viewing, to be about anything but. There was much sound and fury, but I couldn’t see the point. The psychobabble coming from the character called the Source really irked me, as he seemed to be saying that it didn’t matter whether or not your belief lifted you out of the Matrix; it was all cyclical and predestined to happen over and over anyway.

But the underlying power of belief finally started showing itself once I’d had the chance to see the final installment enough times to that I was able to tune out the razzle-dazzle and pay attention to some of the quieter moments and softer-spoken lines. When Neo presents himself to the machine-lord and offers “If I’m wrong then you should kill me” it’s not a simple movie bluff. His belief in himself is absolute so he is able to say that completely fearlessly. When, at film’s end, the guardian of the Oracle asks her, “Did you always know?” and she replies, “No, but I believed,” it’s possible to imagine that it is her belief that has underlain the entire success of Neo’s (and Zion’s) struggle.

(I’m still trying to figure out, though, whether or not it’s the Oracle who is lying in the rainy street after the apocalyptic conclusion of Neo and Agent Smith’s final confrontation. Either my eyes or my TV screen ain’t what they should be!)

I still think the Wachowski brothers would have been well served by letting the original “Matrix” be a standalone film, but I feel better about the sequels than I did immediately after I’d seen them. Sometimes the stew has to simmer a long time before it’s palatable.