Archive: November 10th, 2003

Revolutions Reviewed

I went to see The Matrix Revolutions over the weekend. I enjoyed it. Then again, I enjoyed The Matrix Reloaded so what do I know?

The general consensus seems to be that while the first Matrix film “rocked”, the sequels “sucked”, to use the vernacular.

I went back and watched the original Matrix film again to try to figure out just how it differs from the sequels. On the surface, the most obvious difference is the smaller scale of the action and more of a film-noir atmosphere. Still, most of the major themes of the sequels are already in place: choice, free will, purpose, etc.

The biggest difference between the first film and its sequels is the viewpoint from which the story is told.

In The Matrix, we can readily identify with Neo. He is more or less an Everyman (or Everybattery). We share his disorientation and confusion and of course nothing can ever top the shock of the revelations about the nature of his reality.

In short, the first film is told from a viewpoint within the matrix, looking out. The sequels, on the other hand, can only be told from a viewpoint outside the matrix, exemplified by Zion. As for Neo… well it’s hard to identify with a superhuman messianic figure whose only weakness is self-doubt.

From this standpoint, Neo’s earlier ignorance in his dreamworld existence almost seems like a paradise lost.

That’s certainly the way many fans see it. For them, the first film, with its ambiguity and seemingly limitless possibilites, is like a garden of Eden. The sequels, on the other hand, told from the grim reality of the “real” world seem like a harsh Land of Nod (in its biblical, rather than colloquial, sense).

The truth is, many fans of the original film prefer the programmed reality of the matrix to the grey reality of Zion. It’s from this Zion-centric viewpoint that the sequels are told.

But once you accept this change of viewpoint, and acknowledge that the sequels can never compare to the first film on the same terms, then it’s possible to enjoy them for their own sake.

If anything, the sequels fall down when they try too hard to regain the glories of the first film. They shine when they distance themselves from the “what is real?” conundrum of the first film and concentrate on the issues of fate, causality and, most importantly of all, loads of really cool robots.

My advice to anyone going to see The Matrix Revolutions is not to see it as a Matrix film. Instead, accept it on its own terms: a monumental live action anime film.

My greatest disappointment with The Matrix Revolutions would be its lack of philosophical mumbo-jumbo. One of the reasons I enjoyed Reloaded so much was its unabashed mumbo-jumbo slathered on thick as butter. In Revolutions, entire plot points from Reloaded are dismissed with barely a wave of the hand.

Ah, well. That means more time for guns and robots so I can’t really complain.

Brave Old World

I find it strange to read an article that I completely and utterly disagree with. It’s like being afforded a glimpse into an alien mind.

Dylan Evans published an article in the Guardian called Smash The Windows (I love the title - not for its anti-Microsoft threat but because it happens to be the name of an Irish jig). In it, he argues that computer literacy is as important these days as reading and writing. No argument from me there.

Evans goes even further though and says that not only should everyone be able to use computers, everyone should be able to write code:

“In 50 years, perhaps much less, the ability to read and write code will be as essential for professionals of every stripe as the ability to read and write a human language is today. If your children’s children can’t speak the language of the machines, they will have to get a manual job - if there are any left.”

He goes on to attack the Windows operating system for “tricking” us into believing that computers are all about icons and clicking instead of lines of text. I wonder what he’d make of OS X: a Unix based operating system with an oh-so-pretty graphical user interface that let’s people accomplish complex tasks without knowing anything of the command line.

This guy definitely needs a history lesson in the evolution of the WIMP (Windows Icons Menus Pointers) approach and how it revolutionised the ease of using computers. Evans seems to hanker for the good ol’ days when the word “computer” denoted someone capable of programming inscrutable machines before those meddling kids at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center went and spoilt everything:

“It is only by seeming to go backwards, to the way we interacted with computers before Windows came along, that we can go forwards. Remember DOS or the ZX-80, or the old BBC computer?”

Boy, do I ever! I also remember how glad I am not to have to interact with a modern machine in the same way as I was forced to interact with those venerable ancestors of today’s computers.

Evans anticipates my response and sets up these questions:

“Isn’t this too much of a burden for the average computer user? Shouldn’t we try to force computers to adapt to us as much as possible by giving them user-friendly interfaces and hiding their internal workings? Shouldn’t we be able to get on with our jobs without worrying about what is going inside the black box?”

To which, I would respond “Yes! Yes! A thousand times, YES!”.

Ah, but Evans has a very clever and clearly reasoned argument against that:

“If that is your attitude, fine. If you want to remain inside the dream world of The Matrix, that’s your choice.”

Um….

Come to think of it, that’s not a very clever or clearly reasoned argument at all. If I didn’t know better, I would say it sounds like petulant name-calling.

Luckily, I’m fairly sure that most people reading Smash The Windows would be as horrified as I am by its elitist, machine-centric worldview. They might also, like me, wonder how this guy ever managed to get a book published.

I’m just glad that he decided to take up a career in Evolutionary Psychology rather than, say, usability testing for the web. If someone had trouble using a website, he would undoubtably deduce that the fault lay not with the website but rather with the user who was clearly too lazy and/or stupid.

Hmmm… I wonder what he does when he has a problem with his car? Surely he is intimately familiar with the workings of the internal combustion engine.