(Second post of a four-post series on the Matrix)
So what is choice? What is freedom? If things around us don’t make sense, what could we/should we be doing about it? It seems our minds are sometimes caught in a relentless loop and our behavior comes in patterns that we are unable to control, it seems we are constantly reloading and reloading our actions, so are we really free? Are we controlled by a God or Nature or a System that enslaves us? The goal of psychoanalysis as Freud intended it is to ‘Lieben und Arbeiten’ – to be able to love freely and work freely. It’s to be able to create and to be productive and effective. Not towards the goals of others but towards our own goals. Life is a journey of frustration since we are born. When we are babies, the world revolves around us. If we cry for food, they give us food to our mouths. If we need to piss, we piss. If that makes us uncomfortable, we cry and they will clean us up and make us feel better. If we are sleepy, they will put us to sleep in the safety of their arms. Everything is at our command. We live by the Pleasure Principle – our pleasure is our command. The path to maturity is the path of frustration: it’s understanding that the world does not revolve around us and that reality carries limitations. If we are healthy we should be able to start living according to the Principle of Reality – that idea that we do not control a lot of things but we control some; that having our way with some things, being able to do what we want, also means having to deal with the consequences. We are driven by our purpose, we are driven by our Desire, as Lacan would put it, but for that we need to understand what we want and be able to deal with it intelligently and in an integrated way. Or we become ill. Lacan would say: «Our symptoms are our excuses not to do what we desire.» And so, the loops in our minds and in our behavior are symptoms of not being able to deal with the consequences of our desire. What do we desire? We desire to create and to be free. Or, in another way, we desire those fundamental actions that are still so misunderstood: to love our mother and kill our father, as Freud would put it. We desire to love our mother (to create) and we desire to kill our father (to be free). But still, «there is no spoon» – it’s all in our minds. So that’s why we need to understand what is happening inside our minds to be able to resolve the conflicts and escape the enslavement.
Then let’s go back to the MATRIX and to Neo. At the end of the first movie Neo had gone through that first phase of therapy, learning to accept that he had power over his life – and so be free even to fly. For that, he had to trust his therapists and had to face some of his inner demons – in particular the figure of his Father, the Monster of his Father – the monster that was mean to him and restrained him and told him the rules and told him what he could or could not do – represented by Smith. He was able to kill Smith, infecting the idea of the Father and understanding that he was in control of that idea – that was the end of the first movie. The idea of the Father he was scared of and was unable to face is gone now. But that was only the first part of therapy. The worst is still to come. The Monster of the Father will return again and again until Neo understands a lot more. That is what happens in the second movie THE MATRIX RELOADED. Right in the beginning, we see Smith delivering his ear-plug to Neo: he’s now loose. The Monster is no longer confined to a single idea of the Father. It is free – or ‘seemingly free’ as Smith would say to Neo a bit later.
RELOADED is about loops. It’s about choice. What is freedom anyway? If all is prophesized, are we really choosing? For a schizophrenic nothing really is in his control because everything comes in patterns and loops that don’t make sense. The movie starts with the death of Trinity in Neo’s dream. Will he be able to prevent it? Everything seems already written… Zion, the asylum Neo is committed to, the safe place in his mind, is in danger from the monster of outside – the machines, the systems. Some believe that Neo will be able to save them, to free them, but some don’t. Either way, the danger is real and Neo turns once more to the Oracle. The scene where he meets the Oracle is, of course, the centerpiece of the movie.
He meets her sitting on a park’s bench. She tells him to sit, but Neo says he will do as he pleases – when he finally sits, he says it was because he chose to sit (things in therapy often happen like this – I understand). When the Oracle offers him some candy Neo asks that if she knows if he is going to accept the candy or not, is it really his choice? The Oracle replies that he already made the choice, he just doesn’t understand it yet. She is speaking of the choices he made so far: to join the asylum, to trust Trinity, to trust the therapists, to believe in therapy, to face the Monster. He doesn’t yet understand any of it. We are only free if we understand our choices, she says, for otherwise we are just randomly accepting loop behavior and the plans of others, I gather. So Neo has to dig much deeper: go to the Source of his conflict and understand why he is who he is, why he chooses as he does – only then will he be able to choose by himself.
Then Neo is back facing Agent Smith – the Monster of the Father. The Agent is now more powerful – he feels free, freer, but he is still bound by the Purpose, he is bound to face Neo, to kill him. That’s his choice. But it’s his choice inside Neo’s mind. In the Matrix. In Neo’s mind, the Monster of the Father is always coming back to kill him. Neo seems unable to get rid of him. He must understand why this is so. For that, he must follow the Oracle’s lead: he must find the Keymaster and go through the secret doors of his mind until he finds the Source.
To find the Keymaster, Neo and his friends will have to face the Merovingian, a man who again seems convinced that everything is the same, that everything is a loop and he has seen it all. Some mental patients have that feeling all the time: that nothing changes, that everything is the same, that there’s nothing you can do about it. Causality is relentless – suggests the Merovingian – relentless and predictable. Everything has already been decided by others, it is pre-determined; whatever idea of freedom one indulges, it’s a weak, ignorant idea. And he seems to be right because, in spite of all Neo’s efforts, he is faced with the events he has seen already happening. Trinity will die.
When he finally gets to the Source, Neo meets the Architect (God? The System? The Military-Industrial Complex? The Evil Corporations? The Government?). He created the Matrix. And he has news for Neo. Neo is not the One, or better still he is Another One. There have been six already – anomalies of the system that are unintended consequences of the measures to secure normalcy – measures like the idea of freedom, hope, choice. For the Architect, everything is logical and predictable. He has the sociopathic mind of a machine. Emotion is but a tool or a defect to him. Everything must have a Purpose. Nothing can be illogical. So he gives Neo a choice: either he saves Zion and Humanity or he saves Trinity – he cannot save them both. Neo does not accept this. In spite of the Architect mocking both love and hope, Neo decides to save Trinity and runs to her.
Afterward, Neo turns to Morpheus and tells him: the Prophecy is a sham – it is another control system to make them believe and invest in fairy tales while the System remains in charge. But while Morpheus is surprised and taken aback, Neo is ready to fight – he wants to do something to save Humanity. He is different. He is more grounded, more realistic. As the Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus ship, is attacked and destroyed and the crewmembers flee for their lives, Neo turns back and faces the machines. With a gesture, he is able to stop them. But how can that be? How can he do that if he is not in the Matrix? He was only able to change things, to be seemingly free, to be in charge, to choose, when he was in the Matrix, being The One. But something has changed. He now knows he can make his own choices. He can act in Reality. He is not powerless and bound by rules and regulations as a slave. He now can see the Machine, the whole System. And he knows he is a man. And a man is something else.
At the end of RELOADED, Neo is getting to that part of therapy where he can already see his loops, his paranoia, his patterns as what they are: his illness. He now knows he is more than that: he can choose. He has forfeited the idea of The One, of the Miracle, of being all-powerful. And now he will be ready to be free.
Next time will go over the third movie. I hope it blows your mind. Until then.