8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 78

Sedating the masses

Mark Steyn

Matrix Revolutions 15, selected cinemas

Meo is back, though he's looking some what palaeo for a guy who's only been around four years. When first we met him in The Matrix he was some computer programmer in an anonymous metropolis who gets roused by Morpheus and offered a choice of pharmaceutical products. 'You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill,' teases Morpheus, 'and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.'

Neo takes the red pill, and wakes up to find his so-called real life is a fiction. And so is everyone else's. All his chums are lying down in incubators wired up to the 'Matrix', which feeds them a continuing simulation of experience. Mankind has been put in a collective comatose state by evil computers. The only real reality is that of a small band of renegade humans holed up in an underground town called Zion until they can figure out how to deMatriculate mankind.

The notion that reality is an illusion is an eminently respectable one these days, particularly for French intellectuals, understandably enough. The line in the original film about 'the desert of the real' came from Jean Baudrillard, a great proponent of the philosophical idea that reality is simulation and author of, among other books, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. He could probably sue for plagiarism, though, in turn, the film's producers could argue that his theory that reality is a simulation is itself a simulation and that their alleged film did not take place.

The point is Andy and Larry Wachowski figured they'd hit on the perfect wrinkle for a classic postmodern nerd franchise — the Star Wars of our generation. And if you say, 'Hang on, old boy, surely Star Wars is our generation?', I'd say, nah, it's too 1930s radio serial, and its grandiosity is plonkingly squaresville instead of coolly impenetrable. Sadly, Matrix Recycled — I mean, Reloaded — came overloaded, lacking anything like the sudden peeling away of surface reality and so attempting to duplicate it over and over: was Zion perhaps a Matrix-within-the-Matrix? Was Neo maybe a Matrix-within-the-Matrix-withinthe-Matrix? He was supposed to be 'The One'. But maybe one of the others is The One. Maybe The One flew over the cuckoo's nest.

By the sequel, the Wachowskis“innovative visual style' was looking a lot less innovative: they did all the same things they did in the first film all over again, just more expensively and even more arbitrarily — the scene in which Keanu Reeves (Neo) is fighting a hundred guys in black and doesn't win, doesn't lose, but just gets bored and flies off after 15 minutes pretty much sums it up. By the second movie, Keanu had perfected his morose blank look; fine actors like Laurence Fishburne were turning in performances so clunkily solemn you'd think they were auditioning for George Lucas; the subterranean city of Zion proved to be just the usual generic dystopian underground parking garage; and the orgiastic dance party looked like a provincial rave.

But, having fallen for the series' selfimportance, the Matricians or Matricists or Matrons or whatever the anoraks are called were reluctant to admit they'd bought a dud. In the original film, Neo discovered that the meaning of our lives is an illusion; in the sequel, the meaning of the film is an illusion. It doesn't make much sense as it's flying by, and it makes less if you buy the DVD, slow it down and write out all the dialogue. The rabbit hole doesn't go deep at all; the buck stops about four inches down. But it has the illusion of meaning. Halfway through, at the moment when a severely cropped Monica Bellucci (in dystopian movies, there is, alas, no Charlie's Angels hair) asks Keanu to kiss her, I became convinced that my watching the film was only an illusory reality; somewhere, there was another me watching Monica Bellucci seducing Italian schoolboys in Malena and having a much better time.

Which brings us to Matrix Revolutions — that's 'revolutions' as in 'coming round again'. This is one rabbit hole that's looking pretty tapped out. This is the big final showdown between the denizens of Zion and the Sentinels, and the Wachowskis lay off the psychedelic LP liner notes philosophising to concentrate on a not altogether comfortable mix of your basic upagainst-the-clock action sequences and celestial choirs on the soundtrack serenading Keanu as if it's consecration day and he's the last gay bishop on the planet. The romance between Neo and Trinity (CarrieAnne Moss) is barely less comatose than the mass of humanity they're supposedly trying to save. Unlike the first sequel, the dialogue isn't pretentiously obscure, just perfunctory: `I'm afraid hope is an indulgence I don't have time for.' Or maybe `indulgence is a hope I don't have time for'. Or 'time is a hope I don't have indulgence for', Makes no difference, It's modular furniture. Say it portentously enough and it fills in the time until the giant steel bores tunnel into Zion and the explosions start.

Is Matrix a myth for the ages? No. I

doubt it will resonate through the end of the decade. Why then did so many intellectuals go ga-ga for it? Because it confirms their view of the world: huge corporations manufacture a reality that sedates the masses and only a handful of supersmart humans know enough to spot it. Needless to say, the film series confirming the great thinkers' worldview is itself made by a huge corporation, which suggests they — and not the philosophy profs — are the really supersmart guys. Or, as they would say, The Ones.