The Idiotrix

I came across this article on a website called Coilhouse I'd never heard of until I stumbled across mention of it at warrenellis.com, where it's noted ten years have passed since The Matrix came out. The Matrix is popularly held to have been a pop-culture phenomenon, a cinematic earthquake that shook things up and brought forth a style, freshness and philosophical adventurousness that has rarely been achieved since. According to the article and several million movie-goers, that is.

My arse. I hated that movie when it came out. Hated, hated, hated it. Why? Two main reasons. 1: the wow-look-at-that-how-did-they-do-that bullet-time effects had already been in use since the very early Nineties, most particularly in a series of near-inescapable Smirnoff adverts. I'd seen it all before, but apparently everyone else had a case of collective amnesia and forgot they'd seen the same damn thing about a million times already, sandwiched between Channel Four News and the start of Countdown. 2: The idiot plot. The idiot, idiot plot, and most especially the 'we're all human batteries' revelation.

No, don't roll your eyes. Tell me, why is it okay to forgive stupid writing in a science fiction movie that you would find entirely unacceptable in a book? By 'stupid' writing I don't mean 'misunderstood some basic facts and unintentionally misrepresented them', I mean 'wilfully ignored reality because the people making the movie were more concerned with giving their coke dealer a writing credit than not treating their audience like idiots'. That kind of stupid writing.

I think what really pissed me off was that the movie was sold beforehand as some kind of avalanche of conceptual wonder. We all heard stories about the actors being required to read Kevin Kelly and freaking Derrida before shooting. And what did we get? A dumb-faced stoner in a 'chosen one' plot that reads like it was written for five-year olds.

On the other hand, I've grown a little softer on the film since nearly walking out on it when I first saw it in a Glasgow cinema (I've only ever walked out on a film once before, and I still regret not walking out on the Matrix in particular). I think this is primarily because I now recognise The Matrix as really being a kind of Goth version of Point Break.

Point Break, by contrast, is a great film, and also dumber than a sack of rocks. It's great because it makes absolutely no claims to being anything but what it is: a series of stunningly daft action scenes strictly played for laughs. A B-movie, as I like to say, that knows it's a B-movie and just wants to have fun. But the Matrix is a B-movie that thinks it's an A-movie, and there are few things more insulting to the intelligence.

Put it this way. Watching The Matrix is like being invited to a dinner party by the Philosophy Department of a University. You go expecting to have your mind enriched, and instead you find everyone sitting around an XBox in the living-room, mainlining Pepsi Max and making pew-pew noises at the TV. It's a bit of a letdown.

If you instead approach The Matrix as a live-action anime, it becomes more acceptable, quite possibly because my expectations where anime is concerned are very, very low. The only one out of the several such films I've endured so far that I actually enjoyed was Akira, and it was still damn near incomprehensible. As live-action dumb-as-nuts anime? Fine. As a serious movie? Christ, no. There's one scene - one scene - which I now recognise as transcending everything else within that film to the level of potential greatness - and that's the red pill/blue pill scene.

That one scene, my friends, is terrific. It's a perfect exemplar of a key plot point which appears in almost every book and movie, where the Hero steps out of their ordinary world and into a greater, unknown and frequently very perilous universe on their journey to truth. But such a terrible shame about the rest.


Unknown said...

Oh Gary, why do you do this to me? I catch up with your blog to find 2 posts I feel the need to weigh in on.

I agree that the majority of Anime is bollox. That's because it's a genre aimed at a bizarre audience that quite often is so up itself it's unbelievable - the fanboy. Anime fannoys ascribe all kinds of bizarre qualities to their chosen obsession that I find quite incomprehensible. When you question such a person; or when a series gets taken in a new direction and the animators have to face them; then you can only be left with the vivid impression that they live in a weird other universe.

Sound familiar? Gary I'd you to meet the hardcore SF nut.

And some Anime movies are excellent. I would really urge you to watch Studio Ghibli movies (hell everyone should). And if you've seen them and are looking for something more graspable then... I am not sure. Try and counterpoint Japanese animation with something like Renaissance (a truly odd French 3D cartoon).

Unknown said...

Gary....like your blog and agree with the what your saying in regards to looking at is an action bubblegum flick...which lets be honest 90% of those watching it did, also Point Break is a great bubblegum film

Though one thing did strike me....I remember going to a party at Barry's with you....and if I am correct did you not spend the night playing the X-box and drinking diet coke....you may have made pew pew noises but I may have blocked that out of my memory!!

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

It's true, Chris. But I didn't go to that party to have intellectual discussions, I went to hang out, talk shit and have a go at Baz's Xbox 360, being a bit of a games fan.

Gavin - I've seen Renaissance, and while visually spectacular, it didn't come together for me at all; I can't even remember what it was about, and I only saw it last year. I seem to remember finding a lot of reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere who seemed to have the same feeling. But it's one I might be tempted to see a second time to see if I change my mind. And fair enough about the Studio Ghibli stuff, but it all looked a bit too twee for my tastes.

Unknown said...

Have you seen Grave of the Fireflies? I am not sure I would call that twee. There's a dark edge to the Ghibli stuff that appeals to me. Miyazaki seems fascinated with fairytales. He tells good ones that remind me of the sorts of things I read when I was a kid.