How The Matrix Could Have Been Better

I’m going to assume you’re all at least passingly familiar with the film The Matrix. If you’re not, I really can’t explain why you’re reading my nerdy-ass blog in the first place. In any case, The Matrix is a film (nearly everyone denies it being a film series) in which the depiction of the world we are familiar with is in fact a computer simulation in which all humans have been placed so the Machine overlords that rule the real world can feed off us. It follows a small band of rebels who have escaped the titular Matrix and fight against the machines, both in the real world and within the Matrix, where their awareness of the digital nature of the world allows them to slightly bend its laws of physics to their liking (with the exception of the Christ metaphor Neo, who can bend the laws of physics extremely to his liking).

All in all, it is one of the most beloved, exalted sic-fi classics in the history of cinema.

And I think there’s room for improvement.

Anyone will agree that the big flaw in the first movie is the ludicrous motivation of the Machines. They’re using us as living batteries. Somehow. In total defiance of the laws of thermodynamics. Despite the fact that they’re stated to have “a kind of fusion.”

It wasn’t always like that. The Wachowskis’ original idea (sorry I couldn’t find a better link. Look at the end.) was to have the Machines be using us as a living computer, using our brains as organic hard drives to operate the complex software that makes them up. This is a fairly well established concept in science fiction. But the studio decided that that concept was too complicated for the tiny, tiny minds of audience members to understand, so it was scrapped in favor of firmly slapping the laws of physics across the face. I find this fact to be one of the biggest disappointments in the history of cinema, or at least the moves I know much about. Because this idea would have opened so many doors for the way the series worked.

See, the sequels (yes I’m talking about them) add to the world building of the Matrix a sort of Animist quality. The example the Oracle gives is that of crows, that in order for them to be in the Matrix, and function as they should, there must be a specific “Program,” a specific sentient AI, which governs their characteristics and actions. From the perspective of being within the Matrix, what she’s talking about is virtually indistinguishable from “The God of Crows.” The same applies to literally every thing in the Matrix. There is a program/God of anything you could point out: birds, flies, dogs, metal, light, fire, water, doughnuts. Everything has a digital divine entity with its own consciousness governing its every move and characteristic.

Now combine that idea with the one about the Machines using our brains. Every human in the Matrix has an AI using his or her synapses as a motherboard. A lot of people are probably just attached to any of the variety of machines in that big old robot city, a Machine garbage collector, or one of the ones working in the human fields, or the squids drones that attack human ships. Maybe there’s a robot playwright or two in there, I don’t know. But a good-sized chunk of people in the Matrix are going to be plugged into none other than the very machines that govern their world. (and I mean a really good-sized chunk. Fluid Dynamics is so complex they’d need a hell of a lot of people working on the ocean alone.) They’d been going through their whole life unaware not only that it was a simulation, but that they were the avatar of a simulated Deity.

(While we’re comparing religious concepts to ideas from the Matrix, I’d like to add as an aside that I recently realized the characters in the movie could almost, from a perspective within the Matrix, be considered a kind of Buddha or Bodhisattva (if I’m using the wrong terminology, I deeply apologize), someone who has achieved enlightenment, who’s knowledge and understanding of their world has become far more nuanced and complete, but who chooses to return to that world with the aim of helping others reach the same state. Admittedly they do this is in a lightly more violent way that most Buddhists would.)

Now, these people who once were used to operate the Matrix have been removed from it. There are now parts of their brains that A. they are not accustomed to using for themselves, and B. are coded to binary. That’s going to be pretty traumatic. In the real world. Then they go back into the Matrix on their own terms. Suddenly that odd part of their brain knows exactly what to do, and is now under their control. Picture if you will, The Matrix, except with water-benders, and people who can control armies of insects. This also has the benefit of giving a clear explanation for why Neo is “The One.” He was plugged into the Matrix central processor or physics simulator or something.

Beyond being friggin awesome, this would also add an element of drama and suspense to the story. What if, when the rebels are taking someone out of the Matrix, they don’t know what they’re plugged in to? “Are we getting a pyrokinetic? Or are we getting a trash compactor?” There’s also the threat that the personality of the AI they represented could bleed over into their own identity once they’re taken out. Those “Agents” who live in the Matrix and who’s only purpose is to hunt down the rebels? They need brains too. Any person they remove from the Matrix could as easily be a superpowered ally as the guy who will murder them in their sleep while doing a Hugo Weaving impression. Or, just, the avatar of the program for hats. Who can just make a bunch of hats appear while in the Matrix. You could be wasting your effort on that guy. Nice going on that, Morpheus.

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