In the definitive scene in The Matrix (1999), Agent Smith, a coolly sinister plainclothes entity in the computer-simulated world that is the Matrix, says to Morpheus, leader of the rebel group that has escaped it: “Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet. You are the plague. And we are… the cure."
The quote above informed me I am in good company. It looks like my favourite scene in the film The Matrix is also the ‘definitive’ scene of the film. I read elsewhere that it was the best acted, the most dramatic, and all around a damn good scene. Certainly memorable and full of foreboding.
In looking for facts about the movie as a whole and its genre, I remembered I had heard that it was an allegory of buddhism. I went searching for data about that aspect of the film.
It turns out that there is an immense amount of writing on the film generally and the buddhist allegory aspect in particular. I own a book on philosophical essays on the film ‘Welcome to the desert of the real’. There are many Buddhist sites that discuss the detail of the links between the dhamma (buddhist teachings) and the film. There are also sites that link the film up with other religions. There are academic articles dedicated to analysing the film’s relevance to both christianity and Buddhism. From the article I just linked to I take a quote from the directors of the film to illustrate their intention in making the film,
We’re interested in mythology, theology and, to a certain extent, higher-level mathematics. All are ways human beings try to answer bigger questions, as well as The Big Question. If you’re going to do epic stories, you should concern yourself with those issues. People might not understand all the allusions in the movie, but they understand the important ideas. We wanted to make people think, engage their minds a bit
Given this I feel that the film fits comfortably as mythical narrative in the science fiction genre. I have looked at how the film is categorised in different film websites and whilst all agree that it is Science Fiction some also categorise it as an action movie. I was surprised by this as I never considered it an action movie although there is a lot of action in it. I always felt the action was in the service of the larger themes it tackled and always thought of it as examining the big question of how we chose to live and the consequences of those choices. But then I see big questions everywhere!
The scene I picked is a chilling scene. Our hero Morpheus is in a bit of a sticky wicket and at that point with not much hope for a rescue. Whilst he is clearly in physical pain, it seems to me that the scene is set up in close up in order to show the emotional pain that Morpheus feels as Smith describes human behaviour in such a sickening way. What adds pathos to the scene in my view is the aptness of Smith’s comparison. I fancy I can almost see Morpheus crying in recognition of the truth of what Smith is proclaiming. I have not zoomed into the computer screen you can see to the side of Morpheus but it seems to show a virus multiplying – I wonder if it was a purposeful choice to add unconsciously to the content of Smith’s monologue or it may just be a brain scan. I have done a breakdown of types of shots in the scene elsewhere and also an analysis of the audio. The overall sense I am left with after this exercise is the precision with which the interplay between audio and video is used in the service of creating the chilling crescendo to the end of the scene ’ we are the cure’. The sound and the video both give the same message, but in a staggered fashion – silence is used to highlight a close up, a cut used to emphasise a word. Striking also is how music (in the form of teeth grinding dissonant sounds that increase in intensity and volume as scene ends) is absent for most of the scene, but sends a chill down the spine when it is used at the end.
I never imagined that the process could be so absorbing and I am starting to wonder if one of the things that DS106 unknowingly teaches us is purposeful synesthesia in the service of art rather than as a neurological condition. The little film I edited includes this scene and a couple of others as the assignment requested. It shows the idea of slow and slow, which suddenly changes to fast and furious. This ebb and flow seems the trademark of the whole film with great use of silence to add to the sense of foreboding.