- Film 1: The Matrix

- The Animatrix:
.. - The Second Renaissance
.. - Kid's Story
.. - Program
.. - World Record
.. - Beyond
.. - A Detective Story
.. - Matriculated
.. - Final Flight of the Osiris /
.........Enter the Matrix

- Film 2: The Matrix Reloaded
- Film 3: The Matrix Revolutions

- Return to Source Documentary:
Philosophy and the Matrix

- Doctor Who
- Sliders
- Star Trek:
. - The Original Series (TOS)
. - The Animated Series
. - The Movies
. - The Next Generation (TNG)
. - Deep Space Nine (DS9)
. - Voyager
. - Enterprise

The Matrix 3: Revolutions

Region 1
10-disc box set
for North America
Region 2
10-disc box set
for the U.K.
(A trilogy, part 3, starring Keanu Reeves)
  • written and
  • directed by the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski
  • produced by Joel Silver
  • music by Don Davis
  • 2 hours 9 minutes
Story: The attack on Zion is underway in the final film of the trilogy. Learning new respect for the machines, Neo is quickly running out of time and options to find a way to save his friends and neighbours and bring peace to the world. One final journey where no one has gone for centuries may hold the key to it all....

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the film.

In many ways this is both the least unique and most confounding film in the trilogy. The big A-plot continues on from the previous film, providing the Zion characters with crystal clear stakes and motivations, and working through some very solid and logical plot mechanics. But this "ordinary" war section of the film feels like it is a bit too predictable and has dragged on too long already, crowding out space for this third film to explore much in the way of new territory. There is some new stuff here, but it is dealt with so sparsely that it easily leaves audiences confused and disappointed.

Opening Moves

Of all of the three films, this one is the least capable of standing on its own, and opens with scenes that feel like the middle of a movie rather than the beginning. Once again, the audience is expected to have seen the first two movies first, which actually isn't all that unrealistic on the Wachowskis part, thanks to the popularity of their franchise.

Neo gets some of the best bits in his first scenes as he meets the machine family with East Indian avatars, getting his first inkling of how divided machine society is, and how oppressed some of its citizens perceive themselves to be. But this is also a really weird thing for the audience to wrap their heads around. If these are machines of artificial intelligence that exist and function outside the Matrix, why are we looking at humanoid avatars of them? One instinctively assumes that they would want to smuggle their daughter Sati out of the Matrix and away from the scrutiny of its overseers, yet close examination reveals they are smuggling her INTO the Matrix instead. How does that make her safer? Does she have a physical robotic body out there somewhere, or is she software only? It seems we really don't get enough information here to make sense of their basic plot movements, a sign that the Wachowskis are being enigmatic about the wrong things. For my money, the Animatrix episode "Matriculated" had a much clearer and more fascinating way of getting into a similar idea, although it didn't quite explore the concept of love as deeply as is attempted here. A clearer metaphor for the machine existence would have made the exploration of love more significant.

Morpheus and Trinity get their last fling in the "mind world" of the Matrix quite early. Along with Seraph, they muddle through some action beats against the Merovingian and his minions. For the most part, this is just a re-run of their usual antics and a bit tiresome. The battle with enemies who walk on the ceiling isn't all that interesting and outlasts its welcome. Lambert Wilson once again captivates the screen while he is on, and seems all set to send our protagonists on another long winding quest as in the last film. Thankfully, Trinity has learned well from the folly of the last film and cuts the whole section short, which is a bit refreshing. Good for her.

Then we get what is perhaps the best example in the entire trilogy of how Providence really works. Neo sits trapped and all alone in the train station, and decides he is simply going to think his way out of this spatial trap. Of course, he no sooner does this than Trinity shows up with a trainful of his friends to lead him out. From Neo's point of view, he just thought of it, and presto: Providence provides the easiest and most welcome way out, just showing up to greet him with open arms. But of course, for Trinity and company, they had to work hard through many obstacles to achieve the result. Is it coincidence? If cause and effect were involved, which perspective contained the real cause and which the effect? But perhaps it's best to bake our noodles on that subject later when we dive into an article on quantum complementary choices and synchronizing doubles on branching timelines.... a hint of where I think the real answer lies.

Apart from introducing our protagonists with a lengthy reunion action sequence, as often happens in a Star Wars film, what really was the point of this opening exercise? Several answers come to mind. Firstly, we want to give those protagonists some time in the Matrix, which won't happen again in this film. It also seems to be providing a challenge to the question of who really is going to play the role of innocent good guys that the heroes want to save, moving that role away from the sleeping plugged-in humans and towards oppressed machines like Sati.... which perhaps isn't really working so well considering what has gone on before, and which metaphors have been strong versus which ones haven't. Thirdly, this allows Smith a chance to showcase his villainy, which remains one of the most puzzling and bizarre elements of this trilogy.

The Oracle is now played by another actress, Mary Alice, an unplanned move made necessary by Gloria Foster's untimely death. Interestingly, while Foster basically had only one scene in each of the first two films, Alice winds up with a lot of scenes in this one. Thankfully, the Wachowskis have an easy out for the switch in the narrative, since we are basically looking at a computer generated avatar whenever we see either one, and they get to make up some stuff about the cost of keeping one "shell" or getting another. A bit of extra dialogue keeps the change acceptable and adds a fairly interesting sci-fi twist to the film. Of course, when the "Enter the Matrix" scenes are added into the complete narrative, Mary Alice gets a lot of scenes there again, enough to make her an equally if not more definitive version of the character, although she winds up having to explain the change to so many different characters time and again that it becomes a bit tiresome.

Macro Manifest War

On the one hand, I was glad to see this film finally anchor itself in the outside world and deal with issues there first. A lot of these characters actually feel a bit discombobulated simply by being cut off from the Matrix, and with it, also cut off from their belief systems and sources of inspiration, which is interesting. But if the stakes and goals of the in-Matrix action sequences were getting a bit too obscure to make sense and hold our investment, we really do improve by digging into the logistics of the war with the machines. The problem now is just that it seems to be dragging on so long. With this A-plot brought to our attention at the beginning of the second film, or earlier if we count the Animatrix segment "Final Flight of the Osiris" or the "Enter the Matrix" video game cutscenes, it seems that the external battles should have been the climax of film 2, or at the very least happened early in film 3 so that we could get to new material. With a title like "Revolutions", it seems that we are being promised a narrative that changes the landscape, not only freeing the humans trapped in the Matrix, but transforming Zion into a society that isn't cowering in a dark hole somewhere and a society that has a new relationship with the machines, the rest of the world, and at this point so late in the third Millennium A.D., perhaps the rest of the galaxy by now as well. Zion needs time to think past survival and towards what it wants to become.

The sequences with Bane were a bit tiresome. While it seems to be a good idea to have a subplot where Smith invades/explores the real/human world, most of the material we end up with in Bane's escapades represents stuff we really don't want to waste time looking at. Our protagonists all look exceedingly dim for falling so far behind the audience in terms of what they understand about Bane's character. They continually get plenty of clues, but can't put it together, and Bane gets more rope and screen time than he is worth. Personally, I much prefer the Animatrix episode "Matriculated" in terms of the machines exploring the human world. Or, for that matter, any Data-centric plotline on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The big Zion battle sequences work well. I'm invested in these far more than in, say, the lobby shootout from the first film, and I prefer these visuals any day. The sequence goes on a bit long, and probably should have come much sooner in the narrative (end of film 2 would be best), but it went a long way to satisfy the sense of anticipation I had built up.

I also really enjoy Neo and Trinity's journey in the Logos, because this finally adds a sense of real geography to the Wachowskis' little world, as we get a journey that is at minimum 100 kilometres, possibly several hundred at a reasonable estimate. The trilogy really needed that, and probably didn't quite do enough of it. Once again, we see Neo's ability to manipulate the machines at a distance, without being plugged in, which was in the direction I always wanted to pursue. These portions get some good sci-fi exploration marks from me. The crowning moment is perhaps the point when they burst through the cloud layer and see the real sun for the first and probably only time in their lives.

Neo's walk through machine city to meet with a big literal Deus Ex Machina is also cool and feels like the correct direction for the film.... one has to really scratch one's head at what comes next though.

Eclipsed High Noon

Agent Smith made a great villain in the first film, and Hugo Weaving gives a compelling performance each and every time he appears on screen. But for me his character just couldn't manage to make enough sense in the sequels to justify his continued presence. Film 3's otherwise enormously powerful build up somehow derails itself into basically a suped-up re-run of film 1's climactic battle between Neo and Smith.... only this time the stakes and motivations are far less clear, and hell we've seen all this before already. Why is Neo wasting energy on fighting this guy physically in yet a third movie? The only solution we've ever seen to Smith, at least partially, is a rewrite from within. What do you know, it turns out that it's some kind of internal re-write that Neo has a hand in that beats Smith again here. We can excuse Neo for not figuring that out during most of the first film due to his learning curve. But what is his excuse for not trying another re-write during films 2 and 3? In film 3, he doesn't even really have the problem of multiplying Smiths preventing his attempt by outnumbering and overpowering him. Neo's strategies are so far from anything the audience can comprehend, it becomes very hard to root for him in the battle.

The final Smith battle is also much further divorced from any kind of straight reality against which bizarre feats of agility or strength can be contrasted, whether that be the imitation of our present-day in the Matrix, or the shredded blue future of the external world. The final battle is so exclusive to its own reality and its own unfathomable rules that it becomes a bit of empty spectacle, a curiosity rather than an emotionally engaging bit of drama. Thankfully it becomes more interesting in the muddy pit when it becomes less about trading blows and more about exchanging dialogue. Now at least there is hope for some kind of philosophical point to be made, perhaps. Where Neo might have been seen to actually be fighting a homeless vagrant in the train station of film 1, here he is actually fighting the Oracle taken over by Smith, which is an interesting twist.... and nice to see that she takes over for one line of dialogue and confounds Smith beautifully. And Smith can now use her ability to predict the future, while also gaining her limit of not being able to see past the choice he doesn't understand. Indeed, his motivation almost seems to be to pound an explanation out of Neo to find some kind of relief from his own anxieties. All of this is very well played by Hugo Weaving, assisted by co-director Andy Wachowski, elevating our enjoyment of the scene and, apparently, its importance.

Imploded Crux Structures

But a lot of thematic weight has been piled onto Neo's final fix at the climax of film 3, including a large build-up of philosophical and spiritual expectation, not to mention the resolution of an A-plot that spanned two sequels and leaked into several offshoots. Perhaps it should remain open to interpretation as to what that final move and its consequences really mean, philosophically or spiritually. But I think it was a huge mistake not to give the audience a better idea of just what the hell that final move really was mechanically, in terms of basic plot logic. Film 3 is structured to keep the final move a mystery even from Neo himself, to try to surprise and astound characters and audience alike when it finally gets figured out, and this discovery seems to be the biggest real challenge facing Neo in the two sequels. Stories that use this structure successfully usually have a post-climax scene where the hero, after having figured out his trick to resolve the plot, lets everyone else know what he did, how he figured it out, and how and why it worked. But the Wachowskis also seem to want Neo to sacrifice himself with this final move, meaning he's no longer around to let his friends and his audience in on what he has actually done, or what kind of agreement he has entered into with the machines on their behalf. Stories that use this sacrificial structure successfully need to carefully set things up before-hand, such that the final moment needs no more explanation and can rest purely on its emotional impact after the fact. Thus, two incompatible story structures got mixed at the most crucial moment possible, and this is possibly the biggest reason why many people find this to be the most disappointing film in the trilogy.


Before we get into the philosophical and/or spiritual interpretations of the final fix, and what it means for the trilogy, perhaps we should confine ourselves first to the raw mechanical aspects of what actually happened physically. And this will look a bit disappointing. In our estimation, the mutated Smith is really Neo's own Frankenstein-monster-like creation. Using the threat of this creature taking over both the entire Matrix and the machine city, Neo basically BLACKMAILS the machines into a truce. Doesn't sound very spiritual, does it?

What would in our estimation be spiritual, or philosophically evolved, comes in part from Fourth Density principles, which include the idea of being responsible for our own choices and what they create. In Neo's case, this includes both the creation of Smith, and the failure to do anything about fixing him so far since. So is Neo really doing the machines a favour, or is he just finally tackling the cleaning up of his own mess? How much trust should the machines feel towards him and his tactics... and by extension, how much should the audience trust him as a presenter of a "spiritual" solution? If blackmail is his game, maybe he should just come clean and act like he knows what he is doing. Instead it seems he has no clue what he is doing until he does it, indicating that the Wachowskis were probably aiming for something a little more spiritually uplifting, and didn't quite work out a compatible set of nuts-and-bolts events to hang a more spiritual interpretation on.

Did Neo's predecessors also create mutated Smiths? Is what happens to Neo here basically the same thing as what the Architect asked him to do at the end of film 2, to save the humans inside the Matrix as well as all the machine programs? If so, perhaps timing is everything, and the extra delay over the hours of another feature film just let the machines sweat a little more until they were willing to give Neo a larger concession at the bargaining table. Is that the only real improvement Neo made over the actions of his predecessors? Perhaps many different audience interpretations are based on one or the other of these possibilities, without taking into account that we really don't know the answer.

It's hard to really look at this final fix from all the various different perspectives that the Wachowskis would probably want, since we just have so hazy an idea of what it is supposed to be. Obviously Neo has a less proactive way of getting inside Smith in this film than he did in film 1, Smith is once again re-written and explodes from the inside out, and the machines somehow have a hand in what happens. Is it critical for the machines to be plugged into Neo when Smith absorbs him, or could Neo have achieved this back when his in-Matrix avatar was generated by him being plugged in on board the Nebuchadnezzar? Could the machines have survived Smith if Neo had made the Architect's preferred choice at the end of film 2? We also see a very magic reset button getting pushed to return the Matrix to its state of not having endured any of Smith's wrath. If we think through the computer metaphors and Smith had been copying himself on top of all kinds of other program and data code, would the Matrix still have backups of everything to write back over the Smith code at the end? If so, it kind of depletes our sense that anything was at stake. The mechanics here are so vague that it is very hard for this resolution to be at all impressive.

With that in mind, the film goes way over the top by having Clayton Watson's character of Karl the Kid Popper exclaiming all kinds of misplaced belief all over Zion, spouting information that he can only assume. Film 3's thinking audience won't be buying it as easily, I assure you. Someone needs to push a pin into that guy, burst his bubble, and let him return to his senses. This could have been an interesting avenue and belief system for the film to explore in more philosophical depth, and it's a bit disappointing to have this kid's screentime so consumed by predictable war story arcs instead. "Neo, I believe!" this kid says at the climax of his own subplot. Great. Now exactly what is it that you believe, kid? The Wachowskis' latest script is a little too inarticulate for a thinking, enquiring audience.

Surrender doesn't achieve Win-Win

At least the outcome is peace, which is a bonus. Considering the anger expressed by the Deus Ex Machina face as it talks to Neo, it seems like this diffusing of hostilities should have included an honest attempt for both sides to have shown understanding for each other's grievances.... which even at the end of the trilogy, and including the information from the Animatrix episode "The Second Renaissance" which Ken Wilber likes to quote, remain vague, and a bit too vague to convince. As compensation, we do at least get a good scene of the Architect basically commenting that, as a machine, he isn't as prone to anger and treachery as a human would be upon forming a truce on such shaky levels of trust, implying that he'll keep his word due more to his own code of conduct than anything else. Was the Deus Ex Machina face really just another extension of the Architect as implied? If so, perhaps they should have let Helmut Bakaitis do the character, instead of giving it to the guy who also played Captain Thadeus.

Does Film 3 truly overcome the enemy-centered paradigm, or wind up sticking with it so long that other paradigms have no significant voice? A good guide-post for looking at this issue might be Stephen Covey's Fourth Habit of Highly Effective People, which defines several different types of outcome, clarifying the win-win type that he believes we should aim for. Here, the aspects of Neo's solution like surrendering to Smith and sacrificing his life more easily fall into what Covey clarifies as the "lose-win" type of outcome, meaning Neo has flipped from his aggressive stance to its polar opposite instead of finding common integrated ground. The Matrix 3 film seems to be trying to make a glorious ovation out of surrender, which is just falling flat for me.

But... but... but... what about all those people sleeping in the Matrix? Yes, anticipation was high regarding a solution that would free them, and the film appears to have not delivered, somehow thinking now that we care more about machines like Sati, Seraph, and the Oracle. They get to watch a sunset in the Matrix. Cool. But the sunset would have had far more impact in the outside world for the people of Zion, considering that is where the third film spent the bulk of its time, and where the plot mechanics were working best. It could have signified an ability to return to solar power instead of depending on human body heat (however that was supposed to work), and would have been a much more worthy and understandable thing for Neo to have discovered and implemented at the trilogy's climax. I do like the exchange between the Oracle and the Architect, which feels monumental, and actually has the ability to impart important information believably, a sharp contrast to the Kid's idiotic outbursts. Too bad the exchange didn't go on longer and become more fully rounded. The Oracle asks about all those in the Matrix who want out, and the Architect replies that they will be freed. Are they talking about humans, or exiled machines, or both? Again, why not just clarify with a more articulate script? It's hard to see any use in leaving basic mechanics like this open-ended.

Thumbs up though, for the final exchange between Seraph and the Oracle. She has been clear enough about the difficulties of seeing past a choice that we don't understand, in particular the scenes in this film about her own choices and limitations, that when she says she didn't know, but believed, we have a good sense of what she means, and it's a nice comment.

Critics' Commentary - Film 3

The critics' commentary gets a bit depressing and sparse for this film, as they are clearly bored at this point, and seem to want to trash almost any aspect that they think has been done before, which is an unworthy criterion in my mind. Curiously, they seem to be making Cypher's choice in wanting to stay in the Matrix as much as possible, thinking that that is where Neo's story exists. Contrast that with my choice, which is to stay outside in the blue/golden world of Zion and Machine City, chiefly because the overriding A-plot is the attack by the machines in that domain, and eternal consultation with the Oracle seems a lame reason to get involved in virtual distraction. Had the pressing attack not consumed two films, an Animatrix segment, and a video game, perhaps more worthy reasons for entering and exploring the various aspects of the Matrix could have been followed.

Despite some evidence that the strongest nay-sayer John Powers can accurately spout a lot of what is supposedly going on with the plot and its concepts, the bottom line here, exemplified by the continual perplexment of these critics, is that the script for the sequels was far too inarticulate for the philosophical ideas it wanted to comment on, particularly in aligning some effective physical/action metaphors to those ideas.

Sacrificial Messiahs

The Oracle tells Sati that she believes they'll see Neo again.... which is pretty much the only real suggestion that Neo isn't dead. At any rate, one of the disappointing things about this film is that, while leaving the Matrix running with most humans still plugged in, the Wachowskis appear to be putting their franchise to bed, in particular how they took Neo and Trinity apart bit by bit. Is Neo coming back as a blinded man? Will he only have an existence in the Matrix as a block of disembodied neural code? It doesn't look hopeful, particularly as we have behind-the-scenes footage of the Wachowskis directing Neo's final movements by instructing Keanu to "die".

In actual fact, Neo feels a bit wimpy in these sequels, continually admitting how clueless he is about what to do, and unable to figure anything out that doesn't involve sacrifice. I don't consider sacrifice to be spiritual, but rather as something that people desiring control or power will ask of others, and as a compromise in the face of stressed and limited resources. A sacrifice on Neo's part is not very spiritual in my book, just inferior as a solution. There are very few stories that actually make sacrifice work. Star Trek II is one of the exceptions, like its real life counterpart in the story of the Russian submarine K19, or potentially the nuclear factory workers in the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami. Stopping a radiation leak before it spreads to others has basic plot mechanics, including time pressure, that I don't think can be argued with. Most other stories of sacrifice, including that of Jesus in the Bible, just don't have plot mechanics that make it seem like it really accomplishes anything that couldn't have been done better in so many other ways by employing more enlightened strategies. Add some options to your dilemmas, and give yourself some real choices already.

Ken Wilber's interpretations of the film are all over the DVD set, and involve looking at the use of colour in the films, so I'll throw my two cents in on that subject. It admittedly was a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to put the world of the Matrix in a green tint, while the external world had a blue tint. Both are cool colours, lacking in warmth, and so it was not a choice I'm particularly in love with, but I think it earns its keep in helping to make clear which world you're looking at in any given moment. Wilber wants to imply a lot of meaning to colour in the film, assigning more import to both green and blue, and labelling gold as being the colour of spiritual matters. Well, to me, no element of a film can prove its spiritual nature simply by painting itself gold. I look to a character's actions first, then to his motivations, to determine his or her level of demonstrating spirituality and/or high philosophy. Trying to do that with colour alone seems quite a hollow interpretation, and not one that I'm keen to buy into or follow. And what I find to be spiritual or not in the film doesn't really line up with those things that are gold or of other colours. It is interesting to note also how differently people define "spirituality". I tend to think of it as applying philosophical principles of a high standard to one's actions, yet when I began to notice others using it to describe blind obedience and allegiances that discouraged independent thought, I decided that using the word "spirituality" on its own would rarely be enough to impart what I meant with much clarity.

Perhaps it is due to the collapse of Morpheus' belief system at the end of Film 2, but Film 3 seems to have far fewer mentions of Neo as "The One", which is refreshing. In fact, I count only three. At one point, the Oracle mentions the scope of "the power of the One", which can be reinterpreted as "Christ energy" manifesting within the heart of every human being. Bane taunts Neo as a "blind messiah", but like anything coming out of Smith's twisted psyche, the audience can never be 100% comfortable with enshrining his interpretations. Perhaps the most memorable mention occurs during Niobe's big decision point, when Morpheus points out that she never did believe in "The One", and she says she still doesn't, but now believes in Neo. Excellent. Even as "just another guy", he's still the main character and central hero of the trilogy, and the audience still expects him to pull a rabbit out of his hat to resolve the central conflicts.

And so, the characters seem less prone than before to predefine Neo as a messiah here, and more willing to simply look at him as he stands before them. I'm not sure that audience perception follows suit. Partly that is due to his actions and circumstances becoming quite similar to many other messiahs in our past history, and it does feel like a contrived, forced fit. For me, I'm less inclined to look at Neo as a messiah, and more inclined to look at him as a "hero". He's in good company there amongst other sci-fi film lead protagonists, and can be far more successful and believable at the hero bit.

Film 3 definitely does have the best music of any end credit sequence in the trilogy, and is the only one that I truly like. Nice improvement.

Philosophers' Commentary - Film 1

The Philosophers' commentary is quite noteworthy for many reasons, but chiefly because Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber will no doubt be able to reference and point out more ideas and symbols than any typical audience member would notice all on their own. Good show. It's an entertaining commentary that also leaves spaces for the audience to return to their own thoughts, yet always comes back to reveal more interesting new thoughts again.

Several things struck me about what was being discussed. While it is pointed out repeatedly that the beliefs championed by Morpheus that Neo is "The One" are in fact dogmatic and should be doubted, Wilber and West never really propose an alternate view of what Neo is or how he can do the amazing things he can do. Without coming up with another possibility, preferably an endless set of possibilities, there really is nowhere to go with that doubt except to return to the idea of "the One" and "the Messiah". Interesting is the twist that "the One" is actually Neo AND TRINITY bound together - something that HASN'T happened during the previous five incarnations of the Matrix. But then Smith is also Neo's other half, both seeking redemption and/or freedom through each other.... are these two reading too much into all of Neo's relationships, blurring his identity everywhere? And as we know, we never find out what state Smith was in or if he even existed during those 5 previous versions of the Matrix, which would tell us a LOT.

Perhaps most detrimental is that while these two philosophers are so good at analyzing dialogue and character relationships and symbols for all the historical philosophical ideas that are being referenced, they don't seem to apply the same scrutiny to action. Actions speak so much louder than dialogue. Actions define characters and character relationships so much more powerfully than dialogue and obscure references. Action makes such strong symbols, particularly in a film with so much groundbreaking action in it. Yet apart from some seemingly obvious comments for the opening sequence, Wilber and West seemed to be mesmerized by action when it happens, and unable to comment on how it can affect our perceptions of the characters and blur the lines of the supposed "Manichaean" duality that we supposedly don't want to challenge. I was right ready to challenge that from day 1 on my first viewing, yet film 3 doesn't really deal with that challenge as successfully in my view as it does in Wilber's. I think he's coming to this with a predefined map, triggered by the name "Trinity", and trying to place the rotting shreds of the movie's characters and images on that map rather than letting the film make its own map. But perhaps we all do that as we view the trilogy. I've detailed my thoughts and defined my map. What map did you use or create as you watched the films?

Philosophers' Commentary - Film 2

Several things become more clear here, particularly with the very well-defined interpretation offered by Ken Wilber. Firstly, both West and Wilber seem to want to interpret the characters more as symbols than as real people. This falls down quite a bit when they say that the action scenes and special effects represent ideas struggling with each other instead of just gratuitous pieces of enjoyment for action-movie fans.... yet they fail to demonstrate what those ideas are or what these struggles add to those ideas. A more articulate way of grappling with ideas might be verbal debate, at least until better stakes are defined that can attach to those pseudo-physical struggles. Perhaps there is a difference in whether the Matrix works as a fluid dream or as a rigidly coded simulation.

But I keep returning to the holes in Wilber's interpretation, namely that even with the Matrix operating as the domain of the mind with a well-defined sci-fi metaphor, his so-called domain of the spirit has no even remotely-defined metaphor with which to attach itself to (golden) light or the machines, particularly for those of us who already come into this trilogy believing that spirit is everywhere and within all things. In that model, the machines are part and parcel of the blue world, and as much the bodies of the artificial intelligences. They really are no more or less spiritual than the Zion people, not by Wilber's colours or domains, and not by my criteria of actions and motivations.

Another monkey-wrench is the Zion Temple itself, in which blue hues are hard to find, and golden Earth-tones abound instead. This is the look that instantly came to my mind when Tank first described Zion in the first film with words like "deep", "Earth", and "warm". This is the part of Zion architectural design that most satisfied my sense of anticipation for the place on my first viewing of film 2. Curiously, so many philosophers look at the rave scene, and say "Oh, bodies. The blue world must represent the body." Maybe not. Maybe blue represents technobabble, and golden/earthtone represents the body.

What really seems to punch a hole in Wilber's interpretation is the idea that the three domains integrate at the end. Exactly where is that integration ever demonstrated? The domains are all still separate for most characters. Neo and Smith simply aren't around anymore in any domain, so they don't do much of a job in showing that they've integrated the domains within themselves. And neither one ever articulates that integration is their goal.... their stated goals are saving Zion, finding peace, finding freedom and purpose, which is rather less. If Wilber is correct that this is what the Wachowskis are trying to say, they did a damn lame job of it. Essentially, a lot of philosophers throughout our history tried to make sense of the world by creating a collective philosophical map now taught in our universities, and that map had so much primacy for the Wachowskis that they created a complicated sci-fi world to attach to it.... only the mechanics of story and plot in that world reveal it to be rotting shreds that don't stand up on their own, as many audience members would and will still try to interpret it.

Personally, I like Dr. West's interpretation as regards to the second film in that it deconstructs the way dogmatic interpretations of faith can be subverted and used as a system of control. Film 2 is at its most powerful there.

It is curious that in all of this, these two keen commentators never seem to bring up the unanswered question of what Smith's evolution was, if he even existed, in the previous 5 messianic loops of the Matrix. We know Neo's predecessors had no Trinity to be in love with. Did they have virally evolving Smiths to battle? We know Smith in the form of Bane sabotages the formation of ships trying to protect Zion from the machines. To what extent is Smith part of the Architect's formal plans to control the One and the rebels of Zion?

I take issue with the concept that there has to be a death or a giving up of one's entire paradigm in order to grow and enlighten oneself into a new one.... suggesting that the entire growth process is an odyssey through a series of falsehoods. When you know integration, you grow by adding thoughtfully selected concepts to your paradigm, occasionally popping out an outdated concept. You don't need to keep dying metaphysically speaking each time another breakthrough is imminent. To look at the subversion tactics, mentors who ask their audiences to forget everything they think they know (particularly if they've spent no time trying to understand what their audience knows) probably do so in part because they instinctively doubt that their argument will stand up to audience scrutiny before being accepted.

Philosophers' Commentary - Film 3

In many ways this is the quietest of the three commentaries by the philosophers, which speaks to the way that the film holds back most of its important ideas until the rush through at the end, and it is only at the end that this commentary really comes alive with a level of richness that reflects what West and Wilber did with the previous two.

I would take issue with the insulting suggestion they make towards other sci-fi or action films in what they assume to be a "Manichaean" standard for resolution, which "The Matrix" trilogy is somehow rising above. Sci-fi often tackles deep themes while providing big action sequences, and usually articulates and resolves itself with a bit more grace than is managed here. I think this trilogy very much wanted to rise above that so-called standard and do it as a last-minute trick question, but really didn't figure out how to pull it off very convincingly.

An interesting contrast to Neo's surrender is Wilber's preparation to "defend his interpretation". Wilber may indeed have accurately deciphered the Wachowskis' intent, and thus it's great to have that on a commentary to help us wrap our minds around what was possibly in theirs, but I still have a great sense that the Wachowskis didn't really achieve what Wilber thought they were aiming at, if that was their intent.

A lot has to do with the fact that the characters never set themselves that goal of integrating three domains. A lot has to do with the fact that after smashing the dogma of the messiah, Neo's actions return to being that of a messiah in many ways. A lot of thought and energy in the commentary seems to be spent splitting hairs over different kinds of surrender, be it stoic, or whatever. Does it really matter, if the end result is so similar as to be indistinguishable?

When the Oracle hints that Neo should return to source, Wilber quickly adds that she is referring to the "real source", and not the machine mainframe source that the Architect talked about at the end of the previous film. Well, where is his evidence to support that the Oracle isn't talking about the same limited idea? And besides, returning to the "real" source is easy - all you have to do is die, which typically doesn't do anyone else any good. The question is, how the hell will that help Zion and the pod-dwellers (or anyone else) resolve their problems? Returning to the machine source, not to die but say to fix something or reprogram something, now it might carry some practical weight. The real kicker is that if you look at film 2, when she first mentions the idea of "returning to the source", Neo asks for clarification if that means the machine mainframe, and she says yes. Has she really changed her mind between films?

The show of the people of Zion coming together collectively to defend their city doesn't really assist Neo's final actions, but have to be done because Neo's final actions are as late as they are. So, despite the grand map that West is laying out for this part of the film (and I do personally agree with the nobility and wisdom of that map), the territory of the movie's actions doesn't quite match up to it.

Additionally, a lot of the "events" that support Wilber's interpretation occur more in his own mind than on screen, particularly in terms of who is resurrected and who is integrated.

Perhaps one of my biggest beefs that applies to this trilogy as elsewhere is that death doesn't really work as resolution, even after inferring a rebirth. There are so many "new agers" who believe they need to resolve issues from past lives.... in other words they died and were reborn, and that didn't do the trick - the issue still nags at them and still needs resolution. I'll buy that Neo and Trinity are reborn in the world of spirit, but so is dock guard #5 who got throttled by a tentacle, and so is sentinel #87 who got shot down just after entering the dock, and so is pod inhabitant Otto Greene whose life functions ceased while he thought he was driving down the freeway into a multi-vehicle pile-up. They might all reincarnate as we know it, if they choose to. I come into a viewing of the trilogy in 1999 and 2003 knowing that spirit is democratized already and more and more people already know it, and find it hard to re-separate those ideas in order to follow Wilber's interpretation. To me it feels like excessive complication for something so simple, yet something that still seems to elude Wilber and West.

The kicker is when they look at Sati during the coda, wondering if she will be the next saviour. Why do they even still need to look for a saviour? I suspect Cornel West wants to try to go further with the idea of letting everyone have their own direct connection with God, and is somewhat toning himself down while Wilber has the floor, but that would be the direction I would ultimately like to have seen pursued much further, and I was disappointed in many ways that the third film traveled so little in that direction.

The folly of waiting for a saviour may be best demonstrated by the string of downbeat endings delivered in "The Animatrix". Although the Wachowskis were apparently quite open to having new writers and directors bring their ideas to the table, the making-of featurettes for each segment reveal how the Wachowskis put limits on what any of the characters were allowed to achieve in terms of waking up, discovering the truth, or (so it seems to me) achieving some sort of happy ending for themselves. Why? I'd guess that all these achievements were being reserved for Neo. Thus, the messiah winds up stunting the growth of those around him, to maintain his main-character-hero status.

Conclusions, and On Beyond the Films....

It is interesting to note how well the interest generated by the Matrix trilogy seems to have achieved what J.R.R. Tolkien termed "applicability", explained by Dr. Patrick Curry in the "Creator of Middle Earth" featurette on the Extended DVD Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, meaning that people of widely different backgrounds and belief systems tend to see their own views reflected in the Matrix trilogy, and feel a sense of kindred connection with it. Nicely, this is done in very open-ended ways, through the various names of the characters and their ships, and the reflection of various other stories in the elements of the trilogy's plot, even if the Wachowskis may have intended their story to be more "allegorical", which Tolkien regarded as the opposite, or too literal a one-to-one substitution of in-story symbols for real world situations and ideas.

At the same time, I think it is a mistake to read too much philosophical wisdom into the trilogy merely on the basis of what it may have referenced. At times, I think it probably tried to merge too many conflicting philosophies (half of them probably outdated and/or limited) into a single narrative and wound up losing its way. I think the act of trying to make the second and third films, plus the "Enter the Matrix" footage, plus the Animatrix, basically all at the same time, exhausted most people concerned to the point where the third film lagged behind the others, and the will to tighten things up waned. I don't think these films managed to change anyone's opinions about beliefs or taught much philosophy, rather they become a place in which you can remember whatever it is that you already know and enjoy and celebrate it. If it triggers debate and conversation, great, because it is in those conversations external to the films that you may learn something.

And with that, perhaps we should now turn to one such hour-long conversation in one of the documentaries included in the set which deals with philosophy.

Matrix Rankings:

  1. The Matrix (first film)
  2. The Matrix II: Reloaded
  3. Beyond (Animatrix segment 7)
  4. Matriculated (Animatrix segment 9)
  5. The Matrix III: Revolutions
  6. A Detective Story
  7. World Record
  8. Enter the Matrix video game cutscenes
  9. Final Flight of the Osiris
  10. Kid's Story
  11. Program
  12. The Second Renaissance

Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the featurette:
"Return to Source: Philosophy and The Matrix"

This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray as the third film of the trilogy in The Ultimate Matrix Collection.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the North American market:
Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

DVD PAL Region 2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the U.K. / Europe:
Region 2 PAL

Highlights of "The Ultimate Matrix Collection" DVD Extras for "Revolutions" include:

  • Philosophers' "in-favour-of" audio commentary by Dr. Cornel West (Councillor West) and Ken Wilber.
  • Critics' "against" audio commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson.
  • "Return to Source: Philosophy and the Matrix" documentary (61 min.)
  • "The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction" documentary (61 min.), focusing on artificial intelligence and virtual realities.
  • "Product of Zion" featurette (10 min.) interviewing Harold Perrineau (Link), Nona Gaye (Zee), Rachel Blackman (Charra),
    Harry Lennix (Commander Jason Lock), and Nathaniel Lees (Mifune).
  • "The Burly Man Chronicles" (94 min.) behind-the-scenes of the gargantuan shoot of films 2 & 3 and the "Enter the Matrix" game footage, with optional pop-up links to the "Follow the White Rabbit" featurettes.
  • 21 "Follow the White Rabbit" featurettes (82 min. total), focusing mainly on the contributions of actors or key production personnel such as
    Anthony Zerbe (Councillor Hamann), Mary Alice (The Oracle), Ian Bliss (Bane), and Dr. Cornel West (Councillor West), including:
    • "Tribute" featurette (5 min.) covering the 2001 tragedies that led to some last minute re-casting, featuring Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity),
      Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Harold Perrineau (Link), and D.O.P. Bill Pope.
  • "Anatomy of a Shot" featurettes (9 min. total)
  • "Action Match" split-screen featurette comparing pre-vis to final film for "The Siege" sequence (10 min.).
  • "Aftermath" 4 post-production featurettes (40 min. total) covering music, editing, sound effects, and CGI rendering.
  • "New Blue World" 5 featurettes (26 min.) on the external domain of Zion and its ships and computer interfaces.
  • "The Zion Archives" extensive collection of storyboards, static design art, and full motion 3D pre-visualizations.
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV ads.

Blu-ray version:
In the absence of a proper Blu-ray release of the Ultimate Matrix Collection in the U.K., this trilogy set appears to be the most popular hi-def version of the films for British amazon shoppers. There are a LOT of differences in the bonus features offered though, so buyer beware.
Blu-ray Region A/1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
for the North American market:
Region A/1

Region A/1

Bilingual Set

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Italian Import to the U.K.:
Region B/2

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Matrix Trilogy - U.K.

Region B/2

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the featurette:
"Return to Source: Philosophy and The Matrix"

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