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Cheating in the Matrix

I've been re-watching 'The Matrix' movies recently, and as always have a wordy opinion about it. The symbolism and sub-plots of the movies make them well worth watching again and again, and that's not even mentioning the zero-g fight scenes. If this is not your thinky-thing, sorry, but hey it's Friday before the long weekend and the movies were really, really cool, so this is my article for today. - DJ

The Oracle: What about the others?
The Architect: ...What others?
The Oracle: The ones that want out.
The Architect: Obviously they shall be freed.
The Oracle: I have your word?
The Architect: What do you think I am? Human?
- from Matrix:Revolutions

This exchange at the end of the third Matrix movie is often missed by Matrix fans, as almost a throwaway line. However, anyone who has dug into the meanings and symbolism of the movies should know the Wachowski brothers pretty much never throw away a scene or a message. The Oracle may well be accusing the Architect of trying to cheat.

To understand, let's go back to Neo's discussion with the Architect in the second movie, Matrix:Reloaded. Here is the relevant section, as the Architect explains how the Matrix was developed:

Neo: Why am I here?
Architect: Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent in the programming of the matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden deciduously avoided it is not unexpected and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you inexcerably here.
Neo: You haven't answered my question.
Architect: Quite right. Interesting, that was quicker then the others.

The Architect begins by noting that Neo is tied to the Matrix. He is the 'remainder' of an equation which does not quite work out, the 'eventuality of an anomaly' as the Architect sees things, and in the Architect's opinion something which needs to be controlled. For the Architect, then, the goal is to control Neo and so control the Matrix.

Architect: The Matrix is older then you know. I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next. In which case this is the sixth version.
Neo: Then there are only two possible explanations, either no one told me, or no one knows.
Architect: Precisely, as you are undoubtedly gathering the anomaly is systemic. Creating fluctuations in even the most simplistic equations.
Neo: Choice, the problem is choice.

This is a very important admission by the Architect! The Architect admits to Neo that the Matrix is unstable and the very existence of the One destabilizes the entire system. Further, since the Architect does not limit his observation to the Matrix construct, but expands it to 'even the most simplistic equations', he implies that the existence of the One threatens the system integrity of the entire Machine infrastructure! This is implied by the end actions in Matrix:Reloaded, as Neo is able to disable Sentinels despite being outside the Matrix.

Why does the Architect say this to Neo? There are three reasons that occur to me. First, the audience needs to hear this, and since there is no objective narrator for the movies, it has to come from a major character. Second, the Architect has seen five versions of 'The One' come and go before, so he hardly considers Neo a threat. What's more, we already see that the Architect regards the Oracle with contempt, so it should be no surprise that the Architect believes he could say even something this important to Neo with no worry that Neo would grasp the full implications. And third, this foreshadows the end, the macro-evolution of the universe, as both humans and machines are compelled to deal with a new paradigm. Humans and machines must, as the Oracle said, move together if they are to move forward.

The Architect goes on to explain the creation and development of the Matrix:

Architect: The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect; it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being. Thus, I redesigned it, Based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However I was again frustrated my failure. I have since come to understand that the answer eluded me because it required a lesser mind a mind less bound by the parameters of perfection. Thus the answer was stumbled upon by another and intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche.

It's worth noting here, that the Architect never accepts blame for the failure of his creation, instead assuming the guilt must lie with humans, even where they are not making decisions or acting of their own volition. Going on, we see how the Architect built choice into the Matrix:

Architect: [the Oracle] stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99 percent of all test subjects accepted the program as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at an unconscious level. While this answered function it was obviously fundamentally flawed thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly. That if left unchecked might threaten the system itself, ergo those that refuse the program while the minority if unchecked would cause an escalating probability of disaster.

Somebody's cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeating. The Architect realizes that the Matrix will only work if humans are allowed a choice. But, hating humans as he does the Architect buries that choice at 'an unconscious level'.

Think about that. Suppose you are taking a multiple-choice test, and the correct answer to a certain question is 'D', but on the paper you are only presented with answers A, B, and C. The only way you could correctly answer the question is to realize you are being tricked and refuse to accept the conditions presented to you. Hence the need for humans to reject the Matrix completely in order to make the choice. That is, in truth no one chooses the blue pill, because in making any choice the false condition must ab initio be refuted. All we are doing is, as the Oracle told Neo, is figuring out what the choice means.

Why does the Architect feel that he needs to cheat? Because as he says, the people who refuse the program 'cause an escalating probability of disaster'. Therefore the Architect wants as few people as possible to even have that choice.

By the way, the Matrix society was not at all as realistic as the Architect pretends. Nowhere in the human city were there any protest groups or marches, nothing like a demonstration. Considering it seems to have been modeled on Seattle (remember all the rain?), there was even a notable lack of grundge.

The Architect now goes on to tell Neo what he expects him to do:

Architect: The function of the One is now to return to the source allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry reinserting the prime program after which you will be required to select from the matrix 23 individuals, 16 female 7 male, to rebuild Zion. Failure to comply with this process will result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix. Which, coupled with the extermination of Zion will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race.
Neo: You won't let it happen, you can't. You need human beings to survive.
Architect: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.

The Architect is lying there. How do we know this? Because he cheated the Matrix code to hide human choice at the unconscious level, specifically to avoid 'an escalating probability of disaster'. What kind of disaster? Maybe a 'cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix'? The Architect's explanation refutes his later claim to indifference.

Architect: Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end. There are two doors, the door to your right leads to the source and the salvation of Zion, the door to your left leads back to the matrix to her and to the end of your species. As you adequately put, the problem is choice. But we already know we you are going to do don't we?

Another mistake. The Architect fully expects Neo to do what everyone before him has done, but even in this short interview we have seen evidence that Neo is not like the others - he's faster to notice things, he has a direct connection in love, and even as the Architect speaks Neo is moving - to the left door, the one that threatens disaster if the Architect is correct.

The Architect figured he knew humans well enough to predict even their most important decisions. Small wonder the Wachowski brothers made him look like Sigmund Freud, another poser who knew less than he claimed.

The Architect is in a real mess, and if he wasn't so hateful and arrogant we could almost feel sorry for him. The machines depend on humans just as humans depend on machines - something mentioned throughout the Matrix films - and so if the Matrix fails everyone's in for a bad time. The plan up to now had been to use The One in each generation as a kind of relief valve for system anomaly, replacing him with a fresh new empty every so often to keep things running. But Neo rejects the plan and introduces pure chaos into the equation. The Architect must have seen some possibility of this decision, although as the Oracle explains he could not see the consequences past the choice. So he attempted to rig the game. In that context, small wonder that at the end of things the Oracle asks if he's going to do as he claims.

It also occurs to me that the Oracle has been cheating a bit herself, maybe. Why do I say that? Go back to the first Matrix movie, where Morpheus is bringing Neo to see the Oracle. What does Neo see in the apartment?

Priestess: Hello, Neo. You're right on time.... Make yourself at home, Morpheus. Neo, come with me.... These are the other potentials, you can wait here.

Ahem ... 'other potentials'? And what, do you think, happens with those guys? Let's not forget, the Oracle can see the future. Remember this?

Oracle: I'd ask you to sit down, but you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.
Neo: (turning) What vase?
- Neo breaks vase -
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry.
Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my students to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?

There's other statements like that, but the point is she knew or had reason to know that Neo is the The One, and in that case what is she planning with the other 'potentials', her 'students'? Well, one thing that occurs to me is that if the Machines are watching Neo, 'The One', maybe these other guys can do things that are important but won't be noticed. After all, isn't interesting what happens with Sati, even if we don't get to see exactly what she's been doing?
Small wonder the Architect greets the Oracle at the end of the movies in this way:

Architect: You've played a very dangerous game.

So, the Oracle was probably cheating and the Architect was definitely cheating. What does that mean, in the big picture?

It means that the conclusion, as Smith always said, is inevitable. In exploring the behavior we see that even the Architect, who designed the Matrix, has chosen to disobey his own terms. Disobedience implies both choice and irrationality, and so we see that human nature is so pervasive that even the entity in charge on containing and controlling humanity is influenced by human nature in his decisions and actions. Which in the end is not surprising at all. Machines were created by man, and so may be said to exist 'in his image'. And in any case, one logical conclusion from an examination of the earlier failed matrices would have to be designer error - the Architect is the principal culprit of his failure, psychologically justifying the creation of the very anomaly that would in the end of things alter his own reality.


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Comments (15)

I loved the matrix and I lo... (Below threshold)

I loved the matrix and I loved your examination of it. Although the last movie was rather...jesus'esque.

Good post, but I have to th... (Below threshold)

Good post, but I have to think on it. The Matrix is a very heady narrative that requires levels of acceptance of the story to see the whole picture. ww

you misplaced the word 'The... (Below threshold)

you misplaced the word 'Then' alot in this post

A system which denies choic... (Below threshold)

A system which denies choices is a system fundamentally flawed; we know this from experience, and we know it on a gut level.

Thus, a centrally controlled choice-denying bureaucracy is a nightmare to many people. Whether it's a Communist government, socialized healthcare, or just the long lines at the DMV, we suffer protestingly until we can be free of it.

It could almost be an alleg... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

It could almost be an allegory about Obamanism, but you would have to work in a court jester like Biden, a Wise Latina like Sotomayer, and a few busloads of SEIU thugs to make it more realistic. And maybe a cameo appearance by Hugo Chavez . . .

very enjoyable read! I love... (Below threshold)

very enjoyable read! I love the Matrix movies. You're read and explanation into the Wachowski bros writing is right there. Imagine what you could say about Neo & Smith's relationship =)

I walked out of the first m... (Below threshold)

I walked out of the first matrix movie proclaiming it the best bad movie I'd ever seen. The subsequent chapters just got worse.
While I applaud your efforts at explication, it's like teaching calculus to a crab - really a waste of time when you sould be steaming and then eating the crab.

Sorry, that "sould" was mea... (Below threshold)

Sorry, that "sould" was meant to be "should." I changed it from "could" and hit submit just a wee bit too fast.

Excellent treatise on the m... (Below threshold)

Excellent treatise on the matrix plot and backstory.Very clearly laid out and explained.It ALMOST makes up for the absolute sensory overload you get in the 3rd movie.But not quite.I can (and have) rewatched the first 2 movies multiple times and enjoy them, but number 3 frankly disgusted me with it's over the top piled on top of more over the top special effects.It was too much for my brain to process causing total sensory overload and system shutdown.In a way I DIED watching that piece of techno garbage and cannot bring myself to rewatch it as it would like dying all over again.

i also loved all the matrix... (Below threshold)

i also loved all the matrix movies. great food for thought. i love movies that make me think.

Reading your explanation th... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Reading your explanation the Wachowski brothers might easily say, "wow we never thought of that."

It's just a movie, and as such, it's designed to be entertaining first and foremost. Any deeper meaning comes from the viewer, and as will all such things your mileage will vary.

After the second film, I ex... (Below threshold)

After the second film, I expected the third to feature Smith revealing that he knew about the Architect's program all along, and he was trying to PREVENT Neo from causing the reboot because he had been "infected" with choice when Neo blew him up in movie 1. Then we get a team-up of Smith and Neo IRL, taking the fight to the Machines and forcing a real truce. The Architect and the scientists of Zion working together to clear the sky. The promise of "never again" as the Matrix is slowly emptied. Machine and man in harmony.

Instead, we got the movie 3 we all know and mostly loathe. (Except that my Dad liked it more than the other two. Huh.)

At least I figured out what the ending of movie 3 was all about. Neo was The One, but Smith was The Zero. He started multiplying people by himself. He didn't realize that he was adding Neo to himself at the end. Thus, everyone he had absorbed had Neo added to them; thus everyone got more choice than before.

brilliant analysis, i enjoy... (Below threshold)

brilliant analysis, i enjoyed reading this a lot! twitter(at)locspoc

It would be interesting to ... (Below threshold)

It would be interesting to hear your opinion and analysis on the third movie where the death of Neo in a "Christ Like" fashion was meant as being the savior for both creations. In the same sense as you say the machines were made in "man's image" did man ultimately bring their son and 12 disciples.

Besides playing an important roll as the "Judas" of the story, how does the transfer of Agent Smith to the "real world" happen?

i would generally agree, bu... (Below threshold)

i would generally agree, but i have a couple of thoughts as well.

first, i think any irrational behavior on the part of the architect reflects the writers far more than the character, which should be incapable of that, unless he was created with an ego, or had designed one for himself. his flatness and confidence could easily be taken as aloof egoism.

second, considering the oracle's statement of freeing the others, i consider that to refer to the programs who wished to survive instead of reassimilate and be erased.

third, i also like to keep in mind that, logically speaking, the only way neo could have controlled or seen 'outside' the matrix, would be if that layer was also a simulated reality.

i'd say it's just as possible that the entire trilogy was just as easily an experiment in artificial intelligence conducted by whatever programs created the machines, which goes along very well with the general simulation argument that the movies hint at, but never directly insinuate about reality outside the movie house.

aside from different philosophies, i enjoyed this post and found it quite stimulating. and i'm still convinced there's some hint of truth in the concept of that movie regarding the world we like to think we live in.






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