Sooner or later, all reviewers have to come to The Matrix. The Matrix
series has become a powerful cultural symbol, a metaphor for the information-cybernetic age, and all that sort of thing. And
as will be seen, there is a lot to be pondered in the series. But I'm sticking it here in the Critical section for a
very good reason: The Matrix relies on one of the oldest cliches in Hollywood--the hero meeting the girl who
gives his life meaning, and then to make it all worse, gives us the Sleeping Beauty story in reverse with her awakening him
via cornball love (bringing him back to life at the end). So a man's life is only good insofar as a woman is there to pull
his chestnuts out of the fire. That doesn't cut it for MRAS. More fundamentally, this ending for The Matrix violates
the point I make in my review of Excalibur about the true hero being able to rise above all earthly considerations,
including the desires of the flesh.
Having said all that, let me get into why I thought the movie has stuff worth
The central story of The Matrix goes way back in history, and will
be retold in one form or another for millennia to come as long as men desire freedom. A man wakes up one day to find the world
around him is a fraud, so much smoke and mirrors to conceal the reality that enslaves him. He then acquires the self-discipline
needed to free his mind and with that, to show other people the way.
That's it. All the technobabble and computer hacking in the movie
are so many props to make the story work in the 21st century. OK, it came out in 1999, but what gives The Matrix a
claim to fame is that it took science fiction in a different directions from the 20th century's obsession with "ray guns and
rocket ships", ala Star Trek/Star Wars. The Matrix can be seen in light of several films which came out about this
time: The Truman Show, Thirteenth Floor, Dark City, eXistenZ (which I have reviewed elsewhere on this site,
or will get around to). They have the common theme of a man waking up to find that the world around him is a fake. One is
reminded of Ray Nelson's classic short story, "Eight O'clock in the Morning," which became the basis for John Carpenter's
movie, They Live. These films reflect, I believe, a growing unease about the nature of modern society. A lot
of people are realizing that they have somehow, someway, taken the Blue Pill.
The Matrix has to be seen as something of a metaphor. In its
dystopian future, people think they are living real lives when it's all a mass virtual reality hallucination. They are,
in actuality, plugged into machines which tap their energy to make an overarching Artificial Intelligence system work. Just
as too many people in our world work at brain deadening jobs (or marriages...) which suck their energy to make the "machine"
work--while living vicariously through the media. It's Gnosticism, but also the Situationalist International and its
"Society of the Spectacle" all over.
In societies dominated
by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly
lived has receded into a representation.
At one point, Neo's mentor, Morpheus, pretty much lays the cards on the table
when he tells him that the Matrix is there when you work at your job, pay your taxes, or go to church. It's the life that
other people want you to live.
Now, The Matrix could have gone in other directions. It might have
taken the route of eXistenZ or Total Recall and raised the question of whether or not the world that Morpheus
tells Neo is real (the world where the AI machines won the war against the humans) is just another virtual reality delusion,
delusions within even more delusions. But the movie's makers decided wisely to not take this course, instead sticking within
their parameters and not playing head games with the audience, at least not in this iteration of the series. We get the point:
the Matrix is the world we all feel alienated by but somehow can not see through; the real world is where we are all cool
computer hackers in an even cooler high-tech hovercraft, literally trolling the underground and jacking in at our leisure. Even
Agent Smith, the Matrix's chief hitman, knows there is something wrong with the world that's been pulled over our
eyes: he tells Morpheus how he can not stand it here! And when the Agents of the System tell you there is something
wrong, you know it is time to find an exit.
Enough digression, why is The Matrix a movie for MRAs?
Look at the structure. It's all Joseph Campbell cut and dried:
1) Hero comes forth, reluctantly.
2) Hero receives training from a mentor.
3) Hero faces a challenge, which he flubs.
4) Hero gains new wisdom, supersedes his mentor.
But the hero's journey is more than going from Point A to Point B and ending
at Point C. It is an internal journey. His quest is to not merely overcome the foe, but to overcome himself. The martial arts
training is not so he can engage in a lot of idiotic fight scenes. Rather, it is to open up his own mind. In the final fight
with Agent Smith, Neo overcomes himself (i.e., as the fortune cookie wisdom earlier in the movie points out, the trick is
not to bend the spoon but to bend yourself). In the climactic scene, Neo sees the Agents as code, effectively seeing through
the spectacle that society has created.
This is something that the MGTOW movement has done, attacking the illusions
which entrance men. Men have to liberate themselves. All can become The Hero. Men are seeing through how modern
society has ensnared them with delusions about any number of things: duty, marriage, the supposed moral superiority of women.
It's one reason that MRAs use the term "femi-Matrix" to describe the current system in the feminist dominated Western
world. Men may think they run the show, but they are manipulated by women on many levels. And this is enforced by their Agents,
male feminists and legislators who push anti-male laws.
The first step towards liberation is breaking free of the illusion of the need
for a female in one's life (which, as I have noted, was a prerequisite for the Grail Knights on their Quest). And then
use this as the base to liberate oneself from all the other illusions which keep men plugged in. Make the choice, keep on
dreaming or take the Red Pill.
It's revolutionary stuff.
As for the Matrix sequels, one of these days I will get around to
posting my analysis of them (in case you are wondering, I thought they were both big disappointments). But for now, there
is a much better critique of them at: http://www.matrix-explained.com/
Taps is about what men honor and how it is betrayed, but the
betrayal comes from the film makers who did not have the courage to make the movie that could have been. At the end, one feels
a sense of loss about men losing their faith. And therein lies the tragedy of a film that could have been great.
Taps is set in the mythical Bunker Hill Military
Academy, helmed by George C. Scott's General Harlan Bache. Bache is idolized by
the new cadet-commander, Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton). The film has us identify with the cadets by showing their youthful
integrity and contrasting them to the rabble of ill-disciplined punks and bottom line real estate developers who shamble about
outside the academy's periphery. Inside of Bunker Hill’s
walls and barracks, we have a paradise, albeit a monastic one.
But there’s a serpent in the works. Due to the usual plot contrivances,
Bunker Hill is to be bulldozed and replaced with condominiums. In response, Hutton leads the cadets
in a rebellion, taking over the academy at gunpoint and expelling the adults. They then settle in for a siege as police, parents,
media and National Guardsmen take up positions outside the walls. And as the siege wears on, Moreland has to keep his
command together in the face of deprivations and demoralization.
Now, Taps could have been a truly incredible movie. One reason is that with it being made in 1981, the campus upheavals
of the 1960s were still fresh in mind. The movie raises the question, what would have happened had traditionalist students
decided to rise up instead of counterculture radicals? There are some tantalizing scenes: in one, the cadets raise the
American flag over the academy while saluting it; the camera pulls back to show the police outside the gates also saluting.
Clearly, there was a thin line there and we might ask if men ever got together in a common cause instead of fighting each
other--what would happen?
But the movie's makers, having raised
the question, were afraid to answer it. Perhaps they feared someone in the real world might be inspired to do something. Instead
of developing ideas, they waste a lot of screen time. After the initial takeover, the film, like the tactical situation, turns
into a stalemate. We endure a lot of trivia as the cadets fiddle about with the
generator and forage for food (not to be denied that these are not critical things in a siege, it’s just that they do
not make for an interesting movie). We see Moreland’s lieutenants, a young Sean Penn and a young Tom Cruise, bicker.
Penn is a step away from being a civilian (in one scene Hutton hallucinates him as such); Cruise is a diehard fanatic, loving
the adrenalin rush of the pseudo-war. If nothing else, it’s worth watching Taps simply to see these actors
at the beginnings of their careers.
The movie lurches forward when someone is injured. And there is a more talk.
But nothing gets done. I'm not sure if Moreland or the movie has lost the initiative. Perhaps someone should have seen Khartoum to get ideas
of what to do when besieged. Finally, half the cadets decide to stop playing soldier, toss down their weapons, and walk
out. Moreland is coming to the end of his rope. When somebody gets killed in an accidental firefight, he throws all of his
talk about honor and duty out the window. In response, Cruise decides he has had enough of the dithering and opens fire with
automatic weaponry. A couple more people get killed. Another body, another violin. Then the end. The last scene implies that
maybe, just maybe, it was all an adolescent fantasy.
Like I say, Taps is a tragedy. It shows what men believe in and then
proceeds, if to not trash those things, then claim the ideals are all empty posturing. And it does so by the cheapest
of all cinematic devices, over the corpse of a child. This is intended to push a button or two. Get out the violins. Of course,
it makes no sense since, unless he was a fraud from the get-go, Moreland knew very well what he was in for when he started
this ruckus, as did the men (of all ages) who stood with him until the end.
Yet Taps is a powerful film if for no other reason than that
for most of its time it does show how men relate to each other, how they organize, how they mentor the younger generation.
Still, despite the sympathy that Taps builds
up for the cadets, the ending says they were all disposable as we march to that condo future. On that score,
a generation later Fight Club would take up the struggle (and I review it elsewhere on this website).
WAG THE DOG
Robert DeNiro is the political hit man for the President of the USA.
Dustin Hoffman is a Hollywood producer whom DeNiro enlists. Together,
they must save the President's re-election campaign which is threatened by a scandal involving a teenage girl. This is Wag
the Dog, and in it DeNiro and Hoffman show how men get things done.
DeNiro's character (Conrad Brean) is strictly working class, a down and dirty
fighter who sees nothing wrong with manipulating the media for his President's ends. Hoffman (Stanley Motss, supposedly
inspired by real life Paramount wunderkind Robert Evans) has the big
picture, both literally and figuratively. This is his chance to do something real. Together, they get the job done: they create
a phony war out of news bytes, press conferences and CGI. This makes the President the hero of the moment, and shoves the
scandal into the back pages of the papers.
As with any great American political satire, the duo must take to the road.
They go from mansions in the Hollywood (or Beverly) Hills to an airfield in Boca Raton to a cornfield in the heartland
and all the way back to the final triumphant march in DC. Both men show they are more than willing to get their own fingernails
dirty, tossing old shoes over telephone lines down the street from the US Capitol (don't ask...).
The two men form a team. They set up an organization, select specialists, let
everyone do their thing, results happen. Brean and Motts earn each other's respect, no one hands it to them on a silver platter.
And it's good to see that the protagonists here are middle aged men, using their wealth of experience to win through. There's
also some very clever writing. At one point, the opposition candidate demands that the President "produce" a war hero. Of
course, that is exactly what Brean and Motts are doing, literally producing an ersatz hero via the magic of the media.
But there's a crisis. Halfway through the movie, the war "ends" and all
looks grim for our duo. But Hoffman refuses to throw in the towel. We see that his earlier effete demeanor is in reality a
zen-like calm which gives him the ability to overcome any disaster and see through to the true path. He says as much, making
a reference to years of samurai-like training. He's got the power, but he earned it dealing with the dregs of the film work.
With the prestige media, the CIA, and the opposition candidate all onto the deception, Motts takes command and rescues the
production from the jaws of defeat. A new hero is created and victory is at hand.
So why did I put Wag the Dog on the critical list? For one thing,
several interesting characters are set up in the first half of the movie who then disappear in the last act: Dennis Leary's
trenchcoat wearing "Fad King", Willie Nelson's balladeer who drives a pickup with a shotgun, Andrea Martin's designer, all
have interesting possibilities. But we never see them pay off. The movie literally closes the door on them in a scene reminiscent
of The Searchers, and goes off on a tangent. The putative "hero" whom Brean and Motts have built up turns out to
be (surprise) a psycho killer. The big picture gets lost in a search for the meds.
But what really sinks the movie is the ending. Wag the Dog
closes out with an implied act of violence. Now, let's put aside the fact that this wrecks the relationship we see built up
between the two principles. Thing is, within the context of the movie the violence just doesn't make any sense. The theme
has been that the manipulation of media ("information warfare", to use the current Pentagon jargon) will trump all else. You
do not need real wars when Hollywood can produce a much better one in time for the evening news. So why would anyone in the
film need to be really killed? For that matter, if violence was the answer, why didn't DeNiro simply bump off the President's
rival for the election in the movie's first act?
It has been endlessly commented upon that Wag the Dog is based
on the Clinton administration's use
of an anti-terrorist missile strike to distract public attention from his current scandal. Given the time lag in making
the movie, it's doubtful this was intentional. Still, Wag the Dog has a lot of good stuff on how the
media manipulates people's perceptions of reality. It ought to make you think when you turn on the tube. Better, it ought
to make you think about turning off the tube for good. In any event, governments and other entities exploiting the media as
a means to keep the public under control is hardly a new concept. Goes on every day, as a matter of fact. So why do you watch
television? If just ten percent of the people who complained about the content of television programming got rid of their
sets, the media system would collapse. Kill your television. See: http://www.turnoffyourtv.com/
This is a tricky one. Blade Runner is a great movie, possibly one of the best science fiction films ever
made. It has a well realized dystopian future, with characters who are so flesh and blood that you expect to see them knocking
on your front door. It's also a new take on the noir genre, with Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a reluctant cop with a special
beat, tracking down and killing replicants, genetically engineered humans who get out of line.
So why do I put this one on the questionable list? There's the female in this future, Rachel played by Sean Young. A
staple of film noir is the femme fatale, the woman who is the worthy partner -- or more usually -- antagonist of the hero.
But in Blade Runner, Rachel comes across as the fairy tale princess who must be both literally and figuratively
awakened by Deckard. Somehow, this comes across as weakness on his part, the Grail Knight who falls from grace because of
the distractions of the flesh.
Then there's the fact that a lot of Blade Runner doesn't make much sense. Deckard is called back to duty because
he is supposed to be the best of the breed of "blade runners". Yet he consistently flubs his license to kill: the first replicant
he is supposed to "retire" sucker punches him and he is saved only by a deus ex machina; the second is slapping him around
and he has to be bailed out by Rachel; he manages to get the drop on the third only after a scene reminiscent of John Hurt
peering into an Alien egg (Alien also being directed by Ridley Scott); Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty actually
has to save Deckard's neck from a precipitous fall. If the future of the human race is dependent upon guys like these blade
runners, maybe it's time to move to another planet. I think what really bugged me is the scene where Deckard dropped his gun
and did not go back to recover it. Doesn't work that way: a warrior never leaves his weapon behind. You also wonder why he
wasn't carrying a backup -- if I were going up against these replicants, I'd have an RPG as a backup piece, not to mention
a platoon of Marines on call.
Still, Blade Runner has a lot to say about empathizing with the other guy, and the brotherhood of men.
It can be seen as a journey of men coming together. Batty's saving of Deckard at the end comes across as an act of faith,
the culmination of the quests of both men. Both have come to the point where they can see the mystic unity between themselves
and the other guy.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe," Roy Batty tells us, and in this one line evokes so much.
It is profound, and leaves you with something to think about later, a rarity in Hollywood movies. If nothing else, Blade
Runner's fight scenes are not the phony choreographed wireworks of the Matrix films designed to bring
cheers among the fanboys. Rather, they are brutal contests in which people batter each other until they are crippled
or dead, no glory here in men destroying each other, thankfully. (And let us not forget that Deckard has no compulsion against
killing female replicants as well as male.) The characters feel real fear and pain. After the run-in with Leon, Deckard "celebrates"
his survival by preparing to drink himself senseless, and washing the blood out of his mouth. There's is no exultation here
in the death of another sapient being, nor crocodile tears of guilt. This is a guy who has a job to do, and does it well.
Some critics did not like Ford's narration, but it actually works to humanize the future a bit, a sort of Raymond Chandler
sensibility in this dark, new world which is neither long ago nor too far away. One interesting thing is that the original
ending does not include the "happy ever after" footage of Deckard and Rachel getting away. Instead, they disappear into the
city together with neither of them knowing how much longer she has to live. It's much more effective and says "live your life
to the fullest while you can". That's some gritty advice which you can use in real life.
This may seem to be an odd entry, since Aeon Flux is the female action sci-fi hero of the title. But there is one scene
that is really striking. Aeon is on a mission to assassinate Trevor Goodchild, the chief of a future utopia-dystopia. Aeon
is all raging emotions, violence, and hi-tech weaponry. Trevor stops her simply by using his reason. It's a stunning moment,
male rationality triumphing over female emotion.
Alas, too much of the movie gives evidence of unsatisfactory editing. There are a lot of plain out boring scenes, while
at the same time critical information seems to have gotten left on the cutting room floor. And the Trevor Goodchild character
is made a little too sympathetic, oddly enough: he is not the dispassionate scientist-technocrat-overlord of the MTV animated
series. Indeed, this role seems to have shifted to his brother in the movie, which is quite jarring if you have seen Trevor's
animated avatar. There's also the stylistic difference between the movie and television show: the latter
took the cyberpunk approach of shooting a lot of information at the viewer, who then had to piece together the story; the
former seems to have a lot of dead time in which nothing much happens. Thing is, the TV show's structure fit into the
genre while the movie used too many Hollywood conventions. Of course, a movie is a different medium than the tube, and
has to reach a wider audience. Still, it is a bit jarring.
Where the movie works is where it makes use of elements evocative of the original series: the virtual reality meeting
chamber, the cherubic secret police officers, the body harness that pushes you into a sped up timescape, the aerial
archive floating over the city like a leviathan jelly-fish. The ending ties in neatly to the theme of cloning used in the
animated series. And it does imply a profound perspective on male-female relations, and the issue of people living lives that
are not truly real. But the alienation is never really explored, which makes this a less than satisfying film on one grounds