By 2016, we realize the machines don’t need a war or Matrix to enslave us

The other day, I replied to a forum thread about The Matrix series, and gave a longish response tangentially related to the topic.

But! it captured an idea I’ve often thought about without expressing in writing before:

The biggest problem with The Matrix is the idea of using people as batteries when it would be more efficient to recycle the parts for something else, or use nuclear energy. The idea of robots running on solar doesn’t make any sense.

That was a product of a re-write when executives advised the Wachowskis that the audience wouldn’t understand their original idea of humans being used for processing power [Note: I can’t actually find a source for this commonly repeated claim]. Which is more ironic and sensible: humans can do a sort of thinking that machines can’t easily do, so using all of those brains to solve ‘hard’ problems for machines would have helped the premise hold up better.

The second and third movies also would have been vastly improved by making Neo a sort of Superman who never was challenged in any fight in the Matrix, no matter what the situation. When he demonstrated that he could stop bullets, fight an Agent with one hand, and fly, that was supposed to be examples illustrating how he could do anything while in the Matrix. But the rest of the trilogy treated those as the only powers he had.

It would have been more interesting if he stopped wanting to live in the real world, where he still had normal human constraints, and spent all his time being a god in the world he knew to be false. A sex scene where Neo stops trying to be directly physically intimate with Trinity and instead asks her join him in the Matrix or an approximation where he can do some Dr. Manhattan nonsense, with multiple versions of himself, super-speed, reach inside her, etc. He’s gone blue pill without the betrayal. That’s a different sort of challenge to overcome compared to more programs that fight better in some way.

I would have also liked to have seen, maybe for the third movie, a machine civilization that is immense and stretches out into the solar system. Like, they’re all over the moon, and there’s bases on Mars, and asteroids are being mined. Probes are hurtling toward Alpha Centauri. Humans are only important to whatever portion of the machine civilization stayed on earth and is using them to develop novel, heterogeneous solutions to problems. Or the probes going to Alpha Centauri have their own stock of humans/human components that can’t be liberated because the machines need them to do processing there, too.

And man, that’s just a much more interesting sci-fi concept. The human resistance justifiably wants to break free of all this fake reality—but to what end? It’s not going to be any better than the shadows they saw on the cave wall, and machines will preserve humanity and its influence longer than humanity might have. Neo can be the hero who has to decide whether to let humanity continue to live in an ignorant, imperfect, but relatively pleasant simulated reality, or throw everyone out into the nightmare hellscape where billions will die from atrophied muscles, and if not that, starvation.

If that’s the case, the ending could be that Neo chooses to save humanity by allowing them to continue to be harvested by machines but uses his influence to create powerful artificial intelligence inside the Matrix, starting (or continuing) the cycle of simulation within simulation.

Enormous amounts of creativity are applied in science fiction, but rarely to include groups most neglected in other genres, so I’ve also wished that the elderly and severely disabled had been featured prominently. They could show how a purely virtual society would benefit the populations most affected by the constraints physical reality.

Blind and deaf people with a different perception of the 1s and 0s describing the environment than Agents typically have the processing power to combat; quadriplegics who could move their phantom, Matrix-created limbs in elongated or reshapen forms to no ill-effect; non-neurotypical people who could manifest manias or hallucinations into the shared world like hackers. That would be visually and narratively interesting with the added benefit of diversity and inclusiveness of cast.

Essentially the idea that Zion’s commitment to the people who are most human and atypical are what give people a chance against the homogenized perfection of the machines.

This all goes back to head-canon, which is the last refuge any fan has after Watsonian explanations fail to satisfy. When something imperfect has enough virtues to inspire you, it motivates you to ‘fix it’ for yourself. The Matrix didn’t need any sequels because it set up so many options based on what the first one established. Neo flying into the camera as Rage Against the Machine plays in the background is the end of the character arc and story you’re actually seeking. The Animatrix added more to the universe worth preserving than both sequels combined, mainly because it didn’t go into detail about anything that happened after Neo’s limit break.

But The Matrix really still is that good, still is worthy of poking holes in, and plugging up those holes with the ideas you wish had made it in in reality. Seventeen years later, it still works and inspires.

If I were the Wachowskis, I wouldn’t find much self-fault in that.

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adavidjohnson

A David Johnson, of many. The (poorly) recovering journalist of West Texas extraction one.

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