wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: April, 2022


Excerpt from a manuscript in progress. –wa.

The ideal state, it seems to us, is sensory-imaginative immersion so total that every element of the experience comes to metaphorize every other — a borderless innerstate of total fluidity and mutability, surrounded and penetrated and haunted, absolute becoming-multiple. Being as we are, we most easily conceptualize such states in musical terms. Remember Bennie Maupin’s ‘Ensenada’ spreading out from pedal point as polytonal mist: intense bodily experience of stillness and slow movement. Remember the cruel carnal-cosmic ‘On your knees, boy’ from U2’s ‘Mysterious Ways,’ literate technosex as border-crossing, principled pain/pleasure. Remember Bernard Xolotl’s ‘Nearing the Gates of Eleusis,’ which establishes its minor colour and then denies return for seven minutes, circling spiritual-erotic yearning for release from the V7 like dervishes dancing, nearing the gates, secret innermost place… Remember those snaredrum 32nd notes racing beneath Jeff Tweedy’s despairing octave leap on the outro chorus of ‘Radio Cure,’ machine noises at the edges of vision like a migraine, like arms enfolding, distantly. Remember the camera pushing in on D’Angelo’s face as his listens to his band mount that astonishing crescendo to sexual-spiritual ecstasy and his rapturous smile shy then proud is the song’s true climax, true self hearing true self. Remember Burial’s ‘Kindred’ circling back to repeat after beatless break, that aching IV in the bass as warped voices multiply and maybe wanna rise, ‘Baby you can find the light,’ but dawn comes for this dream—

We think of experiences of conceptual hull-breach, doors thrown open and compartments flooding one another, every signifier another’s signified: radical polysemy. Nonpolynomial expansion of meaning. He licks his lips because he’s nervous to be naked (vulnerable, validated), he’s thinking of sex (desire, defilement, divinity), he’s thinking of food (family, fellowship), he’s thinking of God (ascension, assumption, apocalypse) — those ideas superpose and crosspollinate until every moment of the work belongs to every one. Think of this unmooring of/from meaning not as irresponsibility but as total responsibility: every possible imaginative relation is in hand, you are trusted with your every thought. No metaphoric link is forbidden or discouraged. Freest association. This is the environment of non-ordinary permissiveness which the term ‘fusion’ in its deepest sense can evoke.

This empowering, exhilarating boundarylessness characterizes mind-altering experiences of ‘psychedelic’ consciousness. It can bring terror, joy, serenity, longing, satisfaction, focused intensity, oceanic diffuseness, distortions or enhancements of perception, affirmation and obliteration of various self-narratives — but always a sense of being intensely alive. A more momentous present moment: more real precisely because more unreal, more surreal. The real world filled with all those other worlds, and no distinguishing between them.

When we speak of the ‘cosmic,’ this is what we mean: the sense, not of breadth or distance, but of multidimensionality.

We were at a party on Jones Beach or thereabouts one night with a bottle of bourbon in hand staring out at the water and things had grown complicated for what felt like it must be (better be) the last time, worst time; we craved resolution and felt intensely sad, angry, broken — sensed ourself to be in violation of principles perhaps we never held. We threw the bottle into the water and went to sleep in the car, maybe not right away. Looking back nearly 20 years later we don’t (as you might expect) ruefully recall the painfully abrading knot of good intentions and bad judgment and mixed emotions which bound us and others (each poisonously to all); it was hard and we were dumb but that’s as far as it went. Rather, we see in that moment an incredible complex potentiality, vast energies circulating. The desperation attached to the memory isn’t to do with hopelessness or choices cut off, but rather the chance (not taken) for absolute transformation. Angry, sad, broken, yes; but also comprehensively involved, able to see out to sea, able to touch inner organs flayed bare, bound up with other hearts, fending off knowledge and drowning in feeling. The sky was huge. It might’ve been summer or spring — what difference does it make?

Not cosmic, not hardly. But without question an experience of the irreducible interconnectedness of things, coloured by negative affect (then and in memory now) but lit from within. Longing, lust, lament. Love and loneliness, and a quietly violent confusion. Knowledge of pain. I fucking felt like everything.

The motif of ‘adventurous expectancy’ which runs through the present work is most intensely evoked, for us, when a purity (singularity) of sensation joins a complexity (multiplicity) of sense: algebra giving way to ecstasy, the great unwieldy mass of form made weightless in ecstatic flight to outer/innerspace. The utter simplicity of a single trembling note, sight of a high strange house on the hill, a pirouette, or the hour after the caffeine kicks in when hard problems feel easy but are known in their complexity — every aspect present. That’s what life is like, at best: every idea, every memory, flowing beneath this single-point awareness. All the contents of the imagination brought to the fore, everything in foreground, front-of-macromind.

The joining of this kaleidoscopic imagination with that of another person, desires in common (in communion), gives this imaginative experience its identifiably erotic dimension. That feeling of borders collapsing to points, points variegating to spaces. You and me, dimensions of one another. Mind and body amen.

Telling the truth is a love letter to everything imaginable.


Irreal Life Top 10: Musk/Twitter edition.

  1. Twitter was already owned and operated by a coalition of fantastically rich dilettantes. Now there will just be one. There’s no evidence at all that the unusually vicious Musk has anything resembling a moral outlook or even a spine, but within his world of autistic trust-fund babies he’s fairly normal. Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, is a similar sort of fool, but he at least gives the impression of having a social life, i.e. a network of interpersonal connections (theoretically) capable of expanding his sense of self. Musk gives no such impression. This is worrisome, but if it surprises you then that’s worrisome too.
  2. Tesla has done enormous good for the world, thus far, by rapidly forcing electric cars into the mainstream. (Diminishing returns have obviously kicked in; Tesla’s ‘software/battery company that also makes cars’ approach is increasingly dangerous. But its existence mattered enormously.) No such revolutionary transformation is possible from Twitter — it’s an advertising platform populated by lunatics, imbeciles, sociopaths, corporate predators, and hundreds of millions of increasingly deranged status-seekers and increasingly vegetative followers. Twitter, like Facebook, is incapable of doing anything net-good for the world at this point.
  3. Musk is borrowing much of the money for this purchase.
  4. One (unintentionally) interesting thing about Musk is that he embodies many of the repugnant things about his rich, cruel, insulated, disconnected tech-industry cohort: he and his silly ex-girlfriend Grimes named their children ‘X’ and ‘Exa’; he owns no home (despite supposedly having ‘joint custody’ of five kids plus the two he conceived with Grimes) and ‘literally couch-surfs’ at friends’ houses; he has no aesthetic sense of any kind; he postures in ‘fuck your feelings’ fashion about the ‘woke mind-virus’ and has teams of private investigators destroy the lives of his critics; uses technical jargon to obfuscate his 101-level grasp of topics his lifestyle insulates him from having to actually understand (e.g. ‘tunnels’); he’s evidently convinced that he can figure out complex problems from first principles and is entitled to be paid to do so; he engages in ordinary college-boy sophistry to justify his unvaryingly self-serving hypocrisies; he opines grandly about war and politics despite having left his home country to avoid military service, etc., etc. These are all perfectly ordinary tech-bourgeois behaviours, amplified by social isolation and deranging levels of wealth (including a massive inheritance). The most pernicious myth about Elon Musk is that he is in any way unique.
  5. The Elon cult/fandom is of no interest to me.
  6. At present I’m convinced that Twitter, like Facebook, is a net liability for the human species, albeit for different reasons. Twitter amplifies dangerous and costly species-tendencies and -traits while mostly suppressing what’s good about interpersonal communication. One of its core use cases is ‘using a telephone to read short self-promoting messages from celebrities, corporate spokesmen, and status-seeking media professionals.’ The one thing that Twitter users agree on, universally, is that everything about the Twitter experience is terrible. It’s long been known that the only sane way to use Twitter is to employ lists as something like broadcast media — a worse version of the previous decade’s RSS feeds which incentivizes bad thinking, hollow writing, and lazy reading. It is universally agreed upon, moreover, that Twitter has monotonically worsened for years now.
  7. The key problem with Twitter isn’t ‘free speech’ or impingements thereon, it’s that Twitter is an intrinsically stupefying and debilitating medium. This is tied to its revenue model — Twitter’s money comes from (1) advertising and (2) selling your private information — but the fundamental problem is that Twitter consists of unthreaded pseudonymous 280-character messages and images, broken up by ads and sorted by the worst possible polarizing algorithmic filters. Twitter benefits from zombification and outrage; its users don’t…
  8. …which doesn’t matter to the company, because the users aren’t its customers, they’re (we’re) the product. Twitter’s customers are advertisers and data-harvesters.
  9. The solution to Twitter’s problems isn’t ‘name verification’ — that’s solely a data-harvesting move, as it was for Facebook. Pseuodonymity is quite healthy at a small scale with sane high-effort moderation and useful barriers to entry, i.e. medium- to high-trust pseudonymity works, and requires thoughtful investment. The poisonous nature of Twitter discourse results from early design choices essential to the platform, and its lunatic devotion to growth and reliance on advertising. The ability to downvote would mitigate some of its flaws, but hopefully you can see what’s problematic about that; if not, trying imagining every subreddit combined into one.
  10. Elon Musk has no idea whatsoever how to run a social network. The most successful Twitter user of all time is Donald Trump; do you think Trump should run Twitter, or own it? Of course not, he shouldn’t even be allowed to use it. (He used Twitter to incite violence, that’s obviously why.) Musk believes he can help Twitter succeed in the role of online public square, but he is incorrect about what that means and delusional about both his and Twitter’s ability to change the network’s role/nature/function.

Notes on the MATRIX movies.

The following, written a month or two ago, is excerpted from a manuscript in progress. –w.

The Matrix / Reloaded / Revolutions / Resurrections

The release of Lana Wachowski’s Matrix Resurrections will muddy the critical legacy of the original trilogy++. Not to say it isn’t time for a reevaluation: it’s long been fashionable to backhandedly compliment The Matrix as a ‘perfect’ yet pretentious and intellectually slapdash film, complain about Reloaded as a bloated indulgence with impressive setpieces and a ludicrous ending, and dismiss Revolutions as an overlong and ultimately mundane messiah-tale. All three of these judgments are incorrect. But today’s American film audience — raised on secondhand Star Wars and Marvel’s sub-cinema of expensive reassurance, in a discursive context that prefers video ‘explainers’ and ship-fics to meaningful ambivalence — isn’t capable of meeting the original films on their own terms, and Lana Wachowski’s reinterpretation of the trilogy serves, I think, to narrow and reduce it, even while seeking new things to say about sentimental nostalgia. The Matrix trilogy is more ambitious, with more on its mind, than any ‘blockbuster’ entertainment since, and much morseo than the surprisingly modest Resurrections. It continues, even now, to transform.

The center of the Matrix story is the widely mocked and parodied conversation between Skywalker (Neo) and Emperor (The Architect), which serves as anti/climax to the astonishing second film, Reloaded. I suspect, as I did then, that the Architect scene caused titters partly because its dialogue is a little complicated, but mostly because it explicitly undermines the seemingly familiar narrative which the The Matrix had established.

The first film is the straightforward hero-story of a soul’s liberation: a young Hero fulfills his Destiny as The (Chosen) One, guided by allies from the Hidden World, only when he learns to Sacrifice his illusory Self for Love. The superbly expressive kung fu, snappy dialogue, and wondrous vfx make the Wachowskis’ tale of modern-day gnosis look like sf, but as with its key forerunner-texts Star Wars and The Invisibles, The Matrix is basically old school mythic fantasy (i.e. allegory of self-actualization and restoration to authentic existence) told using familiar, indeed universal, magical terms: Neo/Anderson (tr. ‘Son of Man’) comes to know himself and gains the powers of flight, martial mastery, truesight, transcendence of death, etc. It’s fast and funny, and has a killer ending. No wonder audiences loved it.

But Reloaded all but chucks the surface story of the first film out the window, and after a lot of baroque plotstuff it ends up with Neo confronting the Architect behind, as it were, the curtain. The villain tells the hero that the first film, ostensibly about seeing the hidden truth behind the world of illusion, is itself a long lie: the prophesied messiah, ‘The One,’ is an emergent phenomenon which the evil robots have accounted for in the design of the Matrix; the machines wrote the prophecy. The One exists to keep dissident humans in line, who otherwise might attain critical mass and actually endanger the entire system. The human city of Zion isn’t a paradise, it’s a safety valve (remember what William Empson said about those); the war between humans and machines is a line-item in the machines’ energy budget, and the ‘imaginative freedom’ peddled by The One — i.e. the regularly recurring ‘messiah’ function which our hero/avatar/figure of identification happens to be fulfilling this time around — is another system of control. It’s Plato’s caves all the way down.

On top of that explicitly political rug-pull, there’s the central philosophical proposition of the second film: ‘free will’ being an illusion, the real action is not in choice but in understanding (i.e. a combination of thinking and feeling our way into) the nature of our choosing. The mark of the awakened human isn’t ‘free’ choice, there’s no such thing; it’s insight, self-knowledge, which enables authentic living, and The Matrix‘s iconic ‘red pill’ scene will be recast in Resurrections as a fakeout, a trick — pseudo-agency, a choice undertaken in ignorance of the system which gives rise to it. The weakness of the perfectly logical computer-villain, the Architect, is that he/it can’t conceive of truly free choice. The eminent British sf novelist/critic Adam Roberts cites this as the series’s most interesting idea; I agree and am reminded of the fifth Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones. (Stay with me.) That otherwise risible film revolves on Anakin Skywalker’s private interpretation of compassion as ‘unconditional love,’ which he takes not only as ‘encouragement to love’ but as exhortation toward selfish, destructive passion — which the monkish code (to his mind hypocritically) rejects. The secret marriage that closes Clones is presented to the film’s audience as a consummation devoutly to be wished, but of course the Star Wars prequels are antiheroic tragedy, and Anakin’s willful blindness to the cost of his selfishness destroys the/his world, obligating his (and other people’s) kids to fix things, and sometimes die trying, a generation later. This is the attractive paradox at the heart of the messy but unbelievably ambitious Star Wars films, the motivating misreading which makes Empire possible. The Wachowskis make a similar move in the parodically wooden Neo/Architect scene, sabotaging the trilogy’s pleasure-system, tearing up the contract.

Not for nothing does most of the third film, Revolutions, take place in the real world — we even see the sun for the first time, my favourite moment in the trilogy. Having undercut their own apparent ‘truth will set you free’ message, the Wachowskis finished up with another conceptual backflip: Neo ends up fighting to preserve the Matrix against Agent Smith (The Zero), and ironically fulfills the messianic prophecy by ending the Machine War from the other side. There’s a soporofic mechs vs robots battle scene beneath the earth, and a glorious climactic fistfight in the (virtual) sky; the climax sees Neo deliberately lose his fight with Smith, allowing the code which created ‘The One’ to disseminate into all people plugged into the system (of control). Which is to say, Neo returns to the mundane world after his journey of self-questioning, bearing the magical gift of self-knowledge, and dies in order to share it; it’s one of the cleverest, most elegantly structured hero-journey payoffs in pop-art history. Audiences hated it. Here I’m reminded of the disturbing transhumanist finale of James Cameron’s Avatar, in which our human hero rejects his species (after mowing a bunch of American soldiers down) to become part of an alien world-tree — another weird, subversive image/message laughed out of the Overton window by the usual taste-enforcers. It’s telling that the Wachowskis took the risky path of shooting both sequels at once, embodying the gotcha at the heart of their story from the beginning: if The Matrix was about self-knowledge and the ironic irrelevance of prophecies, why were we so eager to misread it as Neuromancer-plus-Superman?

That’s the real affront of Matrix Reloaded — the Wachowski’s insistence that The One, the messiah-fairytale, wasn’t their ‘mislead’…it was our misread.

Lana Wachowski’s Resurrections doesn’t expand on the in-world mythology of the trilogy in any way, disappointing the nerds; it features hardly any fisticuffs, disappointing action fans, and (worse) what’s there is artless and weightless; it loses two of its best performers, Hugo Weaving (whose unhinged performance as Smith is one of Hollywood’s great villain turns) and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, letting down the pure nostalgists, then ironically recasts those parts with young actors whose characters are explicitly acknowledged in-world as doing a nostalgic bit — even watching clips of the first movie to ‘train up’ on their mythic destinies. Wachowski’s broadside against capitalist necrophilia (per Roberts, ‘The Reboot…our contemporary fascination with reshooting (as it might be) the same Star Wars film every few years’) feels too explicitly/narrowly contemporary to resonate in the mythic register as did the original film. The best thing about Resurrections is how weirdly personal it is: Lana Wachowski, Hollywood’s best known transsexual filmmaker, moves the action from ‘The City’ to San Francisco and shifts the allegorical focus of the original trilogy toward the comparatively mundane present-political, reducing ‘transhuman’ to ‘trans’ and losing most of what’s interesting about the trilogy but enabling a liberated explicitness of theme and message. Resurrections functions as a kind of fan-essay about the original films rather than a continuation of the original story. In the end, Trinity gains the powers of The One (the 1+1?), and she and Neo beat up the evil psychotherapist(!) who entrapped them before flying off into a rainbow sky (yes, really) with actual smiles on their faces. They’re still in the Matrix, mind you, but they’ve relieved the tension of their tantalizing artificial separation. They refuse to be rebooted as they were; one suspects they’ll now allow themselves to both live and die on their own terms, in a story no longer obligated to be heroic.

It’s lovely at times, particularly its final shot, and parts of the movie are fun, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Lana needs Lily — indeed, I left the theater wondering whether the whole thing wasn’t at some level a regretful love letter to their own perhaps broken collaborative relationship, as much as to their parents whose death drove Lana Wachowski’s to revisit the story after years of refusing.

What Resurrections isn’t, makes no attempt to be, is strange — which in retrospect seems inevitable and probably healthy, but dull. The original trilogy is enveloped in mystery from its classic opening sequence (Trinity’s narrow escape from the hotel) to the Superman finale that tees up the ‘real’ story, but insofar as Resurrections is about making peace with sundered selves and being earnestly explicit about love (which literally conquers all this time around), it makes sense that its dramatic arc is one of demystification and dissipating tension. Indeed, its dramatic inertness stems partly from the fact that it seems to want to put its own world behind it; since it’s a big-budget Hollywood film rather than an experimental French or Russian one, there’s just no way in the world it’s not going to function ultimately as an affirmation. Lana Wachowski’s desire to attain and celebrate integration is purely admirable, but there’s no tension in the film, no threat — its antagonisms come off as pedantic and deflationary. (Fun fact: Resurrections premiered not in Los Angeles but at the Castro Theater, the nation’s temple of gay bourgeoisie.) It doesn’t have to explain its ideas because it doesn’t have any, just feelings; that’s beautiful in its way, but in today’s idiotic political climate there’s something weird and worrisome about the association of ‘transcending (gender) binaries’ and ‘not wrestling with ideas.’ (This isn’t to say Lana Wachowski doesn’t have ideas aplenty — only that this movie doesn’t much.) Matrix Resurrections is less a Matrix movie than a movie about the creation- and reception-history of the original trilogy, set in a parallel world. It could as easily, and more succinctly, have been an interview with its stars and director.

Which is to say that the technobody horror and erotic-philosophical charge of the original films might’ve been a side effect of whatever demons of disintegration plagued the Wachowskis from within, or maybe just natural storytelling modes for two writers who got their start scripting Clive Barker comics for Marvel…but their aesthetic upside was to ground the trilogy’s tragic transhuman transcendence in a world both as heady as the Baudrillard it namechecked and as achingly bodily (though not fleshy) as the PVC domme-wear that inspired its look. It’s enough, maybe, to note that in Resurrections Neo never changes out of his work clothes — he spends the movie dressed up, let’s face it, as middle-aged Keanu Reeves. From one angle that’s just lovely, but even if (part of) Wachowski’s point is that maturation and integration involve letting go of a suffocating attachment to thwarted longing (they do! you should!), movies still need to work. The first three, the ones the Wachowskis made together — they worked.

Indeed, the closest the movie comes to having an idea is Lana’s sly decision to replace Reloaded‘s Architect, the archetypal inhuman(e) central planner, with Neil Patrick Harris’s Analyst, whose job is to keep Neo/Thomas taking pills and trading on his reputation and allowing his memory to be ‘weaponized’ instead of doing whatever it is that movie protagonists do. The Analyst is the only interesting figure in the film, embodying the old-fashioned idea that emotional control is the trustiest means of political subjugation. This is how Lana kicks back at ‘redpill’ fetishism: the villains of Resurrections generously offer their subjects plentiful false choice, including those stupid (symbolically overloaded, wonderful) pills, but the trilogy’s story of becoming-One was about insight, inner plenty — and the Analyst knows how to manage that shouldabeen-sacred innerworld directly, cutting out the materialist middleman and speaking directly to/of desire. Harris himself remains a sympathetic figure in his own middle age, and sympathy in place of action is one pseudopolitical trap that Neo ends up having to escape. ‘Am I crazy?’ ‘We don’t use that word in here.’ Of course not: pronouncing capitalist subjects crazy is the sole domain of the state, the machine. Integrated selves might make integrated communities, and unlicensed community runs the risk (from the machine-state’s perspective) of illegibility. Better to keep Mr Anderson fixated on the problems of middle age, to keep his eyes off the possibility of a new one.

What you changed that nobody believed could ever be changed: the meaning of ‘our side.’

In a movie not exactly overflowing with strong dialogue, this — one of the new kids reminding Neo what he was once capable of — is a good line. It’s a lovely expression of solidarity, but in the context of a movie where the villain works in the ‘helping professions’ in order to monitor the inner lives of his prisoner-subjects, the line is also awfully bleak: Neo/’Tom’ pays handsomely for the Analyst to redirect him inward, chasing an atomized and isolated and terminally static ‘wellness’ instead of the (re)union which might make him fully human…at the risk of making him unrecognizable. His sense of himself as self-contained and sick is capitulation to the machine.1

The first time Neo and Trinity get coffee, she’s impressed by his work on the in-world videogame, The Matrix, and pushes him to acknowledge his achievements. (This is the during the long, charming stretch of the movie that’s a kind of ‘real-person fic’ about the cast and crew of The Matrix — much the best thing in the film, but it desperately wants another dialogue pass.) Keanu/Neo/Tom misses the point, just like he’s been trained to: ‘We kept some kids entertained.’ Not just false humility, this is a failure to see art as a bridge between souls: Anderson (Wachowski, in one meaning-frame) dismisses the original story as something other than an exhortation to engage and transform, even while the cast of young would-be heroes whose lives he and Trinity made possible are begging him to support their own ongoing struggles. He mistakes ‘keeping it together’ for being whole, which requires points of interpersonal contact that a well-managed Citizen no longer possesses. The Analyst helps his patients maintain an acquiescent longing that mistakes busyness for action, spectatorship and nostalgia for meaningful engagement — helps them become Matrix fans, rather than protagonists.

Of course, the trilogy has already been here. Remember, this is how the first film ends, with Neo speaking to the machines:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you. (my emph. –w.)

This is an odd moment: a movie ostensibly about choosing freedom over enslavement ends, triumphantly, with the hero explicitly announcing that the real story is what happens after the supposed hero-journey, and then offering the bad guys a role in deciding what happens next. But of course, the direct address in that scene is also aimed at the audience: I remember seeing the film in theaters nearly a quarter-century ago and understanding myself to be both one of ‘these people’ and the ‘you’ that Neo goads to action. The man even looks at the camera before flying off to begin his work, after all. He may as well say ‘Give me your hands if we be friends.’

And of course, the rest of the trilogy reveals much of Neo’s closing monologue to be merely incorrect: The One is himself an artifact of the system of control, the machines have nothing to fear from humans, and the two tribes’ fates are forever bound together. But beneath the plotstuff, the message (we might more gently say, the perspective) is consistent: emancipation, gnosis, transcendence, is ongoing work rather than a permanent achievement. Neo is just one guy, albeit a superpowered one; he is the hero but the story isn’t ‘about him,’ it’s about the magical boon he brings back to the mundane world, which is a work assignment. Even the choice to liberate oneself from the Matrix (or stay behind and pretend to eat steak) is, at a certain level, predetermined; what’s left is meaning, self-knowledge, resting transparently in that choice.

In English-language versions of Buddhist texts, the term nibbana (nirvana) often goes untranslated — it is understood, at times vaguely, as an exalted state of awakened consciousness, and the ‘exotic’ label subtly reinforces a sense of magical otherness, along with a certain unattainability. In a community which venerates the Buddha (the first truly awakened being) as a self-made semi-divine figure, this choice carries extra weight and some annoying metaphysical connotations. The American monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in his translations of the Pāli Canon2, chooses to translate nibbana as ‘Unbinding,’ close to the literal sense of the extinguishing of a fire. The American Buddhist scholar Glen Wallis, following TB’s lead, in his own translations knocks the capital letter off the front: it’s just unbinding, an ongoing process of relinquishing our death-grip on unease/stress (dukkha, conventionally translated as ‘suffering’) as a fundamental premise of our existence. Further along the path to awakening, but still on it: awakening as skill, not reward.

This right here is a good idea.

Neo/Lana spends all of Resurrections trying to awaken from a bad dream to a better one, and then to awaken Trinity/Lana — it works, they win, and the Wachowskis remain smarter than the movies’ fans. But if Resurrections is critical of those who see the trilogy’s call to self-knowledge and ongoing action as mere entertainment (while ruefully acknowleding how easy and tempting it is to see it that way), it doesn’t join in the original work. In the end Love Conquers All, which is a fine message for those living in this world but, as Paul McCartney might’ve told John Lennon, not much of a plan for changing it. Our young sequel-Morpheus tells Neo…

You gotta fight for your goddamn life if you want to see Trinity again.

…which is, lemme tell you, the actual best line in the movie by a long leap, stirring in context — but the movie can’t live up to it. It ends with Neo/Keanu and Trinity/Carrie-Ann thanking the villain for giving them ‘a second chance.’ Irony and self-reference, sure, but not only. The trilogy had the good guys fighting for peace; this adjunct-art sees them settling into love, if not for it. The Matrix movies have gotten old. That’s OK.

  1. It’s a brave story, isn’t it. Annoying as it is in purely cinematic terms, disappointing as it is when compared to the heights of the original movies, there’s something wise and admirable about Lana Wachowski’s insistence on the beautiful wrongness of freedom. 
  2. ‘Pāli’ is the name given to the language of the conservative Theravāda Buddhist scriptural canon, collected and written down a touch more than 2,000 years ago, and this footnote is probably the right place to apologize for not being too concerned about getting my diacritics consistent. You know what I mean.