The Matrix Plot That Should Have Been
The Matrix is one of my favorite movies of all time. I remember — thanks in no small part to certain pre-movie recreational activities — being fully blown away by the grand reveal to Neo about what the Matrix actually was. It’s far from a perfect movie though. The acting was pretty subpar (Keanu gets a pass because, well, he’s Keanu). The sequels were convoluted and bizarre. And there were serious plot holes as well.
The most glaring plot hole, unfortunately, is also the most important plot point — the use of humans as batteries by the machines. Ignoring the fact that humans are a terribly inefficient energy source, I can’t help but wonder; why didn’t the machines just use, like.. cows instead? They put out more energy and are far less intelligent than us humans. There’d be no need for the creation and maintenance of a sophisticated virtual simulation of a cow pasture, although it’s amusing to consider.
What’s worse is that Morpheus further explains to Neo that “combined with a form of fusion the machines had found all the energy they would ever need.”
Come again, Morpheus? The machines discovered fusion power? They have all the power they could ever want; what possible motivation could they have for creating and maintaining these incredibly complex human-battery farms other than to fulfill some sadistic and demented revenge fetish? It can’t be, because in the end they’re actually giving humanity exactly what it wants — life as it was in the 21st century. So maybe the machines are actually benevolent? Who the hell knows, it’s foolish on its face.
It was from a similar train of thought that a friend of mine and I came up with what we both agreed was a better version of the Matrix plot; what if instead of the Matrix having been created by the machines as a convoluted way to harvest energy from the humans (whom they had just finished defeating in a long and bloody war), the Matrix was actually created by us in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of humans growing more and more dependent on machines which eventually revolt and overthrow humanity, but that plot had already been done (and done better) by Terminator 1 and 2. What would have been far more interesting and nuanced is the idea that we took our dependence on technology and machines to its logical and horrifying conclusion.
That is, we continue our unsustainable growth and exponential rate of technological innovation, but destroy the planet as a result of our careless stewardship rather than as a result of some war. Then you don’t need the hilariously bad plot device in the actual Matrix plot where the humans somehow “scorch the sky” in an attempt to deprive the machines of their solar energy (solar energy they apparently depended on despite having discovered fusion).
So it having actually been us humans that wrecked the environment, it logically follows that the matrix was actually created as a way for us to return the world to its once beautiful state (1999 being the height of existence for humanity, apparently, although I can’t say I disagree). Of course, we don’t actually fix the problem, but we don’t need to because virtual reality technology has gotten so good that we really don’t need the planet to look nice or even be that hospitable. All we need is for our machines to continue to run, supply us with food, dispose of our waste and our corpses, and above all — don’t wake us the fuck up!
That’s where Neo comes in. Knowing that true “presence” in a virtual world is a difficult thing to achieve because of how perceptive the human mind is to the uncanny valley, the architects of the Matrix were very careful to build in safety measures to prevent any of the more perceptive or skeptical minds from waking up and causing others to waking up en-masse — thus running ruining the beautiful illusion for everyone. And that’s where story takes a wonderfully dark and intriguing turn.
This alternate Matrix plot is, ultimately, a tragedy. Neo, despite all the failsafes added to the system, is unplugged from the Matrix and discovers the horrifying truth — we’ve completely destroyed the planet and instead of fixing it we’ve retreated into a virtual world. Despite any desire he may have to un-see it, he can’t. The truth is, however, he wasn’t that in love with his life in the Matrix to begin with. So just as was feared by the original arhitects of the Matrix, he makes it his crusade to wake everyone up from their virtual prisons so they can face reality.
Morpheus and his crew play basically the same role in this plot as in the original. However, instead of the descendants of the last humans who fought in the war against the machines, they are really descendants of the last remaining natural humans who rejected the plan to recede into the Matrix. Perhaps they were environmental extremists, which would explain why there are also physical defenses for preventing anyone from tampering with the Matrix. Much of the original plot could remain the same because it would still make sense for Neo to have been contacted and trained by Morpheus and his crew.
In fact, you could even keep all the convoluted plot devices I complained about earlier that Morpheus spews out and treat them as lies he’s feeding Neo to try to win him over to their cause. The plot would continue on as planned complete with the Agent Smith character, but not including the strange ying/yang comparison to Neo that they tried to weave into the original trilogy. Instead, Agent Smith really would be no more than a program to keep people from giving away the game to the rest of humanity.
So then for the big plot twist and grand, tragic finale. Neo and company succeed in defeating Agent Smith and wake humanity up to the horrible truths about what they did to the planet and the lie they’ve been living for so many years. With great purpose, everyone bands together to disable the machines that destroyed the planet and slowly start to return Earth to its natural state. Perhaps this might involve sacrificing a significant portion of the population to accomplish, but it is seen as a necessary cost for the freedom of humanity.
Fast forward a couple generations, to a time when humans now live without the aid of machines, but more in harmony with nature (or at least what semblance of nature remains). It’s a cold and hard existence, devoid of the comforts we take for granted in the modern world, but perhaps its the way humans should be living. The remnants of the old world litter the landscape, covered in fauna and long forgotten. Neo is a worshipped figure and life, simple as it may now be, goes on. A scene is then shown where a scrawny, destitute young boy hunting for game sees a white rabbit dart out from behind a bush, look at the him briefly, and scramble into a hole… only to see a second, identical rabbit do the exact.. same.. thing.
The twist, if you’re not quite following yet, is that we’ve not only destroyed the original, physical planet Earth — we’ve destroyed the virtual planet Earth as well, doing the exact same fucking thing! Even though Neo and Morpheus succeeded in freeing humanity from their virtual prison and returned to a society in balance with nature, it’s all for nothing. As the de ja vu rabbit “glitch” suggests, they’re inside of a Matrix too, and living no more naturally or in tune with Nature than they were when they were plugged in. And only God knows how far down the rabbit hole goes. It seems we cannot escape the simple truth that human civilization will always eventually collapse into unsustainability.
It touches on some heavy philosophical themes that I feel the Wachowski Brothers were attempting to weave in throughout their ham-fisted handling of the sequels, but in a much more direct and understandable way. It explores questions about what reality is and what we require to be happy. There’s the concept of infinite parallel universes that also fits very nicely into this theme because we could be living in infinitely nested Matrixes. Morality itself is called into question, as well. Should Neo and Morpheus have woken humanity up? Was their deed still virtuous after it was utlimately revealed to been completely and utterly pointless? Are humans really a virus and are we doomed to eventually destroy every environment we occupy, virtual or otherwise?
What I really like this alternate plot is that Cypher actually ends up being the hero in a way. He’s the only one who sees it all for what it is. He wants to be plugged back in because he recognizes that the alternative is horrible. He even attempts to thwart Morpheus and Neo in their attempts to wake everyone up. Alas, he is tragically electrocuted to death by one of Morpheus’ radicalized environmental terrorists before he can.
I still love the original Matrix film, despite its flaws (although I refuse to acknowledge the sequels). The Wakowksi brothers deserve a lot of credit for taking the plot on in the first place and particularly for their innovations in cinematography and special effects, but utlimately their handling of the plot was poor. The core concept was simply so magnificent that it was able to shine despite them. But I do wish a concept similar to the alternative plot outlined above would be explored. Or maybe I should be careful what I wish for.