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The Problem Is Choice: A Critical Reading Of The Matrix Trilogy Part I (of III)

By Edited Apr 25, 2016 1 0

Reality as Determined by the Individual

The Path of The One

All reality is determined by subjective perception. The previous sentence is a paradox, as it implies that reality can be perceived as wholly objective. The notion can also be inverted, to suggest that objective reality determines the subject. Thus, we have conflict, and a foundation for all beliefs and systems of belief to live in harmonious discord. Harmony comes in the form of the one, while discord arrives as the multitude.

The possibilities for the form of the one are infinite. An individual person can be one, or a nation can be one. Humanity as a whole can be one. The multitude exists in exactly the same way, putting a single man or an entire population at odds with itself. Where there is doubt, there cannot be one.

Objectively, the one and the multitude exist simultaneously in all aspects of reality. Stacking all possibilities of existence as one lump sum does allow for an incontrovertible and absolute reality. The one wins. Subjectively, perception must parse sensory data for an “on/off” (“yes/no,” “one/many”) response. Everything is subject to change, time is fleeting, and all pretenses of unity are a sham. The multitude wins.

As Neo says in The Matrix Reloaded, “The problem is choice.” This quote, however, was presented within a particular narrative context that made his opportunity to choose a problem. A more positive context would likely change his quote to “The solution is choice.” Whether choice is a problem or a solution is in the eye of the beholder, another subjective gambit. And again, a choice can even be made to deny the existence of choice, as is the case in The Matrix trilogy with the Merovingian.

The Merovingian

A Holy Descendant in Exile

The Merovingian is presented in The Matrix trilogy as a computer program in exile from the mainframe of the Matrix. Any interpretations by the audience as to his true origins are, for the most part, speculation. Therefore, it can be comfortably interpreted either that the Merovingian was always a computer program, or that at one point he was human. If he was always a program, his actions are truly predetermined and his existence proof of a reality that is (at least for him) wholly objective and without choice. However, it is possible the Merovingian was previously a man who chose to be exiled as a computer program, and he is now living a self-inflicted existence of pure causality. The choice for the audience, then, is whether the Merovingian is another form of control from a higher power, or a failed messiah who once was like Neo.

If the Merovingian is Neo’s immediate predecessor, he is the fifth integral anomaly in the Matrix, since Neo is referred to as the sixth anomaly when he meets the Architect. Any evidence that supports this is potentially a false flag and a result of very elaborate control procedures enacted by the machines in charge of the Matrix. Also, a meta-structural analysis of the films shows that every aspect of the story is ultimately a manufactured façade committed to celluloid. Assuming that the Merovingian was once a human, then, can only be done as an allegory for Neo, and not a statement of objective truth. Still, there are many purposeful similarities between the Merovingian and Neo explicit in the films themselves.

For example, the address for the Merovingian’s restaurant is 101, the same as Neo’s (as Thomas Anderson) apartment number in the first film. Instead of just drawing a straight parallel of “they have the same address, they must play the same role,” the significance of the number 101 is that its binary code converts to the decimal five, which would be the Merovingian’s integral distinction, not Neo’s. Neo, by the time he meets the Merovingian, has already moved beyond where he was when he was living in his apartment. The scenery may be nicer, but the Merovingian is living in spiritual squalor compared to Neo, because he rejected the real world and the choices that have to be made while living in it.

The number 101 is also repeated throughout the Matrix in other circumstances, such as Highway 101. It is possible that the current incarnation of the Matrix has been formed by the choices made by the Merovingian when he was the one. Generally, his choice to live inside the Matrix as a program in everlasting life can be seen as choosing to live within an empire of signs. Because of the Merovingian’s espoused beliefs in causality though, it could more likely be said from his point of view that the empire has chosen him.

Neo Beyond Bullet Time
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Cogs in a Machine Empire of Signs

The Exiles' Rejection

The theme of being an unwitting component of an empire of signs is one that the Merovingian and his army reject as exiles, though. One of the Merovingian’s soldiers, the Trainman, exemplifies an even more stringent rejection of authority and society than the Merovingian himself. While seemingly loyal to the Merovingian, the Trainman is primarily a reclusive, self-reflexive program who is most concerned with the power he wields in his own tiny corner of the Matrix, the train station, to the exclusion of all else. He could even be said to be the only member of the true church of the train, which would make him comparable to De Quincey as he wrote of himself in Confessions of an English Opium Eater. His outward appearance, though, is likely more pitiable than De Quincey, as the Trainman is a purposely ugly visual metaphor for rejecting the niceties of society. The Trainman has chosen not to make a choice about his place in life, instead endlessly cycling through the same corridor without ever figuratively getting off the train.

Other texts show a lack of choice as more of an external factor, though. A curious analog to the Merovingian, in this circumstance, is Gallimard (another Frenchman), the lead from M. Butterfly. In that play, China can be seen as playing the same role as the Matrix, and love serves as the causality that supersedes choice. “Love warped my judgment, blinded my eyes, rearranged the very lines on my face…”[1] Gallimard says, believing his love of Song to be a force that chose him, and not the other way around.

But as we will explore in the next article in this series, the Merovingian's own love is just as poisoned as the one that blinded Gallimard.



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  1. David Henry Hwang M. Butterfly. New York: New American Library, 1989.

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