January 06, 2004
Sometimes I want to poke Frodo with a spork

Not that that has anything to do with this entry. I just thought I'd share.....

Thank you to Nadia for this article from Pacific News Service

Lord of the Rings vs. The Matrix

The "Lord of the Rings" and "Matrix" trilogies have defined early 21st century cinema more than any other big-screen flicks. But as critical acclaim has increased with each new hobbit-filled "Rings" installment, the "Matrix" films have fallen from favor. "Return of the King" is hailed as "glorious," "a triumph," and "masterful," while "Matrix Revolutions" is ridiculed as "dismal," "pompous," and "underwhelming."

Like most, I was entertained and awed by the artistry and technical achievements of "The Return of the King," but by the end of the film's 3.5 hours I thought the final chapter should have been dubbed "The Return of the Patriarchy."

The "Rings" films are like promotional ads for those tired old race and gender paradigms that were all the rage back in author J.R.R. Tolkien's day. Almost all of the heroes of the series are manly men who are whiter than white. They are frequently framed in halos of blinding bright light and exude a heavenly aura of all that is Eurocentric and good. Who but these courageous Anglo-Saxon souls can save Middle Earth from the dark and evil forces of the world?

On the good side, even the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is sanitized and transformed from the weed-smoking, rather dingy figure we first meet in the "The Fellowship of the Ring," into Gandalf the White, who, by the time of "Return of the King," has become a powerful military leader complete with pure white hair and an Eisenhower attitude.

Say what you will about the convoluted storyline of the "Matrix" trilogy. At least those films give women and people of color some characters they can relate to.

From its earliest scenes, "The Matrix" flips mainstream Hollywood's minority representation manual on its head. A multi-culti group of hackers dressed in black leather and sporting funky hairdos are our heroes; Secret Service-type "agents" in suits and ties are the bad guys. Neo, the trilogies' central figure, is played by mixed-race actor Keanu Reeves. His savior and mentor is Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a powerful leader who also happens to be a black man. The wisest figure in "The Matrix" is The Oracle, a warm and witty African American woman. The films are also infused with a strong sense of Asian style and culture, exemplified by the character Seraph (Collin Chou), the Oracle's protector, who is both a martial arts expert and Buddhist meditation practitioner.

Physically powerful female characters also rock and rule in "The Matrix," led by the high-kicking Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), the Emma Peel of the 21st century, daring pilot Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and military wife turned fighter Zee, (played by Marvin's daughter Nona Gaye).

Most of the really bad guys in "The Matrix" are Eurotrash, including the very snobby Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) with his French accent, the dread-locked, very British albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) and the Oracle's evil counterpart, The Architect, (Helmut Bakaitis), a rather stuffy and pompous white guy with white beard and white suit who reeks of imperialism.

By comparison, three women play minor roles in "The Lord of the Rings": the powerful elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), the selfless Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is willing to give up immortality for the man she loves, and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of the king, who must disguise herself as a man to go into battle. Beyond this threesome, the rest of the women of Middle Earth are largely an unwashed, helpless mass who, in the face of a virtually hopeless battle against overwhelming enemy forces in "The Two Towers," can do little more than look anxious and cower with their children in fear.

Plenty of critics got lost in the complex post-modern philosophy of "The Matrix," but a few noted its more important message. As the New York Times said of the second Matrix installment: "'Reloaded'" has one of the most excitingly subversive and radical points of view ever seen in a major motion picture – a postmodern purview that accords philosophical ideals from people of color equal weight."

"The Return of the King" is a fantastic finish to a memorable film trilogy, but on a personal level, I was much more satisfied with the conclusion of "The Matrix" series. For once, the major female characters in an action film aren't whimpering and waiting to be rescued by some steroid-laden Schwarzenegger-type in the end. For once, all of the major characters of color aren't lying in a heap of corpses as the credits start to roll. To my African American female eyes, the biggest difference between "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" isn't swords versus automatic weapons, or low-tech versus high-tech. It's the patriarchy of the past versus the Rainbow Coalition of the future.

-By Andrea Lewis

Andrea Lewis is a San Francisco-based writer and co-host of the "Morning Show" on KPFA-FM 94.1 in Berkeley, Calif.

cinema | from inside the mind of krix at January 06, 2004 04:27 PM .

Nice take. :)

Posted by: :: jozjozjoz :: on January 6, 2004 04:38 PM

Ahhh....somebody who gets it.

Posted by: Tyler on January 6, 2004 04:43 PM

Finally...a positive review of not just the first movie, but the entire trilogy. *Thank you*, Andrea Lewis.

Posted by: r.j.girl on January 6, 2004 04:50 PM

I didn't notice no black people in Middle Earth...

That did bug me somewhat...

Posted by: Keanuette on January 6, 2004 04:51 PM

I truly hope that now that the WB machine has stopped rolling out the overhype, people (and I include critics in this group for lack of a better category)will see the Matrices for what they are - a trilogy consisting of a fantastic story of faith, hope and love. The heroes and heroines of all colors kicked ass and understood what they were fighting for, and although a lot of the parallels were obvious (Oz;the Bible, etc.) those ideas that were not that obvious actually made a few people reflect, open a book they otherwise may have ignored, or even google a philosopher or two to "get" it. This trilogy will live on and garner even more fans when younger kids are old enough to understand the philosophies driving the story. I'm glad to see articles like this from someone who has taken the time to understand what its all about. Its not about explosions, car chases and kung fu.

Oh, and the main dude turned out to be pretty damn cool for a computer nerd.

Posted by: Chianti, the Optimistic on January 6, 2004 05:00 PM

PS. I forgot to mention - I now take more notice, as a caucasian woman, to the fate of women as well as people of color in film. Whether this would have been brought to light in my natural evolution without the Matrix, I'm not sure (I hope so). But I do notice stuff like that now, and its amazing how often minorities are killed off with little regard, are the bad guys, are doers of the dirty deeds, or are not the heroes/heroines. Its important those things are noticed. Not so subliminal messages like those certainly must be making an impact on all of us, or am I just paranoid?

Posted by: Chianti, upping her wattage on January 6, 2004 05:12 PM

Krix, I can't respond to this political essay in a non-political way, so I'll just be as muted as I can and hope I don't tick you off:

The critics don't like Matrix because it's too evocative of a messianic message which references the West's Judeo-Christian heritage (The One, Zion, Trinity, etc....) Sooner or later America's culture wars (which affect the entire Western world) boil down to one of two viewpoints: support for the leadership of an individual nation on the basis of its values of individual political rights, or support for a national collective under the UN for its support of economic human rights. Judeo-Christianity has been utilized to support both views, but in current culture it is loudest in support of the former. Whether critics realize it consciously or subconsciously, either way, they aren't going to like it.

There are traces of it in LOTR but it's written in bold green letters all over The Matrix: Freedom over security. That's the message, and most leftists hate it.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

Posted by: Bethanie on January 6, 2004 05:37 PM

There's no chance of me getting ticked off, because I really didn't understand a word you said.

Posted by: krix on January 6, 2004 05:50 PM

Bwah ha ha ha @ Krix for that last comment. You're a funny gal, have a beautiful site, and thank you for that cool article.

Posted by: Khandi on January 6, 2004 05:59 PM

LOL! Was I *too* muted? No, but really.... you've noticed the Neo-as-Jesus interpretations out there, right?

Posted by: Bethanie on January 6, 2004 06:03 PM

I'm not sure I understand Bethanie's comments, but it really doesn't matter. Yeah, we have all "gotten" the Neo-as-Jesus interpretations, but what this has to do with politics is beyond me. I just liked the movies. Period. And my politics don't jive with Bethanie's, so her theory is busted anyway.

All it boils down to is this: these movies were too cerebral for the critics who prefer the "I'll be baaaack" type movies.

Posted by: Melissa on January 6, 2004 06:11 PM

Scuse, please, but the Matrix bends much more toward Eastern philosophies than the others mentioned.
Hate to harp about a topic that is smattered all over smartypants discussion groups, but maybe someone isn't aware of that fact.
An ol' Zen sayin': "Worry and things will be as they are, Don't worry and things will still be as they are.'
Neo comes back many times trying to change that and does the same stuff over again til this time when he finally becomes enlightened. That's when things change. Hate to burst bubble and state obvious,BUT...Enlightenment,compassion, and LOVE over freedom and/or security or any other damn thing, politic,or idea is more like it, Bub.
That's a very leftist view and oh, contrary to stated above,they are the ones who like this pic the most.
It's actually a very simple message and kinda disses the messiah idea altogether--he was just a dude who finally got it.
And, speaking of politics, I think one likely reason why people involved in this film got snubbed was the lil petition we sent out about the pre screenin's. Them materialistic kids want their free easy stuff...
OK, I'll shut up now too. Just trying to balance things here...hope it's not making anyone feel odd.
But then, I'm just a girl and my opinion might not count for much

Posted by: T on January 6, 2004 06:12 PM

Well, my view is, everything is political, in the end. And critics who reacted with bizarre, visceral hatred to Matrix were reacting to the underlying message: that freedom is better than security and that you should fight those who would enslave you, even if that slavery is comfortable.

Don't get me wrong, as I said once before, I'm an atheist. Neo-as-Jesus doesn't make me swoon. (I have my own reasons for swooning.) But think about the critics who sneered at Matrix. Do you really think they liked Terminator better? Come on. They like Bob Roberts better. They liked The Contender better. They liked The Hours better.

They like anything that has a more left-wing message better. They are processing Matrix, at some level, as right-wing.

Posted by: Bethanie on January 6, 2004 06:17 PM

Oh yeah, and Frodo's feet were cute, but nothing can compete with the Most Excellent Boots!!!

Posted by: T on January 6, 2004 06:18 PM

T- If it was just about love, why didn't Neo and Trinity just live in the Matrix and hook up there? Why even fight it? What's so bad about machines keeping your body safe and comfy while your mind roams around an electronic playground?

Posted by: Bethanie on January 6, 2004 06:20 PM

I am sure that krix wouldn't want us to start a political discussion here, so I will say this only once: I did not see a "right-wing" bent to the Matrix. None of my friends saw a "right-wing" bent to the Matrix.

BTW, I am not "right-wing," so if it was there, wouldn't I have picked up on it?

Posted by: Melissa on January 6, 2004 06:21 PM

You wouldn't pick up on it if you have a limited view of what constitutes "right wing." Since righties and lefties seldom talk to each other, they tend to know little about what each other stands for. That's all.

I'm sorry. I'm not trying to high-jack Krix's thread, it's just that she posted this very political essay so I was kind of hoping that meant she was saying it might be okay to do it a little, just on this particular thread.

Posted by: Bethanie on January 6, 2004 06:41 PM

Lord of the Rings, Schmord of the Rings. All I've got to say is that the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was based on stories that were already written and have been around awhile (much beloved 'tis true), but the Matrices came from the Wachowski Brothers imaginations. And what an interesting brew they concocted and mixed (kung fu, sci-fi, philosophy, "bullet time" etc...)! I'm more impressed with the creative ideas of the Matrices myself. Though, to give Peter Jackson and co. credit their films are very epic and beautifully shot. I prefer the Matrices hands down though.

I also think you can ask twenty different people their ideas about the Matrices and what they meant and get twenty different answers. ;)

Posted by: Judee on January 6, 2004 07:01 PM

I think if I understand Bethanie's comments correctly that the reason The Matrix films were despised and their success resent is because of the message that they put forth, i.e, the message boils down to is the right of individual freedom of choice over the imposed will of the collective.

And, that, in many (not all) minds is a right wing view.

Hey, its a thought.

Posted by: Tyler on January 6, 2004 07:01 PM

"Imposed will of the collective" as left-wing? Maybe, if you're describing socialism.

And just because I'm not "right-wing" doesn't mean I'm too stupid to recognize conservatism.

Posted by: Melissa on January 6, 2004 07:10 PM

First of, I guess I should apologize for trying to be clever in my first comment to diffuse the derailing with a little humor.
I didn't understand Bethanie's original comment mostly because it had nothing to do with the article posted.
While the way women and minorities are portrayed in film might be "political", I don't think that this article leans itself to the right-wing or Judeo-Christian discussion at all.
Bethanie, you're obviously very bright, but I'll tell you right now that I do not share your views politically, and I do NOT wish to be converted or educated on the ways of conservatism on my Keanu fan blog, ok?

Not everything is political in my opinion but if anyone has the need to make it so, then they should find another site to express it on. Preferably one where that sort of thing is on-topic and welcome.

This is not the place.

Comments are closed on this entry, which is a shame because I've already heard from someone who had something to contribute about the original article and now can not.

Posted by: krix on January 6, 2004 07:23 PM
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