Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Matrix: Man or Woman

This was originally posted at my main blog about a year ago.

In an earlier blog, I cited from Slavoj Zizek's book On Belief, commenting on the observation that he makes regarding the Man/Machine relationship as replacing the Man/Woman relationship as the one with enough tension to be explored in art and literature. In talking about Alan Turing and his "imitation game," he writes:

"Why this strange displacement from sexual difference to the difference between human and machine? [...] What if, however, the solution to this enigma is much more simple and radical? What if sexual difference is not simply a biological fact, but the Real of an antagonism that defines humanity, so that once sexual difference is abolished, a human being effectively becomes indistinguishable from a machine?"

The Matrix movies might serve as a demonstration of this idea, at least as well as Turing's proposed experiment (which actually had nothing to do with androgyny). In the films, we see the line between the sexes quite effectively blurred.

Trinity serves as the character who most demonstrates the tendency toward androgyny in the movies. Trinity and Neo, standing side by side, appear remarkably similar. In part, it is the slim build of Neo that creates this effect, along with the similarity of coloring, dressing, hair-styles, etc. The physical similarities between the two characters are carefully emphasized throughout the films through such means.

But it seems that this demolishing of the male/female difference is even more achieved through the dialogue. When Neo first meets Trinity, whom he has "known" online, he says, "I thought you were a guy." She replies with, "Most guys do." This sets up a pattern of what happens throughout the three films. Just wait for any of the agents to mention Trinity's sex. The moment one of them treats her as "just a girl," you know a serious whipping is about to occur.

But my favorite subversion of traditional male/female roles occurs in the first film. When Neo is lying dead in his chair after having been shot in the Matrix, Trinity leans over him and kisses him, waking him up. The posture of the two is an exact imitation of every fairy tale we've ever seen where the handsome prince wakes the damsel in distress with a kiss -- but in reverse. And if we go back to the idea of naming and power, this is a spot where we see Trinity (the feminine) having a form of power over Neo (the masculine), as she is the person who finally names him, and makes him, The One. But the power issue between the two is collapsed, in a certain sense, when we keep in mind that the two are often virtually indistiguishable.

The difference between Man and Machine certainly takes centre stage in the films, replacing the difference between Man and Woman as an issue of concern. Or, perhaps as Zizek has suggested, the androgyny represented in the film has made humans so machine-like that this Man/Machine relationship becomes of greater interest to us than the Man/Woman one. It is an idea that is certainly open for discussion and observation.

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