Slavoj Žižek reviews Matrix Resurrections

The first thing that strikes the eye in the multitude of reviews of Matrix Resurrections is how easily the movie’s plot (especially its ending) has been interpreted as a metaphor for our socio-economic situation.

Leftist pessimists read it as an insight into how, to put it bluntly, there is no hope for humanity: we cannot survive outside the Matrix (the network of corporate capital that controls us), freedom is impossible. Then there are social-democratic pragmatic ‘realists’ who see in the movie a vision of some kind of progressive alliance between humans and machines, sixty years after the destructive Machine Wars. In these wars ‘scarcity among the Machines led to a civil war that saw a faction of Machines and programs defect and join human society.’ The humans also change tack: Io (a human city in reality outside the Matrix led by General Niobe) is a much better place to live than Zion, their previous city in reality (there are clear hints of destructive revolutionary fanaticism in Zion in previous Matrix movies).

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The scarcity among the Machines refers not just to the devastating effects of the war but above all to the lack of energy produced by humans for the Matrix. Remember the basic premise of the Matrix series: what we experience as the reality we live in is an artificial virtual reality generated by the ‘Matrix’, the mega-computer directly attached to all our minds; it is in place so that we can be effectively reduced to a passive state of living batteries providing the Matrix with energy. However, the unique impact of the film thus resides not so much in this premise, its central thesis, but in its central image of the millions of human beings leading a claustrophobic life in water-filled cocoons, kept alive in order to generate the energy for the Matrix 5 streaming ITA.

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So when (some of the) people ‘awaken’ from their immersion into the Matrix-controlled virtual reality, this awakening is not an opening into the wide space of the external reality, but a horrible realisation of this enclosure, where each of us is effectively just a foetus-like organism, immersed in pre-natal fluid. This utter passivity is the foreclosed fantasy that sustains our conscious experience as active, self-positing subjects – it is the ultimate perverse fantasy, the notion that we are essentially instruments of the Other’s (the Matrix’s) jouissance, sucked out of our life-substance like batteries.

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Therein resides the true libidinal enigma of this dispositif: why does the Matrix need human energy? That this is to solve the energy problem is, of course, meaningless: the Matrix could have easily found another, more reliable source of energy which would have not demanded the extremely complex arrangement of a virtual reality coordinated for millions of human units. The only consistent answer is: the Matrix feeds on the human’s jouissance. So we are here back at the fundamental Lacanian thesis that the big Other itself, far from being an anonymous machine, needs the constant influx of jouissance. This is how we should turn around the state of things presented by the film: what the film renders as the scene of our awakening into our true situation is effectively its exact opposite, the very fundamental fantasy that sustains our being.

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But how does the Matrix react to the fact that humans produce less energy? Here a new figure called Analyst enters: he discovers that if the Matrix manipulates fears and desires of humans, they produce more energy that can be sucked by the machines:

The Analyst is the new Architect, the manager of this new version of the Matrix. But where the Architect sought to control human minds through cold, hard math and facts, the Analyst likes to take a more personal approach, manipulating feelings to create fictions that keep the blue-pills in line. (He observes that humans will ‘believe the craziest shit,’ which really isn’t very far off from the truth if you’ve ever spent any time on Facebook.) The Analyst says that his approach has made humans produce more energy to feed the Machines than ever before, all while keeping them from wanting to escape the simulation.

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With a little bit of irony we could say that the Analyst corrects the falling profit rate of using humans as energy batteries: he realizes that just stealing enjoyment from humans is not productive enough, we (the Matrix) should also manipulate the experience of humans that serve as batteries so that they will experience more enjoyment. Victims themselves have to enjoy: the more humans enjoy, the more surplus-enjoyment can be drawn from them – Lacan’s parallel between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment is again confirmed here. The problem is just that, although the new regulator of the Matrix is called ‘Analyst” (with an obvious reference to the psychoanalyst), he doesn’t act as a Freudian analyst but as a rather primitive utilitarian, following the maxim: avoid pain and fear and get pleasure. There is no pleasure-in-pain, no ‘beyond the pleasure principle’, no death drive, in contrast to the first film in which Smith, the agent of the Matrix, gives a different.

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