My Defense of Zion
by Bernard White
I haven’t read all of the reviews of THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, but of the ones I have read the vast majority have ranged from the coldly appreciative to the “this movie sucks”.
Don Davis, the composer and conductor of the film’s magnificent score, in speaking of the reviews succinctly put it this way, “They’ve been toxic.”
Obviously when you are part of a project, a project that has changed your entire world, there’s the strong possibility of attachment. There’s the possibility that you might not be completely objective.
There’s also the possibility, that with a little distance and grace, you may prove to possess a very important quality that is most useful to the serious critic; Love of the material you choose to criticize.
How can you talk about anything in an honest and genuine way if you do not first love it.
Love is the ingredient necessary for the success of all things. Love is the ingredient most missing in, if not the hearts, then the pens, of most of our critics.
And I say this with love.
I pray, I say, this with love.
I am aware, also, of the possibility that love can blind one to the faults of the beloved.
Yet, as a married man, I say quite confidently that love reveals the faults of the beloved and love sees what is actually there or else it it something other than love.
The beloved of which I now speak is THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS.
The first time I saw THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS was at the movie’s premiere at Disney Hall.
It was my first experience with a Hollywood Premiere of this size. I was nervous and excited. I wore a tie. I think I was one of the only men there wearing a tie. Traffic was very bad getting there. It was our first time going to Frank Gehry’s newly opened Disney Hall. The setting for the premiere promised to be as grand, if not more, than the film itself.
We took a wrong turn, down a one-way downtown L.A. traffic hell in hopes that it was a shortcut.
In regards to L.A. traffic, there are no shortcuts.
My wife and I decided against renting a limo and opted to drive ourselves in our indigo ink 2003 Toyota Matrix (yes, a matrix) and self-park it under the Hall.
We stepped onto the red carpet, with green lights flooding the silver Disney Hall. All around us, past the flashing cameras of the press, Southern California burned, in the worst wild fires to this region in recorded history.
We were here, my wife and I and some 1000 other guests who received the engraved metal invitation in the mail, to attend the world premiere of the hugely anticipated final part of THE MATRIX TRILOGY called THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS.
We made our way along the red carpet, stopping every now and then to talk to some pleasant smiling people. We went through security and there I gave up the disposable camera I bought at the Mobil Station on the way to Disney Hall. Only two of the 24 exposures left. All these disposable cameras look alike, so they also asked me to give them my driver’s license so that they could tell the camera was mine.
The last person we met before we entered the lobby of Disney Hall was Andy Wachowski, whose simple and humble (and perhaps a bit frightened) instruction to us was to not have “high expectations”.
How were my wife and I fortunate enough to be invited to this prestigious Hollywood event?
It has to do with a quick meal at a taco bell in Sun Valley.
It has to do with two first class flights to Sydney, Australia.
It has to do with pillaging uneaten dinner rolls and butter pads from room service trays left outside doors to rooms of the Quay Grande Hotel, next to the Sydney Opera House.
It has to do with my great good fortune in landing the role of “Rama Kandra” in THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS.
I was a huge fan of THE MATRIX and a friend of the woman who played Trinity.
I remember going to the New Beverly Theatre with her to see a couple of Jack Nicholson movies and her telling me about this underground sci-fi movie that she did with Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. It sounded cool and I was happy that my friend had landed, what sounded like, a nice part in a little independent feature. She described it to me, but it didn’t really make sense. All’s I took away from her explanation was that it had something to do with the world not being what it seems and the film could possibly have a positive effect on her career.
I didn’t know Carrie Anne very well. We had worked together some 5 years back and had just run into each other “by chance” a couple of times. Once on a street I decided to take, because it’s name was the month of my birth. We were both people who saw significance in catching a digital clock when it read 11:11. We were both believers in providence, believing that things happened for a reason.
So, when I got the part, beyond believing that it was meant to be, I was convinced I got it because she had put in a good word for me. She denies this, to this day.
But once inside the matrix, I soon came to learn that the journey from illusion to truth is long. That the road goes both ways and that it is the individual’s choice whether to go forward or backward on that long, long road. At every turn you’ve the chance to take the red or blue pill. Back at the Gala Premiere, Disney Hall was stunning. Nathalie and I sat in the first row center of the terrace, right next to Ian Bliss, who played the character of Bane.
We looked down on the orchestra and saw Cornel West and Sharon Stone.I think I saw John McEnroe. Larry and Andy Wachowski were down there too, hugging people.
Larry looked very different than the last time I had seen him in Sydney with a crew cut, wearing jeans, nike basketball shoes and a baseball cap turned backwards. He now had long hair. He looked softer, more vulnerable. It may very well have been the occasion as much as his dress. Nevertheless he was a walking metaphor, demanding the enslaved to see past the illusion, to look past the flesh.
In the Disney Hall, supposedly there is an organ that is a magnificent work of art in itself. We couldn’t see the organ this night because a huge screen on which the movie was to be projected was blocking it.
It didn’t seem right to do this to this new hall so close to it’s opening. I had the longing to see the hall as a whole, not with a big white screen cutting it in half.
A couple of guys, I didn’t recognize, stepped before the crowd and said a few words into a microphone that didn’t work.
The lights went out. The movie began and then it ended. The lights came back on. People clapped.
Everything that has a beginning has an end.
I was disappointed. After all the build-up, I thought, is that all there is? Feelings of betrayal crept into my feelings of disappointment. The movie seemed poorly acted, poorly written, poorly directed and paced. The sound was bad on top of it all. (I later learned they were having sound problems, because the new Disney Hall is not really equipped to show movies.) Andy Wachowski would later describe the sound as “monolicious”.
Then back down in the lobby, on the way to the after-party, I first went to collect my ID and my camera. My ID, to prove that I am who I am, and the camera, to prove that we were indeed at this all-too-cool event while the rest of California burned. I was excited to see all the pictures we had taken. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the ones I took of Pat Summerall as he interviewed me. He was a real celebrity, for goodness sake. I used to watch him every Sunday afternoon during football season.
Security had lost both. My camera and my driver’s license were missing.
The disappointment grew as Joel Silver descended the escalator from above. I interrupted my dealings with the security chief of Warner Bros. to wave to ole Joel in hopes that he would recognize me. I’m not certain that he did. He was, however, kind enough to wave back. I was grateful to him. I was suspicious of my own over-reaching. I was just another employee wanting to be recognized by his employer.
Security told me to go ahead to the party, “Mr. White, we are very sorry this happened and you better believe we will be sure to get to the bottom of it.”
My missing ID and camera, reminded me of the production company forgetting to put my name in the credits for the previous film RELOADED. I felt the similar bitterness that I felt after not being invited to the RELOADED premiere and then going on opening day with all the other fans only to see my name missing in the credits.
I remember thinking, as I watched the cast credits scrolling by in alphabetical order and seeing Lambert Wilson’s name follow Cornel West’s, Did I really do the film? Or was it all a dream?
“Do you think that is air you are breathing?”
The production company caught the mistake themselves and corrected it on all future prints. Yet the bitter taste lingered.
>“Say my name. . . what’s my name, damn it!”
At the time, I figured they had cut me out of the third film and our trip to Australia would end up being nothing more than a lovely vacation to a very clean city.
With the missing camera and ID, it once again seemed I was being over-looked.
The fact is, no matter how much I try to fight it, I am an actor with a huge ego. I still had and have a lot to learn about surrender and non-attachment.
At the party several people told me that they liked my work in the film. The most genuine compliment came from Don Davis and his wife Megan. One thing I clearly liked in the film was the music, so this compliment coming from them, meant something.
The party was loud and alienating for me. I was overwhelmed with this whole event surrounding the movie. I was moving slowly into a depression.
Everything that has a beginning has an end.
I am still a prisoner of time.
I can answer the question “What is the matrix?” but just as Neo had, I still have a long way to go to see past the myriad of further illusions that come after answering that initial question.
I am still deeply caught inside the matrix, the world of ego, and I am desperately in need of an exit.
Just before leaving the party, Nathalie and I were fortunate enough to have a grounded conversation on the sidewalk between Disney Hall and the Party Tent Construct. We spoke with Andy Wachowski and Lambert Wilson and another gentleman in a tie.
Two things stood out, apart from the guy in the tie.
The first was when Lambert Wilson, spoke of being uncomfortable watching the love scenes between Neo and Trinity, because the two of them seemed like brother and sister. He said he enjoyed this discomfort, was moved by this discomfort. The love was deep. Painful. Like a sexual love between a brother and a sister. It struck me as being a profound and distinctly French observation. He said it thoughtfully, with sadness.
The second was when I asked Andy what he was doing next. He said, he was returning to Chicago to be quiet. He said that the process of making these films had taken chunks of his self and he was looking forward to returning home to recover those chunks. He, too, spoke with thoughtful sadness.
Andy looks like a guy who might have been the second string middle linebacker on your high school team.
If there’s one thing, I’ve learned from my time within the matrix, it’s that looks can be deceiving. Andy, along with Larry are two of the smartest and gifted artists that I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
My conversation with Andy and Lambert Wilson reminded me of the huge and humble gifts of these true artists. I was lifted out of my confused depression for a moment and reminded of my great good fortune to work with the likes of these people. I escaped the matrix, if for a second, to see past the illusion of the evening and to see and to feel gratitude. An obvious gratitude for someone fortunate enough to be in my position. To get paid to do what I love. It was all a gift. How easy it is, for me, to forget my blessings.
Back at security with my possessions still missing, we retreated in our leased car to our rented home.
I was depressed and confused for the next 16 hours or so. Nathalie swears it was 24 hours. But I distinctly felt something lift after my afternoon meditation the next day, after returning home from 5 hours spent at the Department of Motor Vehicles where I waited in line to get a new driver’s license.
In the following days, the reviews started trickling in.
And to use Don Davis’s word, they were “toxic”. And what was personally abhorrent to me was, that I was not being mentioned in any of them! At best, they spoke positively of the “Indian guy” with his daughter Sati.
Everything that has an END has a BEGINNING.
This began for me at a taco bell in Sun Valley when my friend Kevin Mukherji and I were taking a break from editing my little independent feature called THE WANT.
The total budget for THE WANT was less than $2,000 dollars. It was a labor of love about love. The struggles of love within the marriage relationship. I wrote it some 8 years before the release of the first matrix. The themes of my little movie are control and surrender. It is about escaping the bondage of comfort and lies that can make marriages stale. It is about daring to seek the truth and tell the truth in order to save your love. These themes are right in line with THE MATRIX, but in a hugely different context. My film even has an oracle kind of character. A man who sits in a chair in the middle of the road. People come to him for guidance.
So, Kevin and I are sipping our mountain dews at Taco Bell when he tells me that a couple other friends had auditioned for The Matrix Sequels a few months ago and did I go in on it. I said no. Immediately trying to assign blame for this huge error. If they were seen a few months ago, surely the role was cast. I thought it was probably some tiny role, anyway, so what did it matter. Better to leave the taco bell and get back to work on my film.
I mentioned it to my manager and a few weeks later my friend Meera told me they were still looking for the part of Rama Kandra and that she had mentioned my name to the casting director.
Another week passed before I got a call saying I had a reading for Mali Finn for the matrix sequels.
I read for Mali, who put me on tape for the directors who were already shooting in Sydney. I got a message on my voice mail about a week later from Carrie Anne in Australia telling me “congratulations”. My manager or agents hadn’t told me anything yet, so I didn’t know what to make of it.
This was my welcome to the matrix. Clouded in mystery and uncertainty.
Bullet Time forward to the trickle of bad reviews now turning into a raging stream. I was ready to put this long road of an experience behind me and move on.
After all, I had just finished shooting a wonderful role in Wim Wender’s next film called THE LAND OF PLENTY. A short film I did called AMERICAN MADE was beginning to win awards at festivals and I was getting a lot of notice. So, I didn’t need THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS to be good. People were liking my work in the film what did it matter whether they liked the film itself?
In fact, I began to interpret my not appearing in the credits and having my camera and ID lost at the premiere and not being mentioned in the reviews as profound tests of my sense of self. Tests given to help me discover who I really am. To discern what is really important in my life and work as opposed to the meaningless media hype.
A chance to become like Larry and Andy Wachowski in their admirable purity. How they simply do the work. How they show up for the work and free themselves as much as possible from the hype. From the glare and shallow stupidity of the media.
This had already been a theme of mine. I had read about, and thought I’d even adopted the philosophy of non-attachment to things like possessions and names. I started a theatre company 5 years back that refused to post actor’s headshots in the lobby and even went further and experimented with listing only the whole company’s name and not attaching specific names to traditional titles like director and actor. To illustrate that names don’t matter and that we are all responsible and not responsible. To ultimately show that God is the author. That our petty egos were a huge hindrance to our work as artists. That we needed to see past the illusion and see that we were simply channels. Nameless channels. Or that we needed to perhaps free ourselves of our slave names and find our true names like Thomas Anderson did with Neo.
And now this lofty thinking was being tested again. And I was failing miserably. I was feeling like I wanted to be recognized, damn it. Like how Muhammed Ali, early in his career, demanded Sonny Liston, after defeating him, to. . .
“say my name. . .what’s my name. . . say my name.”
“The Indian guy with his daughter Sati.”
It was time to walk away.
Everything that has a beginning has an end.
So how did I go from there to climbing into my own Armed Personnel Unit (APU) and ready to fire back bullets defending this brilliant and grossly misunderstood piece of mythic genius called THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS?
And more importantly, how did I go from this aggressive stance of defensive attack against the onslaught of friends and critics, to laying down my guns, like the humble and truly heroic Morpheus, at the foot of the sentinels (those slippery metallic critics)?
During that dark week after the premiere, with my Smith side winning the battle, we were invited to a “cast and crew” screening of REVOLUTIONS in Westwood. I was hesitant at first, but said yes. I wanted to go but I needed the armor of ambivalence.
By the time the screening came around, I was beginning to shake off the cloud about me and put things in perspective. I had got used to the reviews and now was anxious to see the film again away from the glowing green light that shone on the premiere.
So I grabbed Nathalie and my temporary driver’s license and headed to Westwood.
The main cast and the other “above the line” players were scattered across the globe. Most of them in Tokyo, for the next day’s simultaneous global release. I think I was the only actor in the theatre. Don Davis was there with his wife. I was grateful he was becoming a familiar face.
We watched the film with other people, like us, who worked on the film. All of us aiding Neo’s journey to the source, all of us helping to defend Zion, the last free human city for humans and those striving to be.
The lights went down, this time with no speeches. This screen was not blocking an organ. We could tell because some usher had left the light on in the room behind the screen and the light shone through the image on the screen. After the light behind was extinguished, the only light in the theatre was that of the projector shining through the thin film.
The film ended and the lights came up.
This time, I LOVED IT! So, did Nathalie. I went along for the ride, this time. I remembered how much I had invested in these characters and how much I cared for them. I was moved. I was thrilled. I was made to think. All the themes that were established in the first two movies as well as the Animatrix were coming to completion. I was able to begin to see some of the glorious details of the unprecedented “Siege of Zion” battle scene.
I thought to compare this movie to another famous and complex anti-war work of art. Picasso’s GUERNICA. At first look, it’s an aggressive mess. The viewer doesn’t know what he’s looking at. For appreciation, it demands a look closer. It demands the love that allows one to look closer.
I was able to do this the second time I saw THE MATRIX REVOLTUIONS.
I have now seen it an additional 5 times. Making it an even 7.
The movie is nothing, I mean nothing, short of brilliant.
The depth and complexity is well worth the closer look, that, it seems to me, some of these critics were not willing to take.
It seemed to me that they did not want to risk falling in love with this film.
I believe it has to do with betrayal.
Not wanting to be betrayed, not wanting to buy into the overdone hype of the Warner Brothers Publicity Machine.
Not wanting to reward this quiet underground discovery of theirs turned Hollywood Blockbuster.
They will, of course, site things like “wooden performances” and “clunky dialogue”. An “uneven and confusing storytelling” that they feel amounts to a kind of sound and fury signifying nothing.
I will not stop short of saying that with this movie as the culmination of this trilogy, we have seen the deepest and most complex original modern mythology to ever be put on film. (I exclude LORD OF THE RINGS, since it is based on JRR Tolkien’s classic novels)
So, why are so few seeing this?
Is it because of these feelings of betrayal?
Is it because there is too much death?
The two romantic heroes are not suppose to die. Both of them? And the cool bad guy to boot?
Death, death, death.
Death equals betrayal.
It meant betrayal to the followers of Christ after his crucifixion. The messiah was suppose to go into Jerusalem and kick some ass. Send the Roman dogs packing. Restore Jerusalem/Zion to it’s rightful owners.
And what does Christ do? He goes in and surrenders himself as some unclear sacrifice for other’s sins? What does that mean?
Death equaled betrayal.
This is what Neo does. He stops fighting. He wins the peace, he wins the freedom through his surrender. Like Morpheus, laying down his arms (literally, like on a cross) to balance the equation.
Wasn’t this what Christ was doing when “dying for our sins”? Wasn’t he, for Christians, simply balancing the equation?
In a time when our freedom of speech doesn’t allow the ten commandments to be listed on a courthouse wall, I know it can be dangerous for a “liberal” to dare to talk of Christ.
Separation of church and state, my ass. Why not address the real problem? The problem of not including the wisdom of the Hindu and Buddhist and Muslim texts on our courthouse walls as well.
At this point, I feel myself climbing back up into my APU. Forgive me. I once again take the path of our movie’s heroes and lay down my guns.
To continue to guess at why I think critics might be failing to see the deep and resonant beauty of this film;
Is it because, Morpheus and his cause could be seen as guerilla fighters trying to bring down a monolithic power? And many of those people fighting with Morpheus seem to be dark skinned? Though, in reality, it is a realistic representation of our world’s diverse ethnicities.
This film depicts the world as it really looks, like no other Hollywood film before. It’s a wonderful and more mature great grand child of THE MOD SQUAD in this respect.
The casting actually reminds me more of the dining room worker scene in Cassavetes WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE.
It’s just a group of people who happen to look different from each other. And different than what we’re bombarded with in movies and television, everyday.
Remember the brothers have said all along this movie was about integration. The color of people’s skin is but the tip of the volcanic iceberg called Zion.
Are we not ready for this in our blockbusters?
Or is it because of it’s message of peace in a time of shady war?
THE MATRIX set up this wonderfully clear world where we knew who the good guys were and we knew who the bad guys were.
RELOADED blurred the lines with our learning that the oracle was a program and with the whole introduction of the architect.
But if we look closely at THE MATRIX, the seeds of this were there in Morpheus’ “but I think it was the humans who scorched the sky.” It was also present in the very method of Neo defeating Smith. By entering him and exploding him with light from within. Neo, quite literally, entered the heart of his enemy.
This is the advise of the great Sufi poet, Rumi. He said we must all try “to enter the heart of your enemy.”
This is the real integration the brothers speak of.
In the mythical world that they have created the war is between man and machine. It is as bitter a war as any. What the machines did to the humans is in line with what the Colonial Powers did to the Africans in the slave trade. What the humans did to the machines can be compared to the genocide of the Native Americans and the holocaust of the Jews. (see the Animatrix).
So, these two sides have some animosity toward each other. A long and bitter and cruel war, in deed.
And then if RELOADED blurred these lines, than REVOLUTIONS obliterated the lines all together, in a literal explosion of light.
Good didn’t conquer evil, they balanced each other in the attainment of peace. And thus bringing on the dawn of a whole new era.
I believe these critics, who say that THE MATRIX is a mish-mosh and a shallow sampling of many spiritual and philosophical traditions, aren’t willing to look deep enough into these traditions to really see that it is not a mish-mosh but rather a monumental integration of these traditions. Especially the integration of Hindu and Christian thought.
Escaping the cycles of re-birth (revolutions) and finally becoming one with the infinite spirit is one of the core teachings of Hinduism.
This is precisely what happens at the end of this trilogy.
Everything that has a beginning has an end.
It is important to note what this great log line implies in the negative. Anything that has no beginning has no end. This is the eternity spoken of in Judeo-Christian-Muslim thought.
This is the realm our hero Neo, and perhaps even our anti-hero Smith, now occupy at the end of REVOLUTIONS. As the black cat appears and another cycle begins in our world of time. The world that Neo has finally escaped. Finally escaping both the illusion of the matrix and the illusion of the “real world”.
People wanted to see the matrix destroyed. All people freed. Instead the simulated computer program that hides people from the truth of their slavery is still in tact.
Only now, re-enforcing one of the trilogy’s major themes; the enslaved are given the CHOICE to be free.
If people want to be free of the matrix, they will no longer have outside agents stopping them.
They can only stop themselves.
That is indeed a very different world than we had at the beginning of the first matrix.
Again, this is what Christians will say that Christ offered the world. Freedom from their sins, if they want and choose that freedom.
Yet still, people have to make up their own damn minds.
These movies are not simplistic.
They cannot be dismissed by labeling them over-hyped and failed Hollywood Blockbusters.
They certainly cannot be written off like Peter Travers in Rolling Stone (that bastion of forward thinking) did by saying “To put it simply, this movie sucked.”
They ought to be considered for the serious works of art that they are.
Of course, there’s room for criticism.
Some of the dialogue is clunky. Some of the performances are wooden.
But to get back to my original point, (yes, I inhabit that world of still trying to make points) for the criticism to be genuine, it must be made through the prism of love.
I am much more eager to listen to the genuine disappointment of the real fan, than to the critic who lacks investment.
REVOLUTIONS is just too filled with light, for it to not be given this kind of serious consideration.
So critics, here’s my unsolicited advise to you; Turn off the lights in your back rooms as they did at that theatre in Westwood. Don’t force your viewing by covering up the beauty of yet another work of art as they did with the organ at Disney Hall.
You must see the film, being in the right place. The right place, both inside and out.
My advise is to see the film at the IMAX. Sit somewhere in the center, right in the middle of the action. Have the Bhagavad Gita in your back pocket and some buttered popcorn on your lap.
Give yourself another chance to fall in love.
* * * *
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna;
Contacts with matter make us feel
heat and cold, pleasure and pain.
Arjuna, you must learn to endure
Fleeting things – they come and go.”
* * * *
Everything that has an end has a beginning.
The first day I arrived on the set, I asked Larry and Andy if they were Catholic. Even though THE MATRIX was filled with all kinds of spiritual and philosophical traditions, being Catholic, myself, I recognized something in their work that was distinctly Catholic. As much to do with the woman in the red dress as to do with the death and resurrection at the end. Larry told me that they were raised Catholic, but that he was influenced heavily by the sacred Hindu texts like the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana. I concentrated on the Ramayana in my research for my role of Rama Kandra. It made sense to read the story of Lord Rama’s journey to gather clues to my character.
It was only after finishing shooting that I picked up the Bhagavad-Gita. I have not been able to put it down since.
You can see it peeking out of my back pocket as I walk up the aisle to my church on my way to communion.
* * * *
In closing I’d like to publicly thank Andy and Larry Wachowski for allowing me the opportunity to play the beautiful role of Rama Kandra. For lending me strength and guidance, through their courageous work, to deepen my own understanding of the importance of integration. I am forever grateful for your profound gift.
I trust you’re keeping warm in Chicago. Protected from all the wind.