Host in the Machine

This is the fourth post, in a series on Man and the Machine. Picking up where we left off last time, James Cameron’s “The Terminator” gives us as a vision of the apocalypse in which the Beast is a mechanical mercenary that glares ravenously at the mother/savior with eyes like hot embers. That is the same sinister shade we saw in the ubiquitous lens of mankind’s future worst friend, discussed in post number two, the mechanical brain HAL from “2001; A Space Odyssey,” and likewise those glowing sockets of the crustacean machine that creeps inside Neo’s gut in “The Matrix” (1999). All eyes blink the color of blood to expose the live operator behind each machine. Who is it? It stands for the corruption inside all human beings when our eyes are closed to the interconnection of all living things.

All four directors assign this color to the enemy’s eye. Why? Firstly, so we see the enemy. Secondly, because that color fills our own eyes when they are closed in strong light. Literally speaking, is this what is meant by the expression, “eyes wide shut”? The pupils are wide open but the lids are tightly closed. Thirdly, and most obvious; while all these mechanical eyes are programmed by humans. Fact is, they happen to belong to three kinds of surveillance outfit.

Surveillance turns out to be a subject so huge it can’t be thoroughly covered in dozens of great movies, therefore we’ll just have to leave it for now with only one of it’s distressing riddles unraveled. In this month’s post, featuring “The Matrix,” the machine has become so insidious as to assimilate human minds and bodies, en masse, recycling, replicating and using our life force for an energy source. This is an apt metaphor for the relationship of the consumer and the multinational brands of today. The hero Neo breaks free with quantum leap, in the end. This is what it takes to restore the machines purpose to the service all humankind.

Surveillance is everywhere in our world now. Toxins are too. We filter them 24/7. Any story of end times identifies the same universal pinch–the sign of the beast, if you will. If you are born in end times, you have to bare some downward pressure. The Beast of the Bible turns out in modern times to be a machine that is broke and malfunctioning. That includes, governments, corporations and motion pictures too, unfortunately. Yes, there is toxic programming out there reddening everyone’s eyes, feeding off problems. Most of us can filter it out, but one in a million it bedevils.

So, might there be some clue here in “The Matrix,” while we sort through our real life predicament? How many of us have bothered to apply the lesson of the hero to our own life–a potentially great story still in the making? I suppose the question remains, what is the lesson of “The Matrix”? My presumption is that Neo finds his highest potential in acting for the common good.

Another person may take away a different lesson from the same movie. For instance, it is through mortal combat that the enemy must be vanquished. This is an example of the garbage I’m talking about. One must filter it out while watching “The Matrix.” Such faulty assumptions characterize the deviants that bring pandemonium into today’s schools, offices and movie complexes.

There is such a thing as mental pollution and that is what our children must be protected from at an early age. Adults are able to filter those toxins but not children. I was kept away from violently gruesome films until after my mid-teens. Maybe that’s why I can keep my peace. Perhaps others can’t because they were exposed too early.

Whether the Wachowski siblings and James Cameron be deemed perpetrators or pacifiers, they are world-class storytellers and they all deliberately identify a strong presence of toxins and surveillance in the opening scenes of “The Terminator” and “The Matrix.” Here are just two examples of foreboding prophecies from the tail end of the last century;  three great movie makers speculating, well in advance, on the roots of this weird, explosive variety of psychosis that has blasted itself into our headlines lately almost daily.

Their movies postulate out how toxins mutate humans into killing machines and also how a mind, constantly spied upon, can be driven to desperate means. Alternatives and options to our currently developing quagmire have been put forth by wise folk in our great stories for centuries. Why do we ignore them?

The machinations of movie making and digital entertainment are neither entirely sound or faulty, for the intent of the operator does matter. Filmmakers are hot-blooded operators steering lifeless machines through worlds both real and imagined. Are we making love or war here or what? What is the goal? The defeat of the beast in the apocalypse is a battle that wages in the heart of every human being on the planet, including filmmakers. It is up to each one of us to conquer what enslaves us, from within.

What a fine-tuned machine a camera and a screen can be for shedding light, both literally and figuratively on society. The same apparatus that confronts us with pointless killings in our streets also exposes us to countless examples of heroic feats. The number one challenge for movie makers is to be sure their works enlighten and don’t make us sicker.

Motion pictures on the Internet are our modern scripture–the word made light­­­–the universal library of common sense and culture. All great traditions can be brought forward with this marriage of poetry and science. Let them be celebrated and partaken in by the entire globe.

I am an advocate of cinema’s potential to encourage openness, tolerance, cooperation and goodwill. The digital roads we travel belong to no one in particular. Whoever is on them at any given time could be our audience. We have no idea who we are sharing our story with, but we have to live with them, so why not make friends. If you want to connect with someone that you don’t know, what do you do? Smile, at least. Maybe even shake hands.