Matrix IV: is Bugs a traitor?
Bugs, the meaning of Blue, and non-choices.
Warning Spoilers ahead for Matrix Resurrections
For all of its flaws, I love the new Matrix Film. It's by far better than Revolutions, even though the fights, art direction, and score are lackluster, and it overplayed its jokes, flashbacks, and nostalgia baiting. But what I have always appreciated about the original Matrix films is how it dramatized philosophy, I always felt smarter for watching a Wachowski film, and this one is no exception. But the film does present a few questions, that particularly center around Bugs, the meaning of the color blue, and the nature of choice.
The significance of Blue
Now some of the criticism being levied against Resurrections is very reminiscent of The Force Awakens in that it is a beat-for-beat repeat of old material to capitalize on the nostalgia of the original film. The criticism is not wrong, but it did get me thinking… if it is a beat-for-beat rehash, then where’s the Cypher archetype in this new film? And also, why does Bugs have blue hair? Typically the color blue in the Matrix is the color of conformity, certainty, and order, while red is the color of truth, freedom, and the will to power. It's why among other things, the Analyst has those strikingly blue glasses. Blue = order.
In Resurrections, only two other things have that color are, blue pills…
And Bugs’ hair. She’s the only character besides Smith and the Analyst that wears mostly blue colors while in the Matrix.
Doing a little digging, interviews with the actress Jessica Henwick reveal that even she doesn’t know (or can’t say) why Bugs has blue hair and that Lana Wachowski vetoed all other proposed hair colors. Meaning she wanted Bugs to have specifically blue hair to achieve some narrative purpose.
Is Bugs a Synthient?
Early on in the film, Bugs, and Morpheous have an interesting conversation, where Morpheous gets red-pilled. Now, most people get stuck on the idea that sentient programs can be red-pilled. But the conversation has a few interesting revelations that could be useful for understanding the trilogy if we get one.
First is that Morpheous calls Bugs a Synthient.
Morpheus: “I know what I am. Just like I know, my job is to hunt down synthients. Like you.”
The Synthient term pops up later on in the film for machines.
So if Morpheous calls Bugs a Synthient, is she a digital consciousness wrapped in a skin job/copper top like Bain was in Reloaded and Revolutions? And if so, to what purpose? Is she working for the Machines (like the Architect), the system (like the Oracle), for the human (like we are led to believe), or for herself?
Bugs also gives us the only description of the Bots when she tries to recruit Neo.
Bugs: “They don’t look like typical agents. They use bots now skinned as normal people which means they are everywhere and you never know who to trust.”
Neo: “Why should I trust you?”
If the bots are everywhere, and we don’t know who to trust, could Bugs inadvertently also be talking about herself?
Choice vs. Fate
One of the great philosophical debates in the original Matrix trilogy was the debate between free choice and fate: are we slaves to causality, or are we able to choose, do the things that we live with control us, if we can’t live without them? It's one of the things I liked the most about the conversations in Revolutions. And the scene where Bugs offers Morpheous the Red and Blue pills is where Reseurections offers an interesting insight into this debate.
Morpheous: “‘You call this a choice?”
Bugs: “Oh, honestly, when somebody offered me these things, I went off on binary conceptions of the world and said there was no way I was swallowing some symbolic reduction of my life. And the woman with the pills laughed ’cause I was missing the point.”
Morpheous: “What point?”
Bugs: “The choice is an illusion. You already know what you have to do.”
This scene could be the telegraph for a larger theme for most of this new trilogy or a potential major turning point in the next film. All binary choices are non-choices. Something the film points out again and again when some supporting character makes the offhanded comment, “It’s not much of a choice.” So, lets take a look at most of the binary choices presented in the movie.
Binary Choices are non-choices
The Analyst’s first scene
Also, note that the first time we see the Analyst talk he says.
Analyst: “Not much of a choice?”
Analyst: “Maybe its not as binary as that. Maybe there are other ways to understand what happened. ”
Analyst: “Thomas, you are a suicide survivor gifted with a powerful imagination. Those facts have combined to create dangerous fictions in your life. Yesterday you walked into a meeting with your business partner and he ambushed you, demanding you make a game you said you would never make. This attack effectively took away your voice. His violence triggered you and your mind fought back. You did to him what he was doing to you. We’ve talked about the value of adaptive anger in healing trauma. Far from suggesting a repeat of your initial breakdown, I believe this episode demonstrates healthy self-protection. And more importantly, I remember how hard it was for you to share something like this. Which tells me just how far we’ve come.”
Even though the Analyst is the villain of the movie, and most of his dialogue in the movie demonstrates him gaslighting Neo and maybe even Trinity, his dialogue in this first scene is interesting. This scene demonstrates he understands the value of voice and choice. He understands that removing the choice creates a fundamental need to lash out, to rebel. If he understands this, then what if for the rest of the film he is trying to direct Neo in the opposite direction, out of the Matrix? He’s also the only other character that uses the term binary besides Bugs and Smith — and they are the only blue-coded characters in the movie.
Morpheous Recruits Neo–by not giving him a choice.
What is interesting about Morpheous recruiting Neo is the first time, he fails. Probably because he didn’t give Neo a choice in the matter. He only offered him the red pill, on the assumption he was going to take it. And Neo rejects it.
This thematically reinforces that a true choice does need to be present while reinforcing that strictly binary choices are still non-choices.
Bug Recruits Neo
When Bugs recruits Neo, she also denies him a choice when he tries to commit suicide/test reality by jumping off of a building.
During the 2nd go-around to recruit Neo, Bugs makes it more explicit that he has a choice, she asks him to follow and he chooses to, she does not try to force or coerce.
Bugs and Morpheus offer Neo both pills the 2nd time, and only then does he choose the Red pill.
Red Pill = Fighting
Once Neo is out of the Matrix and crashing from blue pill withdrawal Morpheus clad in red (like a red pill) offers him an interesting therapy/abuse for coping, by making him fight in the construct.
Morpheus: “No joke. Could be this is the first day of the rest of your life. But if you want it… You gotta fight for it.”
During this scene. Neo is going through blue pill withdrawal, and he is still acting like he is on the blue pill, by conforming, being passive, and not fighting. By fighting, Neo is spiritually embracing the red pill and retaking his agency.
What makes this scene interesting is that Morpheous, the Analyst, and Smith all know Neo very well and what motivates him. His love for Trinity. So the question becomes is Neo making a choice if he has to choose between Trinity or being isolated from her? Is this just a non-choice wrapped in a facsimile of a choice?
Niobe also takes away Neo choice
Once Neo makes it to IO and meets with Niobe, an interesting parallel happens with how Morpheous tried to recruit Neo, she doesn’t let him exercise his agency in choosing to go find Trinity. Even though Neo insists he doesn't;t have a choice in the matter. Niobe puts him under house arrest.
And like all the other obvious non-choices before him. Neo disobeys when the illusion of choice is taken from him.
Morpheus is also aware that the options presented for Neo, to wait or go, is a non-choice as well.
Morpheus: “Well, I could tell you that they are standing by, waiting for you to make the choice to remain meekly incarcerated or bust the hell out of here and go and find Trinity. But that ain’t a choice.”
By making this statement Morpheus oddly robs Neo of his agency. In this binary mode, he can only act.
Smith questions binary thinking
During the Smith/Neo fight, Smith also uses the word binary.
Smith: “I’ve been thinking about us, Tom. About how binary is the form, the nature of things; ones and zeroes. light and dark, choice and its absence, Anderson and Smith.”
From his dialogue, Smith appears to be questioning the binary nature of choices. On one level it may appear to be that he is embracing binary thoughts. But his earlier exchange, with “an appeal to reason” and questioning if their conflict is “inevitable.” Sadly we never get a clear answer to his line of thought. As he pivots the conversation to Trinity. On one level all Smith may be doing is preparing Neo for how to fight the Analyst, in an effort to keep himself free.
When the crew fails to free Trinity, they are “rescued/captured” by Shepherd, who offers them a non-choice.
Sheperd: “You can stay here and die, or come back and face a court-martial.”
Morpheous: “And you call that a choice.”
Once again the movie is reinforcing that binary choices are non-choices. This again colors all of Neo’s choices involving Trinity as non-agentive. he is not acting, he is reacting.
Sati and Niobe
When Sati reveals to Neo and Niobe that she knew about Neo and Trinity, Niobe gets obviously upset.
Sati: “If I would have told you everything, you would have had a very difficult choice to make.”
Niobe: “My friends let me make my own choices.”
Sati: “If it was a mistake. You have my deepest apologies.”
The movie affirms that taking choices away from people is wrong, once the conversation pivots to Trinity, the non-choice for Neo again becomes apparent.
Niobe: “Why are you here now?”
Sati: “Neo’s escape has destabilized the Matrix. The anomaleum draws its current from Trinity alone now. A failsafe has been triggered to reset the Matrix back to the previous version. But the Analyst has halted the reset. He’s convinced the authorities that you will soon return voluntarily.”
Niobe: “And why would he say that?”
Neo: “Because if I don’t go back he’ll kill Trinity.”
Sati: “Faced with returning to your pod, or enduring Trinity’s death again, what would you choose Neo?”
Neo: “I’ll go back.”
Again in this scene, Neo is presented with a choice that gives him no agency. He’s not being presented with choices he is willing to make. Although, in a subtle way in this scene, a silent third option is given. it is silent in only that it is not labeled as a third choice. By going for this unspoken third option, the binary system is broken, giving the heroes the chance to win.
Trinity makes a choice once pressed
When Neo and the Analyst present Trinity with the choice to stay in the Matrix or be free. Trinity at first chooses her matrix family. It isn’t until Chad pushes her too hard to leave. Thereby, taking away her choice does she rebels against her non-choice. That's when the Analyst gives us this. What is interesting is that from his first scene, the Analyst understands that removing the choice produces rebellion and anger, so his choosing to press Trinity to remove her choice may have been a deliberate misdirection to get her to make a choice.
Analyst: “Aye-yi-yi, what a mess. I own that mistake. Shouldn’t have pressed. Women used to be so easy to control. You know there’s no way I can let you two go free. Cannot happen. So, I guess it’s deja vu all over again. She dies, and its all your fault.”
Smith: “Lies, lies, and more lies.”
Smith: “What has the world come to when you can't even trust a program?”
Smith’s interjection is fascinating. According to him, everything the Analyst says is not only false but lies knowingly being told by the Analyst. So the line “there’s no way I can let you two go free.” according to Smith is, or could be a lie.
In the final scene, Trinity, Neo, and the Analyst talk.
Neo: “We have a few questions?”
Trinity: “You tried to activate the fail-safe.”
Analyst: “The Suits tried to activate the fail-safe. Obviously, without control of your source code I knew that was impossible.”
Trinity: “So, why haven’t the Suits purged you?”
Analyst: “Because I know the system. I know human beings. And I know you. Right now, you’re feeling good about what you’ve done. You should. It was a victory. Bravo. Now what? You’ve come here to negotiate some kind of deal? You think you hold all the cards because you can do whatever you want in this world. I say, go for it. Remake it. Knock yourselves out. Paint the sky with rainbows. But here’s the thing. The sheeple aren’t going anywhere. They like my world. They don’t want this sentimentality. They don’t want freedom or empowerment. They want to be controlled. They crave the comfort of certainty. And that means you two, back in your pods, unconscious and alone, just like them.”
There are many questions in this dialogue, is the Analyst lying, gaslighting, or is this a miss-directing non-choice. But his insistence that he knows humans, Neo and Trinity, could be him telling the truth. This whole film could have been him baiting Neo and Trinity into making choices he wants them to make. Which is an idea that would be very Matrix-like… just like the reveal of what the prophecy was in Reloaded. Systems of control within systems.
What if Bugs is this movie’s Cypher?
Suppose Bugs’ blue hair is a telegraph that her true allegiance lies somewhere else, then that recolors all the actions that happen for the rest of this film. Maybe she’s the new Oracle, a Mother figure to compliment the Analyst’s Fatherhood over the Matrix. The Oracle, while ultimately working to break the cycles of control in the Matrix/Anomaly/Zion reset cycle, was still a cog in the continuation of that system for some time. So is she a machine with ill intentions, or a synthient with more benign actions working within the system, or is she a free agent working to break some larger cycle that we are still yet unaware of?
If Bugs is a traitor, then the Machines wanted Neo to escape the Analyst. Knowing Neo would come back to free Trinity. That any of the binary choices offered to Neo (to return to the Matrix) or for Trinity (to leave the Matrix) were, in fact, non-choices, the Analyst understood the choice, therefore knowing the outcome. Meaning the machines wanted them to make the choice to leave, under the guise that it was their choice all along. Meaning that the machines wanted Trinity and Neo to awaken their powers of the One fully. For what purpose… I have no idea, the ANalyst only ever says his ultimate goal is “bullet-time” whatever that means other than slow motion is anyone's guess as he never defines the term. Hopefully, his goal is for something deeper than just to build a bigger, better, battery, but that is the fun of speculation based on interesting writing. (I want to say good writing but can’t.) But Lana Wachowski has never lacked for weaving philosophical debates into her work, I look forward to seeing more of it if Warner Brothers decides it's a profitable prospect.