Category Archives: Seth On The Arts

Seth presents opinions about how others present their artistic wares.

THE MATRICKS

No Seth-rant collective would be complete without a charge against The Matrix.

This movie (I only saw the first one) may be a decent action-flick, so you are forgiven if you simply find it entertaining; my objection is to those who describe it as “philosophical.”

Yes, the movie’s premise is based on a standard philosophical contemplation (that the world, as we know it, may not be real, but instead some projection in our minds). However, in its treatment of this notion, The Matrix quickly sidesteps any philosophical obligations. Given, for instance, that The Matrix-universe is one in which the dark and dreary real world has been replaced with a cheerier matrix, an interesting question could be provoked: is it better to be happy in a fake world or unhappy in a real one?

Some of us at this keyboard believe experience is the most important part of sentient existence, and so we may want to argue that The Matrix-world was worth keeping up in lieu of the dreadful real world. It wasn’t as though the fake-offering was put up to cover up crimes against humanity; instead, all inhabitants lay peacefully in their projected-upon slumbers. But I’m happy to be wrong: maybe truth in existence is more important than contentment, and so, if philosophers were writing the movie, they may have tried to make an argument for why the matrix was a flawed existence (maybe it limits human potential, or leaves us helpless against sudden environmental changes). I would have liked that.

Instead, The Matrix writers (the Wachowskis) forwent argument and simply announced that the correct answer was that truth is always the most important; this they did very efficiently by simply designing the character who disagreed with them to be a raving murderer. Yup, instead of a genuine investigation as to which side would be the better way to exist (perhaps with a consequence that demonstrated why they thought their way was superior), the writers simply announced that good guys, by definition, would be on their side (pro-truth), while bad guys would be on the other (anti-truth). And that solved that.

Now, of course, action movies often need good guys and bad guys, so I can understand the need to have them pick sides, but, if the movie is meant to be philosophical, then shouldn’t it offer more than just a philosophical landscape with heroes and villains at either end? Shouldn’t the story also attempt to ask a few questions whose answers are comprised of more material than simply “white hat for ‘good’ and black hat for ‘bad’”?

But perhaps I’m being too restrictive about what qualifies as philosophical. In that case, I suppose the following subjects have also been sufficiently captured in the corresponding films:

Marine Biology: Jaws
Einstein’s Theory of relativity: Timecop
History (i.e. “a long time ago”): Star Wars
Brain surgery: The Man with Two Brains
Dentistry: Austin Powers

I’m a fan of several of these movies, but I don’t watch Die Hard for an analysis of modern policing methods: I just go there to be entertained. Similarly, if The Matrix weren’t so self-satisfied in its tone (and publicity interviews), it could be an entertaining adventure, but please don’t expect to be watching philosophy in action.


If you are looking for an entertaining, yet philosophical film (of similar subject), consider The Thirteenth Floor. At least, it made me think without diagnosing me as good or evil based on my responses to its questions.

LAW & WANDER

I love the television show, Law & Order (the original). SVU’s okay, and Criminal Intent’s annoying, but gimme the straight-up Law & Order, and you’ve got a fan in me.

My mom discovered it for me in the early 90s: I remember her commenting that it was a different kind of cops-and-law-show because the characters behaved much more like real people than usual.

Upon adopting the show myself a couple years later, I was riveted, especially by the legal battles, which seemed to focus on the nitty gritty details of the American legal system that must be navigated in order to prove a villain guilty. (I can’t prove that the show is legally accurate, but I can suspect it on the basis that, when I took a community college law course for interest’s sake, the lawyer-instructor claimed it was the most realistic law show on television.)

So, when it was announced that Law & Order: UK was coming to a television near me, I was intrigued: all the law and order I wanted, plus cool accents (and hairstyles) on the barristers. But then I learned that, as with the transition of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office from Slough, Britain, to Scranton, USA, the first several episodes of the citizenship-changing show would have scripts that would mirror almost exactly plots of the original show. This displeased me because:

(A) to my taste, it didn’t work out for The Office as the characters behaved differently in those first few episodes than their true original natures once the brilliant writers were free to give them original thoughts;

(B) I was craving new L&O adventures instead of redos of previous adventures (after all, those beloved re-runs are already always available when I need them); and

(C) my suspension of disbelief would be damaged by parallel universes wherein the characters had identical stories (and so, instead of following a plot for turns of law, I would simply be comparing it to its clone story).

So I lost interest in Law & Order: UK.

But, yesterday, on a random of strike of my remote, I happened across the show and I decided to honour it with a few minutes of my time (it was near the episode’s conclusion, anyway). It was indeed a familiar plot, and a very good one, too, and so I watched to what I thought was the signature Law & Order final comment.

(Usually, at the end of each show, one of the good guys says something pithy or profound to leave us pondering as the haunting credit “Executive Producer Dick Wolf” arrives on a dark background. For instance, there was the time that Assistant District Attorney, Ben Stone, was asked if he’d accept a dinner invitation from his recently beaten, but always condescending rival, and Ben (my hero) retorted, “Only if he orders crow”.)

But, on this episode of Law & Order: UK, the grand concluding line was not followed by an executive producing boast! Instead, we spent a good minute watching one of the characters wander around London with music playing in her background. Um, no, Law & Order is not a music video. I’m sure the character had some interesting thoughts about the case she’d recently lost, but since I couldn’t read her mind, watching her stoic face was not useful to me.

Moreover, and more importantly, given that this was a copy of an original Law & Order episode, they must have had to cut some of the brilliant details of the parent show in order to add in the walk of the pensive! No!

I may give L&O: UK another chance (I might even consider a full episode), but they’ll have to eat crow first. (Hmm, it sounded better when Ben said it).

Executive Producer Seth McDonough