The Matrix (1999) Series: Neo's Final Speech is a Mess

Last updated: June 29th 2023

(Excerpted from my forthcoming The Matrix (1999) analysis.)

Neo's Message #

After the epic, climactic final sequence, where Neo is brought back to life by Trinity's love (I'll address that Christian symbolism elsewhere), the movie ends with Neo on the phone, leaving a message to the Machines.

The message is packed with ideas and propositions we're going to talk about separately, but here it is as a whole first:

"I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."
-Neo, fully awakened as The One.

(Emphasis mine.)

He then hangs up the public phone and flies away like superman, with a special edit of Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up" as soundtrack.

Payphones were great #

They were.

Many of us like to say everyone is a pussy nowadays, and as an example we point to the fact that we "won't leave home without our mobile phones."

However, back in the 90s there were payphones everywhere. And phonebooks and maps. You could ask for a coin from any stranger during an emergency.

(Good luck asking a stranger nowadays to borrow his mobile phone, which likely has everything from his wife's nudes, to his bitcoin private keys, to his glucose monitor to his employer's VPN.)

So it's not just that we're wussies today. It's that we've put everything into mobile devices and gotten rid of the widespread public switched telephone networks that used to make it safe to be out with nothing but our wallet.

"Back in the day..." cannibals #

Perhaps a better example of people being less domesticated in the past would be that time in 1672 when some Dutchmen got angry at their prime minister so they killed and ate him.

At least we're not cannibals nowadays. (Thank you, Christianity!)

(Unless we do live in the Matrix right now as blue-pills. In which case, according to Morpheus, our diet consists of liquefied deceased Humans fed intravenously to us, which makes us pretty much cannibals.)

Anyway, back to the Neo's Message, which I've cut up (much like the Dutch cut their PM) to analyze in parts.

Change and Fear #

"I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us."

(ZN: Who's afraid, again? Do machines have fear, as in the emotion, as we understand it? Or are we anthropomorphizing and projecting ourselves on them?)

Change and Conservatism #

"You're afraid of change. {SFX}."

(ZN: Once the Wachowskis Change the world to a new state, will they not then try to preserve that new state? Once you're Free, will you be OK with Changing back to non-Free? Or will you enforce Freedom?)

(ZN: Can you stay forever a Revolutionary, and never end up as the Conservative trying to preserve the system you do approve of?)

Change and Revolution #

"I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came to tell you how it's going to begin."

(ZN: Revolutionaries always skip that part, indeed: How is the Revolution going to end? No one knows!)

(ZN: For the revolutionary it's all about the New Beginning. That's the exciting part. How has this turned out in history?)

(ZN: Is this revolutionary spirit related to the dopamine-starved modern brain? Enthusiasm comes from novelty. My new idea. My new song. My new experiment. My new hobby. My new girlfriend. But talking about what this "new" thing will be 20 years or even 10 years from now is "boring.")

Change, Revolution & Derrida #

By now we've seen that, as postmodern as the film wants to be, it's certainly not Derridean: It's literally a classic messianic story with a prophecy, a prophet, and a messiah.

However I should point out that Neo's "I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came to tell you how it's going to begin" classic leftist revolutionary statement is also a Derridean mindset of "open future":

"If there is a categorical imperative, it consists in doing everything for the future to remain open."
– Derrida, A Taste for the Secret, p. 83. Quoted by S. Glendinning.

(Unfortunately, this pinch of Derridean postmodernism will be undone again by the sequels Reloaded and Revolutions, when the Matrix's Architect tells you that not only is the whole history scripted – including the messiah and the war outside – but it's cyclical and this is the sixth iteration!)


As the screen shows "SYSTEM FAILURE" and the camera zooms in between the words, passing through the space between the "M" and "F" (Get it? Breaking through, or rejecting, the "M" and "F" binary) Neo continues his phone message to the Machines:

"I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible."

A world without whom? #

Who is "you" in "a world without you"?

The Matrix has the agents and the NPCs. The real world has the real machines and sentinels and so on.

The Matrix, whether hosting "red-pilled" or "blue-pilled" Humans, is still a simulation running on the Machines' infrastructure.

So what is this world without The Machines?

"Anything possible" where? #

(ZN: Will this "world without rules and controls" be the real, "unplugged" Earth in the movie, which is ruined and forever without sunlight?)

(ZN: Or does Neo mean that the Matrix will serve as a virtual place where "anything is possible"? If so, what will supply power to the Matrix, since humans (its current "batteries") are now free to plug and unplug at will?)

(ZN: If Humans are going to need the Matrix as our sandbox where "anything is possible," but Machines are the hardware, are Humans going to have to enslave the Machines (which are Sentient) for this purpose?)

"Anything is possible" for all? #

(ZN: Will home invaders, serial killers, child rapists, wife beaters, etc. also have "no rules" and "no boundaries" and the power to bend and break every rule from gravity to appearance and gender?)

What are the rules? #

Obviously, at this point it'd be silly to argue that by "rules" in his sentence "a world without rules and controls" Neo means just the rules of physics.

So what are these rules that The Matrix is enforcing, that Neo and the red-pilled want to eliminate?

Let's remember the beginning of the movie, when Neo / Thomas Anderson's boss scolds him for being late:

"You have a problem with authority, Mr. Anderson. You believe that you are special, that somehow the rules do not apply to you. Obviously you are mistaken."
–Mr. Rhineheart.

So yes, make no mistake: It's social rules.

Though it doesn't matter anyway, because changing the physical rules would force a change of social rules.

If suddenly we're all able to fly and dodge bullets and shit, then that would completely change society, as I mentioned in the section above on superpowerful home invaders, serial killers, etc.

(By the way, re: the Trans Allegory: If one can "self-identify" as any gender, why would one need to break any physicochemical / biological rules in order to become a woman/man?)

But it's people who come up with social rules, no?

"No rules" after the revolution? #

As I've already mentioned, the Revolutionary Man is all about breaking the old rules, and telling you "how it's going to begin," but by his own admission he has no idea of "how it's going to end."

The question remains: Won't new rules arise after the System has been conquered, ie. post revolution?

Won't those new rules have to be enforced using Power?

Won't new Ruler vs. Ruled "class divisions" and "antagonisms" form again?

Will it actually be better for Humans to have other Humans as rulers instead of the Machines?

After all, the "free humans" of the "resistance" actually live in a highly vertical military society (all the way to Resurrections, in which Humans in IO live under Niobe as their General.)

"No rules" and Adversity (Smith) #

If, as Smith said, early utopian versions of the Matrix failed because Humans needed adversity, won't making "anything possible" lead back to that situation?

Or will this new Matrix "where anything is possible" still have hardcoded adversity such as hunger, uncertainty, and scarcity, such that it won't become the utopian version Smith says Humans rejected?

"No rules" and Adversity (Games) #

Smith's the Historian aside (because you could argue he could have been lying to Morpheus), any video gamer will confirm:

If you play something that is too easy or you use cheat codes, the game gets boring quickly.

I made this mistake a few times back in the long ago time, in my teens, when I still played video games:

Infinitely boosting resources in Age of Empires, revealing and obtaining all the most precious armor and gems and other loot in Diablo 2, and gravity manipulation in Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.

Each and every time I did it, it killed the joy of the respective game and I would stop playing it.

"No rules" and Information #

Let's recall the part of the speech we're talking about:

"... A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries."

Are you sure you want "no rules and no boundaries" when it comes to, eg. access to information?

Are you sure you want every Human to access any information at any time in their lives?

"No rules" and Adversity (Genesis) #

So yeah, maybe if society has developed a rule that goes something like "You shouldn't access X knowledge yet," it's for a reason.

Breaking that rule seems to brings death, of some form. In the video game case above, my breaking the video game's informational, economic, etc. rules absolutely brought death of what I had going: Fun.

Is this a nano-cosmos example of what Genesis 3 has been telling us since forever?

PS. I did play those games again, but it was never the same. (Again, much like The Fall.)

"No rules" and Control #

(ZN: Neo's promise for a world "Without Rules" is consistent with his answer early in the film, when Morpheus asked him why he doesn't believe in fate: "Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.")

(ZN: Could it be that Neo (the Wachowskis) don't like rules, because rules often reveal that we're not actually in control of ourselves?)

(ZN: Experiment: Set a couple of rules for yourself. Eg. "No more cigarette smoking. No more losing my temper. Lift weights every day." Now try "being in control." Let me know how it goes.)

(ZN: If you break your own rules, are you in control of yourself?)

"No rules" and Power #

(ZN: Going back to Freedom: Say you somehow managed not to break your rules: Were you Free in the process? It seems that you were in control, but you literally Following Rules?)

(ZN: You could say "Well, they were my rules." So what you really want is Power.)

(ZN: Discuss with friends: Are "Liberty" and "Freedom" and "No rules" and "No controls" really just clunky ways to express your want for Power? Ie. Power over yourself, and Power to keep others from placing Rules on you?)

"No rules" and Hierarchy #

Let's go back to the moment Neo has the gut feeling that he can rescue Morpheus.

As he sets up his chair to plug himself back into the Matrix to save Neo, he notices Trinity setting up hers. He asks her what she's doing, she tells him she's going with him, he questions this, and she firmly puts him in his place with a speech that ends with:

"And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don't like it, I believe you can go to hell." –Trinity

This serves as a reminder that the Nebuchadnezzar is a military ship, and Free Humans are a military society.

Much like in Star Wars, we have a situation in which a rebellion isn't exactly a bunch of hippies with "no rules and no controls."

Aesthetically, the rebels are "diverse" and Punk Rock and Cowboy, but when it comes to their internal politics, they're a rather strict vertical and military hierarchy of power, ie. a stratocracy. As far from "no rules" as it gets.

(On the Wikipedia list of fictional stratocracies, Star Wars appears, but it's just the Galactic Empire. Maybe we don't like to think about our guys being pretty much monarchical or military dictators too?)

Hierarchy and understandingv0.2 #

Every system that has ever existed has a vertical hierarchy. In fact, hierarchy is so fundamental for existence, that we have to make it up even to be able to think about anything.

One of my favorite examples is the Open System Interconnection (OSI) networking model.

The details of the model aren't important, the point is that it's a conceptual hierarchy of computer networking.

That is, it's a made-up vertical hierarchy that is not a reflection of the material reality it is modeling.

Materially, the hardware is not some neat "cake" consisting of "layers." Electronics doesn't work like that. Materially, the world of networked computers is more like a messy village market, everyone next to each other, intermingled. Nothing like some neatly vertically layered wedding cake.

Yet in order for programmers and other technicians to (try to) wrap our heads around the network, so we can eg. troubleshoot it, we use the OSI model, according to which the network is a vertical cake of seven layers: Physical, data link, network, transport, session, presentation, application.

A completely imaginary cake that we use in order to be able to even think about the network.

"No rules" and Knowledge #

(ZN: If you program some rules on a computer, but the computer then does whatever it wants, did you actually know the computer? Did you know what you were working with?)

(ZN: Is there any way to test your knowledge of a computer, other than programming rules into it and seeing if it follows them?)

"No rules" and Self-Knowledge #

(ZN: If you couldn't follow your own rules, did you actually know who you were when you formulated them?)

(ZN: Is there any way to test your knowledge of yourself, other than giving yourself rules and seeing if you can follow them?)

Wants and Self-Knowledge #

(ZN: Many say/assume that Wants (eg. "I like Chocolate," "I like Vaginas") are the way to Know Yourself. Is that the case?)

(ZN: Are you a Walking Collection of Wants? A bag of Desires? Is there a reason why I should accept that model of Identity?)

(ZN: If earlier today you felt the Want to kill a negligent driver who almost made you crash, have you now become a Murderer, because you Wanted to? If Wants and Feels define who you are, shouldn't you be put in prison?)

"No rules" and the True Self #

(ZN: If you couldn't follow your rules because "I have Changed," what does this say about your "True Self" that you supposedly Self-Discovered?)

(ZN: We've already unveiled several cracks in the notion of a True Self. But here's another one: What True Self have you Discovered, if it's everchanging and you don't Know it enough to give it Rules it can follow?)

"No rules" and socializing #

(ZN: What is life like in Neo's world "without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries?")

(ZN: If you're trying to have a conversation with me, and every other second, in this magical virtual world without rules and boundaries, I change my gender and race and age, can you ever get to know me? Is there a me at all?)

(ZN: If Rules are necessary to Know Oneself, and no one follows any rules here, does anyone Know Themselves in this new revolutionary world?)

"Without you," but "up to you" #

Finally, the message ends with:

"Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."

The most sensible interpretation here I that this is an ultimatum.

He's saying: Listen, I'm gonna show them a world in which you stay the fuck out of it. We can do this peacefully or not. Your call.

However, he knows that Humans are the Machines' "batteries." The Machines are not gonna just say "Oh, OK then," unplug their "batteries" and drop dead.

So this "choice" isn't much of a choice, is it? This of course is another philosophical commentary the Wachowskis are making on choice, and determinism.

(The Wachowskis went on to "develop" these ideas in the sequels. I'll write a critique of those later.)

So the speech is a mess #

Did the Wachowskis think this "no rules and controls, no borders or boundaries" thing through?

It's safe to say that what they mean is not what they say. So what do they actually mean?

(ZN: Is it "no rules and controls, no borders or boundaries" in the angry 5-year-old child sense, that really means "There are one or two things I wanna do, and I don't want no rules or controls keeping me from doing them!"?)

(ZN: Is it "no rules and controls, no borders or boundaries" in the leftist revolutionary militia leader sense, that really means "my rules and controls, my borders or boundaries"?)

(ZN: Admittedly, a less problematic line such as "I'm going to show them a world where almost anything is possible, within reason" wouldn't have sounded as cool and revolutionary for Neo's final speech!)

And yet, the speech is perfect #

So I'll stop "deconstructing" Neo's message to the Machines here.

And let me make Matrix fans happy, with a clarification (that I shouldn't have to clarify, but oh well.)

The truth I've been trying to suggest to you is that all the three mindsets have their place.

That is the key. That's why you shouldn't have been hyperventilating and butthurt over my evisceration of (at least this part of) the film.

For Neo's speech, all you have to do is go back to the pre-Modern mindset.

The mindset of Poetry and Emotion (at least according to our modern view of it!)

The mindset where Subtext and Context (which I've explained in the Mouse section) are basically everything, and Neo's words are basically mouth noises used to evoke the right emotions, not for you to take the statements as instructions for actually engineering a coherent, working Free Society.

The mindset with which you (or at least I!) enjoy the gory poetry of a Cannibal Corpse song, and completely understand the energy, even though you probably can't understand most of what he's growling.

(Although Corpsegrinder has great enunciation for a death metal singer. A better example here would be Lord Worm.)

With this mindset, it doesn't matter that Neo's speech is total mess.

What matters is that the words evoke what you're supposed to be feeling right then: "Fuck yeah!"

(Do note that we are being charitable. It would be a better "Fuck yeah!" if the contents of the speech wasn't a mess content-wise!)

Cut to credits #

This finishes what is likely the best cypherpunk film of the 90s.

The Matrix (1999) came at the right place and time, made by the right people, at the right time of their lives, with the right actors, the right fight choreographies, the right pace, the right moment in music culture (Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, "techno" mixed with orchestra was still novel), and, of course, the right moment and opportunity for innovation in VFX.

Joy enhanced, not diminished #

None of the following things should decrease your appreciation or enjoyment of The Matrix (1999):

One of my friends who is a fan tells me he puts himself "back in the mindset I was when I first watched it in 1999."

I don't do that. (I don't even know how that's possible.)

I now obviously watch the film through different eyes (particularly after this analysis!) but the enjoyment is basically the same as ever. It's just that it comes from another angle now. It doesn't come from believing that the Wachowskis are profound, logically-consistent philosophers or whatever.

In fact, I now enjoy watching it because of my analysis. Because I know more about all of the following: What they wanted to say, what they actually said, what the problems are (to me), and how their views and mine differ.

Let Derrida say it #

"I love very much everything that I deconstruct in my own manner; the texts I want to read from the deconstructive point of view are text I love, with that impulse of identification which is indispensable for reading. They are texts whose future, I think, will not be exaused for a long time. For example, I think Plato is to be read, and read constantly. Plato's signature is not yet finished ... – nor is Nietzsche's, nor is St. Augustine's."
– Derrida, Ear of the Other (1985), p. 87.

(Emphasis mine.)

That is exactly my feeling about what I've done to The Matrix (1999) here.

(It's also a reminder that, as much as we like him, our friend Jordan Peterson is dead wrong about postmodernists aiming to dismantle Western civilization or something.)

(ZN: JBP was ill-informed by the modernboi who "explained" postmodernism to him: Stephen Hicks. Whom I've been referencing for my descriptions of Modernism and its achievements, to ensure I "steel man" it.)

References #

  1. (Text/HTML) Payphone @ Wikipedia
  2. (Text/HTML) Is it true that an angry mob of Dutchmen killed and ate their own prime minister in 1672? @ HistoryExtra
  3. (Text/HTML) Age of Empires (1997) @ Wikipedia
  4. (Text/HTML) Diablo II (2000) @ Wikipedia
  5. (Text/HTML) Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (video game) @ Wikipedia
  6. (Text/HTML) Genesis 3 @ BibleGateway
  7. (Text/HTML) Niobe (The Matrix) @ Wikipedia
  8. (Text/PDF) The Ear of the Other @ MonoSkop
  9. (Video) A Critique of Stephen Hicks' "Explaining Postmodernism" @ YouTube
  10. (Text/HTML) Question of Necessity: Deconstruction, Khōra, and Faith @ Irish Theological Quarterly
  11. (Text/HTML) Rebel Alliance @ Wikipedia
  12. (Text/HTML) Stratocracy @ Wikipedia
  13. (Text/HTML) Fictional stratocracies @ Wikipedia
  14. (Text/HTML) OSI model @ Wikipedia
  15. (Text/HTML) Network Troubleshooting: A Complex Process Made Simple @ GideonRasmussen
  16. (Text/HTML) Cannibal Corpse @ Wikipedia
  17. (Text/HTML) George Fisher (musician) @ Wikipedia