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WTF Moments: The Zion rave madness in The Matrix Reloaded
You won't find a more than a passing mention of the most insane scene from The Matrix Reloaded in a Wikipedia summary, which is nuts because, in 2003, it was the only scene that people really argued about. Theories about Neo's purpose and the meaning of whatever the Architect said at the end? Nah. Trinity's resurrection? Forget it. None of this stuff was as divisive as the rave in the human city of Zion where Morpheus, Link, and about 5,000 extras who seem great for a Dove soap commercial really cut loose.
Depending on how you look at it, the mass rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded is either the goofiest WTF moment in a sci-fi movie ever — or the most genius.
So let's talk about Wikipedia pages and understatements and how maybe compressed summaries like the summary for The Matrix Reloaded are like the Matrix IRL because this summary totally robs us of a "real" experience. Here's the part in the Wikipedia summary of the plot of The Matrix Reloaded, which should contain at least a mention of the rave scene: "In Zion, Morpheus announces the news of the advancing machines to the people."
What. Here's how that summary should read:
In the cavernous underground human city of Zion, Morpheus tells a Coachella-sized crowd of people that dangerous Terminator-style machines are advancing on the last human colony, and instead of everyone freaking out, they all listen attentively, because Morpheus just tells them it's time to party. And because Morpheus has the booming voice of Laurence Fishburne, this works. Plus, the crowd was seemingly primed for this party anyway, because there are a ton of dudes with giant drums just waiting to get the "pump the jam" signal from Morpheus.
(Note, this scene began with one of the high councilors of Zion describing what is happening as a "prayer." Meaning, the way a prayer service was concluded in this movie is with a giant rave.)
We'll talk about the real purpose of the rave scene in a moment, but the scene is tricky because though it's fairly short, it feels longer. It's about six minutes if and only if you count Morpheus' speech and the fact that Trinity and Neo (the main characters of the movie) are not at the rave, but, instead, having sex in a different cavernous room elsewhere. These two aspects make this six minutes seem much longer than it really is.
The scope of the scene is huge, too. The crowd shots really do convince you this is the last of humanity, all gathered together. The Wachowskis briefly take the camera in close to show us the faces of a few characters we know who are bumping and grinding (look, there's Link and his wife Zee!), but for the most part this scene is memorable because it's mostly just abs and not faces of dancers, and the fashion of all these people is somewhere between Aladdin's vest and what you imagine rich people dress like in Mad Max.
These party people are supposed to be the ragtag remnants of humanity, which works okay, but like the Rebel Alliance all having uniforms in Star Wars, there's a uniformity to the fashion sense of these ravers that just makes the whole scene ... implausible.
I know, I know. Thinking a dance party scene is the most implausible thing about the Matrix trilogy is like wondering how much gas Chevy Chase put in the Family Truckster in National Lampoon's Vacation, but you know what I mean. If, after Luke, Han, and Chewie got that applause at the end of the original 1977 Star Wars, and everyone just started having a giant disco dance party, it wouldn't be too far off from the rave in The Matrix Reloaded.
But it's stranger than that, because, again, no major characters participate in said dance party (Neo and Trinity are getting busy, Morpheus is talking about dancing). It would be like if a dance party in Star Wars erupted and only featured secondary and tertiary characters; like, say, what if Wedge was the only person who decided to hang out with the Ewoks around the campfire at the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi?
Even weirder, this rave takes place before any kind of major victory has occurred, and, in fact, takes place on the eve of possible annihilation. That may be the secret to why the WTF-ness of the scene might actually be brilliant, if only because of the sheer audacity. What other big sci-fi epic drops a party scene of this scale in the first act of the film, while also letting the two romantic leads get carnal in the real world, and not via virtual, computer-constructed bodies?
So is the dance scene in The Matrix Reloaded silly? On the one hand, it scans like one of those commercials for vodka where everyone in the commercial is sexy and suddenly having the best time ever, running on the beach, kicking off sandals, dancing until all hours of the morning, but at no point do things get out of hand. There's a forced, false spontaneity in those vodka commercials that ends up making the part feel oddly wholesome, bordering on lame. Reloaded's rave is the same. It's meant to convey the raw energy of humanity, but it plays a little antiseptic, despite the copious amounts of sweat.
That said, because The Matrix movies are about manipulation and control and the film eventually reveals that there is deeper deception beyond the one we already knew about, anything contrived in this dance party — or entire movie — is easily forgivable.
Add to that the fact that the Wachowskis thought this rave scene was a good idea and didn't even bother cutting it, which is just an original and brave choice right there. Though The Matrix movies could be accused of being derivative of several other sci-fi sources (Tron, William Gibson novels), the rave is, what, maybe derivative of ... commercials in which attractive people dance? In most science fiction movies, this kind of thing is not only rare but totally unheard of.
So, the next time you watch The Matrix Reloaded (it's on Netflix right now), I urge you to applaud the sheer moxie of the rave scene. No one wanted it. No one asked for it. But it happened anyway, and, on some level, we're all still dancing to the Wachowskis' not-quite impromptu beats to this day.