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Smith and the Whale: Ahab Echoed in The Matrix


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[center][font=Times New Roman][size=3]?Smith and the Whale: Ahab Echoed in The Matrix?[/size][/font]
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[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Throughout the course of literary history, there have always been authors who achieve literary greatness and prestige. There are authors who have influenced countless writers after them. Herman Melville is one such author. His effect on literature is undeniable. One only has to look to Kurt Vonnegut?s [i]Slaughterhouse Five[/i] to see what influence Melville?s [i]Billy Budd, Sailor[/i] has had. However, Melville?s hold on writers is not exclusive to literature, and various characters from Melville?s work are so moving and powerful that screenwriters today are still drawing inspiration from them.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]The Wachowski brothers, for example, have incorporated Captain Ahab?s obsession with retribution, his preoccupation with breaking through boundaries, and his Nihilistic worldview, transforming the whaling captain from the early 1800s into Agent Smith, Neo?s callous and compassionless cyber-antagonist in ?The Matrix.? Considering that Agent Smith cannot deviate from his quest to destroy Neo, is obsessed with breaking free from his digital prison, and believes that ?the purpose of life is to end,? it is quite reasonable that Ahab plays a significant part in the character foundation and psychological make-up of Agent Smith.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]The obsessions are similar in that they both begin with a significant violation of the physical self. Ahab loses his leg, which he treats as a total dismemberment of his person, and Smith explodes.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Ahab views his physical violation as a violation of his soul. His missing leg is not simply a missing body part. He has lost part of himself. As his ship is rounding Patagonian Cape in mid winter, he still lays in a hammock as ?his torn body and gashed soul [bleed] into one another; and so interfusing, [make] him mad? (Melville 200). His crew thinks him lost and are forced to restrain him in a strait-jacket. But as the Cape Horn swells, Ahab appears, ?the direful madness? gone and he is able to issue his calm orders once again and to reassume command. However, this calmness is only the exterior, and Ahab?s hidden self raves on, and he still ?was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge? (Melville 202). He begins hunting the whale, willing to travel to the ends of the Earth for a chance to carry out his vengeance. Ahab?s fury knows no bounds:[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]?No, ye?ve knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bags! I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab?s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? Ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! Man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents? beds, unerringly I rush! Naught?s an obstacle, naught?s an angle to the iron way!?[/size][/font]

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[size=3][font=Times New Roman] Nothing will stand in Ahab?s way, and his path to revenge cannot be altered. The end, we see, is inevitable. There is nowhere for the whale to hide; nowhere can the whale go that Ahab cannot find it. ?Aye, aye! And I?ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition?s flames before I give him up? (Melville 177). Ahab will go through hell itself before he lets the whale escape him. These sentiments are echoed in ?The Matrix,? in the Smith/Neo duality.[/font][/size]

[font='Times New Roman'] Neo, the One, is prophesied to free humanity from enslavement under the machines. At this point in the trilogy, Agent Smith has been the principal mechanical entity, so for Neo to fulfill the prophecy, he must first destroy Agent Smith. This is the first step, in a sense. Keeping this in mind, we re-read Ahab?s mention of his prophecy, and we see that Neo destroying Smith, dismembering him, in fact, fulfills the first half of Ahab?s prophecy. The second half is fulfilled only when the violated get their revenge: ?I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one? (Melville 183).[/font][font='Times New Roman'] Later, in Reloaded, Smith reveals the precise implication of his destruction at Neo?s hands in the Finale of the first Matrix:[/font][font='Times New Roman'] [/font][font='Times New Roman']?And now here I stand because of you, Mister Anderson, because of you I'm no longer an agent of the system, because of you I've changed - I'm unplugged - a new man, so to speak, like you, apparently free.?[/font][font=Times New Roman][size=3] [/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] This freedom gives Smith the power of duplicating himself by copying his code into another host. He makes sure to fully exploit this ability, converting programs, those humans still trapped within the Matrix, and even those humans who have been freed previously. One particular freed human that he assimilates is a man by the name of Bane. Upon assimilating this human, Smith is then granted a remarkable ability; he is able to jack-out of the Matrix. When Bane jacks-out of the Matrix through a telephone, it is actually Smith jacking-out, but using Bane?s physical form as a host body. This further illustrates the lengths to which Smith will go to have his revenge. His obsession with Neo is growing, and his dialogue in Matrix Revolutions mimics Ahab?s theme of ?nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.? Confronting Neo on the Logos, he says, ?There's nowhere I can't go, there's nowhere I won't find you.? As he assimilates more and more individuals within the Matrix, his power grows exponentially, to the point of posing as much of a threat to the system?s stability as Neo?s power does.[/font][/size]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]These struggles, both between Ahab and the whale, and between Smith and Neo, become a matter of balance. Ahab will only be whole again when he has violated the whale. But with the balancing, both Ahab and the whale are to die. In a sense, they become one, a unification of opposing powers. This is mirrored in ?The Matrix,? as the Smith/Neo duality is based on the need for balance. Upon becoming the One, Neo had become too powerful for the system to function properly. The Matrix becomes unbalanced, and the element of Smith is introduced as a counter to Neo?s power. During the final conflict, the Super Burly Brawl of Matrix Revolutions, the unification seen in the Ahab/Whale duality is brought into ?The Matrix? as Neo allows himself to be absorbed by Smith, allowing himself to be violated, and the two entities become one. This fulfills the prophecy of the One, which foresaw the One bringing peace and harmony and thus an end to the conflict, while simultaneously achieving the balance that fulfills the second half of Ahab?s prophecy, which strongly emphasizes inevitability.[/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] Throughout the Trilogy, Agent Smith is the voice of this inevitability. He always looks to the end, to the final chapter. The means are simply there to bring him to his purpose, as is first evidenced during his fight with Neo in the subway in the original Matrix. He hears the horn of an oncoming train, remarking at how it is ?the sound of inevitability?the sound of death.? If the train?s horn is the sound of inevitability, the train becomes death, and the rails then become the path to a fixed purpose, touching back upon Ahab?s fixation on his own iron rails.[/font][/size]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] This obsession with the inevitable end can also be interpreted as a desire to go beyond what is immediate. Both Ahab and Smith demonstrate a desire to meet their end, and often do not hold the immediate present in any high regard, treating it as a barrier that they must break through.[/font][/size]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] Ahab on the Pagan leopards, ?Look! See yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted tawn?living, breathing pictures painted by the sun. The Pagan leopards?the unrecking and unworshipping things, that live; and seek, and give no reasons for the torrid life they feel? (Melville 178). He views the Pagans as without reason for living, without purpose. They live without knowledge of their surroundings and without care for the stifling, suppressive life in which they live. This is the world around Ahab, a world that sickens him so much that he seeks to penetrate and destroy it.[/font][/size]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]His world is based on superficiality, a mask, ?all visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event?in the living act, the undoubted deed?there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask? (Melville 178). Here, Ahab could be indicating there is a controlling force behind every man. This force could be the inner push to escape, which he further develops, ?how can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? (Melville 178).[/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] As before, Ahab?s attitude and tone is mimicked in Smith?s action and dialogue, most notably in his tirade to a drugged Morpheus, as he demands the access codes to Zion. If given the access codes, he can then enter the human city, destroy it, and no longer be needed to patrol ?this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it.? To Smith, the Matrix is a world without purpose, and to live without purpose, there is no reason to exist. He views the Matrix as Ahab views the Pagan leopards.[/font][/size]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]His tirade continues, as he grabs Morpheus? head and violently squeezes, ?I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink. And every time I do I feel I have somehow been infected by it. It's repulsive, isn't it?? He feels violated by the physicality of the world around him and it is this sense of physical violation that drives him even further to break free from this disgusting superficiality.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]His disgust with the human form is further developed in Matrix Revolutions, during his confrontation with Neo aboard the Logos, ?still don't recognize me? I admit, it is difficult to think, encased in this rotting piece of meat. The stink of it filling every breath, a suffocating cloud you can't escape,? he spits blood, ?disgusting! Look at how pathetically fragile it is. Nothing this weak is meant to survive.? In this exchange, Smith stresses the importance of breaking through the mask, to see the truth behind it, ?Yes...that's it, Mr. Anderson. Look past the flesh, look through the soft gelatin of these dull cow eyes and see your enemy.? When Neo fully realizes that ?appearances can be deceiving,? the fight begins.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]It is a brutal one, too. Both Smith and Neo endure heavy damage, but nothing can prepare Neo for Smith grabbing hold of a severed electrical cable and shoving it into his face, blinding him in the process. Neo begins fumbling about, as Smith slowly and deliberately steps away, in and out of the shadows, taunting him, ?I wish you could see yourself, Mr. Anderson. The blind messiah. You're a symbol for all of your kind, Mr. Anderson. Helpless, pathetic. Just waiting to be put out of your misery.? Smith picks up a pole, preparing to connect it with Neo?s fragile, human head. He swings but hits nothing, as Neo ducks and counters. ?I can see you,? Neo says. Neo?s physical blindness has allowed him a second sight, giving him the ability to see Smith?s true form: hellfire.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]The basis for Smith?s hellfire form can be found in Ahab?s address to the flames in Chapter 119, which reads,[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]?Oh, thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance?I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me?Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee? (Melville 550).[/size][/font]

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[font=Times New Roman][size=3]In this passage, Ahab indicates he once worshipped the flames, but then was scarred and now believes the only way to honor the flame is through defiance. This passion is what drives him; the fiery anger within him gives him purpose. The ?scar? he speaks of can be interpreted as his physical violation at the ?hands? of the whale. His philosophy of honoring the flame (his destruction) through defiance (fighting it) supports this reading. Smith?s history with Neo closely follows this reading.[/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] When Smith is interrogating Neo in the first film, he produces a rather thick folder that appears to cover Neo?s entire life. ?As you can see, we?ve been keeping our eyes on you for some time now, Mr. Anderson,? Smith says. Based upon this extensive knowledge of Neo?s life, Smith?s interest in Neo, and with the understanding that Neo does become the One, the savior of mankind and someone that is worshipped by the humans, as evidenced in Reloaded when Neo and Trinity step out of the elevator and are met with the masses bowing down to Neo, it is safe to say that Smith does in fact worship Neo. In the Finale of the first film, Neo destroys Smith, and Smith bears the scar of it throughout the remainder of the Trilogy.[/font][/size]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Further drawing on Ahab?s speech to the flames, specifically the passage regarding the ?speechless, placeless power,? Smith is granted powers similar to Neo?s after he is destroyed. In this sense, Ahab?s mention of the replication of power takes on a literal meaning. Also, as Smith thinks of himself as an exception to the rules, as an independent force that cannot be controlled, he adheres to Ahab?s rejection of the external control. This is in direct violation of what is expected in the Matrix, and is another example of Smith breaking through boundaries.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]The defiance of the creator is also a technique of asserting one?s place in the world. In Moby Dick, the creator is a father figure (?but thou art my fiery father? Melville 551), and the dominating masculine sexuality inherent in the presence and name of Moby Dick suggests that Ahab is a child rebelling against the father figure. ?Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee? supports this interpretation. In realizing that Ahab?s essence is that of a fiery child, breathing flame (violence) back to his creator, we see a stunning similarity between the two works in the Smith/Neo duality.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Smith is only freed when Neo penetrates him. Smith?s previous form, an Agent, is destroyed and he is reborn in Neo?s image. He develops similar powers and abilities, and takes on the social isolation and alienation associated with the personality of the One. However, he seeks to destroy Neo, his father figure, and thus echoes Ahab?s rebellious son. In his hellfire form, Smith also embodies the literal meaning of ?true child of fire,? and does breathe Neo?s fire back to him in Matrix Revolutions. Through his defiance of his creator, Smith again demonstrates his desire to break free from the level of control inherent in the Matrix, and thus breaking the mask of the Matrix, as Morpheus explains, ?[The Matrix] is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.? But what is beyond the mask? What will Ahab and Smith find when they strike through?[/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] This is best answered in terms of Nihilism. Simply put, Nihilism is the belief in ?the truth that ultimately Nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless? (Thielicke 27). To the Nihilist, there is no center; there is no grounding to life. Everything exists to end, and there is no meaning.[/font][/size]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Ahab?s Nihilistic influences can be seen in his speech about striking through the mask. He sometimes feels that there is nothing beyond the wall, that there is nothing to live for after achieving his goal. But if there is nothing beyond the wall, this is enough to motivate him, as he is concerned with the end, and nothing more. He welcomes the inevitable death, the inevitable Nothingness. His resolution is Nothingness.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]He demonstrates the Nihilistic worldview further in his cabin, ?This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne?er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! Damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night?good night? (Melville 182). Here Ahab doubts love and sees the emptiness in it. He is unable to enjoy love, savor it, because he cannot believe in it.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Smith echoes this same view of love in the Finale of Matrix Revolutions:[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]?Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why, why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom or truth, perhaps peace - could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself. Although, only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now! You can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist??[/size][/font]

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[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Smith?s comments on freedom, truth, peace and love, ?Illusions?vagaries of human perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose,? echo the very definition of the Nihilist worldview. He no longer believes in freedom, truth, love, etc. He sees them as meaningless attempts at justification and as holding no real bearing on the end.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]The Nihilist would say this, ?these fixed ideas [love, truth, etc] rest upon lies of expedience. The inventors of the lies do not believe in them; they have been invented as productive illusions by means of which to realize a definite purpose. In fact, therefore, there is nothing behind them but Nothingness? (Thielicke 34).[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Ahab and Smith do not see meaning in their respective worlds. They view them as empty shells without purpose, as prisons that do not fulfill the purpose of life. As they embrace Nihilism, the purpose of life becomes clear to them. As Agent Smith says, ?The purpose of life is to end.?[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]These recurrent themes of Nihilism, the desire to escape, and the obsessive quest all indicate that Captain Ahab played a significant part in the characterization and design of Agent Smith. The Wachowski brothers are known for having done exhaustive research and planning for each of their characters in The Matrix, and based upon what we have seen concerning Captain Ahab and Agent Smith, it is very likely that they looked to Herman Melville?s Moby Dick for particular aspects of Smith?s character.[/size][/font]

[size=3][font=Times New Roman] With the success of The Matrix Trilogy, and the wild fascination with the character of Agent Smith, it would prove useful to show students how these two works are connected. Popular cinema is a tool that is vastly underutilized in the field of education. Considering that Moby Dick is a difficult novel to grasp and requires a level of attention and comprehension that some students do not possess, using The Matrix Trilogy as a reference point or supplementary material will greatly benefit the students in gaining a better understanding of particular themes in Moby Dick. Melville?s style and layered writing is daunting, and though some feel that is a positive, there are students who are turned off by it and are less inclined to explore the meanings contained within it.[/font][/size]

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[/font][font=Times New Roman][size=3]Bloom, Harold. Ed. [i]Ahab[/i]. NY: Chelsea House. 1991.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Melville, Herman. [i]Moby Dick[/i]. NY: Penguin Corp. 1992.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Thielicke, Helmut. [i]Nihilism[/i]. NY. Harper & Row. 1969[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]Wachowski Brothers. ?The Matrix.? 1999, 2003.[/size][/font]
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[color=#707875]I've already discussed this with you on AIM, but I thought I'd post here simply because this essay deserves to be read.

The parallels that you've drawn are really very perceptive I'd say. In some cases during the past, I think you've over-analyzed certain materials. But in this case, you're drawing a very defined link that has some really tangible evidence on both sides.

I know that the Wachowskis had many influences when they created The Matrix trilogy. But I'd never considered the Moby Dick connection, despite the fact that it is now very clear and apparent based on your essay.

So, I would definitely recommend this essay to anyone who is even remotely interested in The Matrix. This is a piece that should definitely be added to the other great essays out there, regarding the trilogy.[/color]
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[COLOR=RoyalBlue]This is very interesting. I too never would have guessed that Moby Dick had any part within the trilogy. It is amazing how much influence is displayed with film directors/writers with such litrature. I love reading these types of essays on the trilogy and there hidden meanings.

I also think this is one essay I'd recommend to Matrix lovers such as myself.[/COLOR]
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