[STANDARD SPOILER ALERT] Despite what the global saturation ad campaign may imply, it’s better to approach My Architect as a spinoff–like a feature-length installment the Animatrix–not as a sequel. (That none of the actors from The Matrix films were in My Architect should’ve been my first clue.) Once I made this distinction, I was able to appreciate the movie much better; it turns out to be a moving, well-told story which happens to have an extremely misleading marketing strategy behind it. It’s the Shawshank Redemption of the Matrix Universe.
My Architect is set in the previous iteration of The Matrix, slotting into the Timeline somewhere between 1963 and 1974, although it includes trips backward and forward in time. The One here is a filmmaker named Nathaniel Kahn and is also called The Only Son. And the movie follows him on his quest to understand the Big Questions about his existence and his relationship to The Architect, who doesn’t look like Colonel Sanders in this film, but ressembles instead a somewhat homelier Danny Kaye, complete with big Architect glasses and a bowtie.
While some characters in the film react badly to the idea, there’s never any suspense about whether The Architect is The One’s father. For one thing (no pun intended), his name is Louis Kahn. Frankly, I couldn’t tell who is The Oracle. In a plotline taken straight from Star Wars, The One learns he has siblings, sisters–half-sisters, really–who also grew up thinking they were The One. It made for confusing family lives, and The Architect led a nomadic existence, hopping from house to office to building site to house, ultimately alone, even among his three “families.” Unlike Star Wars, though, The One doesn’t almost inadvertently hook up with his sister.
The Architect has uncompromising visions of a perfectly constructed world; the film tells many stories of his mighty battles with the forces of evil (called Clients, or in one case, Urban Renewal Planners). Ultimately, The Architect has to leave The Matrix itself, traveling to the then-new country of Bangladesh, where he harnesses the energy of the most un-plugged-in population on Earth to build his Capital. [This is a direct reference to the Animatrix episode about how the machines founded their country, 01, in a desolate corner of the Middle East.]
As we know from the movies, train stations figure prominently in the Matrix, and My Architect is no exception. The Architect dies of a heart attack in the men’s room at Penn Station. [This is not really a spoiler since the whole premise of the movie is The One’s search as an adult for The Architect/Father he barely knew as a child, his attempt to understand more about how The Architect spent his last moments, when, instead of being surrounded by at least one of his families, he collapsed alone in a bathroom.]
In a plotpoint that reminded me a bit too much of Kevin Smith‘s Dogma, where God goes temporarily AWOL because he (she, actually, since God is played there by Alannis Morrisette) went unrecognized in a hospital ICU, The Architect went unrecognized at the morgue for several days because he’s crossed the address off his passport. Nevertheless, both the enigma and emotional stakes faced by The One are touchingly conveyed, and this viewer found himself identifying freuqently with Nathaniel and his quest.
Did I say action scenes? Perhaps the most significant way in which My Architect varies from the Matrix formula is the utter and complete lack of action. Every time I thought, “here comes the big chase scene,” it was, “here comes another serene pan of a museum, library, and/or hall of parliament.” And while there were some tense moments, there weren’t any real fight scenes. Aunt Posie got pretty worked up, though, talking about her sister running off and having a baby like that. Just drives her up the wall.
Kudos, finally, to the set designers. The series has always been known for its production design, but the dreary technoworld of the previous movies is replaced here by a seemingly endless parade of luminous, inspiring spaces. Very Logan’s Run. I wonder who did them.
What Nathaniel learns–and what he teaches us, of course, even in the title of his film– is that the quest isn’t for The Architect, but for My Architect. While the other Matrix films seduce us with the threat of an insidious, all-pervasive, artificially constructed reality, Nathaniel shows how much more enmeshed we become in the reality we fabricate inside ourselves.
Nathaniel’s mother recognized the stigma of having a married man’s child as an externally imposed social construct, and she rejected it. Yet her survival hinged inextricably on her belief that Her Architect was always just a passport edit away from leaving his wife. By definition, Nathaniel the filmmaker traffics in constructed, edited reality. He’s aware of the wilfully childlike innocence of his objective (he included scenes of himself rollerblading around the Salk institute or chasing his paper yarmulke in the wind at the Wailing Wall, after all), and yet he spent five difficult, emotionally wrenching years pursuing it with his camera.
Why get all worked up about The Matrix when My Matrix is more revealing and engrossing?