I’ve been working on a television series “bible” on and off for a few years. A TV bible is the framework of a series designed by a developer to, essentially, establish the rules of a series; it explains characters and each individual story arc to an extent, it establishes a continuity within the series’ structure and creates barriers for future writers not to cross or else it messes with the show’s intent. I’ve attempted to do something with my concept, but I don’t have an agent or connections, and so I squirrel away ideas, trying not to tip my hand in the ever-expanding interim, and try to fool myself into thinking this is exactly how Joss Whedon started out.
My storyline hinges on something I refer to as a “universal.” A universal is a fact of life for everyone, whether they like it or not, and it can often take the shape of an almost paranormal experience. For example, the success of the film Inception might be about the heist at the center of the story, or the mind games that facilitate the heist, or it might just be that the special effects were impressive enough to put the butts in the seats. I’d like to think that the universal aspect of the story, that we all have experienced variations of these dream states, we’ve all needed to come to terms with sleeping visions that disturb us and are unlike our regular process, and that we’ve all experienced the “kick” into the awakened state, played the most important part of the success. That communal “me too” side of the story is the hook that, I believe, really drew us in.
That’s director Christopher Nolan’s real forte, never mind the action sequences with the Batman. Memento explored the malleability and fallibility of memory, and how even with the best notes, tricks and mnemonic devices, your memories are things you constantly make up on the spot with only the weakest ingredients at your disposal – a scent, a temperature, a song, a single note. They make you remember, but in reality, they make your mind re-invent the other elements associated with that one sensory tingle. It’s like digital media in a way. You’re not hearing a performance. You’re hearing the recreation of the performance based on the reassembly of “1’s” and “0’s” in a pattern.
He did it again with Insomnia, even though it isn’t as strong a picture as the original starring Stellan Skaarsgard. This time out, Nolan has to keep the two loose cannons of the acting world, Al Pacino and Robin Williams, in check, but he also has to exploit the nether region of half-asleep/half-awake, another universal. Who hasn’t woken up in their room in the morning, eyes blurry and unfocused, and seen something that wasn’t there? Who hasn’t pulled all-nighters, or all-weekers, and found themselves at the mercy of benign hallucinations? Throughout the movie, Pacino’s guilt-ridden character has to straighten up and continue the investigation of a murder, all the while hiding the fact that he accidentally killed his partner in the process, and all the while wondering if it was as accidental as he wants to believe it is. Even worse, in his weary, insomniac state, he’s seeing his dead partner wandering close in tow.
It is not Nolan that provoked me to consider universals though. As a matter of fact, the crux of my TV bible is almost fifteen years old. It arrived before I even saw what was the grand-daddy of the universals-themed movies, The Matrix. There was a recent report that Keanu Reeves gave word about the return of Bill and Ted in a third installment, but also mentioned the Wachowskis planned to revive The Matrix with two more sequels. This information made me a little nauseous.
It’s very easy to bash the Matrix sequels as the creative team behind the films totally lost the thread. They thought they were making a saga about underdogs versus powers-that-be, martyrs and messiahs, and maybe that was the goal all along, but it’s been done. It’s been done to death. What hadn’t been done was the sci-fi exploration of the feeling that you’ve landed in an artificial world. For the first time, in a truly immersive way, we were looking at the world of coincidence and irony, where stuff that just happens is dissected into the scripted certitudes we always had suspicions about.
Each of us has had a time when we’ve thought a thought, and a correlating action occurs from nowhere. I would drive down the street and suddenly think of a song, flip on the radio and, boom, they’re playing that song. Easily explainable if it was the “hot hit” of the day. If you go out to your car thinking about the Katy Perry song “Teenage Dream,” or Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite,” I doubt you’ll have trouble making that situation sync up. I was thinking about the song “Christenings” from the band Blackfield. Now, you figure that one out.
This is what I’m driving at: The Wachowskis can make The Passion of the Neo and The Resurrection of the Neo, but neither get at the fundamental reason why we fell for the first movie. They can batter us about the ears with bullet-time, or the state-of-the-art 3D variant thereof, but it ignores what truly sold The Matrix. That was that we were Neo, we felt these bizarre coincidences up-close-and-personal for the better part of our conscious lives, and these were universal feelings. The movie, in its fiction, sympathized and mythologized that which we couldn’t understand, and that made it instantly familiar and fantastic to us.
The Wachowskis can make God out of Neo, but they can’t make us like it.
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