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It has long been a Wachowski goal to expand what audiences will accept. They aspired toward nothing less than expanded consciousness with The Matrix and its sequels, the last of which was critically reviled. "People hated it," Lana recalls. "They said: 'I want to go back into my pod. I want to go back.'"
She elaborates: "Growing up, fantasy was the world as the world would never be, and science fiction was the world — filled with problems and ideas — as it could be. We were always drawn more to science fiction than to fantasy. There's a lot of people who wanted Neo to go up and throw the magic ring into the volcano and banish all of the evil demons. But for us, science fiction has always been an experimental genre."
"All movies are essentially matrixes," Lana suggests. "You plug in, you're in tune, the movie tells what you think, what to feel, how to behave. You go out, and it almost tells you who to be in relationship to the movie. From the very beginning, we thought that The Matrix is the most matrix-y of the three movies: It works the way other movies work.
"So the second movie is about destroying everything we've built in the first. And then the third movie is, 'Well, now what are you going to do?' Now you have to participate in the construction of meaning. We wanted to see if we could change the movie-going experience, a passive experience, into an active experience. And people resented it."
Andy recalls the fiercely negative comment they received from a test screening to their 1996 erotic thriller Bound, complaining that the film featured a 'Typical Hollywood ending.'" Andy asked, "Well, up until that point, when had you seen two lesbians ride off into the sunset?" And when the Wachowskis made their live-action adaptation of Speed Racer, they aimed for a cheerfully naive optimism that evokes, as Andy puts it, "a Frank Capra film for kids."
Lana enumerates some grander goals for Speed Racer: to make "a cubist modern art film and transcend the incredibly limited palette of aesthetics that's in modern cinema."
Tykwer's recent films are likewise shaped by a drive to challenge audiences to expect and accept unconventional conclusions, include the manic/erotic drama Three, the it's-the-economy-stupid thriller The International, and the bewitching adult fairy tale Perfume: Story of a Murderer. Tykwer says that when making Perfume, the most substantial change he made was in the protagonist's rationale for suicide: In the movie, it's not because the character hates humanity, but because he feels he has failed to connect with it. Tykwer says, "It's that longing for connection and that failure to find it that makes the film's ending something other than: 'Oh, humanity sucks. Let's all die.'"
Both Tykwer and the Wachowskis look back on the '70s as a magical period when a mad pop artist like Boorman could potentially reach mass audiences with Zardoz. They also have high hopes for the future of digital filmmaking.
"We're optimistic in the artists more so than the technology," Andy says. "We were just in that documentary Side by Side, that movie Keanu [Reeves] directed about digital filmmaking, and there were a lot of people that were staunch..."
"Fundamentalists," Lana jeers.
"'You can take the film stock from my cold, dead hands,'" Andy says, again adopting a dissenting voice from outside Starship Wachowski. He comes back to himself and responds, "Okay, but you're closing yourself off from so many options by not being able to use these tools."
"What I'm excited about with digital is also happening in the creation of narrative," Lana says. "There are a lot of people, like [nihilistic French novelist] Michel Houellebecq, who I'm sure would disagree. But I believe inherent in any artist's work is an optimistic truth. That the very creation of art is in itself an act of optimism."
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