To be Intertextual, or not to be Intertextual.

In a conversation with a friend earlier this year the film The Lego Movie (Chris Miller & Phil Lord,  Warner Bros., USA, 2014) arose, and with much delight we conversed. However when I acknowledged that the film was heavily influenced and contains references to The Matrix (Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski,  Warner Bros., USA, 1999) (which itself was influenced by Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation) the friend retired from the excited babbling. The friend then said, what was to be believed out of my ear shot, "Why does he have to ruin it?"

It seems that my acknowledgement that the film wasn't 'unique' and 'original' was a disappointment. The idea that the film copied other elements from assorted media; including the very objects that the film was depicting, Lego, a toy that exists in the physical world before appearing in the fictional world of the films - somehow 'ruin' the film.

I don't believe this to be the case; films aren't ruined by what is referred to as intertextuality but a enhanced and improved by it. Intertextuality is the postmodern technique of enriching a text by entangling and/or embedding references to other texts within it. It is almost impossible in a modern 21st-century society to escape the intertextual condition; there is so much influence and absorb knowledge from other influential media: Music, TV, Film and Games, that when a new text is created it references and extracts influences from across the spectrum. And within this process the text isn't just improved but is enriched; you have the surface level enjoyment, just watching, listening, interacting with the text and then the deeper subsurface level of deconstructing and analysing the references to what has come before.

In regard to The Lego Movie and The Matrix there are several similarities:

1) Characterisation

  • Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) are referred to within a prophecy as being the saviour from a hyperreal world that is constructed by a daemonic ruler (Emmett is referred to as being The Special & Neo as The One). Furthermore, Emmett is a builder that constructs the world around him where as, Neo, within a computer-generated simulation is a computer programmer; as a result both have the ability to construct and deconstruct elements within their fabricated universes. In addition both fall in love with the female that introduces them to the reality of the simulation.

  • Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) both are the female protagonists that the male protagonist falls in love with. During the opening of both films they are wrongly mistaken as being the individual that the prophecy is referring to and both display a level of experience and masculine domination over the physical and simulated worlds.

  • Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) both fulfill the role of the helper and mentor to the chosen one, and are the individual that the prophecy was relayed to.

  • Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) both face the uprising and try to keep hold of the simulated worlds that they have created.

  • Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) both fulfil the needs of the architect by enforcing the rules upon the enslaved masses as well is carrying out the operation of hunting down the chosen one.

  • Micromanagers and Sentinels both take orders from the enforcers (Bad Cop & Agent Smith) as well as the daemonic leader. Furthermore both are depicted as being machines with tentacles to capture the rebellion.

  • The Cloud World and Zion – both are the locations where the rebellion unites and tries to fight against the simulation as well as being outside the simulations control. However both are invaded by Bad Cop/Agent Smith and Micromanagers/Sentinels.

2) Plot

  • Consist of a similar plot where the rebellion finds and locates the chosen one that will return peace and order to the world by destroying the simulation.

  • Both consist of a unique space called "The Construct" and "The Magic Box" where anything is possible

  • Both male protagonists find themselves in a similar position, a loss of belief and then the have to try and find the courage to become the individual depicted by the prophecy.

  • At the climax to both films and invasion of an office building must be overcome to destroy a computer security system that isn't achieved until the last minutes of the film.

3) Studio

  • Both Films are distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and Roadshow Entertainment.

All of this doesn't denigrate the film but enhances it improves the film's complexity and enjoyment as it works on several levels. However I am not saying that The Matrix is unique or original by any means; as I have all ready said, the film was influence by Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation  but also the film cinematography and mise-en-scène has been influenced by past films of similar genres. View the extraordinary video below that compares the matrix to previous films.

But neither is The Matrix the only film that is intertextual. The video below shows how Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, Miramax Films, USA, 2001) is also overflowing with intertextual references, links and nods to film that have gone before.

Saying a film is intertextual doesn't, in my opinion, ruin a film; it doesn't take away from the artistic quality, the narrative, the storyline, the acting, the directing or  any of the hard work that has been put into the film. Intertextual creates a secondary layer to a film that doesn't take away from the first but adds enjoyment.

The first layer is the initial story, what events does the film portray that create a narrative for the audience to follow, for example in Kill Bill Vol. 1 the initial story is how Black Mamba or the Bride (Uma Thurman) goes about taking her revenge on the 'Deadly Viper Assassination Squad'.  This second layer can only be acknowledged by those who have a wide ranging knowledge of films across genres, nationalities and decades, but this doesn't interfere with the narrative of the first layer. The secondary layer is concerned with most often stylistic qualities such as the camera, the mise en scene, the sound and the editing - sometimes but not often referring to and mirroring other plots from films. It is because the secondary layer requires extensive knowledge that it doesn't interfere with the primary layer, and therefore individuals that get annoyed or frustrated with intertextuality don't fully understand that it is an additional feature of the film, not a primary consideration like the actual story.

Audiences can enjoy a film on the first layer alone and leave the viewing experience fully satisfied with the joy that the film has brought;  the secondary layer only adds to the experience. It is presented for those who are in the know to find and discover further enjoyment and satisfaction that they can see the parallels between the film they are watching and the film that is being referenced. Intertextuality should be continued within films and as audiences age and build upon their knowledge of the cinema they will slowly begin to understand and have revealed to them the wonderful Easter eggs and treats that intertextuality provides.