Literary analysis is often peppered with references to male/female concepts as though the idea is separate from physical masculinity/femininity. Phalluses or other concepts with the properties of a phallus are often employed directly as a symbol of the characteristics often mundanely attributed to masculinity: Power, domination, control etc. Much of this originates from feminist literary theory, otherwise called one-track-mind literary theory. The ‘trick’, as it were, to literary criticism and analysis is to not get trapped in finding the same concept in everything. It’s very easy to do but doesn’t mean a whole lot; I could find examples of religious undertones or save-the-planet themes in just about any piece of writing but the connection is unnecessary and meaningless if you’re finding it in everything because it’s your agenda. Creative criticism has no merit if it’s powered purely by agenda.
Instead, you should look at how you justify such a position. The justification of a piece of analysis is always the most interesting bit. When someone bluntly attacks a film with ideas such as: “Maybe they’re all ghosts? Or robots? Are those two the same person?” It’s because they’ve no idea about narrative or theme construction. Those kinds of plot devices are irrelevant to the point; they are just a mechanism used to explore part of the theme. The same applies to literary criticism. When a feminist points out that a symbol is phallic, representing the heavy male influence on a block of writing, you should ask back “Why?” and if they give you a reason you should continue “So what?” All criticism deserves copious amounts of scorn until it has proven itself worthy of respect.
I’ll provide a simple example: The Matrix. A pretty good film series on the whole with some fairly decent acting performances as well as examples of both good and bad writing. The wonder of these films, though, is the power they brought to epistemology. People are horribly close-minded about the nature of reality. I try all the time to talk to people about it and if I bring Descartes’ argument about the mind-controlling demon up, people react like Frankenstein’s torch-wielding villagers and vehemently deny the relevance; they say it’s from a different time and culture; they madly bang the nearby table declaring, through misty eyes, that it’s real, it must be real, I can touch it. In the same way that a mature but inexperienced 12 year-old reacts upon being told about the Easter bunny or Santa. However, The Matrix provided a solution. Through the cinematically impressive but thematically empty dulling effect of over-the-top martial arts sequences, black-hat-white-hat moral expositions and generic American over emotional arguments and shouting sessions, the true intentions and effects of the films are cleverly disguised.
They question the nature of reality; they provide an alternative and they push you into concentrating on the alternative when, in truth, all they want you to accept is that things simply might not be the way you think they are. The benefit of this is that they have provided a point of reference to help explain these kinds of matters to non-believers. When I bring up Descartes now and I see the bottom-lip-quiverings of my discussional partner, I liken it to The Matrix because it acts like an island of safety in the scary sea of scepticism for them.
Back to the example in hand though. What if through all three films, nobody ever leaves the matrix? By which I mean what if Neo, the revolution, Zion etc. are all just part of the simulation designed to keep people under control? On its own It seems meaningless to point out because, in essence, you could say the same thing about any film: “What if it were all a computer simulation?” and the result is a 0 on the gets-you-thinking meter.
Proper analysis, though, reveals a purpose to such a thought. If everything in the films were just other parts of a facsimile of reality it would make a striking and powerful message about the futility of human endeavour when it comes to fighting the truth. The truth of who you are and the truth of your own path in life. If you chose to take it down another route, you could call it an allegory to current Western political powers, keeping their sheeple happy by giving them things to rebel against and letting them think they have victories when, all the while, everyone is just playing into their hands. I could cite plenty of extracts to support either of these thoughts but that’s not what I’m doing here. What I’m doing is showing you that the important part of analysis is the point: The nugget. What can you actually learn from such a dissection? Is there something to be gained? If so, then go ahead and provide evidence, thicken the plot and intrigue me enough to have me following you without second thought down the rabbit hole but if you have nothing interesting with which to back up your boring theories then take the blue pill and join the capitalist protestors drinking their Starbucks (with extra foam), save-the-planet activists (getting off their 5 hour plane journey to their bi-monthly conferences) and feminists constantly hacking away at modern culture with the long since blunted scalpel of empty male/female imagery and you can all skip hand-in-hand down the yellow brick road to see if anyone along the way can give you the clues you’re so sorely missing.