In The Matrix, why is Neo confusing left and right?

Taladris 09/03/2017. 6 answers, 13.777 views
the-matrix

We can see in this video clip from The Matrix that, when chased by the agents, Neo confuses right and and left:

When Neo asks the operator Tank to help him find a way to escape, Tank tells him to take the door on the left, clearly saying "on your left". Neo tries to open the door on the right, which prompts Tank to tell him "Your other left". Using that door, Neo manages to escape from the agents of the Matrix.

This scene always puzzled me. This scene does not seem to have any use and we know that the movie had a tight budget (using decors from Dark City). So any unnecessary scene was probably removed from the script. In addition, the Wachowskis are known to have written a scenario, where most, if not all, elements have a purpose and an intended symbol.

Out of universe, why is this scene in the movie?

Is it a blooper from Keanu Reaves that was not removed from the final cut (no time or money to reshoot the scene)? Or was it intended and means something about Neo? A way to increase tension during the chase scene?

2 Comments
b_jonas 08/26/2017
I'm not even sure Neo reacted to what Tank said when he went to the right. It looks like he was just trying to dodge the shots and haven't processed what Tank said yet.
Toby 08/30/2017
Funnily enough, in both cases he goes right... the camera angle flips after the first try and he starts to go left, but then it flips again (and the hand holding the phone changes) and he actually goes through the door on the right

6 Answers


Flater 08/25/2017.

Out of universe, why is this scene in the movie?

Because it showcases that Tank sees Neo. He is not limited to what Neo tells him on the phone, he is actually tracking his position.

Until then, it would have been possible that the operator is not directly aware of where the others are, they could be basing themselves on what they've been told (1), or what they can "read from the Matrix" (2).

Examples:

  1. When the operator is asked about how to escape a building, the operator has already been told explicitly which building the team is in (e.g. mission briefing, being updated on the fly but off-screen, or even being the one to have suggested that building in the first place).
  2. The operator doesn't see Neo fighting directly, but he does see the environment getting banged up and therefore concludes that there must be a fight going on.

But Tank telling Neo that it's the "other left" means that Tank has more knowledge than what is being communicated over the phone.
Note that Tank had already previously been shown to be somewhat aware of where the agents are (as they are part of the Matrix itself), but not necessarily where his team is. That's the point of the scene, it disambiguates an otherwise ambiguous factoid about what the operators can and cannot see.

Secondly, it's also a short moment of comedic relief.

Thirdly (but this is really reaching, imo), it showcases that Neo is running for his life and not mentally calm, as he is making mistakes and acting instinctively.

5 comments
37 Ruslan 08/25/2017
Right, it lets the audience feel Neo's hurry.
3 Abel 08/26/2017
I think that, on top of your excellent points, it may also signify that Neo thinks that Tank sees him from front-view (missing "your" in "your left", we can forgive him for that), i.e., as we, the audience see it. As such, you can see this scene as a little nod to the fourth wall. At least that's how I always viewed it and why I liked the subtlety of this particular scene: three seconds and so many interpretations :).
1 Sahuagin 08/26/2017
I see your second and third as the major reasons; your first reason seems iffy. It may technically imply what you say, but that doesn't mean that was the intent of the line, nor have you provided any evidence for it. It may have been written for the comedic reason, ignoring the implications.
1 DJClayworth 08/27/2017
I think the scene also serves to showcase Neo's humanity and fallibility. At this stage he is just an ordinary guy under pressure, running for his life and making human mistakes. This will accentuate the transformation when he later (totally unnecessary spoiler alert) becomes virtually omnipotent and omniscient as The One.
2 Flater 08/28/2017
@Abel: Maybe a better response: Tank said "your left" first, thus already implying Neo's point of view. He then said "your other left", which is colloquially meant as "you picked right, you should have picked left". So Tank was correct when he said "left", but Neo went right. The fault is Neo's, from Neo's point of view.

Valorum 08/25/2017.

This isn't a blooper. The scene exists in the 1997 version of the script (but not the 1996 version where Neo travels to the exit without Tank's assistance) as well as the final draft screenplay seen in The Art of the Matrix

TANK: Shit! The door on your left.

Neo lurches, kicking in an apartment door.

TANK: No! Other left!

He whirls back to his other left, battering through the DOOR which SPLINTERS, PERFORATED by BULLETS.

The final draft notes that the building is a maze with zigzagging corridors. It's easy to get turned around, especially when you're being shot at.

4 comments
1 Taladris 08/25/2017
Thanks for the script. Maybe my question was unclear, but I was looking for an out-of-universe reason for the inclusion of that scene. At least, you ruled out the bloomer. Is it only for realism?
22 Valorum 08/25/2017
People often, when flustered suffer from directional blindness. It's intended to be a little bit light-hearted but also to emphasis the seriousness of the situation. They try the same trick in the next film where the little old lady turns into an agent
6 JMac 08/25/2017
@Valorum Sometimes it doesn't even require being flustered. I always have to consciously think about which is "left" and "right" whenever they are mentioned to me. Trying to figure it out while being chased/shot at would be pretty damn hard.
18 Steven Vascellaro 08/25/2017
"He whirls back to his other left" I love how even the transcript calls him out on this.

(I don't have a source, only my interpretation, and a hint from the 1996 script about the state of Neo's powers by the time of the chase. Given the compressed timeframe of the final script, I take this to be a conservative estimate of Neo's level of awareness by this point in the movie.)

All of Neo's powers flow from the same place: an ability, on some level, to perceive and interact with the raw, unfiltered code of the Matrix.

Neo's superhuman reflexes are not in fact superhumanly fast - they are a cheat. They come from sensing and responding directly to changes in the Matrix, without waiting for this information to be filtered through a process of slowly and sloppily encoding and interpreting a series of audio-visual cues. (For gamers: it's essentially the same as the Psycho Mantis trick from Metal Gear Solid.)

As Neo's powers grow throughout the movie, as his reactions get faster and faster, all that is really happening is that Neo is becoming more and more aware of the Matrix itself and less and less dependant on the audio-visual illusions it casts.

I believe that the "other left" scene is a nod to Neo's level of awareness by this point in the movie. It is contemporary to a scene in the 1996 script:

Looking over his shoulder, watching the mirrors, Neo drives almost unconsciously. (1996 script)

In the scene as originally scripted, Neo is driving to the exit by car, apparently without needing to look where he is going, because he has another way of sensing what is ahead of him: his awareness of the Matrix. Worried more about the pursuing agents, Neo's focus is behind him rather than in front.

My interpretation of the "other left" scene is that it turns this scenario around - instead of, in the original script, physically looking behind him and "sensing" in front, Neo is (more comfortably) physically looking ahead of him as he runs, but is "sensing" behind him, looking for the pursuing agents.

Because his focus is still on the agents, when he hears "left" he moves to the "left" that he perceives most strongly.

3 comments
amflare 08/25/2017
Where did you find this script? Could you provide a link?
Valorum 08/25/2017
can-ned_food 08/27/2017
Of course, at the end, he goes from responding to changes in the Matrix to actually halting execution and rewriting it.

KjetilNordin 08/28/2017.

The top voted answer is great. Considering it to be a presentation of Tank's view, and abilities makes sense. Comic relief is also very true. But for me, this scene has always been about Neo's humanity as well. He is not a mathematically programmed machine, and this simple mistake is one that humans do quite often in the real world. Making him go the wrong way in a stressfull situation, simply makes him more relatable to me as a viewer. It helps separate him from the machines.


Mario 08/25/2017.

Don't know for sure and I have no source to back out up, but I'd say it's there to enforce supporting the fact that they can watch him from a third person perspective and he somehow assumes they see him from the front since he's running towards them.

Also "on your left" doesn't necessarily imply "from your perspective", so he doesn't really confuse it. The information is simply too vague given the context.

1 comments
39 Kevin 08/25/2017
"Your left" most certainly does mean "from your perspective," at least in my dialect of English.

tribbles 08/27/2017.

A bit of over analyzing going on here I think.

It's a moment of humor in an otherwise extremely tense situation... akin to Neo's line "Mr. Wizard, get the hell out of here!". An homage to the "Tooter Turtle" cartoon.


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