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The Purpose of an Ending: Star Wars and The Matrix Revealed

The effects of linearity & holism on structure

Many writers ask me the difference between a Linear-minded story and one that is Holistic-minded. If the latter cares little for outcome, goal, and consequence, then how does it end? In contrast to the more obvious trappings of linearity, the aspects of holism seem antithetical to the creation of a story.

They continue to sneak their way into fiction.

The Linear mind sees a problem and finds a solution. The Holistic recognizes an inequity and seeks balance. No one mind is better than the other—merely the fallout of running on a different operating system.

When balance takes precedence over a solution, intention replaces accomplishment. A new direction supersedes any notion of triumph.

If you want a great example of the difference between solution and intention, turn to Star Wars and The Matrix.

Many assume these films to be the same story. Caught up in the distraction that is the Hero's Journey, these well-minded individuals overlook the real purpose of these films. One depicts achievement, the other an alignment of self.

With Star Wars, Luke turns off his targeting computer, trusts in something outside of himself, and disintegrates the Death Star.

End of story.

With The Matrix, Neo rises from the dead, begins to believe, and tears apart Agent Smith.

But the story isn't over.

Not yet.

Now at one with being the One, Neo makes a call:

"I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there, is a choice I leave to you."

A signal of intention.

Perfectly aligned with a Holistic-minded story structure.

Yes, sequels exist that continue Luke's journey. Same with Neo. For this concept, we focus on the original self-contained narratives.

With Star Wars, Luke's journey is a closed circuit. It depicts a Linear experience. Identify a problem and fix it with a solution. The problem, as it were, never returns.

With The Matrix, Neo's journey is a closed-loop—a circle. The film allows one into the Holistic experience. Sense inequities and balance them with equities, always recognizant of the fact that all truths remain true.

They don't simply disappear with a solution.

Luke fixes his problem of seeing everything as a challenge. He trusts in something else, giving up the need to continually test himself.

Once fixed, he'll never return to daring Sandpeople or putting up a front at next Cantina—his solution of the Force erases his problem.

Neo, on the other hand, continues to battle with the balance between belief and self-doubt. And this struggle persists up to, and including the very last scene.

That phone call is not the phone call of a confident man. Neo isn't even sure how it's going to end—just how it's going to begin. The call sounds more like a conversation with himself than anything else. It's less a threat and more indicative of one who believes—but still recognizes a level of self-doubt just beneath the surface.

That phone call is a signal of intention, not an accomplishment.

Contrast that with the Throne Room scene from Star Wars, and you begin to see the difference between the Linear story and the Holistic experience.

In the end, it all boils down to purpose. Are you trying to show how to fix things? Or are you trying to indicate a new direction, an intention towards better balance?

The choice...I leave up to you.