From Superman to Brahman:
By Jeffery Wittung and Daniel Bramer
1. Because a complete discussion is beyond the limits of this article, the shift is sketched in outline only. The ideas presented here were first given as a paper entitled “PoMo Neo: Is He the One?” at the conference “Faith in Film: The Gospel in Popular Culture” in Ocean Grove, NJ, July 10-15, 2005. The following abbreviations are used: MI—The Matrix; MII—The Matrix Reloaded; MIII—The Matrix Revolutions; AM—The Animatrix; ETM—Enter the Matrix. All quotations are taken directly from the films, not from shooting scripts.
2. See esp. Kristenea LaVelle, The Reality within The Matrix (Saxco Publications, 2002); Chris Seay and Greg Garrett, The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Christianity and Faith in The Matrix ( Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 2003); and Pradheep Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source: Decoding Matrix Trilogy ( Fairfield, IA: Sakhti Books, Inc., 2004). See also “The Matrix—A Cyberpunk Parable?”
3. See Glenn Yeffeth, ed., Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix ( Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2003); William Irwin, ed., The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real ( Chicago: Open Court, 2002), and idem, ed., More Matrix and Philosophy ( Chicago: Open Court, 2005). Articles addressing multiple religious hermeneutics include James Ford, “Buddhism, Christianity, and The Matrix: The Dialectic of Myth-Making in Contemporary Cinema,” The Journal of Religion and Film 4:2 (Oct. 2000); and Frances Flannery-Dailey and Rachel Wagner, “Wake Up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix,” The Journal of Religion and Film 5:2 (Oct. 2001).
4. William Doty, “Introduction,” in Jacking in to The Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation, ed. Matthew Kapell and William Doty ( New York: Continuum, 2004), 11. Because of this phenomenon, Zizek has called the Matrix “a cinematic inkblot text” that turns analysis of it into a “Where’s Waldo?” or better “Where’s Jesus?” Todd Hertz, “Exegeting The Matrix,” ChristianityToday.com ( Nov. 6, 2003), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/012/23.63.html.
5. See esp. Gregory Bassham, “The Religion of The Matrix and the Problems of Pluralism,” in The Matrix and Philosophy, 111-25, and Julien Fielding, “Reassessing The Matrix/Reloaded,” The Journal of Religion and Film 7:2 (Oct. 2003).
6. Danahay sees scene 12 in MII, in which Neo journeys through a bustling alley (which itself appears to be a kind of religious iconographic bazaar) and then fights Seraph in order to see the Oracle, as epitomizing the perspective of religious pluralism. Martin Danahay, “The Matrix Is the Prozac of the People,” in More Matrix and Philosophy, 41.
7. For example, AM provides a history of the creation and rebellion of the machines, the genesis of the story so to speak, while ETM provides the reason for the Oracle’s change in appearance that occurs in MIII.
8. Evidence for this appears throughout the movie. See esp. scenes 11 and 12. See also the subtle reference to this in Agent Smith’s soliloquy during his interrogation of Morpheus in scene 27.
9. Unfortunately, most exegeses, scholarly or otherwise, fail to do one or the other. For a prime example of a dual failure, see Paul Fontana, “Finding God in The Matrix,” in Taking the Red Pill, 159-84.
10. Stucky is particularly representative of this position, stating that the “Christ figure motif . . . forms the fundamental core of the three-part story.” Mark Stucky, “He Is the One: The Matrix Trilogy’s Postmodern Movie Messiah,” The Journal of Religion and Film, 9:2 (Oct. 2005), 1 and 5.
11. To be even more exact, it is the A.I.—Artificial Intelligence—as embodied in the machines. By using the word “machines” we are following the lead of the Wachowski’s in AM.
12. The conversation between Morpheus and Agent Smith upon Morpheus’ capture in MI is telling. The Agent reveals his name as “a Smith, Agent Smith” to which Morpheus replies, “You all look the same to me!” (scene 24).
13. Seay and Garrett, Gospel Reloaded, 102-4; Fontana, “Finding God,” 173. See also Bruce Isaacs and Theodore Louis Trost, “Story, Product, Franchise: Images of Postmodern Cinema,” in Jacking in to The Matrix, 66-67.
14. See note 3 above.
15. John 4:24.
16. See Neo’s conversation with the Architect (scene 29). To add further support for understanding the Agents as a God-figure, the very first use of the word “God” in MI comes in the form of an expletive used by Trinity in connection with the Agents (scene 2). A similar occurrence can be found in MII during the exchange between Bane and Smith. As Smith begins to subsume him, Bane whispers, “Oh God!” to which Smith replies, “Smith will suffice” (scene 9). Further, in ETM, Smith, speaking to Niobe in the hallway, says, “I am the alpha of your omega, the beginning of your end,” thus parodying God’s repeated self-proclamation in the Christian Scriptures (see Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
17. Faller first pointed out to us the absence of bullet-holes. Stephen Faller, Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations ( St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), 27.
18. This image is solidified in MII when Link refers to Neo’s ability to fly not with pious awe or reverence, but almost flippantly, as “doing his Superman thing” (scene 3). In the first film, this ability is captured only blurrily, but is treated openly and in explicit detail (i.e., by use of slow-motion) in the following films.
19. Ben Witherington III also sees more contrasts than similarities between Christ and Neo, though he does not go so far as to call Neo an anti-christ. See “Neo-Orthodoxy: Tales of the Reluctant Messiah, Or ‘Your Own Personal Jesus,’” in More Matrix and Philosophy, 165-74.
20. See esp. Isaacs and Trost, “Story, Product, Franchise,” 66; Fontana, “Finding God,” 167; Seay and Garrett, Gospel Reloaded, 82; Stucky, “He Is the One,” 10, “The Matrix—A Cyberpunk Parable?”
21. MII, scene 7.
22. MII, scene 8 . Interestingly, on the DVD this scene is entitled “Celebrating Humanity.”
23. MI, scene 20.
24. Faller states that MII feels more Hindu than Christian. Beyond the Matrix, 27.
25. Though he views the entire trilogy through an exclusively Eastern lens, Pradheep Chhalliyil’s critical insights into how deeply MIII in particular draws upon Eastern mythologies was indispensable in the recognition of a religious shift within the trilogy.
26. Two notable exceptions are Faller, who states that after a hiatus of sorts in MII (see note 23 above) the Christian theme is again clear in MIII (Beyond the Matrix, 27), and Stucky, who tracks the “Christ-figure motif” through the entire trilogy (“He Is the One”).
27. See scenes 2–3 and 27–32.
28. The Puranas are a series of dramatic mythological narratives about battles between good and evil, which explain principles laid out in the Upanishads. Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source, 26.
29. Benjamin Walker, Hindu World, vol. 2 (London: George Allen and Unwin, LTD, 1968), 357-58. Cf.Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source, 143.
30. Caterina Contio, “Purānas,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), 12:88. Interestingly, Ramachandra introduces himself as the “power plant systems manager for recycling operations” (MIII, scene 3, emphasis ours), which is reminiscent of Vishnu’s oversight of the process of “recycling” the universe.
31. Brahma is said to originate from the lotus in Vishnu’s navel. Cornelia Dimmitt and J.A.B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Purānas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978), 30-31. Brahma, however, does not arise from a union of Vishnu and Lakshmi, as Chhalliyil seems to suggest. Journey to the Source, 144. For more on Brahma, see Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty’s, “Brahmā,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 2.
32. That sentient programs can speak of karma may be explained by the fact that the law of karma does not take effect until a soul has reached self-consciousness. Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 64.
33. For more on this, see Smith, Religions of Man (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1965), 80-85; and Alf Hiltebeitel, “Hinduism,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 6.
34. In the Puranas, there are in fact several periods of dissolution during the reign of a single Brahma. “At the end of a day of Brahmā, the universe is consumed by fire and its dissolution occurs. Brahmā then sleeps for a night of equal duration, at the end of which he creates anew. Three hundred sixty such days and nights constitute a year of Brahmā and one hundred such years equal his entire life.” W. Randolph Kloetzli, “Cosmology: Hindu and Jain Cosmologies,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, 4:110. See also Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source, 144.
35. Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source, 27.
37. This interpretation is supported by the Oracle’s prophesy in MIII that the war, and thus the present order of things, would end that night (scene 7).
38. The Architect had himself overseen six creations and dissolutions of the Matrix, with this, the seventh, marking the end of his reign as Brahma. The first version had been, of course, both perfect and a complete failure. The resultant versions had produced an imbalanced equation that required a Neo to correct. See also Chhalliyil, Journey to the Source, 137.
39. This is the reason given for the Oracle’s change of appearance between MII and MIII, and why the Merovingian tells Neo to inform the Oracle that “her time is almost up” (see MII, scene 17).
40. See the conversation between Ghost and the Oracle in ETM.
41. Songs include: “Wake Up!” and “Calm Like a Bomb” (Rage Against the Machine); “Rock Is Dead” (Marilyn Manson); “Reload” (Rob Zombie); “Sleeping Awake” (P.O.D.); and “When the World Ends” (Dave Matthews Band).
42. Journey to the Source, 30-32.
43. Ibid., 32.
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