Reassessing the Matrix/Reloaded

by Julien R. Fielding


1. The books dealing primarily with philosophy are William Irwin, editor. The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 2002) and Glenn Yeffeth, editor. Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in the Matrix (Dallas: BenBella Books, 2003). Those from a theological perspective are Chris Seay and Greg Garrett. The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in the Matrix (Pinion Press, 2003) and Kristenea M. LaVelle. The Reality Within the Matrix (Saxco, 2002). To read a collection of popular culture essays can be found in Karen Haber, editor. Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003).

2. The Associated Press, May 19, 2003.

3. There is a real ambivalence about dreams in the films. Morpheus is the one who "awakens" Neo to the fact that he has been living in a "dream world," a false and deceptive reality, and yet this character is named after the god of dreams in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Reloaded Neo's dreams do reflect reality; they depict things that come to pass. "You have the sight. You see without time," the Oracle tells him in the second film. The Judaeo-Christian tradition makes extensive use of dreams as revelation. For instance, in Matthew 1:20-24, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and prophesizes the coming of Jesus. Interestingly, the Nebuchadnezzer is named for the Babylonian king whose "spirit was troubled and his sleep left him" (Daniel 2:1).

4. It's interesting to think that this God, who now controls humans, is actually the child of the humans. Morpheus: "Through the blinding inebriation of hubris, we marveled at our magnificence as we gave birth to A.I. ... a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines." The way to be freed from bondage, Morpheus claims, is to destroy the Matrix, which would mean the elimination of "God." So, does the film present an anti-religious sentiment? Are humans, metaphorically, "imprisoned" by their creation of God? Sigmund Freud might have agreed. Should the Zionists succeed in their task, then as Councilor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe) ponders in Reloaded, how will they survive without the machines to create the air to breathe and water to drink? The last human outpost is, after all, in "deep underground. Near the earth's core, where it's still warm."

5. This phrase echoes Edgar Allan Poe's poem "A Dream Within a Dream" (1827): "Take this kiss upon the brow! And, in parting from you now, Thus much let me avow- You are not wrong, who deem That my days have been a dream; Yet if hope has flown away In a night, or in a day, In a vision, or in none, Is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream. I stand amid the roar Of a surf-tormented shore, And I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand- How few! yet how they creep through my fingers to the deep, While I weep- while I weep! O God! can I not grasp Them with a tighter clasp? O God! can I not save One from the pitiless wave? Is all that we see or seem But a dream within a dream?"

6. Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.

7. In Reloaded, when asked where Neo is, Link (Harold Perrineau), the pilot of the Nebuchadnezzer, says he is "doing his Superman thing." At this point Neo soars through the sky, his Monsignor-inspired robe swirling behind him like a cape. Another Superman nod comes at the end of the film when Neo must save the fatally wounded Trinity, who is falling from a skyscraper. Flying at speeds that blow apart buildings and leave cars lifting in his wake, Neo scoops his soulmate into his arms, much as Superman (Christopher Reeve) saved the falling Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Neo then reaches into her body and extracts the bullet. When Trinity dies, he performs another miracle by restarting her heart. When Lois dies in Superman (1978), the superhero performs a commensurate miracle by orbiting the Earth, counterclockwise, so as to turn back time.

8. Andras in Greek translates to man. Frances Flannery-Dailey and Rachel Wagner point out this out in "Wake up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix," in  Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 5, No. 2, October 2001. They also mention that when Neo enters the Nebuchadnezzar for the first time and the camera pans across the ship's interior, it rests on Mark III no. 11, the Biblical reference that reads "Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted,  'You are the Son of God.'"

9. In the Synoptic Gospels, great crowds gather around Jesus, asking to be healed.

10. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (Boston, Shambhala 1991), 141-2. The definition explains that in the case of Zen, "it is not actually an illusion or deception to regard the phenomenal world as real; the deception consists rather in taking the phenomenal world to be immutable and only reality and thus to misplace the view of what is essential." The absolute and the relative are the same.

11. The sequence during which the crew of the Nebuchadnezzer rebuilds Neo might remind some of the opening lines of television series The Six Million Dollar Man, "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man ... Better than he was before. Better ... stronger ... faster." On more than one occasion, Neo is referred to as "some kind of machine." When the Architect explains to Neo the meaning of everything he says, "although the process has altered your consciousness you remain irrevocably human," which is interesting because several times in the film people or Agents remark that Neo is still "only human." Does this foreshadow his transformation into something else? Like a machine? Several publications have mentioned that the anime films Ghost in the Shell and Akira influenced the Wachowskis. If they follow the format of these two, then a physical transformation is inevitable. See Susan Jolliffe Napier, Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

12. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus have a long tradition of asceticism. In Christianity, asceticism was practiced for the purpose of penance and purification, because as Thomas Head explains in his essay "The Holy Person in Comparative Perspective," "the body was seen as sinful and in need of punishment in order to attain spiritual perfection. Thus it was not sufficient to withdraw the soul from the body; rather the ascetic had to withdraw from human society, which was sinful in its fallen state." Found at the ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.

13. There is a problem with interpreting The Matrix as Gnostic, because Neo is never shown passing his "gnosis" onto anyone else. (In Reloaded Morpheus says that "they have freed more minds in six months than in six years" and the Kid, who is played by Clayton Watson and who figures into one of the Animatrix sequences, says he owes his life to Neo, because the messiah pulled him out of the Matrix. Neo, however, denies he did anything.) And even when Neo does gain knowledge, either from the Architect or the Oracle, he is close-lipped about what he has learned, saying only what the others need to know. He is not a teacher, as Morpheus is, he is, for the most part, Zion's weapon - the Zen archer or the Shaolin monk. Also problematic is the fact that he, himself, does not really understand what's happening to him. Gnostics are dualists who reject the body and embrace the spirit, which seems to be what is happening in  The Matrix. But it is not. In this context, it is the spirit that is problem. To be in the Matrix, one's body is asleep in a cocoon-like pod filled with ooze. All that is engaged of that person is his or her mind; the synapses that have been tapped and used by A.I. In Reloaded Councilor Hamann tells Neo that he hates sleeping, because that is all he did for 11 years of his life. Now he is making up for lost time. In Zion, particularly, the body is embraced and celebrated. During Neo and Trinity sex scene, the inhabitants of Zion dance, sweat and express their sexuality. They are their bodies. It's important, too, that this takes place in Zion's Temple, the holy of holies. (If there's any doubt about this, the Kid removes his shoes before entering the space.)

14. The scene mentioned in endnote 13 conveys a sense of these famed cities but also contains elements of a bacchanal.

15. Henry Chadwick. The Early Church (Penguin, 1967): 36.

16. Before Trinity, Morpheus and the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) get onto the interstate in Reloaded  they drive past a billboard with steak written on it.

17. She is an expression of carnality, perhaps original sin, that gets picked up again in Reloaded. This time she's a blond, dressed in pink, and eating a aphrodisiac-laden piece of chocolate cake, courtesy of Merovingian (Lambert Wilson).

18. I would argue that in The Matrix Cypher could not be Judas as this Biblical character was working against Jesus, who scholars have associated with Neo. In the context of the film, Cypher is not working against  Neo. He is gunning for Morpheus. In fact during the climactic scene, Cypher leans over Morpheus and says, "Surprise asshole. Bet you never saw this coming, did you? God, I wish I could be there when they break you. I wish I could walk in just as it happens, so right then, you'd know it was me." In the shooting script, found in The Art of the Matrix on pages 329-330, Cypher knows that Neo is the sixth "One" and even informs Neo of this fact, "I'm going to let you in on a little secret here. Now don't tell him I told you this, but this ain't the first time Morpheus thought he found the one ... It keeps him going. Maybe it keeps all of us going ... (There have been) Five. Since I've been here (Neo: What happened to them?) Dead. All dead. Honestly? Morpheus. He got them all amped up believing in bullshit. I watched each of them take on an Agent and I watched each of them die." Later in the script, p. 338, before he takes Neo to the Oracle, Morpheus laments his actions: "I believed what the Oracle told me ... No, I misunderstood what she told me. I believed it was all about me. I believed that all I had to do was point my finger and anoint whoever I chose. I was wrong, Neo. Terribly wrong. Not a day or night passes that I do not think of them. After the fifth, I lost my way. I doubted everything the Oracle had said. I doubted myself. And then I saw you, Neo, and my world changed ... You are the sixth and the last. You are the One." Removing these sequences does several things: it makes Cypher seem more diabolical because we no longer understand why he might doubt the prophecy and, in some ways, it makes Morpheus less fanatical. Being so zealous as to watch five men die for your cause seems a bit extreme and fundamentalist; we might begin to see him as a "terrorist." Removing this detail makes him seem more reasonable.

19. In The Matrix Agents capture Morpheus and nearly kill him and in Reloaded Agent Smith nearly hacks into him. More often than not, Neo and/or Trinity have to save him. Compare that to the reptilian Yoda, the quintessential Zen/Jedi master, of the Star Wars series. Over his long-lifetime, he hss learned to manipulate objects with his mind and to see into the future and present. As a warrior, he is unbeatable, because of his lightning-fast martial arts abilities. (At the end of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones HE comes to everyone's rescue.)

20. I have often wondered if the Wachowskis are attempting to do what the early church writers, such as Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, did in their writings - show that the Old Testament, here typified by Morpheus, predicts the coming of the Christ. "So the history of salvation is a progressive education in which God has gradually brought man forth step by step in a long process culminating in the incarnation of the divine Word with a universal gospel diffused throughout the world by the church" (Chadwick, 80-81). What is more, we might see Morpheus, in his weakness, as the last gaspings of the Old Testament, which is giving way to the rightful and triumphant Christianity, as represented by Neo, the "new" Christ.

21. On the Nebuchadnezzer Morpheus must endure the same kind of complaints that Moses might have while in the wilderness (Numbers 11). Cypher: "I'm tired of this war, I'm tired of fighting, I'm tired of this ship, of being cold, of eating the same goddamn goop every day."

22. Some have suggested she is closer to the Celtic concept of the three goddesses: maiden (young woman), mother and crone.

23. The "knock, knock" Morpheus sends to Neo at the  beginning of The Matrix seems to come straight out of Matthew 7:7-8, "Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." The thing that Neo is searching for, of course, is an answer to the question - What is the Matrix.

24. According to An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend Indian Mythology, these are Matsya (fish),  Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (wild boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Rama, Buddha and Kalki ('White horse'). The latter is predicted to arrive at the end of the world to dispatch the last demons and all the wicked people before the world can be renewed.

25. Found on page 266.

26. Found on page 220. Kali is depicted as a "black woman," which is interesting in that when she is in the Matrix, Trinity is garbed head to toe in black vinyl or rubber. During British rule of India, the Thuggees, an organized band of thieves and murderers who strangled their victims as sacrifices to Kali, were suppressed. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom incorporates the worship of Kali into its plot.

27. Found on page 133.

28. Found on page 88.

29. In the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments states "You shall not murder." And Exodus 21:12 reads, "Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death." Although Jesus teaches, "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" (Matthew 5:39), he also says "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 11:34). If we interpret Neo as the second coming of Christ, there was a first man born into the Matrix, then this would be more in line with the gun-toting messiah. Consider in Revelation 19:11-16: "He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood and his name is Word of God ... from his mouth comes a sharp sword ... On his robe and on his thigh has the name inscribed 'King of kings and Lord of lords.'"

30. Found on page 48.

31. An Introduction to Hinduism (1996):125-26. Matthew 10:28 offers a similar sentiment, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

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