The Matrix and The Mater
by Stephen Faller
Mother ’s Day seemed to be a good time to start the first of these articles with the online community. What follows is the first of five articles around the theme “The Matrix and The Mater” — in short, an attempt at a feminist analysis spanning the entire Matrix trilogy. Not that everything will be completely explained from the feminist perspective, but that hopefully the key questions will be asked. Like Trinity says, it will be the question which drives us. And in our Socratic questioning, we are going to ask the questions that reveal different facets of the film from a feminist perspective. The goal isn’t to destroy the wonderful work of the Wachowskis, but neither is the goal to falsely praise something either. Hopefully, we will see and understand the Matrix better by getting another view. If we look honestly, it won’t be easy, but it will be the truth.
A few introductions are in order, and then we can begin our discussion. My name is Stephen Faller and I’m a Matrix fan. I write about the Matrix in different places on the net, and I have a website at http://beyondthematrix.stephen-faller.com. You can probably surmise from my name that I’m male (this is no pseudonym in the tradition of George Sand), and so that may cast shadows of doubt over my ability to speak to these themes. But the entire artistic creation (everything that the Wachowskis have had a hand in) is a depiction of society and reality through the eyes of male artists. Therefore, it may be helpful to have a male guide interpret that artistic depiction, even as that artistic depiction dares to describe something about the feminine.
So let me say right up front that I’ll make every attempt to offer insight and analysis worthy of the reader’s time, but that these views are not definitive. In fact, nothing would please me more than if my attempts inspired others to share their opinions, especially in regard to feminist analysis.
Further, I wanted to start a series of articles called “The Matrix and The Mater” because a number of my readers are women and they have expressed considerable interest in these themes. Elsewhere, I have written about the white, male privilege as depicted by the Agents, and the issues of patriarchy as depicted by the Architect (perhaps Derrida would say the Patriarchitect). But I had never explored the feminist themes strictly for their own sake, and upon further study, I discovered a gold mine of insights into the movies. It is my hope to share these insights with you. Over the next four pieces, we will look at the narrative arc of Trinity’s story, the various depictions of female power, sexuality in the trilogy, and questions surrounding the issues of embodiment.
Let me begin by saying that my respectful disclaimer above is more than a disclaimer. I believe it is the first step necessary to decode the gender messages within the trilogy. I believe it is necessary to bring to consciousness that although the films do not come from the perspective of the “patriarchy” proper (in this case, the sexism of Hollywood), the films certainly emanate from the fraternity (both in the sense of the Brothers who made the film, and the cultural position they inhabit). I don’t mean the Greek sense of fraternity, but rather the distinct relationship that today’s young men have with today’s young women. The sex roles of society are changing, and men are increasingly sensitive to sexism and generally better at hearing the female voice (although, of course, men and women can do a better job of hearing each other).
I tried to conclude whether or not women and feminine images in the film were more or less likely to be portrayed positively. Simply, is the Matrix Myth helpful or harmful to women? And throughout the process I went back and forth. There are more female heroes than villains. But the villains are more stereotypical in their power (Persephone). Trinity, is one of the great heroes and even named after the Godhead. But “Matrix” itself is the Latin word for “womb”. And on it went, back and forth.
Eventually the ambiguity of my answer became the answer itself: there are deliberate efforts to portray the feminine positively and negatively. This ambiguity felt more and more fitting; the Wachowskis wanted a metaphor that expressed the complexity of modern life and not something so dualistic as an all-good or all-evil assignment to the feminine.
Let’s get more concrete in our examples. Remember when Neo woke up in his pod? We then saw the “re-birthing” process. Being “born again” obviously fit in with the movie’s spiritual overtones, but the language itself is primarily a female image — no, it is the epitome of the primal image. And let’s be frank; the scene itself is a far cry from beautiful. It’s downright disturbing. It is depicted as ugly and colorless as Neo is expelled from the Matrix organism.
But I think that the Wachowskis are appreciative of the female experience. Remember the rape scene in the first movie? Male readers may be scratching their heads, but I suspect that female readers are very cognizant of the scene where Neo’s body was held down in a gang bang and invaded by the wriggling intruder. It is almost as if the scene were an artistic attempt to make rape comprehensible to men, especially when Neo’s mouth and voice melt away.
There are also other examples that directly point to issues of sex and gender throughout the trilogy. This occurrence is not just limited to the visuals, but it also extends to the plot. In the video game crossover “Enter the Matrix”, for example, we learn that Lock has tried to prohibit Niobe from military action in order to protect her. She needs no protection, and this is a running theme throughout their relationship (remember his lines, “it would be hard for any man to risk his life” and “no man can pilot mechanical”).
It simply is an inadequate interpretation to assign a dualistic value of good or bad to female imagery in the films (although such essays are not hard to find). It is more accurate to say that beyond categories of good and evil the feminine is most likely to be portrayed as alien. This is where Geoff Darrow’s concept art perhaps reveals more than it intends. The disclaimer herein is now fully expressed. The female is alien to the male mind, and the insect-like machines embody the strange horror men may discover in the presence of the feminine. The insects are an archetype of fecundity, and female birth and death have horrified men from the beginning (maybe hearkening back to the time when the patriarchy first felt the fear prompting it to take the power once and for all).
In the end, it all comes down to the Matrix and the Mater (the latter being Latin for “mother”). The dualistic is passed over in favor of the numinous. We are aware that Matrix means womb, and we remember the image of the infant plugged into the machine. We are also aware that our mothers are largely responsible for upbringing and transmitting society’s rules to children. We are raised on the rules of the Matrix.
But motherhood (and fatherhood and parenthood in general) is a powerful archetype. And our true mother and our true parents are the ones who help us move forward into freedom. These are the ones who sacrifice themselves so that we can become our true selves. This is the kind of mother that the Oracle is. This is the kind of mother who is willing to go as far as it takes. They give us what we need to hear. This is the kind of mother we find in God.
Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website at http://beyondthematrix.stephen-faller.com with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles.