The Passion of Neo #5: I Escaped the Matrix, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt
by Stephen Faller
I Escaped the Matrix, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt
There are a few final connections to be made. There are a few dangling threads. The Wachowskis have spun a yarn and its fibers reach into the past and future, all the while wrapped around the present. But a lot of fans came out of the theater and they didn’t really understand what they saw; as a result of that misunderstanding they felt that the Brothers lost control over the story. Too many unanswered questions. But everyone had unanswered questions, even characters in the story. Remember the Merovingian? It is his business to know things, and even he didn’t know how Neo’s mind separated from his body.
We have been looking at “The Passion of Neo” — the last twenty minutes or so where Neo sacrifices himself and at the same time the major threads of the film experienced resolution. Smith’s miserable position is articulated and defeated once and for all. Neo is able to fulfill the prophecy and end the war. It is an apocalyptic confrontation, it is the end of the world, the transformation of life as we know it. The wheels of life revolve, and we find revolutions and revelations.
We find revolutions because peace is revolutionary. Yes, there are many paradigms of peace and conflict. One party can initiate aggressions against another. One party can be dominant over the other. And on and on. In the trilogy, we find two parties that have been at war for a very long time. How do you resolve that tension? Who is going to put their guns down first? Who is going to walk away from the paradox of mutual annihilation? Can you picture a lasting peace in Ireland? Can you picture a lasting peace in the Middle East?
We find revelations because if we are willing to open our mind we just may see things in a new way. We find Revelations, because like the name suggests, it is the end of the world and the beginning of a new age.
Do you want to know what the Matrix trilogy is? The Matrix trilogy is a myth. It is all around you. It is a system of symbols and ideas that already have a meaning. It is a constellation of preloaded and reloaded terms and definitions. It is the constellation of concepts, each containing a world in itself. Most myths have their own story. The Matrix is its own story, but it is built on pieces that were already there. And so every character is a reference to philosophy (Lock), or religion (Trinity), or some other epic legend (Roland). The gift of this technique is that the Matrix builds its own symbols out of symbols that already exist. Its variables have already been assigned values. And therefore when you watch the Matrix, it has the narrative technology to reach you on many different levels. It reaches into the deepest recesses of your mind where your beliefs have been buried.
Because this is a myth, so many different people can read their interpretations into it. Every person I know has brought their own psychological tapestry to the film. Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, New Age, each one has argued, and convincingly, that the Matrix is their story. It is Myth. Only Myth has that kind of flexibility. If you want to see it as science fiction, you can. If you want to see it as action, you can.
It is a Myth that addresses our situation. It is artistic recreation of life as we know it at the end of the twentieth century. It is a metaphorical virtual reality. It is a psychological construct program that describes the systemic problems we find within society’s institutions. Most myths set themselves in the past, like Tolkein. But Tolkein’s world never existed and he was describing the evil of his age. Or maybe like Star Wars, which is purportedly in the past (a long time ago in a galaxy far away) but remains futuristic. The Matrix is a mythology for the present age.
Because it is a myth, maybe even a parable, it should not be allegorized. In an allegory, each symbol matches to one referent. Remember Orwell’s Animal Farm? This allegory was very specific. One character represents Stalin. Another might represent Trotsky. Maybe another represents Lenin. It’s a one to one translation. Not so for the Matrix. There are so many symbols that it maps out one to many. My hope has been to draw out some of the Christian themes, particularly because of the way the Passion of Christ is so present in our culture’s consciousness right now, particularly because one depiction of the symbol was so well received (Gibson’s) and the other so rejected (the Wachowskis were rejected by the critics).
Let me just give a few examples. Who is the “devil” figure? Is it Cypher? Is it Smith? Is it the Merovingian in Club Hel? Is it the Architect? All of these characters step into and out of this role from time to time. That’s because we are dealing with metaphor and the symbolic meaning changes all the time. There’s no reason to try to force a simplistic overlay on top of such a rich texture of myth and meaning.
If things are allegorized too closely, we limit the meaning of the Matrix by the framework of what we know. Because we think that Neo represents Christ, we might force values or interpretations on him reserved for the Deity. Because we have certain, fixed beliefs about the nature of God, for example, we might refuse to see God in the black women who played the Oracle. Try to open your mind. Maybe the Oracle represents an aspect of God. Maybe Neo is a certain quality of Christ. We don’t have to lock our understanding of a fictitious movie by our desire to protect a doctrine. Or maybe we transpose a narrative sequence over the movies. How could the resurrection (first movie) precede the crucifixion (third movie)? This is only a problem if you are trying to create an allegory. I don’t think the Wachowski hired Keanu to smuggle the entire gospel narrative into the culture.
The advantage of this is that we can explore new thoughts. Ancient people were offended by early Christians who said the Almighty Creator was reduced to a man. They couldn’t see their fixed concept of God in a new form. They couldn’t accept that God had human qualities, such as vulnerability or weakness. We do this whenever we refuse to accept new possibilities for a God who is beyond the limits of human understanding. Maybe God allowed God’s own person to be destroyed or over-powered or vulnerable or human. Or whatever. Who knows? Perhaps your imagination can deepen your faith, instead of your faith limiting your imagination.
Neo is not Christ. Not by a longshot. But Neo is a Christ-figure. And movies and literature have often employed Christ-figures. The Green Mile and Cool Hand Luke are solid examples. It was never my contention that Christianity is the key to the trilogy. I only wanted to provide enough of a religious and philosophical structure to support my interpretation. That also includes a little background of Christianity. Some basic knowledge can make the symbols more meaningful. Because the symbology of the end of Revolutions is so heavily Christian, an extended excursis is necessary for the uninitiated.
There are three “problems” that a lot of fans were troubled with that produced the feeling of being cheated that I refer to in the subtitle of this piece. They tend to be clustered around the following points. 1) The majority of people are still in the Matrix. 2) Neo dies, and if Neo is a Christ-figure, there is no resurrection. 3) Fulfilling the prophecy and ending the war is not as satisfying, cool, or as Hollywood as would have been desired. Where’s the happily ever after? Using the language of myth, I believe that Matrix Revolutions does solve all of these things.
From the top, let’s tackle the people still in the Matrix. Part of us wanted to see the machines get completely destroyed and humanity be completely freed. This would have been good if the movie were just science fiction, like Terminator 3, but this movie is myth. We get a huge clue to this problem from the Animatrix (a series of Matrix cartoons and back story released to video over the summer) in “The Second Renaissance.” This story was written by the Wachowskis. Part I of “The Second Renaissance” describes a time of harmony between humanity and machinery. This harmony is likened to perfection before the Fall. The Fall is an important mythical concept here. Christianity suggests that Christ is God’s response to the Fall. However, even though Christians believe this, we still continue to live in a fallen world. Why should it be any different for the Matrix? Neo has fulfilled the prophecy, but people are still in a fallen state unless they choose to wake up. The Matrix represents the complexity of our sin and the problems we create to try to solve our problems. These problems remain. And from a metaphoric point of view, let’s imagine Neo did destroy the Matrix. Does that describe our situation? Or do we continue to live in a society of illusion and control?
The next problem is the death of Neo. More than any other source of scripture, the Wachowskis seem to have relied on the Gospel of Mark when they wanted to sneak scripture into the movie. Remember the name plate of the Nebuchadnezzar? There is a verse from Mark there, and most fans know this. Every hovercraft has such a name plate. They didn’t all make it into the movie, but you can find them on the official site. There’s also a plate in Zion. The Gospel of Mark has a much darker ending than any other gospel. In fact, the earliest manuscripts end with the women discovering the empty tomb. That’s it. No explanation, no nothing. Just empty tomb. Mark is the greatest stylist of the gospel writers and he was trying to create the effect that Jesus had not only left the tomb, but was absent from the pages themselves. Where is Mark’s resurrected Jesus? Not in the tomb and not in the book. Alive. Gone off. On the move. We get this kind of ending in Revolutions. And the Oracle suggests we will see Neo again which should be enough of a promise. And this is why some fans have seen pictures of Neo in the Matrix Online trailer. There is the resurrection. Some fans think it’s cheating to bring Neo back in the game, but they are missing the mythic quality. Historically speaking, early Christians got to interact with the resurrected Jesus for 50 days before Jesus left altogether. Expect more of Neo. But don’t expect a fourth movie with Neo. For 2000 years, we have lived in the absence of Christ (now not completely, but until the second coming). We, as Christians, continue to live in the fallen world even though Christ’s work was completed on the cross.
The last problem is the prophecy. Let me urge you: don’t be fooled by the Architect. The Architect has no capacity to appreciate this. And don’t be fooled by the “mini-resurrection” in the first movie. The first movie had its own reasons to include that as a complete film. The principal work of Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecy and the reconciliation between God and humanity. Neo also achieves reconciliation, and to review that please read Matrix Resolutions if necessary. We see a lot of lesser miracles along the way, but the big one is ending the war. We don’t like to think of ourselves at war against God, but this is one place where the mythology (and the Christian tradition) goes. The Wachowskis offer another expression where the nuances of Christian mythology can be explored. By the way, a lot of people have the Architect’s response to the work of Christ. What difference does it make? It’s such a huge sacrifice. What does it accomplish? On the one hand, it accomplished nothing. We still live and die in a broken world. But on the other hand, everything has been accomplished and even secular society concedes that Christ has been the singularly most influential person in Western Civilization. Toppling and supplanting the Roman Empire was no small feat, and that was just the first revolution on the wheels of societal evolution.
So that’s it. In five articles (weren’t there five before Neo?) we explore the mythology and symbology behind “The Passion of Neo.” There’s a lot more to be said about the entire trilogy, this series just covers the last twenty minutes of Revolutions. I do think it’s a valid ending and worthy of the original. I believe that it offers a lot of intriguing points of departure for religion and philosophy. I believe that this trilogy fails as a literalist’s recreation of Christianity, but I think the movies succeed as Myth. As Myth, you are invited to explore your own philosophy and faith. How far are you willing to go? That’s up to you, but the Wachowskis are willing to go as far as you are.
I hope that you have enjoyed this series. I believe that this series offers exactly the things fans were looking for as they left the theater. I hope you feel free to comment. Some of you have said these articles are hard to find, so I hope you will post links to them in other Matrix communities. Please do so. I have different articles all over the net, and I can be found anywhere. I’m starting a new column with the online game, and I hope to post more articles here. I try to collect them all on my site. Thank you for your time.
The Matrix has you.