Can Christ be found in The Matrix? This question will
become more and more important as America is bombarded with new
Matrix related material this year. As Newsweek observed, 2003 might
well be dubbed "The Year of the Matrix." After three years
of anticipation, The Matrix Reloaded, was released in May, to be
followed by the concluding movie this November. Ever since the surprise
smash hit first movie, the many Christian motifs in The Matrix have
been the subject of internet articles, youth group discussions and
even several books. Without a doubt, the Matrix is a thought-provoking
movie. Unfortunately, The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded are not
filled with content that Christians should be excited about. Familiar
Biblical names and hollow Christian imagery are used extensively,
yet no true Christian message emerges.
The Matrix and Reloaded include themes of resurrection
and salvation, names such as Trinity and the Nebuchadnezzar, and
musings about faith and the nature of man. But brief analysis of
both movies and related commentary from the writer director duo,
Larry & Andy Wachowski and the official matrix
website should establish how shallow the Christian
influences are in the movie.
A key theme of the Matrix story is that humans need to be saved
from the confines of the computer-controlled matrix. Those who discover
that the world they take for granted is illusory thereby obtain
a kind of "salvation." The first movie set up The humans
are unknowingly trapped in the matrix, allowing the computers to
utilize their bodies in the real world for energy. To escape from
the computer control the process of transcending the matrix as Morpheus
often encouraged Neo, 'it's all in your mind.' When Neo waits for
the Oracle he was taught by a child wearing Buddhist attire that
"there is no spoon." Then, he finally transcended the
matrix when he dramatically gained the ability to stop bullets (that
weren't really there). This theme comes out again in Reloaded when
Neo makes it very clear to a kid who pesters him: 'I didn't save
you kid, you saved yourself.' This self-focused transcendence from
the illusion of reality is much closer to Buddhism than Christian
salvation. As professor of philosophy at UC Berkley Hubert Dreyfus
"In the film, salvation means the absolute opposite of the
traditional religious vision."
There is a significant difference between the Christian
view of salvation, which depends on the grace of God, and salvation
in The Matrix, which merely depends on individual enlightenment.
Christians should not be tempted to water down the important doctrine
of salvation to make it fit in a film that has been heavily influenced
by Buddhist notions of transcendence and self-deception. In a 1999
chat, the Wachowski brothers were asked, "Did
ideas from Buddhism influence you in making the film?" They
responded, "Yes, There's something uniquely interesting about
that has fascinated us for a long time." The
difference in individual transcendence and enlightenment versus
individual faith in an omnipotent God are not to be taken lightly.
Furthermore, Christians believe that salvation is necessary because
of real guilt from sin. Within the Matrix, the individuals controlled
by the machines have no guilt from which they must be saved, they
are being controlled because of no fault of their own. They are
portrayed as unwitting victims of the aggressor computers. Christians
believe individuals need salvation because of individual guilt -
there is no guilt in the matrix. The matrix is about transcendence,
not salvation in the Christian sense of the word.
Death and Resurrection
Perhaps the Christian motif in The Matrix most commonly pointed
to is the 'resurrection' of Neo. Some have argued that Neo dying
and coming back to life in the first movie was proof positive of
the Christian content in the Matrix myth. Again, just as the matrix's
view of salvation was not the same as the Christian view of salvation,
neither is the matrix's portrayal of Neo's death and resurrection
the same as the Christian's understanding of Christ's death and
resurrection. Key elements of Christian resurrection are completely
absent. Neo did not die for other humans. He died and thus transcended
the Matrix only for himself. In fact, Neo's death and 'resurrection'
was logically independent from the "salvation" of others
in the Matrix. He could only be their example-not their savior.
Neo did not die as a propitiation for the sins of others-indeed
his death accomplished nothing for the people in the matrix nor
did it apply anything to the people in the matrix. As one commentator
at the Matrix website put
It may look, at the end of the film, as if Neo evades
death, but his "resurrection" in the hovercraft is not
into a world where death has been overcome by a miraculous divine
love, rather, he has been saved by an earthly intervention - a sort
of tender CPR - quite within the bounds of physics and chemistry.
Since Neo "died" in the artificial world
of the Matrix he had not truly died in reality. This is similar
to the heretical "swoon theory" view of Christ's death;
that he was given a drug when on the cross and faked death, only
to appear to the disciples and then live out the rest of his days.
Neo certainly fulfills the literary function of a sacrificial messiah,
but unlike the real thing-his resurrection did not redeem all of
mankind from bondage.
Devotees of The Matrix have invested significant effort in interpreting
the symbolic intricacies of the names and numbers used in the movie.
Obviously, Christians do not have to search very hard to discover
meaningful names. For example, Trinity being a woman is not just
a coincidence. As two professors of religion noted on the Matrix
website: "Feminists critics can rejoice when Trinity first
reveals her name to Neo, as he pointedly responds, "The Trinity?...
Jesus, I thought you were a man." Her quick reply: "Most
men do." Most evangelical Christians should find this slight-of-character
offensive. According to the Wachowski Brothers, the names "were
all chosen carefully, and all of them have multiple meanings."
The fact that the character Trinity in the Matrix trilogy is not
very different from other citizens of Zion should immediately dissociate
the movie character from the divine Trinity that Christians embrace.
Neo is the hero of the Matrix trilogy and clearly the centerpiece
of the story. Without a doubt, the first two movies repeatedly reinforce
the many parallels between him and Christ. He is "The One"
whom the citizens put their hope in, he is treated as a savior by
the citizens of Zion. Yet it can be argued that Neo is actually
much more of a Buddha figure than a Christ figure. According to
two religion professors on the Matrix website, (here)
"Neo can be seen as a Buddha. Neo's identity as the Buddha
is reinforced not only through the anagram of his name but also
through the myth that surrounds him." Because Neo is faced
with the problem of what is perceived as being an illusion, as opposed
to the problem of human sin, his role is much more like that of
a Buddha, who is given extraordinary powers to help humanity become
enlightened. This interpretation that Neo is a Buddha figure more
than a Christ figure has also been given recently in the Journal
of Religion and Film. Many heroes can be construed
as messiah figures, making it important to carefully examine the
role of the Messiah before declaring that the movie has been influenced
by Christianity. In this case, it appears that Neo is far more Buddhist
Christians are called to put their faith in God. The people trapped
in the Matrix, to the contrary, must put their faith in themselves
in order to gain freedom. When the Wachowski's were asked: "What
is the role of faith in the movie? Faith in oneself first and foremost
- or in something else?" they replied tentatively, "Hmmmm...that
is a tough question! Faith in one's self, how's that for an answer?"
In the plot of the Matrix, individuals may hope that that Neo becomes
a great warrior to fight the machines, but to save themselves they
must first become enlightened - even if they can not reach the same
level as Neo. Faith in one's self is diametrically opposed to the
Christian faith in God.
Nature of Man
The primary topic of the second movie is the nature of humanity.
A power struggle between Neo and the citizens of Zion against "the
architect" of the Matrix and the many machine programs continually
focuses attention on the "human-ness" of Neo and his followers.
In fact, the most objectionable visual scene of Reloaded, the temple
celebration spliced with Neo and Trinity having sex, most clearly
presents the movies' thesis. The Wachowski's focus on love between
two humans establishes that emotion as the crux of that which separates
humans from machines. Along the same line, Morpheus gives a stirring
speech to the citizens in the "temple" charging them to
have a rave-like orgy to celebrate their humanity and hence ability
to resist the machines. The movie shows love as a sort of primal
animal like passion, and indeed seems to highlight that the Wachowski's
believe humans are fundamentally about sexual passion and emotion.
It is this that defines humanity, it distinguishes citizens of Zion
from the machines. This view of human love is far more pagan than
Christian. Christians believe that mankind was created distinct
from the animals, and the associated animal passions. Human nature
includes being animated with a soul, made in the image of God, and
a sin nature and moral responsibility, an intellect and free will.
It's not that the Matrix trilogy must include all these aspects
- it is a move after all - but to merely portray humans as creatures
of sexual passion is far from the mark.
The Matrix and Reloaded include many names and themes familiar to
Christians. This is about as far as the similarity goes, however.
The names and themes are certainly cribbed from Christianity, but
are destitute of essential Christian content. Beyond lacking important
details, the themes bear a much heavier imprint from Buddhist ideas
than any Christian influence. The movies may be great in terms of
entertainment and cinematography, but they are not great Christian
movies to be sure.