The 1999 release of The Matrix created a stir
by combining groundbreaking special effects with an unusually intellectual
story. This combination elevated the film above the average action
movie, won it a cult following, and inspired endless message-board
debate over the myriad answers to Neos question, What
is the Matrix. The interpretations vary from Christian parable
to anti-Christian diatribe and none of them are completely without
credence. The writer/director team of Andy and Larry Wachowski purposely
included poignant imagery to give the film a deep, religious feeling
and even released the film on Easter weekend.
Now, the super-franchise has returned with its second
installment, The Matrix Reloaded, and though the final film
will modify its message, there is now enough information to establish
the message of this science-fiction trilogy. As mentioned earlier,
there are many Christians who have attempted to construe the movie
as a Christian allegory. Admittedly, there are delicious morsels
of symbolism that support this view. In interviews, Lawrence Fishburn
makes the connection between Morpheus and John the Baptist by pointing
out their common role heralding the coming of the One.
Other names like Trinity, Nebuchadnezzar, Cipher (a play on Lucifer?),
and even Mr. Anderson (andro is Greek for Man, thus "Son of
Man"), are all tantalizing in their suggestion. Of course,
the piece d'resistance is that the hero, born as a man, gives his
life as a sacrifice, is brought back to life and then has the power
to set the people free.
But all of this familiar imagery does not guarantee
that the movie is indeed Christian. Jesus said, "Not everyone
who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom
of heaven" (Matthew 7: 21, NIV). The message that lies beneath
the religious imagery may compromise the faith. Despite the use
of biblical nomenclature, the efforts to render this story a Christian
allegory inevitably fail. One lack is any reference by the messiah
figure to God the Father, which Christ did unceasingly. Also there
is no substitutionary element in Neos death. Instead of Christs
call to salvation through belief in him, the gospel
of the Matrix is Free your mind.
Failing a complete allegorical interpretation, it
must be asked, "What do we mean by a Christian movie?"
The inclusion of Christian elements in a syncretic stew does not
make the product any less false. Indeed, some of the Evil One's
best lies are those flavored with truth. Most of the world's false
religions contain elements very similar to those of Christianity,
but God's righteous judgement against these forms of worship is
unequivocal condemnation. Paul reports that those "Who changed
the truth of God into a lie" earned disfavor and damnation,
not consolation prizes for making an effort. So, although Christians
may see figures that look familiar, the inclusion of Buddhist, Hindu,
or any other false faith serves to corrupt the entire product.
Indeed, the best allegorical interpretations of the
first film find that the Wachowskis message is much more Buddhist
or Gnostic than Christian. This
article, found on the official movie website, shows
that the Christian elements are best understood in a broader Gnostic
or Buddhist worldview. Both of these systems claim Christ as one
of their stable of enlightened teachers who call on people to Free
their minds. That article has sympathies with these anti-Christian
this one, from a Catholic
journal, further proves the presence of a Gnostic message within
the first movie and details the dangers which that poses to Christian
orthodoxy. (If anyone comprehends the Catholic preoccupation with
Gnosticism please email me)
Reloaded mitigates some of the allegorical
weight of the story by placing the vast majority of the action outside
of the Matrix. But even if the Matrix trilogy cannot be cast as
an allegory, its dialogue contains plenty of philosophically ponderings
remains very relevant to the culture in which we live. Indeed, once
we forego the effort to fit the movie into a mold, it can become
very informative of post-modern mans intellectual understanding
of the essence of humanity.
Reloadeds overriding theme is that humans
are defined by their instinctive, irrational tendency to love and
to hope. The impulse to love passionately and the impulse to hope
against hope are two forces entirely foreign to the AI of the Matrix.
Because of this, the liberated humans extol these irrational impulses.
In the first film, Mouse justifies his lust for the woman in the
red dress by saying, "To deny our own impulses is to deny the
very thing that makes us human." This quote, seemingly insignificant
at the time, presages the philosophical emphasis of the second movie.
The praise of irrational love basically reduces to
a celebration of sex. Impulses drive the five-minute sequence interspersing
shots of private sexual intercourse with views of a neo-primitive
form of freaking. Both instinctual group sex and romantic monogamous
attachment are equated as acts of machine-defying forms of humanism.
Morpheus encourages the people of Zion to indulge their passions
as a method to tell the machines, We are not afraid.
There is one caveat in the endorsement of hedonism: the Merovingian
and his calculative and exploitive sex are castigated. This reinforces
that the Wachowskis believe irrationality is the fundamental virtue
of sexual attraction. A corrupt French-program manipulating reality
for adulterous ends is recognized as evil even by the Wachowskis
Irrational hope also receives praise. The constant
dialogue about the possibility of human choice hints at a conclusion,
likely to be made explicit in Revolutions, that humanity
is different than a computer because its final outcome is unsure.
Dramatizing this opposition between man and machine, the Architect
confronts assures Neo that Trinity will die and then mocks his hope
that he can save her. Neos belief that he can forestall the
inevitable, separates him from the Architect.
In review, there are three themes that Christians
should remember when viewing The Matrix Reloaded. First,
the Christian imagery is set within in a broad collage of symbolism
in a way that the exclusive claims of the Christian faith are compromised.
Indeed, as developed in the linked articles, the best allegorical
renderings of the Matrix trilogy are those that interpret it as
a Gnostic or Buddhist gospel. It will be interesting if the final
scene, in which Neo stops the machines with his hand, anticipates
the further elevation of the spiritual over the physicaleven
outside the Matrixthat will take place in the final film.
Secondly, Reloaded conveys the postmodern faith in the irrational
element of human nature. This corrupts the Christian virtues of
hope and love, which, properly understood, are based on both faith
and reason. The elevation of impulsive sex also presents difficulty
to Christian men attempting to keep their thought life pure. If
any reader falls into that category, the author strongly advises
that he turn away during that scene. Finally, the Gnostic overtones
should not prevent Christians from using this film as starting point
for witnessing. Undeniably, the Wachowskis have crafted a movie
that combines spiritual depth with eye-popping action sequences.
This may prepare the hearts of many people to hear the gospel. Christians
must seize on opportunities such as this, replacing the false doctrine
with the truth.