Feature Articles Matrix Constructs
The Matrix trilogy stands as one of the classic movies that redefined film-making, both technically and script-wise. It carefully played and transformed symbolism, hiding it behind a layer of “kung fu fighting”, which at the same time made it more accessible to an entire generation of filmgoers.
by Philip Coppens
The Matrix film was launched as the movie of 1999. It became a trilogy in 2003, when part 2 and 3 were released, as The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. Specifically the first movie caused a major impact and was defined as an important metaphysical event for Mankind – that should be those who only visit cinema theatres and don’t read books on metaphysics.
Still, it is true that the trilogy is steeped in symbolism, whereby the first part symbolized birth, the second life and the third death. The Matrix has thus been described as a “Shamanic Journey”, carefully crafted by the enigmatic Wachowski brothers: Andy and Larry. Some have compared it to Alice in Wonderland, but where the message is hidden in the dramatic filming of the fight scenes – which in 1999 were one of the major inventive contributions of the movie to the industry. The fighting sequences, however, are so surreal, that it adds to the surreality of the entire offering: that the Matrix itself – life – is a dream, not possible. And it are not only the actions of Neo and co. that prove this – the actions of the agents is proof of this also. The Matrix (1999) – Birth The hero of the story is Neo, “new”. It is clear that his archetype is no-one else than Jesus, a man who will “awaken” and who is predestined to change the world. However, it is not to change “the world”, but “the dream” – the Matrix.
In truth, humans are bred and fed intravenously with the liquefied remains of the dead. This is pure occultism and goes into the murky realms and veiled nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, Kenneth Grant, Carlos Castaneda et al. with their accounts of “the labyrinth of the penumbra”, the inorganic entities that have enslaved humanity and turned it into a food source. Like Aboriginals believe we live a dream, the movie equally argues that reality is a dream, controlled by secret forces to enslave us. Like Neo and the other slaves of the Matrix, these doctrines – which exist in Western Europe in the old concept of temple sleep and conscious dreaming – need to be broken down: we need to awaken… become enlightened – an illuminatus.
The movie therefore maps the transition from Thomas Anderson into Neo, a man who learns to fly like the shaman and realize that if he accepts the Matrix as a fantasy, he will not – cannot – die. He will be able to bend reality, like the children being taught by the Oracle can bend spoons – Uri Geller like. Neo, like the others, learns that the spoon does not require bending. “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead . . . only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Anderson works for a computer firm – Metacortex, aptly named after a part of the brain. His secret life as a hacker has put him on the trail of a mysterious “Morpheus”, identified as a terrorist. Via Trinity, a meeting is arranged with Morpheus – in mythology the king of sleep, but for Neo soon to be the man who will awaken him.
His engagement in the game begins when he is at work and receives a call from Morpheus, warning him that “they” are after him. Following intricate instructions from Morpheus, Neo is led into an empty office, told to make a leap to safety. It is more a leap of faith – and Neo fails. In the remainder of the movie, the “leap of faith” and the ability to fly will become required steps to map Neo’s progress in his ability to meet his destiny – change the matrix, by refusing to believe that he can die in a world that is purely illusionary. Morpheus and his crew are unique, in that they are truly awake. Still, they can enter the Matrix at will, through – what else – technology. As they are the ones that understand that it is not real, they are superhuman – not subject to its laws, though it is their mindset which often makes them believe the “reality” of the Matrix. At the same time, some of his crews realize that living a nice dream is better than the horrible nightmare of having to sneak through underground cavities in advanced craft, constantly on the run and never at ease. In what is both good Hollywood tradition and powerful symbolism, Neo does die… But Trinity, firmly persuaded at last that he is the One and that the Oracle told her that she would fall in love some day and that it would be with the One, she whispers in his ear, “You must be the one, because I love you.” The truth, represented here in perhaps the most simple and stirring poetic image there is – the lovers’ kiss – resurrects Neo to his new life. It sets him free. He is raised up, reborn. It echoes the great legends of the past, such as that of Osiris and Isis, with Isis raising Osiris from the dead, and making him reborn.
Neo may not learn how to bend spoons, but he applies the message of the spoon bending when he is “reborn” and learns that death inside the matrix is an illusion: he is able to stop bullets with his mind… as they do not exist. It is his purpose to show the others caught in the Matrix that such supernatural feats are proof of the fallacy of the Matrix – with the hope that many will follow him, creating a paradigm shift in which those caught by the Matrix learn the truth, and are liberated – causing the end of the Machine World and Mankind’s enslavement. Neo is not only able to stop bullets – he has also realized that he cannot conquer evil – identified as Mr. Smith and his legions – and later copies. Evil can only be defeated by incorporating it, which he will do both in the first movie and in the finale of the third movie, where Mr. Smith realizes than his “victory” over the Oracle was in fact a huge deception: the Oracle let him consume him, so that she could destabilize him from within.
Neo’s encounters with the Oracle have been described as the best scenes. She acts as a genuine oracle, playing with the minds of those who come to see her. She is there to push those who wish to destroy the Matrix, to upset the balance. However, the illuminati’s mindset – and specifically fear about the Matrix – is her biggest hurdle to take, and so she gives specific messages to specific people, such as Neo, Trinity and Morpheus. We thus learn that she occasionally has to trick her pupils, to believe that the outcome has been predestined; as the illuminati still possess fear, she uses the concept of predestination as a tool to guarantee they will conquer their fear – rather than inform them that the paradigm shift will only occur if they have reached sufficient belief. In the end, this is the difference between Morpheus and Neo: Morpheus believes in the Oracle – Neo does not; Morpheus awaits the final outcome to “happen”, Neo actively works towards “making it happen”. Her exact role is explained in the second and third installment, whereby we see that her destabilizing force is countered by that of the Architect, whose principal role is to balance out the matrix. She strives to bring upset the balance, have good win over evil, by creating “positive chaos”; it is the role of the Architect to readdress the lost balance. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – life In the first movie, agent Smith explains to Morpheus that the “first Matrix was a perfect human world,” that Artificial Intelligence originally created a surrogate reality of earthly bliss, a return to Eden, but that humanity rejected it out of hand, that “no one would accept the program”.
In the second movie, we begin to learn why even though the Matrix in the first movie claimed it was 1999, it was in fact closer to two centuries later: the system has been running repeats – Neo realizes that his challenge to the Matrix is not the first time; he has been here around, acting largely in the same manner as before. But the question is whether Neo will this time behave differently, and will be able to change the balance. The establishment of the “New Jerusalem” is aptly used in the movie: the last human settlement is however not located in Heaven, but in the deepest bowels of the Earth: Zion, where there are humans who have never been subjected to the Machine World.
Zion – a name for Jerusalem – is common enough, but it is in the second movie that imagery from “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and the mystery of Rennes-le-Château is introduced: a mysterious French operator, known as the Merovingian, who seems to possess advanced knowledge – all attained by very human means – on shortcuts and key individuals that sit within and on the edge of the Matrix. He knows the Matrix is a fallacy, but decides to stay within it and “operate” it to the best of his – all too human – abilities. It is in this installment that the Oracle’s counterpart, the Controller, the Architect, is introduced, explaining to Neo that he has lived many incarnations before. This underlines the essence of the movie: it is rather “bland”, but then so is life. All human traits are present within this storyline, from the Merovingian to the everyday struggle. It is a necessary prelude for death. It is here that the movie cannot excel – by design: whereas life for humans is the ultimate experience, for the illuminati it is less exalted; their focus is birth and death, which they know are greater mysteries than life. Their outlook upon life is different, and they experience it differently… for them, it is getting “in there” and “doing their stuff”: working within the confines of Reality, inside the “materialistic world”, with its strict rules and unliberating conditions. Matrix Revolutions (2003) – death The Controller balances good and evil. The more “good” there is, the more “evil” will be created, to balance it out. The oracle is there to upset the balance. She is there to aid those who will aim to ascend. And like in mysticism, the question of Ascent to God is asked at the moment of death. The question whether Neo will be able to ascend not merely in the Matrix but also against the “God” of Artificial Intelligence is the final challenge.
The movie starts with Neo being in Purgatory: a world that is neither the Matrix, or “real life” or death – he shows brain activity, but does not show up on any programme. He is lost, like the souls of those who are in Purgatory. The train driver thus takes on the role of the ancient ferryman, who would ferry the souls out.
All lessons learned in the first movie are now repeated, but need to be applied on a larger scale. Like Neo, “evil” has grown in force. Though this should cause more fear in Neo, Neo throughout the movie realizes that fear is unimportant: he was victorious over Smith in the first movie, and as both have grown at the same rate since, he should win again. The God of the Matrix knows this: he requires Neo’s help, as it is not Neo, but Smith that has made the programme go out of control. A system collapse is imminent and for the Matrix, self-survival is paramount. Hence, it has to honour Neo’s conditions: stop the conquest of Zion and allow those who want to awaken, to awaken in peace. He thus negotiates a status quo in which active oppression and terrorist activity on the part of the Illuminati is substituted with an “entente cordial”, in which both parties agree to let things take it course: peace. Finality Various religions have different outlooks upon life. The Cathars in medieval Europe saw Earth and life as a prison, created by the devil, disallowing Mankind a heavenly life. These and others saw life as enslavement. Other philosophies see life as a school, a training ground. The name “matrix” itself is Latin from “womb”, showing the nurturing quality of the mother, which in the movie has been negatively interpreted as the womblike conditions to which humanity has been subjected to: battery pills.
Throughout the movie, a self-created matrix is used by Neo & co. as a training ground – specifically in the first movie. It suggests that a neutral environment for protection or learning had been recreated to become mankind’s bondage. Morpheus is not wrong when he assures Neo that “reality” – the world experienced by our senses – is but electrical impulses in the brain, and that as such it may indeed be simulated by artificial means. Science and technology has established this. Perhaps we are holding back, out of a lurking fear that, should we realize what is possible, we may also realize that it is equally inevitable—that it has in fact already happened. This, of course, is the message that quantum physics is slowly but definitely telling us: that the universe as it is created is as much in the mind as it is out there… and that it seems to have been constructed according to rules which seem to hint at “Controller” behind the scene, but also that “the mind” is able to excel it.
Materialism is just that: the perception of reality – the matrix of our mind – as the death trap it has become, whereby some are offered the blue or the red pill. The lesson of materialist scientists is that life is the finality – the lesson of spiritual scientists is that life needs to be explored, but seems to feature in a bigger whole, which gives meaning and ethics to life.
The Matrix suggests that this materialistic view at some point needs to be replaced. There are the passive expectations of some religions, such as the Second Coming of Christ, as well as the passive hope for a paradigm shift in the “2012 AD” scenario, whether it is adherence to Mayan prophecies or the TimeWave Zero derivation from Terence McKenna. But the message from the Matrix is that if we want to have an alternative future, we will need to fight for it…