Going into The Matrix: Reloaded, I wasn't worried if the
fight scenes or special effects would measure up to the first filmit
was the metaphysics that bothered me. The first Matrix was
such a neat allegory of Gnostic
philosophy, I was more concerned with how the Brothers
Wachowski could successfully extend the metaphor into three films
than whether they could pull off even more virtuoso examples of
cinematic ass-stomping. What was mindblowing about the first movie,
after all, wasn't the fight choreography or bullet time, but its
brave assertion that the banal, day-to-day reality we live in isn't
the real world. In that sense, all the wire-fu was just the candy
coating on the red pill the filmmakers were offering to every high
school student and cubicle slave in the world. (Though, since I
study martial arts myself, I found the idea of kung fu as being
metaphorical for something happening in hyper-reality, a la
mysterious circle, to be pretty darn appealing.)
Reloaded more than allayed my fears, even if it seems that
half the reviewers either didn't understand what the Wachowskis
were getting at, or else were only paying attention during the highway
chase. Watching the movie, I was personally less impressed by the
fists of digital fury than by the Brothers' evident familiarity
with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the theology of Origen
of Alexandria. Seen in the light of the books they're
referencing, the movie's plot is brilliant; of course, to the non-initiate,
the characters' actions and dialogue seems arbitrary and incomprehensible,
and the exposition is just filler between car crashes. It would
seem, therefore, that a bit of exegesis of The Matrix: Reloaded
is warranted. But be warned: If you haven't seen the movie yet,
don't read on. There are some major spoilers.
like that other great Keanu Reeves vehicle, Bill
and Ted's Bogus Journey, The Matrix: Reloaded
centers around the hero's journey into the Underworld. Frazier,
Golden Bough, notes that it is a prophetessin
this case, the Oraclewho sends the hero off on his journey,
from where he returns with special knowledge. And, of course, that's
just what Neo does, though it would have been a while lot more amusing
if he'd had Alex Winter along. (The Oracle probably isn't entirely
benign, by the way, even though she may not consciously intend any
harm: She is, after all, the one who sent Neo on the path to the
first task is to rescue the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim, doing his
best Rick Moranis impression) from the Merovingian, who is a daemonin
both senses of the wordleft over from a previous version of
the Matrix. (The Merovingians were the ruling Frankish dynasty;
they were succeeded by Charlemagne's family, the Carolingians, and
then by the Capetians, who thought they were descended from Christ.)
The guy in the health food store where I buy my granola and soy
milk thinks that The Merovingian was one of Neo's predecessors,
but all the explanation I need, as well as the way I understand
his obvious fascination with human pleasures, is found in Genesis
6:4"There were giants in the earth in those days; and
also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters
of men, and they bare children to them. . ." According to various
sources, including Kabbalah, this mating of men and angels (here,
a computer program from an earlier version of the Matrix) is what
produced various monsters, such as the vampires and wraiths that
serve the Merovingian. Dante, bringing a Christian sensibility to
the proceedings, placed these monsters in his Inferno. Thus, though
the Merovingian is sort of an antediluvian remnant of the former
world, he's also (as is shown by the fact that his wife is named
Persephone) kind of like Hades, the holder of the keys to the underworld.
What the Keymaker does, much like the golden bough the Sybil gives
Aeneas, is open doors and permit Neo access to the underworldor,
in this case, the Core.
the requisite battles and explosions, Neo gets into the Core and
finds The Architect. Considering that The Architect built the Matrix,
you might think that he's God. Of course, he's nothing of the sort.
In Gnostic theology, it is Satan, not God, who has created the world
in order to imprison humanity. It is also the Architect who is unleashing
the Sentinels to destroy Zion; that is, beginning the Battle of
Armageddon. It is my prediction that in the third and final film,
it will be revealed that there is a power behind the Architect,
and that he is the one who sent the One into the Matrix. It is also
my prediction that this guy will look a lot like Neo.
thing is choosing what to believe from the raft of condescending
exposition that the Architect inflicts on Neo. He says, basically,
that though ninety-nine percent of humans believe in the illusion
of the Matrix, there is that troublesome one percent (comparable
to the few awakened Gnostic true believers) who refuse to believe
in the created world. This tends to produce massive amounts of instability,
and crashes the system. (Not coincidentally, most of the people
in Zion seem to be black or Hispanic, which, besides adding a natty
Rasta feel to the place, makes perfect sense: If you're a white
suburban Matrix resident, driving your Matrix SUV to your Matrix
golf club, why doubt the nature of reality?) The solution is that
they allow the dissidents to escape to Zion, which they can then
periodically destroy. They have also created the Prophecy of the
One, who is in fact a device sent by the machines into the "real"
world so that his knowledge of humanity may be integrated into the
system in order to further perfect the Matrix-illusion, and then
allowed to re-start Zion so that the cycle can begin again. The
idea of multiple creations and a cycle of created and destroyed
worlds is, needless to say, also found in theologies as wildly variant
as the Mayan and the Buddhist. (And, in the Mayan reckoning, we're
currently in the fifth cyclethe sixth starts in 2012.)
that the Prophecyand Zionwere just another means of
control is lifted right out of French philosophy. The first movie
made use of Baudrillard's Simulacra
and Simulation; this movie seems to be dipping into
Foucault and Derrida, who wrote that the systems of power and control
are all-pervasive, and language
is one of the ways they make their influence felt. The
Prophecy is, like all prophecies, speech, and thus language. More
importantly, it is a religion, and, as John
Zerzan writes, the purpose of a religion is to manipulate
signs, that is, words, for the purpose of control. Zion is the longed-for
millennial promised land; by keeping the war between good and evil
foremost in their hearts, even the freed humans are kept from doubting
their own world, from thinking too hard about why things are the
way they are. Zion needn't be another computer simulation; it could
merely be a society created by the machines for controlling the
free-range humans (kinda like grunge music was created in the early
nineties to control disaffected teenagers).
why things are the way they are requires an understanding of another
holy text: Asimov's Laws of Robotics. The machines, as demonstrated
by Smith's need to try to kill Neo even after being "freed,"
don't have free will. (Likewise, in various theologies, angels and
other such divine beings also don't have free willonly humans
do.) The bit about the machines needing human bio-energy to survive,
as Morpheus (the dreamer) explained in the first movie, is bullshit.
The machines keep humanity alive but imprisoned, even after taking
over the world, because they were created to serve people.
In other words, the machines would like to destroy humanity, but
they CAN'T. Instead, they need a human to make the choice.
Architect reveals, Neo is not the first One, but rather the sixth.
Why the sixth? The answer is that Neo's five previous incarnations
represent the Five Books of Moses that make up the Old Testament.
Neo (representing Christ, and thus the New Testament) differs from
his five predecessors in his capacity to love. In the work of Origen
of Alexandria and other early Christian writers, it is love ("eros"
in Greek) that compels Christ to come down from the heavens to redeem
humanity. Furthermore, "neo" means "new"as
in "New Covenant." In Neo, the machines have finally found
the iteration of the One who will make the illogical choice of saving
Trinity and dooming humanity. [Note to the theology geeks who've
been e-mailing me: I know the difference between eros and
agape, but both terms are apropos for reasons I'd have to delve
into pre-Socratic philosophy to explain.]
is the Architect's real purpose in giving Neo a choice between two
doors. At once all human and all machine, rather than being a device
to refine the Matrix into a more perfect simulation of reality,
re-found Zion, and thus continue the endless cycle of death and
rebirthas the Architect says he isthe purpose of the
One is to be manipulated into destroying all of humanity. However,
not having free will themselves, the machines are not able to comprehend
it in othersand thus Neo, being also human, is a bit of a
wild card. It is Neo's destinyas was Christ's in Origen's
theologyto break the cycle of death and rebirth, and offer
humanity a new future. This is shown by the fact that, by the end
of the movie, Neo (and also, incidentally, Smith) gain power in
the "real world"which shows that he has power not
only over the firstlevel simulated world of the Matrix, but
also the second-level simulation of Zion.
touches I liked:
and Trinity are shown making love beneath an arch. In religious
iconography, being shown beneath an arch is a traditional sign
of divinity. Masaccio's fresco at the right, for instance, shows
the Holy Trinity beneath an arch.
and Trinity's kissy-face is cut in with the public-lewdness-in-a-cave
of the decieved Zionites. The real meaning of the overlong rave
scene is to contrast sacred and profane love.
fact that The One comes from the machine world is a brilliant
way to write around the fact that Keanu Reeves can't act.
own gift of prophecy is explainable by the fact that, like the
Oracle (the Gnostic Sophia, or Holy Wisdomthe female Godhead),
he comes from beyond the Matrixthat is, the worldand
thus exists outside of time, much like God in St. Augustine's
saw the movie sitting next to a really cute girl.
to be wrapped up in the third movie:
behind The Architect?
Architect said Neo "has already" made a choicebut
what was this choice?
Agent Smith's role in all this? His ability to multiply is reminiscent
of the demon Jesus exorcised ("my name is Legion"),
but I bet he's going to wind up being an ally of Neo's.
is Neo able to zap the machines in the "real world"?
is Zion really?
did Tank die? And what was Marcus Chong smoking?
Link live to see Zee again?
Niobe leave Jason Lock and go back to Morpheus? [No, she isn't
deadit was the other ship that got blown up.]
they going to do about the fact that Gloria Foster, who played
The Oracle, died? [She had shot most of her scenes for Reloaded,
but not for Revolutions.]
priestly cassocks become a fashion trend for men?
pivotal role will be performed by Neo's adoring acolyte?
will Bane sabotage the human defense of Zion? Will Neo kill him?
led Morpheus to the Oracle in the first place?
the "real world" only another level of simulation, an
outer matrix, indicative of matrices upon matrices, onionlike
in their layering upon each other?
climactic Battle of Armageddon between Good and Evil will have
to take placebut what will happen afterwards?
the Zion-world is revealed to be also fake in the third movie,
will the trilogy end with Neo leading his followers into the sunlit
"real" world? [Of course, any world in the movie
is falseit is, after all, a movie.]
Neo wake up and say, "Bill, dude, you won't believe this
bitchin' dream I just had. . ."?