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The Matrix

June 17, 2017

TMThe search for truth – Neo always sensed that there was more to life than he perceived. He discovered the deception of the Matrix.

The costly nature of truth – Neo was faced with a choice, the easier of which was to remain in ignorance.

The Christ figure echo – Neo was “The One” who was to free humanity from enslavement to the Matrix. He dies and is resurrected to accomplish this.

It is not easy to recognise that all you may have hoped for in the world is a dream. In The Matrix, the computer software engineer, Thomas Anderson (known as ‘Neo’ when on-line), is confronted by the rebels who have broken into his world. Their leader is called Morpheus, a name that suggests the idea of ‘change’-and that is precisely what he offers Neo. He has to convince Neo that the world is a computer-generated illusion ‘that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth… that you are a slave’. As Morpheus says, ‘All I’m offering is the truth, nothing more’, Neo has to make his decision, to choose either the blue pill or the red one; one will return him to his dream world, the other to reality. When he chooses the red pill, then Neo suddenly awakes in a watery chamber, like an incubator or a cocoon. He has been connected to lots of tubes that are extracting his electrical energy to feed the artificial intelligences that are really running the world. Painfully, he peels off the tubes, pulling them out of his body. He is then flushed out from the water to begin his new life (which his name ‘Neo’ hints at). Morpheus greets him with ‘Welcome to the real world’, but since his muscles are atrophied from lack of use, Neo has to learn everything all over again as he becomes part of Morpheus’ crew.

We know that somehow the machines have made life a wee bit difficult for everyone out there, turning us all into human batteries or somesuch. And there are these cool guys in grey and black (but for Morpheus, only sleek British Racing Green will do) who live in the “real” world and fly around in a great spaceship (named “Nebuchadnezzar” after the king who turned back toward God when he opened his eyes to what the world is really like) and try to unplug people from the nightmare of being only technically human. And of course this is a metaphor for the way life is and should not be.

Morpheus is a figure like John the Baptist. John also came offering a change, as he went around preaching repentance and preparing for the kingdom of God. He used immersion in the river Jordan for people to wash away their old lives and to come up from the water to begin again. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, this idea of washing and submersion was linked to his death and new life. Colossians 2:12 makes this explicit: to be baptised is to be overwhelmed, drowned and buried under the water, which is interpreted as being buried with Jesus. Then to come up out of the water is to be ‘raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead’.

Paul says that when people  are baptised ‘into his death’, it is as though they have died to that old way of life, the sin and selfishness. They cannot go back to it, any more than Neo can go back to his former existence in the computer world once he has made his decision. Instead, the tubes, the connections to the old way of fife, the ties that bind us, must all be stripped away so that we can go forward into new life.

Page the oracle

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? … ‘Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her ….Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. PROVERBs 8:1, 10-13, 20-22, 32-36

‘The Matrix cannot tell you who you are,’ Trinity explains to Neo after his first trip back into the world that he used to think was real, but now sees as a computer-generated illusion. For real answers, they have to visit the Oracle, who made the prophecy about the coming One, who they hope is Neo. She has been ‘with us from the beginning,’ says Morpheus, ‘a guide to help you find the path’. So they take him to see her in a flat, containing a sitting room full of other hopefuls. Morpheus tells Neo, ‘I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.’ When he is invited into her presence, he finds a black woman, smoking and cooking in a kitchen, with the Latin for ‘Know Thyself’ on the wall. She examines his mouth, eyes and hands, and warns him of the difficult choices that lie for him on the journey ahead.

In this scene from The Matrix, the figure of the Oracle draws on a number of strands, most obviously the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi. Here too, there was a waiting-room with the text ‘Know Thyself’ in Greek on the wall, an inner sanctum full of incense smoke, and a priestess who spoke in riddles, often capable of several interpretations which was useful when the future turned out unexpectedly. Thus King Croesus, encouraged by the oracle that if he invaded his neighbour ‘a great kingdom would be lost’, did invade-and lost his own kingdom! In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, our heroes steal the latest spaceship, Heart of Gold, equipped with ‘improbability drive’, and travel across the galaxy to find out who is really running the universe. It transpires that there is an old man with a cat in a shed on a deserted planet, whom people come and ask whether they should do this or that. The fates of billions rest upon his totally random answers, which the enquirers then go and put into action.

The ancient Jewish prophets often brought messages from God which they called ‘oracles’ – see particularly the prophecies of Isaiah. However, in other books of the Hebrew scriptures, the idea of the wisdom of God becomes personified in the female figure of Wisdom. The book of Proverbs has many pithy, short sayings, and even some riddles, about the wise thing to do or the right path to take, but chapter 8 gives a long speech to Wisdom herself. Like the Oracle, she has been ‘from the beginning’ when God created her first of all (8:22). Her words are neither random, like the old man in Hitchhiker’s Guide, nor riddling like the Greek priestess, but they are the wisdom which comes from the ‘fear of the Lord’ (8:13). Her instruction is better than silver” 1 choice gold’ or jewels’ and people should seek to fill their treasuries with her advice, not the illusions of this world (8:10-11, 2 1). She hates evil, pride and lies and wants kings and rulers to govern rightly by her precepts in the ‘way of righteousness, along the paths of justice’ (8:13-20). Like Neo, a wise person Will be examined by her and listen to her, coming daily to wait at her door-and this is the path which leads to ‘life and obtains favour from the Lord’ (8:34-35).

THE NINE COMMANDMENTS OF THE,MATRIX

1: THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD ARE NOT REAL

The Matrix starts with Trinity, who somehow looks a lot older than she must be, escaping from the cops and “agents” who run the show. Agent Smith, who turns out to be the nemesis in this story, tells the senior officer, “Your men are already dead.” And I guess this is the point – we are already dead and need to be resurrected; but before that can happen we need to be made aware of our deaths. The contemplative writer Anthony de Mello encouraged people to meditate on an image of their own future rotting corpse, not for morbidity’s sake, but because he believed that we can only truly live once we have confronted the inevitability of our death. Trinity has awoken from her living nightmare, and nothing can harm her, because she knows that nothing can be worse than what she used to live in. And the early scenes show how she has trained her mind to control her responses when she flies through a window, her body wants to he on the floor, but her mind and voice say “GET UP so she does. She has managed to find a happy medium between spirit and flesh.

This is the first lesson: Until you learn to discern the voices in your head, you will never find your way. We need to recognize that we all have various noises competing for our attention. Some of them are affirming, some are helpfully critical, some are condemnatory, some are appetites for fun or food, some are temptations to destroy. They are all real, but only the ones that we invite belong to us. There is a new way of seeing the world (and ourselves) that can free us from the shackles of self-criticism and fear. We may all be partly the product of our circumstances, but the good news is that we are much more than that – we can choose something different than what went before. You fear your future because you hated your dad or your parents or your school and think you might turn out like him/they/it? Think again: You have much more to worry about than that. What about the ancestors you never met, whose genes (helpful and nasty) you carry? What about the unremembered moments of childhood trauma that have scarred your soul so deeply you don’t even know what they are? You don’t believe that those things necessarily have power over you, so why worry about your dad? Or maybe you think God will never use you because of some dark secret; I don’t know, maybe you kissed a person you loved or killed a person you didn’t.  What makes you think you’re more important than King David? So important that God wouldn’t forgive you?

2: THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD ARE REAL

The matrix has you, says Morpheus (who has come a long way from little Larry Fishburne in Apocalypse Now), but what is the matrix? It’s the question that drives you, “Why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit at your computer.” What’s your question? We all have something that drives us but is so personal, perhaps so inarticulate that we couldn’t tell it to others or understand it clearly ourselves. In this sense, the voices in your heads are real. But, like Tolkien’s ring of power, it wants to be found; the answer is out there; it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

3: THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON US BEING A TEAM

Agent Smith explains how he believes that humans are not mammals – not developing equilibrium; the multiplication and consumption of resources and the destruction of each other is the definition of human nature. Human beings, or at least the way they behave, may well have become a disease, a cancer, but there is a cure. It is not, as many viewers of the movie seem to think, rebellion against the state or any institutions. It is about finding a purpose in community. You are not “The One.” Neo cannot do what he needs to without the mentoring of Morpheus, the training from Tank, and most of all the love of Trinity. Ultimately, Neo’s initiation into the ways of the matrix, his training, and his resurrection is only accomplished when Trinity makes it possible. It’s called teamwork. And even if you think you are The One, you can’t go it alone. Of course it’s subversive, but the revolution that will overthrow the matrix is one that requires people to work together.

 4: NON-VIOLENT SUBVERSION IS THE ONLY WAY TO FLY

The movie was released shortly before the Columbine killings, and some were quick to attribute blame for this to the movie’s incredible violence. And there is a danger that we will turn a blind eye to this. If we don’t look closely, we may be forgiven for thinking that the solution it prescribes is to “shoot the bad guys.” But we find that Neo learns to subvert violence by absorbing it-he doesn’t even have to dodge bullets anymore, once he accepts his destiny. His absorption of violence goes along with a resurrection that shames his enemies making a public spectacle of them, perhaps? And these enemies – the agents – are not flesh and blood, but representations of repressive power. They cannot be dealt with by bullets. It is just the word “no,” spoken with authority that makes Neo not need to dodge them. He dives into the heart of his enemy, and bends reality to his good will. The “rules” do not apply to Neo, nor should they apply to you, if you want to take spirituality seriously. And the rules of this world never question the use of violence as a means to an end. But you should.

5: IT IS POSSIBLE TO LIVE WITHOUT FEAR

Morpheus says that the existence of the matrix means that everything we think is real is a construct. Twentieth-century American monk, Thomas Merton and twenty-first century French philosopher Derrida say the same thing in a different way; but whether we learn it from them or a twenty-second century virtual reality revolutionary, it is one of the keys to life. We can learn the difference between what really matters and the illusions of created things, to be able to live life with no inhibitions, totally free of worry, but not of responsibility. St. Augustine wrote that to be a Christian was “to love God, and do what you want”; which I guess is one way of saying that if you’re seeking to be in touch with the divine, you will find yourself becoming the kind of person God might have made you to be. In other words, to be fully human.

6: WE ALL NEED TO BE CONVERTED

Neo is sceptical of the rebels at first, but decides to trust them when they remind him that he has been down “Adam Street” before, and he knows where it leads. Morpheus reminds him that he knows: There’s something wrong with the world, you don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind

He knows he needs to wake up, to recognize the matrix that surrounds us-“the world that has been pulled over his eyes to blind him from the truth of his own slavery.” But he can’t be told what the matrix is-he has to see it for himself, and the traumatic baptism that follows taking the red pill is the price he has to pay. Taking the red pill has become a bit of a cliché in Christian circles; let’s at least try to live up to the metaphor. Taking God seriously is a bit like the taking the pill-it is painful to realize that we have been travelling the wrong way and that the world is upside down. And sometimes discipleship ain’t much easier. We may wish, like some in The Matrix, that we had never taken the pill in the first place; taking the blue pill may well be the way to a kind of peace. And some people aren’t ready to be “unplugged”; this journey needs to be handled with care. But there is a time for philosophy, and there is a time for decision. There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path. The red pill is there to be swallowed, not admired.

7: TIME IS NOT AILWAYS AGAINST US: IT CAN BE REDEEMED

We may feel that time is always against us – but The Matrix shows it doesn’t have to be; time has already been redeemed.

8: YOU WILL NOT BE TESTED BEYOND WHAT YOU CAN BEAR

Blink and you’ll miss it, but Agent Smith explains that the first matrix didn’t work; humans needed suffering in order to believe that it was real. Ironically this flaw in the system is the key to its destruction. And there is always a way out.

9: ULTIMATELY, THE CHOICE IS YOURS

Perhaps the most important fine in the whole film is, “The matrix cannot tell you who you are.” And neither can I. When you realize that something has gone terribly wrong with this world, and our place in it, when you realize, as Neo does that ‘,the memories are not real,” you will be distressed or upset. But this kind of revelation is given to you because it is what you need to know. Like Abraham, who believed he was supposed to sacrifice his son, even though that was never God’s intention, we sometimes need to be brought to a place where we imagine the worst before we can take reality seriously. It’s the ambition for change-the sense that something can be done-that shapes you, even when you don’t end up doing the thing you expected. But if your response to revelation about the true nature of the universe is to disappear into a fog of despair or self-indulgent nihilism, beware.

In the final scene, Neo looks around, surveying those he’s come to save; perhaps he hasn’t grasped the magnitude of his responsibility, but then again, neither have we. He may not even know what he’s really saying when he declares: “I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin; I’m going to show them a world without you – a world where anything is possible.” Christians believe it’s their task to be agents of change in this world, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. “We will never get it perfectly right; I mean what is perfectly right anyway? How could we possibly know? And everybody falls asleep sometimes. But The Matrix might just help us wake up.”

Agent Smith: I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

 

Morpheus: I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?

Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

Morpheus: I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Neo: The Matrix.

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

 

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? [Takes a bite of steak]

Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.

 

 

[Neo sees a black cat walk by them, and then a similar black cat walk by them just like the first one] Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu. [Everyone freezes right in their tracks]

Trinity: What did you just say?

Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.

Trinity: What did you see?

Cypher: What happened?

Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.

Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?

Neo: It might have been. I’m not sure.

Morpheus: Switch! Apoc!

Neo: What is it?

Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

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