Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Matrix

If there was any movie designed for the kind of evaluations I like to write, it was this one. It's a worldview encapsulated in a film. There are, admittedly, analogies to Christianity, but ultimately it is a very New Age film. Dissecting all of the different paths this takes would be a much longer post than I have the time or the patience for, so I'll just touch on a few of them. (Once again, there are many spoilers contained in this review, and I'm writing it with the assumption that the readers are familiar with basic plot elements.)

People often point to a few different aspects of the movie to say, "Look, this is basically a Christian allegory." First, they point to Morpheus's explanation at the beginning when he says,

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...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.
"See?" people will say. "That's a perfect description of sin. It's a prison that we can't sense, and it's universal to all humans." And those people are right. It's a good description of sin. However, I don't think that's what the directors were aiming for. As a matter of fact, I know it, and that's because of the very next line Morpheus says: "A prison for your mind." This line can certainly be interpreted to be Christian, but in the context of the rest of the film it most certainly is not. It is much more similar to the New Age thought that our minds are the only real part of our selves. The body is merely illusion, the mind is everything, and if you can properly understand your mind, you can gain great power. You can even become like a god.

Which leads me to the second evidence that people often point to: Neo as Messiah. He is the chosen one who will save the world (and it turns out he saves it through sacrificing himself, as I found out reading a plot synopsis of Matrix Revolutions, the final movie in the trilogy). Obviously, nobody says that he's a perfect allegory of Christ, but many people think it's the most Christian element of the film. And once again I agree, to a point. There are several parallels between Neo and Christ. However, these parallels are certainly not because the Wachowski brothers were aiming for it. On the contrary, as I've shown and as interviews with them demonstrate, they are much more New Age in their sensibilities.

On a related sidenote, I'd like to point out that the concept of a Messiah fits well into New Age thought, because many New Agers believe that some humans will move or evolve to a higher consciousness and that by doing so will pull the rest of humanity with them. For example, Marilyn Ferguson states "The proven plasticity of the human brain and human awareness offers the possibility that individual evolution may lead to collective evolution" (The Aquarian Controversy, p. 70). Sounds a little bit like Matrix, doesn't it?

What is my point in all this? Essentially, it's to point out something that the Apostle Paul addressed well in Romans 1: mankind knows the truth, but in his pride and self-sufficiency he suppresses the truth. Man doesn't want to believe that God is in control, so they invent their own world and force themselves to believe in it. Thus they simultaneously know the truth and don't know the truth. Yet God still loves them after that, and he pours out what is known as common grace to all men, allowing them to demonstrate aspects of his character without knowing it. He stops them from being as bad as they could be. Men still try to construct their own worlds, but because they know the truth they can merely borrow from the truth (albeit subconciously) to construct these worlds. Paul acknowledges this in Acts 17 when he speaks to the Athenians, telling them that their poets had the right idea but applied it to the wrong place. They were decieved, but they had a nugget of truth.

Matrix contains many of these nuggets of truth, possibly more than most movies. The idea of a prison that we're all trapped in and a Messiah that will come to save us from it comes straight from Christian doctrine. Yet the ideas are misapplied into a New Age sensibility. It's like a gigantic non sequitur, a logical fallacy that literally means "doesn't follow. It describes the fallacy wherein the premises are established and then a conclusion is drawn that completely doesn't follow from those premises. That's how the depraved mind works: it knows the truth, but it draws the wrong conclusions because it refuses to draw the right ones.

But there is common grace, or else this movie would be worthless. A Christian can watch The Matrix and appreciate all the nuggets of truth scattered throughout the movie. For example, at one point, Cypher, as he agrees to betray his crew, states that "ignorance is bliss." He knows what the truth is, but he'd rather have the illusion because it's easier, less painful, and he can get a juicy steak. That's how so many people are with Christianity. They are brought to the point where they know what the truth is, but they refuse to accept it because accepting it would make them lose control over their life, or because it scares them. They would rather not know at all, be ignorant of the truth, so they can go on being comfortable.

It's a beautiful analogy of responses to Christianity. Is that what the directors intended? Probably not. But the truth got through anyway. So as I watch this film, I can appreciate the common grace evident in the movie, and think about the obvious areas of deception. It's a valuable movie for prompting a reevaluation of my concept of reality. And it leads me to pray for the Wachowski brothers and the other New Agers who are still deceived. Common grace is amazing, but only saving grace will open their eyes to the whole truth.

Disclaimer: this film is rated R for language and violence. The violence is relatively non-graphic, most of it being kung-fu and gun-fighting, with blood sometimes coming through the mouth and one image of a character's face which has been severely beaten. There is also a scene at the beginning that takes place in a club that is sensual and not necessary to the plot. Please use discretion.


Andrew said...

Thoughtful comments, Sam. I liked the way that you compared the movie more to New Age than Christianity ... a different tack from the popular "Gospel of the Matrix" movement!
Your post got me thinking - would you agree that you could perhaps take your thoughts even further back from New Age into Gnosticism? It seems to me that while New Age is more spiritualist and pantheistic, Gnosticism, with its (albeit superficial) similiarities with Christianity, would fit the whole "Matrix" worldview very well ... What do you think?

Sam B. said...

To be honest, I've never studied Gnosticism in any kind of depth, so I would not be able to make the comparison. What reasons would you have for saying so?

Andrew said...

Well, as you would know, Gnosticism borrows from Christian theology while combining this Christian exterior with Greek philosophy and "mystery" religions (occultic precursors of New Age). Gnostics believe that there is a nonpersonal Supreme Being, from which a corrupt lesser being known as the "Demiurge" "emanated" ... this "god" created the universe (thus explaining the problem of evil and the Gnostic distaste for the physical universe ... though there are exceptions). Certain angelic beings called "aeons" were sent from the Supreme Being (in the forms of "prophets" like Seth, Moses, and Jesus), to preach a message that every person has an inner spark of deity that, when cultivated, allows that person to transcend into the spiritual realm.
Whew ... as bit overlong, but anywho ...
So, Matrix ...
The machines which created the Matrix (personified by such as Agent Smith), seem almost like a type of Demiurge, which created the Matrix (symbolic of the physical world of Gnosticism). Notice that some kind of Supreme Being seems to be "there" even beyond the Matrix (where do prophecies of the Oracle and other supernatural events come from?), but not personal and hardly mentioned if at all (like Gnostics). Neo is a kind of very human "Messiah" or "aeon"; extraordinarily gifted and wise and good, but still human and definitely not God (much like the Gnostic idea of Jesus).
I don't know; this might be a tremendous stretch ... but it was fun to trace the similarities!
What do you think?