Freels, D. & Borgman, D. (2001). A Review of the Movie, The Matrix. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.
The first time I saw “Matrix” was around a computer screen with a group of about 6 teens and early-twenties. They said they had seen the movie between 5 and 50 times. That evening, the movie was definitely bringing this family and friends together as something they approached positively and differently-from a neat flick or kick, to cult movie, or even something between an addiction or religion. Some young fans have called “Matrix” simply “one of the best films ever.” It is both the complexity and symbolism of the film, and the depth of feeling many young people have towards it, that draw our attention. The 1999 original and its sequel are both worthy of our notice and study.
Mysterious cosmic rebels suggest the true nature of a computer hacker’s real identity and enlist his efforts in fighting the controllers of universal manipulation.
Human beings have created computers that take over the world. When they try to destroy their creation, they wreck the world instead. Computers have gained the power to use humans as living batteries (or power supplies) and keep them in tanks of a solution, with cables sticking into their bodies. The most graphic scene is a baby with these cables protruding from its flesh. The humans are kept pacified in this state by having a fake world fed to their minds. The Matrix is the computer simulated world people think is real. Actually, they are asleep and being drained of their lives.
As Thomas A. Anderson, Keanu Reeves is a nine-to-five programmer for a large software company. But at home, he is a hacker called Neo. Neo begins searching for information about his own identity and about the Matrix. A mysterious presence, Morpheus, sends him a cryptic message, “Wake up Neo. The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit.”
Some human beings have been rescued from the Matrix. They have formed an underground and fight to release more humans from the Matrix. Once you come out, you can’t go back. Morpheus is their leader. Morpheus has come to see Neo as a messianic figure. Trinity is one of his crew, and she is also very important in discovering “the One.”
Computer generated agents patrol the Matrix to seek out rebels and keep the masses asleep. Abducted by Morpheus and the good rebels, Neo undergoes their mental training in order to overcome the make-believe images from the Matrix. He is now in a position to save everyone. Before that happens, Morpheus is tortured for Neo’s sake, many friends are murdered by a traitor, and Neo comes to see that he is the one who can do the Matrix better than the machines. Neo dies and is resurrected. From that point on, no computer generated agent can match him; he is beyond the Matrix. He is the One prophesied to return order to our existence.
Criticisms of the film have pointed to its mixing of Christian and Eastern religious symbols, its profanity (including the name of Christ), and its violenc-which at times is very graphic.
For those interested in following the Christian symbolism, the following have been suggested:
- Morpheus: John the Baptist
- Neo: New (new Adam) the Christ figure, the One
- Trinity: Her love infuses life into Neo in the end, she is definitley a part of him.
- The Matrix: Our world and culture which often moves toward illusion and delusion.
- Zion: The home of humans still left.
- Judas: The traitor…one of their own makes a deal with the agents of the Matrix. They put him back to sleep and make him dream he’s rich, hoping he will deliver the location of Morpheus, Neo, the crew and their ship. He doesn’t believe Neo is the One. For Judas, a fictional life being drained of life during sleep seems better than a real life struggling for freedom.
Morpheus tells Neo that many people aren’t willing to be unplugged, which seems to correspond to our human reality. Their walk “among the very minds we have come to set free” may remind us of the way Jesus felt and still feels. Human resistance may confuse fantasy and reality, license and freedom, self-delusion and enlightenment. Jesus asked the Father to “forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” He may have seen people as sleep walking their way through life. In the Matrix, the people are so dependent on the system, they fight to protect it, even while it is draining them. The Matrix seems to describe life, here and now!
The Cross and Resurrection. Neo is shot to pieces. This may be too graphic, but editing can diminish what might be taken as excessive and sensational violence and remind viewers that the cross was graphic in its time. Neo is killed by the bullets of agents, but he comes back to life. Then, he is no longer bound by the conventions of life. He is superior to man and machine. He doesn’t have to avoid being shot, because he can’t be killed. Neo becomes the avenue for the freedom of everyone. The Matrix is about to collapse. Neo is the bridge to a new life.
The use of a film like “The Matrix” for serious spiritual discussion hinges on the issue of whether of whether or not cultural fairy tales, novels, and films have redemptive themes that point helpfully toward salvation. A secondary issue is how much violence (or sexual content), profanity, and symbols from different religions are appropriate for various age levels.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Have you seen “The Matrix”? More than once? How many times did it take you to figure the film out?
- Do you consider this movie worthy of consideration and discussion with young people? Why or why not? (Do their interests have much to do with this?)
- How would you determine what themes to discuss with a group of young people? (Again, what part do youth have in this determination?)
- How would you set up the discussion? What scenes might you show?
- What are you goals in this discussion and how would you evaluate them?
- By all accounts, “The Matrix” or simply “Matrix” is an important film. It has had a profound impact on some young people-Christian and otherwise.
- Identity, reality, truth, redemption, and the future of the world are very important issues for young people, though they may not put it in such terms or be able to talk about them easily. This movie helps them to do so.
- We are always on the side of real community over virtual community, real over virtual relationships, reality over fantasy. Similarly, we do not allow visual images to replace the written Word.
David Freels and Dean Borgman
© 2017 CYS