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The Matrix as an Ideological Network

By Ido Hartogsohn

Abstract: “what is the matrix?” This big question that Morpheus
presents Neo and us in the first Matrix, has been a matter for
debate over the last 5 years. Since then the Matrix has been
interpreted as Marxist, Psychoanalytic, Platonist, Post-Modern,
Buddhist, Chsristian, Jewish and what have you. This article tries
a different approach to this question. While seeking to preserve
former interpretive possibilities, it claims: The Matrix is a
devouring ideological network. The capitalistic nature of this
network is at the center of this piece.

The Matrix Trilogy may be the Star Wars of our generation, creating a new
mythology in a new world. It is undoubtedly pretentious in its special effects, and more
so in its theory and philosophy, to the point that some critics dismiss the film’s lengthy
philosophical discussions as hopelessly muddled. Others have looked for coherent
meaning in its symbols and language, and found exactly what they were looking for –
which is to say, they found what they had already believed. That list includes Marxists,
psychoanalysts, Platonists, post-modernists, and even the believers of the world:
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists. Each of them offered his own biased interpretation
of the Matrix, like the six blind men who tried to describe an elephant – each was (partly)
right, but also very wrong.

The truth is, the matrix is all of these things: seemingly
incoherent, and yet Christian and psychoanalytic and post-modern.
Yet everyone who has tried to analyze the film using any of these
dogmas has have fallen prey to exactly the same deceptive Matrix with
which the trilogy deals. The big question everyone is trying to answer
-- the one Morpheus presents Neo and us in the first film – is, “what is

an animate free market of religious. much like the Matrix itself. computer expert Neo is contacted by an enigmatic group of people who tell him that the world he knew is nothing but a simulation generated by an immense network of computers.the matrix?” This question cannot have a single answer because above all the Matrix is simply the Matrix itself. The time isn’t the end of the 20th century. In parallel. as he believes. presents us with an ideological network which is linked to all places. The only people living outside of this virtual world are a group of rebels who unplugged themselves from the matrix and built an underground world . This is the meeting place for all places. Machines grow people in isolated cells where they are connected to conductors that suck out their energy and transfer it to the machines. which claims reality has no simple source. an irreducible term. the Matrix lacks any simple. and contains various ideological complexities as well as ideologically contradictory and complementary possibilities. political and social ideologies. The Matrix is likewise irreducible. which is irreducible to the finite medium of words. ideologically homogeneous source. The meaning of this notion of “complexity” is that reality in itself is a complex being or experience. The movie Matrix. but about 200 years later. Like the Deleuzian idea of complexity. The Plot In the first Matrix. philosophical. which use the bodies of human beings to supply their energy needs. people are also linked from their cells to a digital universe that simulates the world of the end of the 20th century: the Matrix. The world is ruled by machines.

thus enabling the bending of the rules. among which is the Oracle. a kabbalistic maze of letters that can be penetrated and altered. Neo (an anagram of “one”) finds out that the leader of the rebels has nourished hopes that Neo is “the One. and here the plot starts to get complicated. If he takes the blue pill. he would be able to get back into the Matrix. Another important figure is the Architect. forget all that has occurred and continue a life of pleasant ignorance. a creator and programmer of the Matrix. Neo is offered by Morpheus. The common factor among these various figures is that they are all . as a digital “mekubal” (an adept of Jewish mysticism). In one of the classic scenes of the first movie. In his various adventures Neo also comes to know an array of curious characters. a scene that repeats in variations through the series. who will save people from the tyranny of the machines. Neo. two pills which symbolize the choice he faces. acquires supernatural combat abilities inside the Matrix by playing and controlling the text that composes the world. his mind and body will leave the Matrix and he will be pulled out into the fierce reality of the war against the machines.inside the earth called “Zion.” the messiah. the leader of the group. Soon he learns to look through the Matrix’s illusion of a world and see the Matrix as it is. If he takes the red pill. Neo chooses the truth. Neo makes a good start in meeting their hopes. a dubious demiurge with dubious motives.” From this underground world they go on rescue missions across the matrix to save other prisoners of the Matrix. a prophet who leads Neo in his way (although the credibility of her prophecies is constantly in doubt).

The messiah as a Christian. but rather a complex incarnation of the Christian. Neo as a messiah. after learning to bend the rules of the virtual reality. . He has his Judas (Cypher). The second and third movies have apocalyptic. and finally leaves the world as a cross of light. hand-reading. for instance. What narrative explains this story? There are several. But how can you call a movie Christian when it has an oracle. and an underworld goddess called Persephone? The word “messiah” is an example of the ideological network that the matrix presents to us in different aspects.computer programs. while Neo – by contrast – goes on a peace mission to the machine city to bring peace with the machine world. battles betweens the machines coming to destroy Zion and the rebels.” which can be taken as “Son of Man. his girlfriend is called Trinity. and his last name is “Anderson. During the film Neo dies. a spaceship called Icarus. These are fairly obvious Christian symbols. like sub-applications in the immense computer network that is the matrix. This is understandable because that is the most prominent aspect of Neo: Neo arrives as a messiah around whom a small group is gathered. And Neo. develops similar abilities in the real world as well. The messiah is the one that lives in the real. Jewish and Eastern hybrid One of the Israeli critics who wrote about the third Matrix dismissed it as a Christian movie. is resurrected. almost Biblical. Jewish and eastern messianic figures.” using the Greek root andros for man. is not a monolithic figure at all.

where knowing the textual source allows the bending of the rules. Smith. So it is no surprise that the concept of the Messiah in the Matrix borrows quite a lot from Jewish Kabbalah and Jewish theology. The Wachowsky brothers have studied Kabbalah. which he reveals as another matrix. The Book of Splendor -. Neo first sees through the digital Matrix. where the creation of the world is described as a textual event. Sefer Yetzirah tells us that the world is created from a sea of letters. where Neo once found a maze of digits he now finds a blaze of light. he implements later in the real world. now their ideas are being taught in Kabbalah schools in Israel.Neo as a Jew The Matrix is full of Jewish kabalistic and Hasidic ideas.the Zohar -. that self-duplicating agent against whom Neo fights time and again. Literally . Neo perceives the real world as a stream of emanating light that surrounds all things. As in the Matrix. For example. could be Kabbalistically interpreted as the klipot. Interestingly enough. What he learns there.and Lurianic Kabbalah see the whole universe as a creation of light which is immanent in all things. by Moshe Idel). a worldview reminiscent of the Kabalistic emanation theories in Jewish sources. is reminiscent of ancient Kabbalistic books such as the ancient Sefer Yetzirah from the first century. One could even compare Neo and the midrashic character of Abraham as a person who has the power to recreate the world by textual acts (see Golem. Neo’s perception of the world as a textual world.

which is light. peels which hide and prevent us from seeing the real divine light that is present in all things. This is the endless duplication of Smith. or a sacred spy. by infiltrating Smith’s body and filling it with light until it cracks from the inside and burns with the inner light. his faithful came up with a new theological explanation which describes the messiah as a worm inside an apple. the Kabbalah says that the process of the peeling of the klipot is a dynamic process. A person has to peel the klipot his whole life. Furthermore.meaning peels or shells. The messiah goes down inside of the source of impurity (Smith. The reason is that things are covered with the klipot. the way Neo does. Trying to justify his action. you get new dust obscuring your vision. an exteriority that must be peeled away to reveal the true essence. The way Neo gets rid of Smith. klipot is the kabalistic explanation of why we don’t perceive the true existence of the world as a world of light. Every day in which you don’t clean your eyes. which was naturally a blow to many (though not all) of his followers. The klipot represent the raw exteriority of things. the klipot) and fills it with light until it cracks from within. or conversion to Islam. He chose to convert. Shabbtai Zvi was arrested by the Turkish authorities and given a choice: death. calls to mind the radical 17th-century Kabbalah of the false Messiah Shabbtai Zvi and his believers. Neo as an eastern mystic . because the klipot duplicate by nature and put new barriers in men’s search of the truth of reality.

and they are. there are also ideas that are common to all religions such as peace and love. only in a fundamentally different way. Because Neo and Smith are so similar to each other – indeed.” about a blind warrior whose blindness is a background to his spiritual perfection and fighting ability. Neo is not only the Messiah but also “the Enlightened” – the Buddha. This is why. when Smith touches people or other agents. aside from the Hollywood portrayal of these ideas. Smith is actually part of Neo’s self -.” In other words. Neo (One). Smith sees himself everywhere. they have a deeply religious message. and this aims his arrow. Smith tells Neo that the two of them are very similar. Smith is the Ego. In the war of humanity against the machines in The Matrix. in parallel with Neo’s spiritual developments. on the other hand. Neo can control the world because he is devoid of the ego that separates us from the world and can identify with the universe totally. When the blind Neo fights without looking. the traps of Ego (Smith) become more and more dangerous.Smith also gets stronger every time Neo gets stronger. They both identify the self with the world. the greater his temptations. follows the Buddhist ideal of seeing himself as a part of the unity of the universe. the one that sees himself anywhere he looks - egocentricity. Beyond the metaphors from Eastern religion. as in the old Jewish saying “The greater a person. Taoism and Buddhism are also very evident in the Matrix. the erasure of the self and becoming one with the surrounding world lead to total control. and sees his opponents in a mystic way as streams of energies in the world. the underlying narrative is that the machines . the impurity of Buddhism. As in Buddhism. one can’t help being reminded of the Buddhist Kung-fu series “Zatoichi. Through the prism of Eastern religion. they turn into him. The Zen Archer doesn’t aim. It is easy to forget that.

Man that could be the a subject of another whole article).” a collection of 9 animation movies written and produced by the Wachowsky brothers. In the movie “Animatrix. The real enemy of Neo is therefore Smith. Salvation comes from inside the Matrix. In order to lose the klipot and see men and machine as one.” This is the love of acknowledging the oneness of things. the battle between the machines and the humans is actually an outcome following the oppression of the machines by people. when he lies on a bed of little machines. This is the love that can bring the peace that Neo talks about – that peace which actually means the . The difference between humans and machines is an external one that only Neo as the unified- unifier can abolish. This fact becomes clearer as the Matrix series advances. the code of all codes. of withdrawing yourself and making room for the Other: Neo’s ability to leave his city and go to the machine city and face the ultimate Other of the source. the ultimate redemption struggle. takes place within the boundaries of the Matrix. the love Dostoevsky implies when he says “hell is the inability to love. the klipot which separate machines from mankind in our perception and make them enemies.are not in themselves the true enemy of Neo. This is why the destruction of Smith is in the movies the condition for peace. When he totally gives himself over to the machine. It’s worth noting that the very fight with Smith. when we encounter machines that feel (a breaking of the opposition between Machine vs. it is a token of that love. Neo must discover love in its religious sense.

It is the religion without . The world is an equation composed exclusively of unknowns. angels. of course. Ultimately the only religion the Matrix is marketing is the meta- religion which is a radical expansion on the ecumenical idea. for example. she tells him there is no way of knowing. So what religion do the rebels mean when they proclaim time and again that they “believe”? No other word is said so often in the Matrix as “belief. The oracle tells Neo that ghosts. The Matrix accepts almost every spiritual direction that has ever been invented. or not? Neo. time and again the others are demanded to answer regarding their belief in Neo.redemptive resolution of the opposition between man and machine. vampires. no orthodox clergyman would be content with these films. The Meta-Religion and Capitalism Despite the abundance of religiousness in the Matrix. and the question is – do you believe. Take. chooses to believe. and between all oppositions. The Meta- religion is a name for perhaps the most widespread spiritual concept in today’s secular Western society. nor any information which could help him decide whose prophet she is: Satan’s or God’s. or uniqueness. and this total acceptance is a negation of every spiritual system that demands any sort of exclusiveness. UFOs and every unnatural phenomenon he has ever heard about all exist – their explanation is that they are trivial malfunctions in the digital system of the matrix. And when Neo asks the oracle how he can be sure of the sincerity of her words.” Again and again Morpheus announces his belief in Neo. werewolves. Neo’s conversation with the oracle in the second part of the Matrix.

This is a more sophisticated version of New Age.even the sale of Marxist books. the virtual-existence religion which is willing to abolish the form in order to reach the inner essence. let us send a message to that army. symbolized by the letters-digits-symbol matrix (released from the klipot). For many long and seemingly meaningless minutes we watch the minimally dressed rebels dance to the sound of loud rock music and rub against each other sensuously in a sort of pagan fest. Morpheus appears as the prophet of capitalism and calls to the audience: “Tonight.” To explain what he means he adds. Messiah or Buddha. The believers of the Meta-religion don’t limit themselves to any discourse’s rules. The combination of the glistening skin of the young sweaty youth and the rhythmically jumping human waves gives the scene the aesthetics of a . maybe the most baffling in the Matrix series.” The meaning of these words is conveyed in the next scene. symbols and ideologies with which the Matrix is saturated. The Meta-religion sucks in and makes a salad out of terms and ideas from different spiritual fields in order to reach the content it seeks. In the second movie Morpheus prepares his crowd of believers for the final battle against the machines in a Masada-style speech. It therefore makes no difference if we call Neo Savior. The Meta religion is willing to assimilate all symbols without obliging itself to even one of them.commandments or sacraments. “Let us shake this cave! Tonight let us make them remember this is Zion. But whom does the Meta-religion serve? Whom is this Metaphor aimed after? The Matrix of the Meta-religion is first of all the capitalistic Matrix which profits from every commodity that passes through it and takes commission from every sale -. Hence the abundance of gods.

Smith. Anyone who saw the first Matrix must remember the digital- visual presentation and the convincing speech Morpheus makes to Neo . but neither is it Marxist in the classical way. but it also makes clear that resistance is futile. This is the message of the people’s unification scene in Zion: a sex party and sensuality. but on closer inspection the rebels aren’t any different from the salesmen. Perhaps The Matrix is a Marxist-capitalistic movie. Without the stars. does look much like one of the businessmen populating Manhattan. The criticism is also part of Hollywood. the production crew and the Hollywood marketing system. In other words. The commodity Smith would like us to see is of course the symbolic world. the self- duplicating agent. one could see Neo’s fight against the agents as a fight against the salesmen of capitalism. It isn’t that the Matrix really says that capitalism represents redemption. The end of any resistance is to be sucked inside the system. One could interpret Neo as a sort of Marxist fighter against the duplicating sales agents. It does criticize capitalism. as if he’d come to sell you something. and indeed in the third Matrix we see huge skyscrapers full of duplicated Smiths. In his hand he holds a James Bond suitcase. none of this would exist. the digital simulation which he would like to force on everyone. Smith is dressed in a black suit and impenetrable black sunglasses.commercial. the essence of capitalistic redemption. The Matrix is a Hollywood film. The Cinematic Matrix religion of capitalism In a Marxist reading.

one can understand that Morpheus and Neo are in a way also 9-to-5 salesmen. The destructive forces of the titanic battle between the two salesmen move through and get swallowed inside the dark impenetrable skyscraper glass. The matrix in that case is a battleground between two kinds of sales agents. the only symbol of it is a little girl standing and looking at the glistening skyscrapers – this is the redemption of capitalism. the visit to the cinema. when the long awaited redemption finally arrives. The cinema is then the very cell in which . when we are told that the rebels’ main occupation is freeing people. which means convincing people to move to their “real” world. and in capitalism it doesn’t matter what you buy. The battle between Neo and Smith symbolizes. Later. despite the huge shock waves rising from the ground during this titanic battle and moving as fierce storms between the skyscrapers. At the movie’s end. when he explained the history of the matrix and tried to convince him to leave the Matrix and join the rebels. whose results are also capitalistically preordained. why should we immerse ourselves in illusions? After all. This immunity of the capitalistic network of the Matrix could be seen in the scene at the end of the third Matrix. we are the ones living among symbolic but also very real skyscrapers. perhaps improbably. only with a more sexy product: they sell reality.in their first meeting. But ultimately. the house always wins. The interesting detail here is that. those skyscrapers continue to stand and the panes continue to shine. Capitalism watches the great struggle between the symbolic and the real indifferently. where agent Neo and agent Smith fight the final battle between mythic skyscrapers.

Ultimate redemption should result in the world becoming One. What could be more ludicrous than Neo appearing on the screen. Neo and Smith are both agents of the capitalistic Matrix. eliminating any conflicts and dualities. where you sit as an inert puppet and produce energy for the capitalistic matrix. calling us to leave the illusion and selling us the world of the “real”? Neo’s voice comes from the inner depths of the simulation. There is a big religious problem here. the ending of the Matrix is a kind of combination between religious theory and pure commercial interests.the Matrix imprisons us. a redemption which brings things back to their functioning state at the past. Religiously one could understand that from the existence of distinguishable entities and the occurrence of redemption within the boundaries of skyscrapers and the existing world. According to this esoteric theory the world exists in 7 cycles of . The Architect doubts the future of the peace that has been achieved. Who would dare to rise up from his seat and go outside to “reality” after paying good money to get inside the matrix of cinema? The commandment of the sequel In a very striking way. Is this the peace we have been waiting for? Or merely a ceasefire? One possible answer can be found in the kabalistic theory of shmitot. The prominent feature of the redemption at the end of the Matrix series is that ultimate redemption has still not come. but does not bring any new and radical message. This is a restorative redemption. designed to keep us docile in our seat. The problem is made clearer in the conversation between the Oracle and the Architect. the Matrix’s demiurge.

The 7th cycle is like the Jewish Shabbat (the seventh day of the week). Or maybe this is a thought about redemption as a utopian concept which never does fulfill itself as a permanent state but only as a process. At the end of each cycle there is a renewed creation. a combination that characterizes the Matrix as a movie which is a meeting point of so many ideologies which coexist on an ideological net – the Matrix. yet always absent. a seventh redemption battle that would be the Matrix’s Sabbath. A Hebrew version of this article was published in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque magazine. Dec. Either way there is a striking combination of deep religious thought with pure commercial interests. . 2003. Ido Hartogsohn writes about Judaism and contemporary culture.000 years. The use of this number and the undetermined ending of the matrix make us think that the Wachowsky brothers plan another resurrection of Neo. the ultimate cycle. The Architect tells Neo that he is the sixth in a series of messiahs. similar to the Jewish paradox of an always imminent. redemption.7. at the end of which comes the fiftieth-year jubilee of total redemption.