Matrix Unloaded

What if you were told your whole life was an illusion, and in fact you are being used as a human battery, a source of chemical energy plugged into a computer, like some sort of Energizer Bunny? Scary though it is to imagine, this is the state of the people in the world of the Matrix, exploited for their electrical potential, while dreaming that they are going about their normal lives as husbands and wives, office workers and good citizens. The Matrix of computers they are plugged into provide them with a virtual-reality experience from which they never wake. What everyone remembers about the Matrix films is the stunning visual imagery, with ultra-rapid fight scenes and death-defying leaps and jumps over buildings. However this is not their main quality. The subject of the films is the subject of Western philosophy from Decartes to Kant: how can we know our world is real if all we know is our own minds? The Matrix movies deal with this puzzle and decide: our present reality is mental, not physical. The main characters are Morpheus, Neo, Trinity, Oracle and Cypher. Morpheus, and the name suggests a dream-maker or shamanistic shape-shifter, is awakened and aware of the diabolical situation humans are in, and can awaken others from their computer-programmed illusion. Such a person is known in India as Boddisatva, one who turns back from enlightenment to enlighten others. In Christian terms, he is like John the Baptist, who announces the Messiah, and wakens others to the truth. He has himself been awoken from his dream or trance of illusion by the Oracle, who we discover later in the story is herself a glitch in the Matrix program. Morpheus awakens Neo, who he believes is ‘The One’ prophesized, born and destined to be the savior of the enslaved human race. If this all sounds vaguely Biblical, you are not mistaken. The Matrix trilogy of films are science-fiction with a mythic ring. There is a whole level of the Matrix movies that is based on a Christian narrative structure of redemption, Messianic return and salvation. The haven of the fight against the Matrix is called Zion and the main female character is called Trinity. In Catholic theology this is the threefold nature of the godhead: essence, incarnation and creative energy in movement. She is ironically named for representing the essential but elided female aspect of the creation, known to all good Catholics as the Mother of God. She is Neo’s lover and is his reason for rejecting the opportunity to destroy the Matrix. Instead he chooses love over victory to save her from death.

This sort of framing of the characters is well designed for the Western audience, who will be quite familiar with the underlying mythic structures from stories like The Parable of the Cave, Orpheus in the Underworld and the role of prophesy in the Bible. The bros. Wachowski seem to have given up on the idea of sacrifice though , as both Neo and Trinity get saved at the last moment when they are about to die ‘for the cause’. Morpheus in Christian terms is John the Baptist, who announces the Messiah, and wakens others to the truth. He has himself been awoken from his dream or trance of illusion by the Oracle, whom we discover later in the story is just a glitch in the Matrix program. In fact, there are a number of glitches in the program, which make it possible for those once awakened to fight back against it. For a start, they are able to hack into the Matrix code, and the illusion the system provides is not always perfect. There is even reference to another version of the matrix that failed, as it was too perfect…the illusion it provided was too satisfying to the humans entrapped within it, which says something the machines misunderstood about human nature; that it thrives on conflict and problem-solving. Apart from this structure of slavery and redemption, there are other elements in the Matrix , such as the whole aspect of illusion, delusion and enlightenment that the writers, the Wachowski Brothers, borrow from a different tradition. If we look at the Parable of the Cave as told by Plato, we see a basic source of the concept that we are living in illusion, that what we take for reality is but a shadow of the Real. Plato took the ‘real’ to be the world of ideas and mathematical concepts that are independent of our sensory experience, and that idea is modified in the Christian tradition by Saint John and Saint Augustine, who say that “now we see but through a glass, darkly, but then we will see face to face”. In simple terms, they say the spiritual world of Heaven and Hell is real, while our physical experience is not. Morpheus, in contrast, awakens people from the illusion of a mental construct to confront a harsh but actual physical reality. What Morpheus teaches Neo is that he can have mental control over his reality. This is a higher consciousness that Neo develops gradually, until he can stop bullets by willpower, heal the dying and fly like Superman. This may seem ludicrous, but it comes from his own mental capacity and greater concentration which can overcome the virtual-reality projected by the Matrix computers. Morpheus’ message here is that reality, our everyday experience of the world, is a mental event, and we can learn to control it. The character Cypher is the Judas of the story, betraying his friends as he opts for the comfort of the Matrix-illusion rather than face the everyday reality of synthetic food and constant peril. He enjoys his gourmet restaurant food even though he knows it is not real. He is an ammoral hedonist, but we have to ask ourselves, is his choice so illogical? What does he lose if what he enjoys is a mere representation, when the same can be said of all experience? The fact is that we know only what we perceive in

our brains, the input of our senses, so what’s the difference? The answer is suggested by another character in the film, the Oracle. Neo is prophesized to be the One, though he doesn’t believe it himself. He discovers his mental powers gradually, through instruction and practice. The Oracle also predicts that Trinity will die, but when he has the choice, Neo exercises his freedom to save her rather than destroy the Matrix. So, the prophesy can be subverted by the exercise of free will. The same goes for Cypher. What he loses is the difficult but rewarding exercise of response to actuality, rather than the passive acceptance of an illusion. Posted by Medway at 6:50 AM