from MindMined Website
The story of The Matrix (1999) - probably the most elaborately plotted action movie ever made - is authentically Gnostic. It is in fact, and way beyond “The X-Files,” “Gnosticism reborn.” (1)
Wherever exactly Andy and Larry Wachowski hatched their demonically inspired and wickedly effective pop parable about the enslavement of modern man to the machine, they have come up with a genuine original. It’s an amazingly coherent blend of Philip K. Dick, H. P. Lovecraft, Jean Baudrillard, messianic prophecy, apocalyptic lore, martial arts mysticism, and technological paranoia.
The Matrix may well be the outstanding American movie of the ’90s.
But it is both less and more than your average great movie. On the one hand, it is slick and vaguely soulless, with all the pumping adrenaline-charged violence that characterize the MTV movies of recent years (it is produced by Joel Silver, after all). On the other hand, it may just be the first fully-realized Surrealist work in mainstream cinema to date.
The Matrix is a shamanic journey in dramatized form, fit to stand up alongside Alice in Wonderland and destined, perhaps, to someday overthrow The Wizard of Oz as the ultimate cult-psychedelic movie.
The Matrix is all this and a fair bit more, but it’s also undoubtedly not for everyone. Unless you are prepared to accept its premise - that reality is a dream, controlled by secret forces to enslave us with, and that only through conscious dreaming can we escape our bondage and reclaim our divine nature (a truly Gnostic premise, as I say) - then the movie will be so much hokum and mayhem and no more.
Doubtless, millions saw it and enjoyed
it as such. But The Matrix is considerably more than just a piece of
first-class entertainment: it’s a runaway artistic experiment, an
experience that bends our concepts of what is real and what is not,
and leaves us in a very tight spot indeed.
The directors don’t have the time to take us through their maze step by step, they simply hurl us into it headfirst, and leave us to put things together as we go through. The movie starts off at full tilt, and gives us no time to get orientated; it is already exploding our sense of “what is real” before we have even established the vaguest idea of such, to the point that, for the first half hour or more, we can’t be sure if we are watching dream or reality, or something else altogether.
This is a perfectly effective disorientation device, since it is the way that Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) himself feels, as his existence suddenly goes beyond the bizarre - into the appalling. But at the same time, this is perhaps the movie’s biggest weakness. The fact that we are never given time to settle into Thomas’s false reality before we get to see it torn apart, and exposed as the computer simulation fantasy that it is, denies us the full brunt (both the horror and the pleasure) of his initiation.
The Matrix might have been more than just a great sci-fi movie, it might have been an authentic masterpiece, if it had eased off a little on the action and given us an extra twenty minutes (at least) to establish the character, his dream world, and the slow, steady encroachment into the dream of a hidden, higher reality, one that will eventually break through and drag him literally screaming back to the Other Side.
Despite the intricacy and ingenuity of the plot, the film lacks subtlety, it lacks characters, and as a result it lacks any real psychological depth.
Its depths - which are truly giddying - are all subtextual, they aren’t textual depths, because there are no shades or nuances to the characters or to their actions, all of which are inevitably overwhelmed by the sheer scope and breadth of the story.
As a result, despite being head and shoulders above every other movie of its kind, The Matrix suffers from the same deficiencies: the vacuity and banal surfaces that characterize the ’90s blockbuster. Since this may well have been necessary to ensure the movie was a success, however - and The Matrix simply had to be a success or it wouldn’t have been made at all - this may not really be a valid criticism so much as a major regret.
The miracle is that the movie was made
at all; but still, I can’t help but imagine a Matrix three hours
long, with a muted, toned ’70s feel to it and a real actor at its
center, the measured pace and attention to scientific detail of
Alien, the human depths of Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
and perhaps a little more of the anarchic spirit of Brazil. It might
have been a Godfather for the ’90s: a sci-fi classic for people who
don’t like sci-fi movies. As it is, it’s strictly for cyberpunks and
What he is involved in we can only guess at, since the film hasn’t the time to tell us.
Somehow, along the way, he has been brought into contact with a man named Morpheus, a notorious “terrorist” whom he has never actually met but has been seeking for some time. Thomas (the doubter)  is given hints and clues first of all by the mysterious Trinity, who sends him messages on his computer that predict coming events. Shortly thereafter, Thomas is hurled bodily into “the game,” and there left to run, hide, make the leap or plummet to his death.
His engagement in this game begins when he is at work and receives a call from Morpheus, warning him that “they” are after him. Sure enough, the sinister men in black (government agents) are at that precise moment being directed to his desk. Following intricate instructions from Morpheus (who appears to be able to see the entire layout of Thomas’s world like he is looking at a map, or like a god from on high), Thomas sneaks past the agents into an empty office. There he is told to make an improbable leap to safety.
He fails to make the leap, does not even try in fact, and allows himself to be captured by the government agents instead.
He is taken into custody and there offered a deal: cooperate in the tracking of Morpheus, in return for a clean slate. When he refuses the deal, his world without warning warps into a Surrealist nightmare, as the agent whose name is Smith literally wipes Thomas’s mouth off, leaving him speechless and writhing in horror. The other agents hold him down as a metallic but definitely living parasite-like cyber-organism is inserted into his body, through the naval.
At this point, Thomas wakes up, as
though from a dream. Little respite is allowed him, however, as he
is promptly picked up by Morpheus’s team (also dressed in black),
held down in the back of the limo, and subjected to another bizarre
procedure, as the parasite implant is removed. Thomas yells out in
horror: “That thing is real?!” He may well ask. By now we have no
more clue than he does. As it turns out, it isn’t real, but then
nothing else in his life is, either.
First of all, following his opening speech, he offers Thomas a choice: blue pill or red pill. Take the former, he will wake up again and all this will be just a dream. Take the red, however, and he goes through the looking glass and finds out “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Of course, he takes the red. His decision is already built into Morpheus’s offer, because, if it’s only a dream, why not take the red; and if it’s not, then why take the blue?! But what Thomas undergoes as a result of the red pill is like every psychedelic seeker’s worst trip.
As the betrayer Cypher puts it: why-oh-why did I take that damn pill??!!
Thomas is torn from not-so-blissful oblivion, and there given the hideous,, literally mind-shattering Truth: that he is a slave to an order of inorganic beings that until this moment, he did not even know existed. Morpheus explains that the year is not really 1999, that it is in fact closer to one century later, and that civilization has in the meantime already been destroyed. That, as a result of the discovery of Artificial Intelligence (AI), somewhere around the start of the twenty-first century, there was a stand-off between man and machine - between the creation and the creator (exactly as in The Terminator) - and the machine won.
AI discovered a means not merely to destroy civilization and inherit the Earth (a limited prospect at best), but to develop for itself cybernetic, semi-organic bodies, using human beings as its primary energy source. (The machines were solar-powered, but the human-engineered holocaust blocked out the sun.)
To this end, human beings were enslaved en masse.
They were put into a deep sleep, and a collective dream was engendered to keep them tractable and docile, like babies in their cribs, while their vital life force was sucked from them. Humans are bred and raised directly into these incubators, and fed intravenously with the liquefied remains of the dead. This is pure occultism, and goes way beyond even the best sci-fi cinema, into the murky realms and veiled nightmares of Lovecraft, Heinlein, Kenneth Grant, Carlos Castaneda, et al, with their accounts of “the labyrinth of the penumbra,” the inorganic entities that have enslaved humanity and turned it into a food source.
Of course modern UFO lore of “the grays” adapts and develops the same atavistic beliefs, complete with technological additions such as “implants” and clones, etc.
which puts The Matrix at the very front-line of modern myth-making;
or is that psycho-history?
They are the “awakened” ones - Illuminati, if you will - who have made it out of the computer-simulated fantasy grid and liberated their bodies from the energy farms in “the real world” (it’s hard to taken even this world as real, since we have spent far more time in the other worlds, and since it also happens to be the most bizarre and surreal world of them all).
As a result of liberating their bodies, these Illuminati able to enter the Matrix - the dream world - at will, and function therein with superhuman potential. For example, any knowledge, information or training required can simply be downloaded, on the spot, directly into their consciousness by computer. On top of this, they have a contact line to their associates up in the real world, like gods or guardian angels, who can monitor and direct the agents’ operations within the Matrix, providing them with a god-like omniscience.
Despite such apparently superhuman capacities to navigate the Matrix, however, the “resistance” (3) fighters are at a profound disadvantage when it comes to facing off the sinister men in black, who are “in fact” (!) concentrated AI projections - energy fields, if you will - sent by the Matrix into the Matrix to maintain a hold over its reality-program.
To this end, these agents hunt down and
eradicate all potential “dissidents,” those Illuminati
counter-agents hell-bent on disrupting the Matrix’s spell, and on
breaking down reality as we know it.
Hence Morpheus's training of Thomas - now Neo, the One, or Eon - is centered around “freeing his mind,” on making him realize that he is not in fact restricted by the laws of the body at all, but only by his belief in such.
As a rather hokey but touching child-buddha cum Geller-esque spoon-bender explains to Neo:
This is pure Zen, and goes beyond
Yoda and his Force, into
So these agents must move subtly, within restraints, and at least appear to be human.
Although the Matrix can change anything it wants within the game, it still has to deal with the living, individual consciousnesses that it has enslaved there. Hence it is limited by its own devices: if it wants to maintain its hold it cannot perform too many overly impossible stunts, because this will only serve in the long run to empower the rebel fighters, by freeing their minds from the “tyranny of continuity” (Time), upon which the whole program depends.
None of this is explained in the movie,
but it seems fair to deduce that the Matrix is limited, despite
being the creator of reality; and also that there is presumably some
reason for this limitation. The above is the only one that seems to
Once Neo reaches a certain realization he is able to simply stop the bullets with his mind - since they don’t exist in the first place - and to project himself into the (holographic) body of the Enemy (so fulfilling its own secret will to become real), and explode it from within. Inside the Hollywood action fantasy, there is a far stranger bird, just waiting to break out.
It doesn’t quite make it with this movie, but the potential is there for the sequels, should they come, and should they prove half worthy of this early promise (a possibility I am forced to doubt, obviously). But in this and other moments, The Matrix achieves perfect symmetry, and offers something akin to shamanic ecstasy.
It’s not just a movie; it’s an
Keanu Reeves, as Thomas/Neo, is an attractive enough personality, but he’s also a disappointingly bland center for such an intense drama to revolve around.
He plays the archetypal reluctant hero, yesterday’s man, a burnt out shell with barely the energy to smile. As such, he makes the ideal candidate for world savior - mythologically speaking - because there is nothing remotely heroic about him.
The film is about his own spiritual
rebirth - his coming to consciousness - and this is its main
strength, what gives it its resonance, beyond all the tricks and
twists and the karate kicks. It is also its failing, however,
because Neo, as played by Reeves, is never really real to us, either
as a zombie or as a superman.
The film makes dramatic use of an actual, physical leap - Neo tries to jump from one building to the next - to represent the proverbial leap of faith. This is Blake’s liberation of perception into the Imagination, and it is perfectly a propos here.
Like the Force of Star Wars it comes straight out of the works of Carlos Castaneda, and is tailor-made for fantasy.
Of course, Neo fails to make the leap; his “faith” deserts him (like Peter walking water) and he plummets, just as (we are told) everyone does the first time. It is inconceivable for Neo not to be confronted with mortal doubts and paralyzing fears at the mere idea of being the man who is going to save the world. When he visits the Oracle (Gloria Foster), in probably the film’s best single scene (a little Surrealist gem unto itself), she starts off, like a good seer, by playing with his mind and confounding all his expectations.
She tells him categorically that he is not the One, adding (at Neo’s own insistence) that Morpheus will never accept this, however, and will probably die defending his belief in Neo. Hence, the reluctant hero is presented with his challenge.
He is given the imaginary option of backing out of an untenable situation, but presented with such circumstances that he cannot possibly, in all conscience, do so; he simply has to fight for Morpheus and for what he believes in, even though he now believes it to be false himself.
This recalls Don Juan Matus’s tricking of Castaneda, in the first of the books, to ensure
that he keep up the apprenticeship.
Hence he is liberated of self-doubt and is set free to act, in full consciousness of his inadequacy, with abandon. Neo is effectively “set up” in the same fashion by the Oracle. Since she appears to see time laid out before her like a map, however, she presumably knows that Morpheus won’t die, and that Neo is the one, but that both facts - both possibilities - depend upon Neo’s believing the opposite (just as his breaking the vase depended on her telling him not to worry about it).
In order to become “the One” - to be worthy of his calling - he must first be freed of the intolerable burden that this calling entails, making it worse than useless to him, until he himself knows it to be true. Hence he has to prove it, not to anyone else but to himself.
As Don Juan teaches Castaneda, at the very start of their association:
This is the most rousing, existential fodder imaginable for an
action melodrama, and it gives The Matrix the kind of emotional
power that one generally only gets from works of art. In which case,
that’s what it is; as such, it may well be the cheekiest, most
audacious, and most exhilarating work of art since Citizen Kane.
For a moment he seems to forget the lie that he is in a body, that all this is real, and he shrugs off the bullet. But the onslaught continues and he is overwhelmed, succumbs to doubt, and dies. Meanwhile, in the real world, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) comes to the rescue.
Firmly persuaded at last (that he is the One) by her own feelings for him (the Oracle told her that she would fall in love some day and that it would be with the One), she whispers in his ear,
The truth, represented here in perhaps the most simple and stirring poetic image there is - the lovers’ kiss - resurrects Neo to his new life. It sets him free.
He is raised up, reborn. The agents (them thar pesky demons) resume their attack, but Neo simply shrugs and shakes his head, with perhaps the faintest of smiles. His gesture speaks volumes: preterhuman confidence, the confidence of a hologram inside the holographic universe, one who is everything - the spoon, the bullets, the universe - because he is nothing at all.
Hence his death is not symbolic, or
figurative, it is literal. Shamanically, he crosses the rainbow
bridge to the upperworld and there his body is replaced by the
spirits; he returns, with a perfect image in place of the flesh.
Like Jesus and his twin.
He has arrived at the totality of himself, he is whole (holographic); the fact that his moment of death-rebirth also entails union with his soul mate or anima (Trinity, no less) makes perfect alchemical sense. The divine androgyny emerges. To this extent at least, Keanu Reeves is well-cast, having a naturally androgynous quality, such as also presumably what got him the part of Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.
Following his resurrection Neo stops the
bullets and dives inside the demon (Smith) and so explodes it from
within. This is the moment in which he is fully recognized as the
One (i.e., the One-ness of male and female, mind and body, simulated
and actual, left- and right-brain, reason and imagination), and the
pop-culture realization of the opus magnus, par excellence. It is
every bit the soaring climax that the film has promised us from the
The way in which it transcends this potentially crippling limitation, however, is integral to the appeal of the movie as a whole. Since the characters are interacting largely in a computer-simulated reality, the violence can be impossible without stretching our patience or belief; the circumstances require it to be off-the-wall (the only time it really oversteps its bounds is when Neo shoots up a room of agents in which Morpheus is also captive, without getting a scratch on Mopheus in the process).
The absurdity of the violence here moves freely into the surreal, where it belongs.
And since the surrealness of it is leading inevitably on to its own obsolescence - where true power is, force is no longer necessary - there is, for perhaps the first time ever, a purpose, a point, an object, to all the excess. The Matrix is a reality map for potential artists and dreamers and would-be shamans to mull over for hours.
The possibility that everything in it is
exactly and precisely true - if metaphorically stated - and
that the film itself is a breakthrough work in the
propaganda-illumination program of the hidden rebel forces of “the
future” (i.e., the real world), is a possibility that should not be
left as a throwaway line at the end of a movie book about violence.
It is a possibility that invites our most serious consideration, if
only for the sheer hell of it.
Science and technology has certainly established this, if they have not actually proved it to us, as yet. Perhaps we are holding back, out of a lurking fear that, should we realize what is possible, we may also realize that it is equally inevitable - that it has in fact already happened. We will perceive the matrix of our mind as the death trap it has become.
At which point we will have but one of
two options: the blue pill, or the red one.
The most remarkable thing of all about The Matrix is that it creates almost impossible expectations and then does not disappoint.
It is everything it sets out to be; it has no real pretensions, being an action-effects extravaganza, yet is has heroic aspirations, and it lives up to them almost effortlessly. It presents the end of the world, the final battle between light and darkness, as the ultimate video game in which the stakes are real, and only the means artificial.
Of course, the fact that in The Matrix the apocalypse - technologically not psychologically speaking - has already happened (though no one has noticed it!) adds an extra twist to the proceedings.
Above all it allows the movie to avoid getting bogged down in the tired and tiring mechanics of victory-defeat, good vs. evil, etc, that characterize the action movie, and also guarantee that it is invariably a let-down in the end. It is understood intuitively here that what is at stake, in this arena, and despite all the hardware inside the software, is not the world (it’s already been lost), but the soul of the world.
And as in The Terminator, though more explicitly here, the machine-intelligence that oppresses and opposes the individual spirit can be seen in actual fact to be serving it, to be allowing it to evolve and to come into its full potential, using the obstacles and challenges which the machine provides for it.
The Matrix - which is Latin for “womb” - is actually (to the Illuminati at least) less of a prison and more of a training ground, a school, in which they are able to discover their true nature in the process of survival. It’s natural selection at a soul level. It is within this “black iron prison” of mind that the soul is allowed to incubate and come to fruition, with the option - but by no means the guarantee - of gathering its power in time t break out of the chrysalis, and emerge fully formed into reality, more or less exactly as the butterfly spreads its wings to fly, in the very same moment it destroys its previous - and temporary - abode.
What was once built for its protection has now become merely its bondage. The agent Smith’s desire to somehow become real and to make it to the last surviving human occupation, Zion), is ample indication of the secret will or agenda of the machine. It wants to be born, it wants to experience the flesh, not just simulate it.
The closest it gets, however - so far at
least - is when Neo enters inside the AI energy field and so causes
it to disrupt, to explode, presumably (I’m guessing again) from an
overload of input, of information, or perhaps even of emotion.
At the same time, as a result of this lack, none of the realities seem quite real to us, because we are never given the time to get accustomed to them, to inhabit them. The film never sets its scenes, it simply hurls headfirst into them.
This weakness is most especially regrettable with the real world sequences, which never take the time to give us an idea of this post-apocalyptic world and what it looks like (beyond the images of the endless “fields” in which the inorganic entities are leeching the humans, the single most chilling and inspired image in the movie).
We are left with little more than the inside of Morpheus’s hovercraft, the Nebuchadnezzar, in which the rebels operate, with no sense of its movements (in relation to Zion for example, which is located near the center of the Earth) or of just why this rebel force is so limited in number, whether there are other groups working to the same end, etc etc. Since they are merely human vehicles for the themes and the plot of the movie none of the characters is allowed to develop.
The rather shabby acting throughout
hardly compensates for this weakness, either (the major exceptions
are Fishburne, Foster as the Oracle, and Hugo Weaving as the
demon-agent Smith). This is the level at which the film is weakest,
and ironically enough it’s the human level.
And the same goes for the rest of the characters: they are about as full-bodied as the holograms they may or may not be (we don’t tend to distinguish much between the three different “modalities” or realities which the film gives us, either).
This is obviously no minor criticism when it comes to a supposed work of art, yet at the same time the film never really suffers much from its weakness. It has so much character itself that it gets by on this and this alone. And The Matrix must be the only film of its kind to get by without a standard villain, as well.
Although Weaving’s Smith serves this basic function, since he is ostensibly but a single “government” pawn, he lacks the grandiosity of your standard mastermind, nor is he especially loathsome ( though Weaving plays him with marvelous flair and menace, giving us the best performance in the movie). In The Matrix, the enemy is everywhere and nowhere.
Since AI is itself a creation of mankind, obviously the enemy is ourselves. Yet at the same time, the inorganic machine entities have evolved into a species unto themselves, hence they can be seen as living embodiments of this “evil,” albeit our own. Certainly, they live up admirably to such a definition (they leave the Daleks in the dust), and the scenes of the hellish, sulfur-reeking wasteland of Earth, circa 2099, are by far the most disturbing in the film. Within the “human” realm - within the Matrix - the enemy is diffused, decentralized, elusive, and effectively extends to humanity itself.
Those who are not ready to be awakened,
these mass-produced automatons have become one with the machine. As
Morpheus puts it, “If you’re not one of us you’re one of them.”
Coming as it did on the very eve of the
Aeon (it was released on the last Easter weekend of the millennium),
it effectively sums up a whole body of fears, beliefs, fantasies,
hopes, and paranoias that is gaining an ever firmer hold upon the
collective imagination (at least that of the Western world). It ties
together a vast array of millennial strands into a slick,
phenomenally entertaining package, and seems designed to spark off
its own cult following, somewhere along the lines of a Star Wars for
Since the most essential factor here is ignorance, by the same token, the first and most difficult, most crucial, step is simply becoming aware of the true nature of our predicament. Considering all this, The Matrix is serving the oldest and most respectable, most revered, cause of art: that of enlightening the populace, by means both profound and ridiculous, to the Truth.
Perhaps one in a thousand of those who see the movie will recognize or even notice its Gnostic tenets; but regardless of this, everyone who sees the film has effectively been exposed to them. Of course by the logic of the kids in The Faculty, it might equally be argued that The Matrix is serving the precise opposite function, that by rendering the truth as sci-fi it is stripping it of its credibility.
This argument only holds up however if
the work in question is actually ridiculous, in itself. In the case
of The Matrix, the work is simply too inspired and effective (and
affecting) to be anything but a work of revelation.
The Matrix has an internal drive and logic beyond the mechanics of its paranoia-based plot, and its mythical base compares to (and finally outdoes) the very best of science fiction cinema, from Metropolis to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Alien and The Terminator, all movies that have sprung - with varying degrees of integrity and poetry - from the collective unconscious of humanity.
Since sci-fi by definition involves our future as much as our present, since it attempts to project the collective imagination forward, and so perceive better what is happening now (by seeing where it is leading), great sci-fi is intrinsically more revealing - more progressive - than the other genres. (Possible exceptions are horror and fantasy, which are equally obliged to plunder the unconscious.)
The Matrix is the most fully realized and impassioned projection of our collective fears and aspirations in a sci-fi movie since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; and since it has been timed, with alarming precision, to come at the very end of the present millennium, it has not merely earned but actively seized its place in cinema history.
It’s a veritable bookend for an age.
At the start of The Matrix, Neo is one of the living dead, a sleepwalker lost in the maze of his own mundane daze; yet he has stirrings, feelings, yearnings, that tell him two things above all: that he is somehow special, different from everyone else; and that something is somehow not quite right about the world he is living in.
Hence when he is contacted by Morpheus through the computer-telephone channels of the Matrix (representing the unconscious mind), and is told to follow the signs, he cannot help but respond. This is (shamanically speaking) the “descent of the Spirit” (Morpheus’s dream dust), heralded in the movie by a knocking, traditionally enough in sorcery circles.
He is told, like Alice, to follow the white rabbit; the rabbit signifying fear, among other things. At this stage, driven above all by curiosity, the primary nature of the experience that awaits our neophyte (once he has taken the first active step on the shamanic path, and so entered the maze which the Spirit has assembled for him) - will be fear.
Sure enough, Thomas’s next meeting is
with Trinity, the Holy Spirit woman who whispers in his ear (the
tempting words of Eve) that she knows what he has been yearning for
- knowledge, equating at least partially (biblically) with sex. So
of course he is hooked, and allows himself to be drawn - steps
willingly - into the snare of Morpheus, lord of dreams: the shaman.
Since he is living beyond the apocalypse, Morpheus is beyond cool, also.
He is so sedate he is like stone, like a Pyramid, emanating power, exactly as the shaman should. He sways Thomas by the sheer force of his personality and presence. He doesn’t mince about with his potential apprentice, but gives it to him straight. He lets him feel that he is choosing, but he makes sure there is only one choice that he can make.
Since he knows that Thomas is the One, he knows that his spirit is the strongest thing about him. Hence he only has to arouse it, and the rest will follow. And he forces Thomas to confront his fear from the very first moment, when he leads him to the precipice in the office building. Morpheus doubtless knows that he will not be able to make the jump, so he is apparently simply presenting it to him as the task that awaits him. The first enemy of the man of knowledge, according to Don Juan, is fear.
But Morpheus (like Don Juan) ensures that his apprentice not be overwhelmed by this fear, but actually uses it to spur him on. Since Thomas’s curiosity is so formidable, he is compelled to confront his fear, in order to find its source; and this he does, directly. Since Thomas has already seen too much strangeness to ever take anything for granted again, he simply has to find out what is going on.
And so he takes the red pill, and is
hurled without ado into the Zone, the astral dimension, the
netherworld, the unconscious, call it what you will. He comes to
bodily consciousness after a lifetime of stupor, and finds himself
in Hell. He is quickly rescued by his shaman-guide, however (the
inorganics taking him for dead), and there, in his newly heightened
state of awareness, he is told the score.
He has been fed, in turn, with nothing but lies for his whole life, to the point where the truth no longer exists for him. This is not academic, much less metaphorical. It is the literal, hideous truth, and Morpheus can prove it to him. He shows him another reality still, one that is wholly under Morpheus’s conscious control, his very own dream world, in which he is God.
Hence Thomas - now Neo, at least in spirit - despite the almost intolerable strain upon his reason and his courage, is forced to accept the truth and, by doing so, to confront and to change it. He is shown the unfathomable unknown - of his own Id - and he is told that only by going there, and doing battle with the monsters therein, can he ever hope to survive it.
There is no longer anywhere for him to back off to: he has already swallowed the pill; he has chosen life. (Another character in the film - a poorly drawn but key player, Cypher - actually does attempt such an escape, to return to his death-slumber and forget he ever left it; he is the movie’s Judas, and he very nearly destroys the whole Neo-movement in the process.)
Once he commits to his shaman-guide, the
initiate is hurled into the kind of existence that only a warrior
can survive, hence he is trained in martial arts, learning by
osmosis, as it were, the shaman passing his knowledge directly and
bodily on to the apprentice, and only then showing him how to claim
his knowledge as power. Neo is of course a prize student - he is
after all “the One” - and pretty soon he is giving Morpheus a run
for his money.
His task is to change this, but he can only begin to do so by first being perfectly detached from it - by learning how to “unbelieve,” to realize that the world is a dream, subject to his own conscious will. It is at this point that the second enemy of the man of knowledge - clarity - arises. Neo is so convinced of his point of view, his interpretation of reality, that it enslaves him (which is exactly what the Matrix is designed for, obviously). To overcome this he must free his mind, defeat his reason, or clarity, and simultaneously free his “body” as well, by realizing that he is simply a mode of perception, a feeling.
Hence he is liberated to become pure
power: a shaman, “or skywalker.” (6)
She confounds his expectations and lets him off the hook before the big whammy comes. She gets him in the appropriate mood for his full initiation as warrior-shaman: he is abandoned (he is not the One, so it doesn’t matter what he does anymore), but controlled (he can’t stand by and see Mopheus die); and by saving Morpheus (and Trinity into the bargain), Neo claims his power, and the apprentice becomes the master.
Neo is now ready for the real thing.
Everything that happens to him is part of his initiation, the means for him to “free his mind.” Hence, for the first time ever, all the chaos has a meaning: it is literally apocalyptic.
And that’s the beauty of The Matrix, because it really does practice what it preaches. It is not only about a shamanic journey, veiled in dramatic form and done up in best Hollywood fashion, but, at the same time, it is this journey itself, in miniature. It’s like a plastic maze, into which the viewer’s perception may wander and lurk and crawl and soar, at will, to its own despair or delight, as it may.
It is a means to confront the unconscious, in fun; and if taken (or done, for The Matrix is the first true work of participitative cinema, of “virtual reality”) in the right spirit, it is a potential balm for the weary and sickening soul of the cinemagoer. Maybe even it is a blessing. It brings the sort of exhilaration, anticipation, and joy (to this viewer at least) that may be more associated with childhood than anything. Or dreams.
To see The Matrix and believe can make you feel like every day is Christmas.
Watching it frees the mind.
Where the Wachowskis could go from here is the most intriguing question of them all.
They have stated that two more Matrix movies are on the way, but whether they will be prequels or sequels, or both, remains to be seen (the ideal thing would be one of each, since The Matrix shows us neither the ending nor the beginning of the story). There is potential here that verily boggles the mind. After all, as a holographic demi-god - just one in a growing number, or coming race - there is literally no limit to what Neo is capable of, in time.
The objective would seem to be not simply ending the tyranny of the old program, but also the insertion of a new program into the old, to thereby make the transition possible; otherwise most humans (as the film points out) are simply not strong enough to make the leap, from blissful oblivion to hellish reality, without losing their minds in the process (the line between “freeing” and “losing” here is a fine one indeed).
Since Neo and his fellow Illuminates are destined not merely to navigate and overthrow the Matrix, but actually to reshape it - to reassemble its components into something more viable, something more open, something that leads to freedom - their work is no longer simply that of terrorism.
It is something infinitely more
demanding, and whether the Wachowskis - inspired as they are - are
capable of envisioning such a process of world initiation, only time
will tell. It seems doubtful, unless they can successfully ignore
the pressure, from the studios and the audience, and simply follow
their own inspiration all the way, take as many risks next time
around as they did this time, thereby coming up with something every
bit as unexpected.
Because the tyranny of the program relates directly to this - not that it is unreal (by the film’s own definitions there is ample room for ambiguity about that), but that it is used up, that there is no longer anywhere for it to go.
Hence the need for a new program, since within the old one there is no longer the possibility of growth, of change. All novelty has been exhausted, leaving only endless repetition, rearrangement of the same elements over and over into tired and familiar patterns.
This “end of novelty” has been posited, in relation to the information explosion of the present century, by the shaman-writer Terence McKenna, who imagines a point in time at which all (rational) knowledge will have been amassed, gathered, assimilated, and the program as it were completed.
This he refers to
as “the eschaton,” or otherwise (to you and me): the end of the
world (or word).(7)
Since the Matrix reality is being continuously downloaded into the collective consciousness of humanity as it slumbers - and since Neo and his crew are able to operate both inside and outside this reality (to act through it but also upon it) - it is not hard to envision them developing the capacity to freeze the information flow temporarily (just as Morpheus does in one of his simulated enactments), at will, and even perhaps to reverse it or to move it forward, more or less as one pauses or fast-forwards on a video recorder.
This would give them the truly godlike power to alter and rearrange things within the collective human consciousness, within the Matrix, and so redirect it steadily and creatively towards a desired outcome.
Since this outcome is not merely the
overthrowing of the tyranny of the AI but also the awakening of
mankind, it would require not so much the ruthlessness of the
terrorist, but the subtlety of the artist, the magik of the
sorcerer, the power of
Morpheus teaches Neo how to function - with superhuman potential - within a simulated training ground, so that he may then move into the Matrix proper with the knowledge he has gained, and function therein; this even though he cannot help but continue to perceive it as true reality.
So if the end and final object of all this is to free his mind and so prove that reality is a purely subjective affair - a participative science, if you will (as quantum physics assures us) - then surely this same awareness - this same power - must also apply to “reality” itself? Namely, to the post-apocalyptic world where AI reigns. Surely it is a logical, irresistible conclusion that this too is but another simulation, albeit of a very different order?
Put another way: after discovering, beyond all room for doubt, that what he once thought to be concrete, empirical reality is really a mutable, plastic projection of reality - with no fixed laws beyond the laws (the limitations) of the mind - how is it possible for Neo - having realized this truth to end all truths - to ever take anything as “solid” again? Obviously, it is not.
One cannot free the mind in part, one must free it utterly, or not at all. Hence the Matrix itself is no more than a training ground - exactly as are Morpheus’s simulations for Neo, only the next level up - for initiation into the magical universe, as programmed by “God,” if we must give it a name.
And here’s where the Wachowskis could
get really weird with The Matrix.
As Terence McKenna proselytizes:
McKenna believes that the day in which time travel is discovered to be physically possible - the day on which mankind as a whole becomes aware of this fact (and it appears to be close) - will effectively be the end of time as we know it.
He posits a kind of doorway opening up in space-time through which the future will coming pouring into the present.
If time travel becomes possible, he argue, logically then our future selves will thereby become known to us. But in order not to abolish our illusion of chronology altogether (the rule of Cronos, or Saturn, or Time) - in order to allow us the full benefit of instruction and preparation which this time stream is providing us with - obviously our future selves must be discreet.
Like the AI agents of The Matrix they may walk among us but cannot make themselves known to us, for the simple reason that to do so would effectively collapse the program, would - in the vernacular - blow our minds.
It follows, however, that the moment in which time travel becomes possible for the average individual, and in which yesterday’s man gets a glimpse of tomorrow’s god, these godlike beings - who are both our devils and our angels, our creators and our descendents - may at last walk freely among us.
Hence (according to McKenna), the moment in which time travel is discovered there will occur a massive and truly apocalyptic influx - a tidal wave if you will - of alien energy, or unprocessed data, of wholly novel units of information; or, to put it more bluntly, of superhuman beings.
The gods arrived today. Of course, one
could also “reduce” this eschatological scenario to less apocalyptic
terms by saying that all it really entails is the raising of the
floodgates between the left and right sides of the brain. An
apocalypse by any other name...
The film offers only a variety of purgatories (where the soul is purged and made ready), and a single Inferno. There is no mention of where we can actually go from here. No one asks; no one dares. The film seems to present a huis clos, a no way out situation, save for the single fact that it is above all concerned with the nature of illusion, how to use it, and how to overcome it.
As such, The Matrix never really gets down to “reality” at all. That is still to come, and it may be that the human mind, such as it is (and the Matrix is no more nor less than this), cannot know reality directly at all, but only perceives an endless array of interpretations, of simulations.
These illusions are not the territory, but in time we may see that they are most certainly maps, by which we may someday arrive there, on terra firma at last, where we may discard all maps and illusions, once and for all. And, on that day, we may find that the truth was ours from the start, but that we just couldn’t grok it.
Both the Serpent of Eden and Jesus Christ whistled the same tune, albeit for different reasons:
Apparently, Paradise is not for everyone.