Mythology of the Matrix

Robert Tulip (ACT)

This article is a follow-up to the Mythology of The Matrix published in the Winter 2003 edition of JG, reviewing the first two films.

I absolutely loved Matrix Revolution, the just-released third movie in the trilogy. Revolution provides a brilliant and intriguing climax to the theological themes raised in Matrix and Matrix Reloaded. The visuals are totally stunning, but for me the essence of the movie is its treatment of the apocalyptic archetype and its message for the Christian vision of history. The theology emerges in the final twist of the plot, so if you plan to see the movie I recommend you do so before reading this review.

To recap, the matrix is a future world where machines have taken over and exploit humans by creating a world of total illusion. Like a sick culmination of Saint Paul’s critique of Rome in Romans 1:25, ‘they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.’ There are only two gaps in the matrix vision of a purely materialist machine world - the beleaguered human remnant of Zion at the centre of the earth, which is under massive attack from the machine army, and a bug in the machine in the form of Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, who has replicated himself out of control throughout the matrix.

In Matrix Revolution, all hope seems lost for Zion as the tunnelling monsters and their myriad mechanical minions move to extinguish the last bastion of free humanity. Neo, the chosen one, played by Keanu Reaves, has gone with his lover Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to the great machine city to try to save Zion. Described by the oracle (an old poor black woman - Mary Alice) as ‘our connection to the source’, Neo is like Jesus Christ, destined by God to save humanity through the power of grace. The military commanders dismiss his mission as insane, but of course he succeeds (by the grace of God).

The twist in the plot is that the matrix needs to ally with Zion to overcome the rogue program Smith. In an awesome scene (reminiscent of Dorothy and the emerald wizard of oz) Neo meets the mechanical mind of the matrix, surrounded by the immense array of machine city. The mind has been described somewhere as the ‘Deus ex machina’ or God in the machine, in a pun on both the traditional theatrical device and the Cartesian dualist picture of the ghost in the machine. Neo strikes an almost Faustian bargain with the matrix, pointing out that the Smith bug threatens to destroy the matrix, and arguing that only he (Neo) can beat Smith. Deus agrees, and calls off the minions besieging the citadel of Zion while sending Neo into the illusion world of the matrix one last time for a final battle with Smith. Like the apocalyptic showdown between the archangel Michael and Satan at the end of time, Neo and Smith rage through the heavens, with final victory going to Neo. Free human creativity, connected to the ultimate source of truth through a messianic saviour, has squished the bug and triumphed over the evils of corruption and illusion.

To explain why I think this is all so profound, I need to explain my own theological position. I have always thought the USA was the inheritor of the mantle of world leadership held in Jesus’ day by Rome, and along this line I have explored how the Biblical critique of Rome in the Epistles and the Apocalypse might apply to America. The interesting thing about the Matrix is the way it provides such a powerful critique of American mass culture, especially of how advertising and the media have poisoned people’s minds into precisely the sort of ‘worship of the creature rather than the Creator’ that Paul saw as the source of Roman failure. Just as the matrix blinds people to reality, the illusory world offered by commerce blinds our society to the realities of poverty, ecology and God.

My way of understanding this has been to interpret the United States Dollar as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the 666 in Revelation 13:18. Just like the 666, the US dollar has six letters in each of its three names, and its role in our world financial system means that ‘no one can buy or sell without … the number of its name’ (Rev 13:17). Now, I know that suggesting Jesus Christ miraculously predicted the structure of human society 2000 years in advance is highly implausible, but he was meant to be Son of God after all. Whatever you may think of it, I have found this interpretation helpful as a way of understanding the problems of our world and what is needed to overcome them. Please don’t laugh, just think of it as an intriguing possibility, and explore for yourself how well it fits with the Gospel vision.

The really interesting thing about Matrix Revolution is the suggestion of the alliance between Neo and the Matrix against Smith. Applied to the interpretation of the USA as the beast of the apocalypse, and our world financial system as the symbol of the matrix, this would suggest the final judgement of God on the world at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will involve the redemption of America, not its damnation. As Jesus said in John 3:17, ‘I came to save the world not to condemn it.’ The alliance between Neo and the Matrix against Smith implies that God will ally with the 666 (the United States Dollar) against all the evil spin-offs that America has accidentally created, and which threaten to destroy the world.

And another thing. I also interpret this biblical framework in terms of astrological cosmology, which I consider provides an amazingly compelling and fertile integration of the worldviews of science and Christianity, showing how the essence of the Bible is fully compatible with modern thought. The key is the description of the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:19-20, which scholars such as William Barclay say are a coded reference to the twelve signs of the zodiac in reverse. I know this is all rather cryptic, but I believe it points to a coherent and rational interpretation of the Biblical vision of the new age in the framework of the precession of the equinox, with the Second Coming equated to the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. In terms of the matrix, the new age as predicted by these apocalyptic symbols would involve the integration of the matrix of capitalism within the trinitarian cosmology of the loving rule of God.

Perhaps the movie should have been called Matrix Redemption, but maybe that isn’t as engaging as Revolution, and would have given away the plot.