Andy Borgmann
THEO303 - Theology & the Christian Life
Dr. Russell Duke
November 22, 2002
The Matrix of Christianity
Theology: a word that is usually associated with big words, and abstract concepts of God. Christianity: a religion that is usually associated with rules and boring living. Anyone who truly finds this to be the case needs to understand that they could not be further from the truth. Case in point, one of the best movies ever made (not just my opinion) for its great cinematography and excellent plot line correlates to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in amazing detail. Anyone who finds Christianity boring, and theology pointless may need to correlate The Matrix to a deep understanding of the purpose and love God has for humanity.
Probably the best place to start is explaining the characters. With out an understanding of which these characters represent, much of the following points probably will not make sense. There are four main players in this epic of messianic salvation for the human race: Neo, Trinity, Morpheous, and Agent Smith. Real simply, after watching the entire movie it can easily be seen that Neo represents Christ himself, Trinity is Mary, Morpheous is John the Baptist, and Agent Smith represents Satan (or possibly just evil in general). Some of these correlations fall through in certain places, (i.e. Trinity falls in love with Neo), however, their roles in the bringing up of a Messiah for a society in bondage is sharply similar. In two hours, a messianic plot develops itself from a man that understands something is not right with the current standing of the world to the same man overcoming evil going on with his life attempting to free others from the bondage of evil. However, in-between is where the excitement is including a struggle for identity, a "strike at the heel" by evil itself, and eventually the final confirmation between good and evil.
It does not take long for theology to present itself in the movie. The opening scene begins the movie by a prophetic claim by Trinity that, "it does not matter what I believe [regarding Neo's messiaship], Morpheous believes he is the one." It then proceeds to show Trinity's struggle (or maybe lack there of) with police officers. However, the larger picture is not her struggle with police officers, but points more to her struggle with Agent Smith. This indicates two things: (1) this struggle is not just an earthly struggle, but deals with factors outside of this world's jurisdiction, and (2) the issue of good vs. evil is established from the get go. There is no dispute who is set up as good and who is set up as evil and where they stand with each other. There is definitely a battle coming, and it is a battle one is not positive who will win.
Continuing on, the audience is introduced to a character named Neo. Before knowing anything about Neo, one thing is understood: the matrix has him. What is the matrix? What does it mean that it has Neo? These are questions that are elaborated on later, however, the simple fact is at this point something is keeping Neo in bondage. Neo does not understand completely what this means, but he knows he does not like it and he wants to discover how to break free from it. Trinity is then first introduced to Neo where she informs Neo that, like her, it is not Morpheous he has been looking for his entire life, but rather the question. She claims, "it is the question that drive us."
Despite this new understanding Neo has of his bondage to the Matrix, and an encounter with someone who will eventually remove him from it, Neo returns to work the next morning. Here the movie deviates a little from the christolic metaphor. Neo's boss confronts Neo by informing him that, "he [Neo] thinks he is above the rules, that some how they do not apply to him." This theological position that the messiah, from the beginning, had an understanding that he was not under the boundaries and limitations of life, is a great deviation from Christ himself. When Christ stepped down into this world, he stepped down fully human, and fully under those restrictions.
After Neo's correction, he returns to his cubical and receives a mystery phone call informing him he is about to be restrained by agents. The correlation to this scene and the following is strikingly similar to the temptation of Jesus. In the biblical account, Jesus is led by the spirit out to the desert where evil (Satan) attempts to stray Him from his messianic role. Neo's infraction with evil in this scene is strikingly similar. Agent Smith offers Neo a chance to join "there side" and help them "bring a known terrorist to justice." Neo then replies in a very un-christlike manner, however, boldly enough for the Agents to get the picture there was going to be no more talk of switching sides. They return this rejection by injecting a tracing mechanism indicating that they are going to leave him alone until potentially "a more opportune time."
Another interesting development with "Neo's temptation scene," is that it establishes his dual character. Agent Smith acknowledges that Neo has "two lives." One life, he is Thomas Anderson, a respectable computer programmers, however, in the other life he is a guy named Neo. The point that this makes is that evidently Neo (or Thomas) is one person, however, there are two distinct natures and two distinct wills. Much to the similar effect where Jesus Christ was a man named Jesus (the common name of Joshua), while also being the divine Son of God. By no means does this illustration end the debate of how can a being (divine or not) have two natures and two wills, however, it does indicate that like Christ, Neo is portrayed that way.
Still following the New Testament revelation of the messiah, after Neo's temptation Morpheous comes on scene. The John the Baptist figure proceeds to invite Neo into the "real world." Although this real world is not explained yet, there is definitely the understanding that Neo is being invited to change the state of humanity. After "accepting" his call, Neo then proceeds to be awaken, baptized if you will, from the matrix (old life) into the real world (new life).
It is only at this point of the movie in which the audience is informed at exactly why there is this dilemma. Up until this point there had only been indication that something was not right, finally, this problem is explained. According to Morpheous, at the turn of the 21st century, man had created A.I. It is as this point humanity reached its highest moment. Unfortunately, A.I. eventually spawned a whole race of species and eventually took over the world, creating what the world is during Neo's life. To make a long story short, the reason humanity is in bondage is because the machines realized they could use human bioelectricity and a form of fusion to produce all the electrical power they would ever need. In order for "human-batteries" to survive, the machines developed this dream world called the Matrix. All humans are under this dream world, until the few people who are apart of the real world free them. It is here Neo's role as messiah is finally explained. He is told that when the Matrix was first developed, a computer programmer had developed that when he returns in another life, he will be able to control the matrix and therefore defeat evil. It does not take much to see the entire story of humanity, up until Christ's coming, in this narrative given by Morpheous. To be brief, the 21st century world represents the Garden of Eden, while the world under control of the machines represents the fallen world. The rise of A.I. illustrates the struggle in between Satan and God, angels and demons, and good and evil discussed about in Isaiah 14. Because of this fall, humanity is under the bondage of sin and the jurisdiction of evil which is represented by A.I. control of humanity. The last point in this narrative that draws a parallel to Christ is the fact that just how Christ was a being before the fall, so to Neo was alive before A.I. captivity. It was in Christ's plan from the beginning to save the world, and it was Neo's original plan to return to save humanity.
Once Neo realizes the predicament that humanity is in he is then informed how the world works at this time. According to Morpheous, the very people they are trying to save are the very people that are their enemies. It is not until they are unplugged from the system that they are no longer capable of being an enemy. He continues to explain that some are so helplessly lost in the system that they will fight to their death to protect it. Humanity's relationship with God is no different. People are all enemies of God until they accept His invitation of salvation. Not only this, but there are some (i.e. Pharaoh of Moses' time) that are so helplessly lost, their heart is hardened to the message and will never come to an understanding of God's love for them.
Jesus' life and the movie continue much in the same pattern. Cypher, a "friend" to Neo's cause, eventually betrays Neo by turning Morpheous over to the authorities. His reasoning for doing this is that being a member of this "freedom team" was nothing the way Morpheous presented it. This forces Neo to choose between Morpheous' life and his own life, which eventually he chooses to die in order to save Morpheous. Just as any viewer would wonder, "how would Neo been elevated to his role as messiah with out Cypher betraying him," any Christian also wonders how would Christ have been crucified if Judas had never turned him in. These betrayals, although spawned by evil, were necessary for the messianic development to take place.
Neo's death definitely illustrates the messianic prediction made by Genesis 3 where Satan is allowed to strike the heal of Christ. For the time being, Agent Smith believes he has won by killing off Neo. Neo is definitely dead. No mistake about it. Just as Christ died and three days later rose from death, it is clear that the writers of The Matrix wanted to get the point across that Neo did die. He was not temporarily disabled, nor was there a faint amount of life still remaining in him. Neo, and Christ, died! It was only after their resurrection from death that they were finally able to concur their nemesis: evil.
The ending of the movie was a message of hope, however, not solely of hope. Neo makes the statement, "I didn't come to tell you how this will end, I came here to tell you how this would begin. I have come to show them a world without rule and controls, with out borders and boundaries. Where we go from there is a choice I leave up to you." It is clear, that just like Christ, Neo is not promising an easy life until the end. Although Christ makes some eschatological statements in Matthew 24, it was not Christ's purpose during his ministry on earth to inform the world how it would end. He later would reveal this to John on the island of Patmos, but it is clear that Christ life and death clearly take the stance that although I have won the final war over evil; the individual battles are yet to come. Just like Christ, Neo informs humanity that the end is not hear, but that salvation is for everyone. Thus concluding the messianic life of Neo, and Jesus.
According to the commentary on the DVD, The writers of The Matrix admittedly stole their plot lines from many different sources: including the Bible, Buddhism, Alice and Wonderland, and others. Although this essay primarily focuses on the similarities, there are some stark differences. The opening scene in which Trinity informs Neo it is not who he is looking for, but the mere fact that it is the question that drives him is a stark difference from the gospel message. If anything is clear in the Bible is that it is definitely who we seek as God that is the main question, not simply pondering questions like, "is there a God?" Continuing on there are many references to regeneration in the movie that the Bible speaks nothing about, at least on earthly terms. Other than that the biblical understanding of humanity's predicament, the need for salvation, and the coming of the messiah correlates amazingly.
The simple truth regarding The Matrix and theology is that there may be no contemporary work that is popular amongst the public that demonstrates the story and purpose of Christ's life so passionately and accurately. Again, if one finds theology boring, and Christianity irrelevant, they quite possibly need to a deeper understanding of the plot of The Matrix.