They don't call him 'The One' for nothing
by Siri Agrell
In the beginning, he was reborn. Murdered, he rose from the dead, ascending to the heavens to teach us a lesson. And he will walk the Earth again.
Today, his worshippers call him Neo, but his mortal name is Keanu Reeves.
Since the leather-clad blend of kung-fu action and metaphysical musings fuelled box-office sales of The Matrix to more than US$450-million in 1999, the film has become a paragon of cinematic sci-fi. But its success has also brought life to The Church of Matrix, with a growing number of followers interpreting the film's meaning as modern-day Christian parable. And with The Matrix Reloaded opening wide today, debate over the trilogy's religious interpretations will likely intensify.
"There are hundreds of Matrix Web sites, and they're not about how cute Keanu Reeves looks," says Glenn Yeffeth, editor of the book Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix. "People see this movie as a retelling of the story of Christ."
A Google search turns up a list of almost 50,000 Web sites dedicated to discussing The Matrix and religion, analyzing Reeves' role as a modern-day messiah.
In the first film, Thomas Anderson (Reeves) is a cubicle-bound software programmer by day and a computer hacker known as Neo by night. A rebel group led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) recruits Neo and offers him a chance to discover the truth about the matrix, a mysterious force that is manipulating human reality.
But while most viewers concentrated on revolutionary special effects spliced with philosophical debate, some Christians saw God in the details.
Kristenea LaVelle, author of The Reality Within the Matrix, says the film expresses the basic idea of Christian salvation. She remembers being "astounded" by the Biblical references, which she says touch every aspect of The Matrix narrative.
In the film, Reeves' character is called Thomas Anderson. LaVelle says the Apostle Thomas was also called Didymus, which in Greek means "twin" or "double." Anderson means "son of man," one of the titles Jesus uses for himself. The twin names, she says, suggest the dual nature of Reeves' character.
She points out that when Neo is "unplugged" from the matrix, he falls down a long tube and into a pool of water. She calls this his baptism or rebirth, and it's just the beginning of her comprehensive -- if controversial -- Christian interpretation.
The Matrix character Cypher, who betrays Neo in the battle against the matrix, represents Judas. Neo's mentor, Morpheus, is John the Baptist, since both men were appointed to prepare the way for a chosen one, or messiah.
When Neo is shot, he rises again. LaVelle, who has seen the film "at least 10 times," says he is resurrected after 72 seconds (72 hours = 3 days).
She does admit some parallels are a stretch, pointing out that Neo is called to fight against the matrix not by a burning bush but by a FedEx delivery. And Neo's relationship with Trinity -- Carrie-Anne Moss's ass-kicking character -- LaVelle finds "troubling" because of its obvious sexual undertones, which are consummated in the sequel.
"The R rating is a bit of an issue for the Christian community," she says. "But the message is not for the Christian community -- it's for everyone else."
And some people have used her interpretation, and their own, as a way to bring "unbelievers" into God's fold. Rob MacRury, a minister with the Church of Christ in Ottawa, uses The Matrix as a way to reach young members of his congregation as well as those "who did not realize God's message was in the film."
"I'm almost 50 and I can talk to an 18-year-old about The Matrix," he says. "Lo and behold, they're in a spiritual conversation."
He says that today, while many people haven't read the Bible, almost everyone has seen the sci-fi blockbuster. "They don't want to sit down and talk about the Book of John, but they love talking about The Matrix."
He refers to the movie as "cyberpunk parable" and says the film's pop culture impact has given the Christian message renewed attention, something impossible through regular religious channels. "This is the last big pulpit in town, the movie theatre."
But while MacRury will continue preaching the Church of Matrix, he doesn't hold out much hope for the second instalment of the trilogy, which he plans to see tonight. "In the first Matrix, they told the whole story," he says. "Jesus ascended and has not returned, so there is no more to tell."
But LaVelle disagrees. She believes the Matrix trilogy is a three-part message from God, warning of impending armageddon. "Did the directors intend to make it that way? I don't think so," she says. "But God's hand was in it -- it was a revelation."
After seeing The Matrix Reloaded, she will write a sequel to her book, which has sold 300 copies. She admits that not all Christians agree with her interpretation of the film, but says the message of salvation through spiritual awakening is "undeniable."
"As we get closer to the second coming of Jesus, God is trying to wake us up to reality," she says. "I do think think The Matrix is a warning."
And on the seventh day, God said "Whoa."