Viewers Dissect Meaning of 'Matrix'
by Angela Aleiss
LOS ANGELES -- Cynics about Hollywood's big-budget science-fiction extravaganzas take note: "Matrix" mania has gripped the nation. Everywhere, it seems, are "Matrix" sequels, "Matrix" ads, "Matrix" product tie-ins, and "Matrix" fan clubs. And everyone, it seems, offers a commentary on the movies' various layers of myth, metaphor and meaning. Just glance through a few recent books that attempt to dissect the movies' deep underpinnings of philosophy and religion: Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in 'The Matrix' (Glenn Yeffeth, ed.) and Exploring the Matrix: Visions of Cyber/ Present (Karen Haber, ed.). There is also the forthcoming How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films, by Gareth Higgins (with a chapter on the film). Don't forget the many articles and Web sites, each attempting to navigate through the maze of "Matrix" movies. As if that weren't enough, Princeton scholar Cornel West turned tables in a recent Los Angeles Times interview and said the themes in the sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded," undercut those in the original. Puzzled "Matrix" fans might turn to the movies' creators, Larry and Andy Wachowski, for some clarification. But the brothers are mum on the subject, save for a 1999 interview with Time magazine in which Larry said, "We're interested in mythology, theology and, to a certain extent, higher-level mathematics." Indeed, "The Matrix" is eliciting about as many interpretations as that puzzling monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
But English professor Greg Garrett, co-author of The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in 'The Matrix,' says that along with all the religious and philosophical motifs, the movies dramatically illustrate the importance of choice. "A postmodern work like 'The Matrix' shows us how we can synthesize different stories [of religion and philosophy] and still make a faith choice," said Garrett by phone from his office at Baylor University in Houston. Garrett co-authored The Gospel Reloaded with Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia, a progressive community in Houston. The book will be available in mid-June from Pinon Press. For Garrett, "The Matrix" offers a bundle of religious, literary and philosophical thought, from Christianity to Greek mythology, Buddhism to Gnosticism, and Alice in Wonderland to Plato. The character of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), he says, can symbolize Mary the Mother of God, the Holy Spirit, Mary Magdalene, the Jewish spirit of the God Ruah, a female love interest, or simply a righteous Kung-fu babe. But let's face it: all those razzle-dazzle special effects, pulsating post-modern orchestral tunes, Kung-fulike action scenes, and cool hip sunshades are what the "Matrix" is really all about. Not according to Garrett.
"We know from experience from so many people that they continue to think about [the "Matrix" movies] long after the action had faded from their minds," Garrett said, citing the 1,000 or so Web sites devoted to "Matrix" discussions. Audiences may be coming for action and special effects, he says, but these movies get "people to think in ways that a typical 'The Fast and the Furious' doesn't." "Matrix" fans can also ponder the futuristic or out-of-this-world themes that surface in the series as well as other film sources for the movies. Arguably, the movies' warning of a machine-infested society echoes that of "Metropolis" in 1927 and later films like "Demon Seed," "THX 1138," and "Westworld." All were frighteningly believable with their how-robots-can-go-wrong themes. "The 'Matrix' movies are more like 'Metropolis' in not only that they're technophobic but cultural," Garrett said. "They tell us to stop and look around and see that not only have we given over too much of the world to machines, but that we need to question all accepted wisdom from culture." The "Matrix" also draws upon themes from "The Prisoner," the British TV series of the late 1960s. (A scene from the TV show appeared in the first "Matrix.") The main character, played by Patrick McGoohan, was also a prisoner of his own mind and he attempted to escape the artificial village in which he was held captive. In addition, Garrett says the 1996 "Ghost in the Shell," a Japanese animated cyber-tech thriller, shares with the "Matrix" its cascading lines of green numbers, computer plug-ins to characters' heads, and simulated thoughts and dreams. "They're similar in that they draw you in with action and they make you think," Garrett says, noting that "Ghost" also contains much philosophical talk about what it means "to be." But he said "The Matrix Reloaded" brings together two things that are equally true: the Prophesy is true and the Prophesy is not true. Perhaps we'll have to wait for "The Matrix Revolutions" (Nov. 5) to explain that one. Garrett, at least, is optimistic. "We're looking at a redemptive ending and the Wachowski brothers are in some way going to save the world," he says. "What they're doing is upping the stakes: there's going to be more philosophical talk and more visceral action." The films have generated a lot of philosophical and religious discussion on what it means "to be."