Lecture 5: Matrix Movie—Practical Magic
Ïðèñëàíî Helen íà 29.04.2007 00:08
In this lecture besides using my own ideas I borrowed the ideas of James L. Ford, Ph.D. and of many other reviewers found through the Internet. The explanation of the final battle in the final movie of the trilogy is my own (it appears transparent though, given that you are acquainted with the New Testament).
Matrix Movie: Practical Magic
Who never watched the Matrix movie in the audience? Please raise your hands. Well the lecture might not be of any interest to you then, but of course you're welcome to stay.
Humans are mythologizing—they are constantly creating myths. We appropriate elements from our past and present to fashion epic narratives and myths for a variety of existential, sociological, and religious ends. Myths are not fixed narrative forms, however. Studies of traditionally oral cultures evidence considerable elasticity in the details of a particular myth. And history also demonstrates that myths often evolve as a result of cultural diffusion and contact. Myths are constantly adapted to new cultural contexts and worldly realities. While the invention of writing inspired a more fixed status for some myths, it did not halt the ongoing adaptation and amalgamation of previously disparate mythological themes and concepts. However, I don't want to focus on the myth. There is a Russian saying that goes, "A fairytale is a lie, but it has a hint—the lesson for the good men to learn". What I do is take the lie of any myth and try to extract the reality constituent from it, applying it to my own practice.
So my major concern is not cultural or philosophical parallels in the movie, not the allusions to various works of literature and cinema that had existed before the movie. (There had been so many of such allusions to other books, movies, and cartoons, that Larry and Andy Wachowski brothers, the creators of the trilogy, were even blamed for plagiarism). In this lecture, I will examine this famous science-fiction trilogy The Matrix, written and directed by Wachowski brothers, from the perspective of various spiritual practices, yoga, and sorcery. While the Christian metaphors throughout the film have been well noted, significant elements of a Buddhist and sorcery worldview are often overlooked. In particular, the symbolic and existential parallels to a fourth century (C.E.) philosophical school of Buddhism know as "Consciousness-only" (Vijnanavada/Yogachara) are indeed striking.
The Matrix: A Plot Summary
For those who have not seen the film, I'll tell you very brief summary of the plot. The basic premise is that the world as we know it is not objectively real but a computer simulation (the Matrix) wired into our minds by a species of artificial intelligence—"a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines," we are told. This cyber-species was originally created by human technological know-how, but eventually took over after emerging victorious in a war waged for generations that virtually destroyed the world. It (they?) now breeds humans as an energy resource (sort of like living batteries) and inputs the virtual Matrix to keep our minds occupied—"And so," we are informed, "they built a prison out of our past, wired it to our brains and turned us into slaves." A small colony of humans has survived independent from the artificial race in a place called Zion, below the surface of the earth. They await a foretold messiah who will conquer the Matrix and restore human control to the world. That is the basic story line revealed through the first third of the movie.
We are introduced to the hero Neo (an anagram for "the One"), a talented computer hacker, as he sits before his computer. The screen blinks a message and Neo (Keanu Reeves) stares blankly—"The Matrix has you…." This is Neo's initial revelatory call. He is eventually led to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who is leader of a rebel team and convinced that Neo is "the One," the long expected Messiah who will free humanity from its plight. Neo makes the dramatic choice between the blue pill and the red pill Morpheus is offering him—in the first case, he would wake up in his bed, still in the Matrix, and probably believe that his new adventure was but a dream, and never wake up from the Matrix again. The red pill would let him be born again. He takes the red pill, letting Morpheus extract Neo from his enslaved existence. The team takes Neo from out of the Matrix and into the real world by waking him up. Morpheus reveals the deluded nature of the Matrix and trains Neo in how to enter and manipulate the Matrix for his own purposes. "The Matrix is everywhere," Morpheus informs Neo. "It's all around us, here even in this room. … It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." But Morpheus can take Neo only so far; Neo's identity as a Messiah is a growing one and he must complete his own rite of passage and discover the path for himself. He is not even convinced he is "the One."
Two other key figures are worth noting. One is a woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo's closest companion within the rebel group. She also is convinced, because of an oracle once received, that Neo is the One. The second is Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), an angry member of the rebel group who eventually betrays Morpheus and Neo to the cyber enemy. In the fast moving conclusion, Neo rescues Morpheus, battles virtual agents of the cyber enemy, is killed, resurrected, and finally appears to conquer the Matrix. The final outcome is left ambiguous as Neo warns the entity controlling the Matrix: "I know you're real proud of this world you've built, the way it works, all the nice little rules and such, but I've got some bad news. I've decided to make a few changes." In the final scene, Neo ascends to the sky like Superman.
Neo and Trinity arrive in Zion, the last outpost of free human beings on Earth. Meanwhile, Agent Smith has returned with some surprises for Neo, most notably the ability to replicate himself as many times as he pleases. Neo makes his way to The Oracle, who informs him that if he wishes to save the mankind, he must unlock "The Source", which means having to release The Key Maker from the clutches of Merovingian, a powerful demon from the previous versions of the Matrix. While Merovingian refuses to cooperate, his wife, Persephone, angry at her husband's dalliances with other women, offers to help. With The Keymaker in tow, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus are chased by Merovingian's henchmen: a pair of deadly ghost twins. With The Keymaker's help, Neo penetrates a backdoor in the Matrix where he encounters the Matrix's designer The Architect and begins to discover his true purpose as The One. But in doing so he must make a choice between either saving Zion or the life of Trinity.
Neo is trapped in limbo between reality and the Matrix, while Zion is attacked by hordes of machines. Meanwhile, Morpheus, Trinity, and Seraph confront the ruthless Merovingian to secure Neo's release. As the fight for Zion grows more dire, Neo and Trinity embark on a perilous journey into the heart of the machine city, while Morpheus rushes to Zion's aid. Eventually, Neo must face the increasingly powerful Agent Smith in a last battle with Smith for the fate of humanity. I'll explain the meaning of this last battle a little later.
Christian and Buddhist Parallels in The Matrix
The Christian parallels are rather obvious. Neo, like Jesus, is the long-expected Messiah who is ultimately killed only to resurrect in the first movie as a fully "divine" creature. The final scene even evokes the bodily ascent of Jesus to heaven. Also, Morpheus seems every bit the equivalent of John the Baptist because he keeps saying "it's my honor to meet you", meaning he belittles himself as compared to Neo, and is just a predecessor. Something like John the Baptist said, "I am not worthy to lace a sandal on the foot of the One who follows me". Trinity might be compared to Mary Magdalene and Cypher clearly parallels Judas. But where is God in all this? And what, we might ask, is the fundamental human problem suggested by this epic narrative?
Most religious foundation myths suggest a basic existential problem of human existence. Confucian accounts of the idealized Chou dynasty, for example, inform its understanding of the fundamental problem—social disharmony due to the human tendency to neglect ritual and social propriety. For Hindus, it is bondage in the perpetual cycle of sansara, life after life, as illustrated in the Bhagavad-Gita and other mythological narratives. And for Christianity and Judaism, the fundamental problem is alienation from God due to our sinful nature and egoistic tendency toward trying to be like God, symbolized best in the Genesis creation narrative. The soteriological (relating to salvation) claim of Christianity is that God has offered his own son, the messiah, as a means to overcome that alienation. In the Movie, the Name of Neo—Anderson—clearly indicates that: andras = man in Greek, so he is the Son of Man—the title often applied to Jesus in the New Testament. There are other interesting clues such as marks on the ships of the rebels that clearly allude to the gospel of Mark:
Mark XIV No. 14
Made in the USA
Mark 14:14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
MARK XIV No 62
Made in the USA
Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Mark VI No. 16
Made in the USA
Mark 6:16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
Mark III No 11
Made in the USA
Mark 3:11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God."
While The Matrix echoes the messianic motifs of the Christian narrative, the "human problem" is clearly not alienation from God since God is nowhere present in the story—or at least not a personal creator God. The Architect in the second movie is not God—rather, he appears as a selfish programmer-mathematician trying to create a perfect software simulating an esthetically perfect reality. Each time he fails (he says this version is now Matrix 6.0), and he realizes that. The Oracle said "his main goal is just to balance the equation". Here we see a clear parallel with the Gnostic tradition—gods are not benevolent toward us, rather, they are ignorant and selfish, just like us. The Oracle appears as Sophia—goddess of Wisdom in Gnosticism. The bottom line of Gnosticism is that the universe is like an onion—many layers of creations, each created by gods hierarchically lesser than their creators. The further down gods and their creations, the more ignorance and suffering. And we on Earth are of course somewhere at the bottom of this pyramid.
The Matrix need not be understood only as a "contemporary" adaptation of the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic view; there are other ancient mythological perspectives that also omit the "divine" entirely. It is here, I think, that Buddhism offers an illuminating mythological parallel.
The most fundamental problem according to Buddhism is our ignorance of existential reality. If we could perceive the true nature of reality and the path to enlightenment, condensed in Sakyamuni teaching of the three marks of existence (impermanence, no-self, and suffering) and the Four Noble Truths, then we could overcome our ignorant state and achieve the insight of a Buddha (the "awakened one"). In the movie, Buddha is most likely represented by Seraph. This "problem of the mind" is reflected in the first two verses of the Dhammapada, an early collection of sayings attributed to the historical Buddha:
All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage…. If a man speaks or acts with pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.2
This is further and perhaps best articulated in the fourth century C.E. Mahayana philosophical school known as Yogachara, which resonates strikingly with The Matrix.3 Yogachara, also known as the "Consciousness Only" school (Vijnanavada), asserts that the objective world we perceive to be real is ultimately a product of our minds.4 As with the Western Idealist tradition, this is not necessarily an ontological assertion (the objective world does not exist), though many observers have drawn this conclusion.5 Rather, this is more accurately an epistemological insight.6 That is, Western and Buddhist "idealism" emphasizes that every "object" is significantly altered by our perception and understanding; we know it second-hand as idea and we cannot know it before it is so transformed. "What is real?" Morpheus asks as he introduces Neo to the Matrix. "How do you define real? If you're talking about your senses, that you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you're talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain." This quote might just as well appear in the philosophical dialogues of Vasubandhu, a fourth century founder of Yogachara.
While there may be striking similarities between Yogachara and Western Idealist statements concerning the relationship between objective reality and out perception of it, a fundamental difference lies in the soteriological aim of such an insight. Western Idealists strive to discern an à priori, absolute moral sense (Kant) or an "Absolute Mind" (Hegel) through rational analysis. In contrast, Yogacharins emphasize the essential path and process toward to discerning the world free of delusion. This necessarily entails various meditative and visualization practices—hence, the name of the school ("practitioners of yoga"). Meditation techniques were developed to, in a sense, deconstruct one's conditioned way of seeing the world and help one awaken to the way the world truly is. The manner in which one is able to create and control images in the mind through various visualization practices only serves to reinforce the notion that everyday conscious perceptions, like dreams, are no less "created." The practitioner comes to realize the illusory nature of the self and the external constituents of reality (Dharmas). Ultimately, one transcends subject-object dualism and abides in pure consciousness, an ineffable state of transcendent bliss. This is the soteriological goal of a Yogachara practitioner. According to tradition, as one progresses along this path, one procures powers (Siddhi) to manipulate the perceived "objective" world. A Buddha actually attains the power to create his/her own cosmic realm.7 And that is what we see Neo do in the following two movies: his powers in the Matrix are exceeding even the powers of the Awakened ones, the Zion people traveling to the Matrix. And then he even exercises these siddhi in the real world—he stops the machines with his will, or personal force, exactly as Jedi's in the Star Wars movies. That is to say, since Neo now possesses the power to control and manipulate the matrix, he creates a new world for beings to experience.
The parallels between The Matrix and this Yogachara Buddhist analysis of the human problem should be apparent by now. In both cases, the issue is one of the mind. In The Matrix, Morpheus informs Neo the he is a slave: "…you (like everyone else) were born into bondage...... kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind." Moreover, humanity's state of ignorance is largely of its own making in both accounts. In Buddhism, we are karmically conditioned, both individually and collectively, by our past choices and behavior. The life one is born into is determined by one's karma, and one's present "worldview" is conditioned by one's context and volitional choices. (In the Bible, the analogy of the term "bad karma" is the term "sin"). According to The Matrix, humanity is controlled by an artificial intelligence it created. Thus, humans bear significant responsibility for their enslaved state caused by their past sin, or bad karma.
In The Matrix, the perceived reality is literally "programmed" into our minds. Neo, despite his clear Messianic qualities, seems more like a Buddha or bodhisattva who comes to reveal to humanity its state of ignorance and, presumably, the way out. The integration of martial arts with its yogic emphasis on discipline and mind control are noteworthy. The very process of Neo's training is a techno-cyber version of meditation. New software is input yielding a complete transformation of mind just as meditative practices are intended to transform one's perception and experience of reality. Neo can see things in the Matrix—for example, the true body of Seraph—as streams of digits in the Matrix. I'll say more about the direct perception later. In the movie, the ability to see directly, without being deceived by the illusory nature of the Matrix simulation, is to see the streams of digits the way Neo and Merovingian (episode with the lady at the table and the piece of cake in the restaurant of Merovingian) can see them while in the Matrix and the way the awakened ones can see it on their screens in Nebuchadnezzar ship. By the way, who is Merovingian? He is a powerful demon who learned how to make his life infinitely longer than that of usual mortal men by learning the rules of the Matrix. There are many myths about such beings actually existing in our world—these were the sorcerers of antiquity who became proficient in their sorcery for their base ends. They are also referred to as black sorcerers. One such case is described in Vol. 9 of Carlos Castaneda, "The Art of Dreaming". Another case is presented in a way of fiction—it's another movie, not so famous, but also great: the French VIDOCQ with Gerard Depardieu.
The majority of people are deluded by their thinking mind and so are greatly limited in their perceiving capacity. One of the goals of Buddhism and sorcery is to free the perception of men to embrace the multitude of worlds available to us. The last sequel reveals more about this soteriological path in the New Testament terms.
Who in the audience never read the New Testament? Please raise your hands.
Here we have to question ourselves, who is agent Smith? In his classical monologue speaking to Morpheus in the skyscraper where he is trying to break his mind and get the access code to Zion he comes clean: his instrumental goal to freedom is destroying all humans. Then he wouldn't be needed as the serving program for the Matrix and thus somehow become free. therefore, I think in Biblical terms he is Satan, or Devil, or Death. Or, in Buddhist terms, he is Mara—the demon and ruler of this world. Buddha Gautama had overcome death by reaching Nirvana and gaining the body of energy. Seraph tells agent Smith surprisingly when he first sees him in the movie, "I had beaten you before!" Obviously, he refers to Death himself. Throughout the trilogy, Neo is fighting Smith. That is exactly what Jesus was doing for 3 and a half years of his ministry on the earth—he was fighting Death by raising the dead and healing the sick. The most famous instance is raising Lazarus from the dead. And then he is headed toward his final battle with Satan, personification of Death—the cross of the Calvary. Just like in the third movie, Neo is headed toward the final battle with Agent Smith. The famous key verse in NT that helps understanding what actually happened on the cross is Heb. 2:14, and 15.
Since therefore the children have shared in blood and flesh, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same, that through death He might destroy him who has the might of death, that is, the devil, 15 And might release those who because of the fear of death through all their life were held in slavery. In the Matrix! (-:
Also, in Colossians 2:14 and 15 a similar picture is drawn: on the cross, JC shakes off the unclean spirits that attacked him and were dangling on him like some sucking worms. How exactly did Christ destroy Satan on the cross? This theory sounds a bit complicated, but in fact it's easy to understand. Many researchers of the Bible, beginning with St. Augustine, say that Satan was trapped like a mouse in a mousetrap. From NT we know that our flesh is by default inhabited by Satan—it's the body of sin. So Christ took on this human form—the likeness of the body of sin, although he had no sin himself. And then he willingly let himself be crucified by God the Father through the hands of men. Satan got attracted to the apparent mortality of Christ and at the moment of his dying came into his flesh to kill him too. Right then the trap clicked—God the Father killed the human form, the sinless flesh, of God the Son, and Satan, the embodiment of sin, too. Christ then went down to Hades, fully conscious, then returned with a new body of energy, and then ascended. Of course that wasn't the final annihilation of Satan, but the precedent was created—from now on, any Christian can partake of the death of Christ in his spirit by joining himself to the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and practically crucify the Sin (=the Satan) in him.
Isn't it the explanation for the final scene in "Matrix: Revolutions"? Christ killing Satan = Neo killing agent Smith! In his last battle, Neo dies and kills Smith along with him, to the surprise of the latter. There had been hints earlier in the movie (mostly from the Oracle) that Neo cannot kill agent Smith unless he dies himself. And Neo seems to realize this shortly before the end. The resurrection of Neo is not shown, but 1) he already resurrected in Film 1; and 2) Then the Oracle answers to Sati's (the little girl) question whether they'll see Neo again positively.
The Sorcery Parallel in The Matrix
The parallel to sorcery in the movie is also overlooked by the critics. And this subject is what I am interested about the most. In the books of Carlos Castaneda, he describes how his teacher, Don Juan, teaches him that the appearance as we perceive it is not the unique one (he doesn't say it's false though—here's the difference between the Hindu concept of Maya, the universal illusion, and the concepts of American Indian sorcery). Don Juan says all the dualisms that the mankind invented—the good and the bad, god and satan, moral and immoral, right and wrong, are irrelevant, not important. The only dualism that matters is that of Tonal and Nagual. Tonal is all we can see, smell, touch, or speak of (just like Morpheus describes the Matrix to Neo in their first time in the Construct). Its counterpart is Nagual—everything else in the infinite Universe that we cannot even talk about because our human language ends there, it is insufficient to describe the multitude of the worlds that really actually exist for the sorcerers, yogins, advanced Christians of all times and are available for them to travel in. Here is a slight difference between the concept of Nagual and the real world in the Matrix—we can talk about the real world and we know its rules. However, the analogy is clear: Nagual (or the real world) is infinitely larger than Tonal (the Matrix), and staying our whole life in the latter is a humiliating bondage, the slavery. (The parallel term to the North American sorcery term Nagual in Indian religions is Nirvana). This, too, matches the abovementioned doctrine of Yogachara perfectly. It's a great illustration of how different spiritual traditions describe the same intrinsic laws of man and nature in different terms.
DJ also teaches CC to see—that is, to see the true nature of things, the energy. Even the modern physicists know that our world is pure energy. Matter, on one hand, and the same matter is energy, on the other. E=mc2. When CC succeeds in doing that, he can see past the deceitful appearance of the world around and comprehend everything as filaments of light, as energy fields. This is well portrayed by the streams of digits that we see in all three movies. Of course we know that in reality there is no digital matrix, but it's a great metaphor for our learning! And then by the end of the third movie, Neo sees the real world as it is—as the flows of energy—exactly as described in the books of CC. I am pretty sure that Wachowski brothers had read Castaneda's books carefully.
So here is the practical magic I see in the movie, the practical lesson for us to learn today: how can we practically take the red pill and break out of the Matrix to be free? I described 3 traditions, following which you can do so. Following the path of the Bible, you take the red pill by praying. Following the path of Buddhism, you take the red pill by meditating. And following the path of sorcery, you take the red pill by doing Don Juan's practices such as the ones that Carlos Castaneda learned from him to stop his internal dialogue: crossing his eyes as he walked, paying attention to the sounds rather than using the eyesight and, above all, losing his self-importance in daily life.
However, the difference is that in real life taking the red pill, unlike in the movie, is not instantaneous, rather, it's a long process of diligent unceasing exercise.
Beyond these parallels to Buddhist and Christian worldviews, it is also important to note how this "myth" diverges from core values of these traditions. For example, in many respects The Matrix is a glorification of violence and patriarchal dominance. The one token female is, on the surface, notably androgynous or even masculine. And the graphic violence merited an "R" rating for the film. One might argue that the killings are not actual but analogous to killing the demons of one's mind or destroying the symbolic manifestations of hatred, greed and delusion (i.e., Sakyamuni's encounter with Mara beneath the Bodhi tree on the eve of his enlightenment. Agent Smith could also represent Mara, as I mentioned). But the mesmerizing process of destruction, amplified by the technology of video effects or "bullet time" photography, transcends metaphorical license and clearly cultivates a more literal form of violence. It is here, as with all mythology, that we must pay due attention to the context of this myth and especially its commercial aims. The glorification of violence has clear commercial appeal to one of the primary target audiences of Hollywood producers—teenage boys. This is the sugar coating of thrilling visuals on the pill of ancient wisdom. So while on an abstract level, The Matrix indeed evokes many "religious" parallels to Christianity, Buddhism, and other mythological traditions, it also integrates arguably contradictory values of violence and male dominance for commercial (or other) ends. Might we say it reifies some of the "social matrices" it allegedly purports to undermine?
Wachowski brothers said in an interview: We're interested in mythology, theology and, to a certain extent, higher mathematics. All are ways human beings try to answer bigger questions, as well as The Big Question. If you're going to do epic stories, you should concern yourself with those issues. People might not understand all the allusions in the movie, but they understand the important ideas. We wanted to make people think, engage their minds a bit.8
Mixing metaphors from Christianity, Buddhism, Greek mythology, and even cyber technology, The Matrix as myth may be seen as an analysis of the contemporary existential condition. It appropriates the decidedly Christian messianic mythological framework but imports a form of Buddhist idealism to radically transform the (Christian) existential understanding of the human condition. In this respect, it dialectically produces a new worldview through myth.
It remains to be seen how influential The Matrix has become; the sequels determined its longevity now, after 8 years from the release of the first film. I don't know of any other movie that created such a wide response in the media, except maybe the abovementioned Star Wars and the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
So it is up to us whether we want to take the red pill or keep sleeping, lulled by the blue pill of unconsciousness in the midst of our tedious daily routines, walk the same circle again until we die. Me, I try to choose the red pill every day. However, I would never try to give a lecture like that in a way of preaching or making someone blindly believe anything. As Morpheus says repeatedly in the first movie, "you have to see these things for yourself".