The Matrix: A Cyberpunk Parable
The Matrix was a film released on the 8th of April in 1999, directed by The Wachowskis. The film is about the events at the dawn of the 21st century, where humans are able to create artificial intelligence, spawning a race of machines that later turn against the humans, and defeat them. Nearing the end of defeat, the humans use nuclear weapons to blanket the sky dark, since the machines relied on solar energy. But, the machines found a solution by utilizing bioelectricity from the human body. The next thing they needed to do was tame the human subject, thus creating the matrix, which in reality is a vast power plant system of prison pods [one pod per person] where humans float in a lifelong coma, while their brains are connected to a virtual reality. The philosophical equivalent [that has been debated since Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from the 4th century b.c.] is the concept of a brain in a vat. Similarly, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes prisoners who have been chained all their lives facing a blank wall in a cave. From time to time, these prisoners watch shadows that happen to be projected onto the wall from objects that pass in front of a fire that is behind them, and in due course, they contemplate what these shadows are. Thus, the shadows are the closest the prisoners get to experiencing reality. Plato then explains how we, who are ironically not imprisoned, are like one of the prisoners who happen to be freed from the cave, and for the first time understands that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows he once saw.
The movie then depicts an unknown vast period of time that has transpired since the war, where these imprisoned humans are grown like crops on a farm in the power plant, placing their minds inside a simulated 20th century context, where they go about their illusionary lives oblivious to their true state of captivity. The machines have sentient programs called Agents who patrol within the matrix simulation to ensure the mental prison runs smoothly. The protagonist is Neo, a human in the matrix who senses something wrong with his existence. But, the good news is that while the matrix exists, there is still a small group of surviving humans living outside the matrix, hiding and running from the machines. They extract and rescue Neo from the matrix, training him to realize that he is the One, a savior that can finally free all humans from the matrix.
The Matrix is not intentionally a Christian film, since hints from various philosophies and religions are sprinkled throughout it. But the flexibility of the film allows people to draw many themes from it, including Christian allegories. In this way, we shall see these fascinating Christian allegories:
1. Neo as a man who becomes a Christian and learns to walk in faith.
2. Neo as the Messiah.
3. Neo as Christ’s 2nd Coming.
4. Neo as a new Moses who leads people out of captivity.
5. The nature of truth.
6. The nature of identity.
7. Science vs. Faith.
8. Fate / Free Will / Destiny.
9. Illusion / Dreams.
Scene #1 – The Apartment
Movie: The protagonist initially goes by the name Thomas Anderson.
Christian Allegory: The name Thomas reminds us of the disciple of Jesus. Similarly, Thomas often struggles with belief, first as a lost man coming to the truth, then as a saved man doubting his position. Thomas will later be called Neo. The word means “new.” The name Anderson is a play on one of the titles of Jesus: Son of Man. The word Ander is the New Testament Greek root andros meaning man. Thus Neo Ander-Son = New Son of Man. Thus for the Christian, the names contrast the old and new conditions when a sinner comes to salvation: “if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation. Old things have disappeared, and--look!--all things have become new!” [2 Corinthians 5:17].
Movie: We first see Thomas sleeping, wearing black clothes.
Christian Allegory: The terms sleep and darkness are used to describe a lost person: “We do not belong to the night or to darkness. Therefore, let's not fall asleep like others do, but let's stay awake and be sober. For people who go to sleep, go to sleep at night; and people who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let's be sober.” [1 Thessalonians 5:5-8]. Until he is saved, Thomas is always literally asleep in his womb pod of the machine power plant in the real world! This is a striking portrayal of how a lost person is spiritually asleep even though he perceives himself awake in a fallen world.
Movie: As Thomas sleeps, his computer is “Searching…”
Christian Allegory: This is the first indication of Thomas’ discomfort with his life. He is searching, which is the key to finding truth: “Keep searching, and you will find.” [Matthew 7:7]. Trinity later confirms this searching when she tells Thomas, “I know why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night you sit at your computer. You’re looking for him … looking for an answer.”
Thomas lives alone, which reflects his desire to separate from a fallen world.
Movie: Thomas’ computer displays a portrait of Morpheus as a wanted criminal worldwide, when in truth Morpheus is a good man who wants to save humanity.
Christian Allegory: This parallels much of the anti-Christian media of today: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” [John 15:19-20]
Movie: The computer screen clears and a message appears from Trinity, who comes from outside the matrix! Trinity warns: “Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you…” And he wakes up!
Christian Allegory: The Trinity character portrays God, paradoxically depicted as a Trinity: “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19]. This scene parallels the Holy Spirit convicting the lost person of his dire condition: “Wake up, sleeper! Arise from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.” [Ephesians 5:14]. Thomas strangely awakens as if he somehow heard the message internally, which hints at the spiritual nature of the warning. Trinity does not live in the matrix illusion: she came from outside it. Similarly, Jesus said, “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, but I am not of this world.” [John 8:23]. Just as Trinity’s words on Thomas’ computer were a message written by someone from the outside world, the scriptures are also supernaturally inspired messages from God to mankind as human writers were controlled by God’s Spirit: “no prophecy ever originated through a human decision. Instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” [2 Peter 1:21]. Trinity initiates contact with Thomas, just as God takes the initiative in salvation: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him to life on the last day.” [John 6:44]. As we shall see, Thomas is raised to life at the end of the film. God will draw, but man must respond.
Movie: Thomas tries to remove the warning message.
Christian Allegory: The conviction of sin and eternal danger is disturbing. It affronts our pride, and we don’t want to hear it. The lost person tries to regain control of his thoughts from the disturbing impulse [Thomas hits the CTRL key], and when that fails, he may try to escape it as well [Thomas hits the ESC key]. An interesting triple metaphor occurs here:
1. Thomas knocks the ESC key twice.
2. Trinity says “knock” twice.
3. Choi knocks twice on Thomas’ door.
For every knock of the ESC key, Trinity answers with a written “knock” back to Thomas, showing God’s persistence in knocking on the heart of the lost person: “Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.” [Revelation 3:20]. Trinity’s prediction of the knocks on Thomas’ door parallels the omniscience of God.
Movie: Thomas is a computer hacker who makes illegal software for Choi.
Christian Allegory: Choi is obviously bad company in the moral sense. Thomas is a sinful man who has sinful friends. On a deeper level, here is one of the most fascinating ironies of the film. Thomas thinks that he is hacking into computers, but in truth, the matrix computers control Thomas’ entire existence: even allowing him the illusion that he is hacking! The prison allows some illusionary escapes to keep the prisoners oblivious to the real problem! To parallel spiritually, the fallen world fools its prisoners with meaningless progress, like the rich fool who focused on earthly riches but neglected his eternal state: “The land of a certain rich man produced good crops. So he began to think to himself, ‘What should I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I’ll store all my grain and goods in them. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You've stored up plenty of good things for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ But God told him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you. Now who will get the things you've accumulated?’ That's how it is with the person who stores up treasures for himself rather than with God.” [Luke 12:16-21].
Movie: Thomas puts $2,000 in a hollow copy of postmodern nihilist Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation [one of the worst philosophies ever written]. The following quote is from Denis Dutton [professor of philosophy from the University of Canterbury]: “Some writers in their manner and stance intentionally provoke challenge and criticism from their readers. Others just invite you to think. Baudrillard’s hyperprose demands only that you grunt wide-eyed or bewildered assent. He yearns to have intellectual influence, but must fend off any serious analysis of his own writing, remaining free to leap from one bombastic assertion to the next, no matter how brazen. Your place is simply to buy his books, adopt his jargon, and drop his name wherever possible.”
The camera lingers on the chapter titled On Nihilism. Thomas lives in the pinnacle of a simulacra, the image that has no underlying truth [as is much the case of Baudrillard’s work]. Furthermore, Thomas’ world and the futile persona he has developed in it are based completely on illusion.
Christian Allegory: Unless man reconciles with God through Christ, he crafts his own futile image apart from God’s truth. An unsaved man is dead even if he thinks he’s alive: the trimmings of his worldly life are a vain and temporary mask covering his lost spiritual and eternal state. Nihilism is a doctrine that all values are baseless, that nothing is knowable, and that life itself is meaningless [we shall see that Agent Smith embodies this]. Thomas has been putting his money on the aspect of nihilism that says nothing is knowable. But this philosophy has left him as hollow as the hole in the page! Thomas will leave that empty, despairing philosophy behind and find that there is indeed a knowable salvation and truth. Later we will see that Thomas will not find it by using the rules of the matrix to fight the matrix [illusionary hacking against an illusionary world]. Instead, Thomas will only bring change by escaping the very matrix itself and attacking it in the power of the truth. In the same way, a man must find salvation in Christ to escape being a part of the fallen world, and then he must walk by faith in God to make a true difference.
Movie: Choi admits his constant use of mescaline [an hallucinogen]. He invites Thomas to “unplug” for some rest and relaxation by going to a nightclub with them.
Christian Allegory: Choi represents the escapist. His solution to “unplug” [be saved] is to forget the problems of life by using drugs, which he takes “all the time.” Choi tells Thomas that “the only way to fly” is mescaline. Thomas literally does fly at the end of the film: but only as a result of walking in the truth, not hallucination. Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” [John 14:6]. Choi’s advice that Thomas needs to “unplug” is not only foreshadowing, but also another nudge to lost Thomas. God can use sinners to send a message.
Movie: Trinity tells Thomas to “follow the white rabbit.” Spotting a white rabbit tattoo on DuJour’s shoulder, Thomas chooses to go with Choi and DuJour.
Christian Allegory: Notice the following:
1. Thomas had to choose to open the door for Choi.
2. Now he must choose to accompany Choi and DuJour.
The story consistently resonates with a powerful theme of “the way,” where Thomas must often choose to either follow or abandon the one narrow way to a singular truth in a reality of unflinching absolutes.
Scene #2 – The Club
Movie: The club is obviously a degenerate place. The shadowy scene seems to be a celebration of bondage with dance cages. Music by Rob Zombie provides a backdrop for the dark scene.
Christian Allegory: This setting depicts the depraved, sinful state of the fallen world. Even though darkness keeps fallen man in bondage, many choose the darkness over the light: “people loved the darkness more than the light because their actions were evil.” [John 3:19].
Movie: Thomas stands alone and apart from the dance club crowd, looking uncomfortable.
Christian Allegory: This highlights a lost person’s growing discomfort with the wrong state of self and surroundings.
Movie: Trinity contacts Thomas at the worldly club, calling him by name and describing his private habits.
Christian Allegory: Like the Shepherd going away from safe pasture to find the lost sheep [Luke 15] or Jesus eating with the despised tax collectors [Matthew 9:11], God pursues the lost man even in the most worldly circumstances. God also intimately knows the private life of the sinner, like Trinity saying, “I know what you’ve been doing.”
Movie: Trinity warns Thomas that he is in danger and is being watched.
Christian Allegory: Trinity’s statement, “I brought you here to warn you” has echoes of: “who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” [Luke 3:7]. It’s the Holy Spirit that convicts: “the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” [John 16:8].
Movie: Trinity prompts Thomas to verbalize what is on his conscience: “You know the question…” to which Thomas answers, “What is the Matrix?”
Christian Allegory: To find truth, we must be honest with ourselves about what we are sensing from God. Daring to reach into our foggy convictions and crystallize them will ignite them in our hearts as a crisis that we must act upon. Thomas was prompted to acknowledge both the matrix [the fallen world] and Morpheus [representing God here] as the two sides he must choose between.
Movie: Trinity tells Thomas, “The answer is out there, Neo. It’s looking for you. And it will find you, if you want it to.”
Christian Allegory: God is longing for us far more than we are looking for him [2 Peter 3:9]. The choice to open the door as Christ knocks is ours.
Scene #3 – The Office
Movie: Thomas works for MetaCortex.
Christian Allegory: This name describes the powerful fallen world system that grips Thomas. The prefix meta means “situated behind,” and cortex refers to the cerebral cortex of the brain. Thus MetaCortex can mean, “we are the ones behind the scenes, who control your mind.” As Morpheus later explains, people are indeed born into bondage to a fallen world system that bombards the mind with fallen thinking. But the Christian message is: “Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God's will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.” [Romans 12:2].
Movie: Thomas is late for work. Mr. Rhineheart reprimands Thomas, whose voice is hollow as he agrees. Even though Mr. Rhineheart is correct, he seems unbending as he demands flawless obedience.
Christian Allegory: Work at MetaCortex represents the state of bondage of sinful man to a fallen world as he tries to work his way to heaven. The law is not in Thomas’ heart, and he has found himself lacking ability to comply. He is depressed and motionless in his cubicle afterward. Man will fall short of perfectly obeying God’s standards of right and wrong, and will become depressed in the constant failure to comply. The bible says that these standards are good [it is not wrong that Thomas must have a job, or that Rhineheart wants Thomas to be on time], but God’s standards are designed to show us our inability to hit the mark. God’s standards are an unbending teacher that makes us to realize we need to be saved from our flawed nature, leading us to the savior: Jesus. When a person is saved by faith in Christ, God considers sin forgiven, then he will put his “laws in their hearts and will write them on their minds” [Hebrews 10:16], giving a new constant spiritual desire to do what is right, and a joy in doing it.
Movie: Now we will reverse the allegory and let Mr. Rhineheart represent the fallen world system. Rhineheart reprimands Thomas, saying, “this company is one of the top software companies in the world, because every single employee understands that they are part of a whole.”
Christian Allegory: The words “top” and “world” are significant, indicating the pinnacle strength of the fallen world system. The fallen world irritates the lost person, yet he is caught in the pull of that dead world to conform to the dying “whole.”
Mr. Rhinehart calls Thomas “Mr. Anderson” twice, using his matrix identity to reinforce his belonging to the world system. A “choice” must be made toward either accepting captivity to the lost world or taking that narrow path to freedom!
Movie: A dejected Thomas sits motionless in the dim bleakness of his lifeless cubicle. Even his computer screen is dead.
Christian Allegory: What a striking visual metaphor for how empty life is without truth! Careers, money, information: these are pathetically powerless to fill the void of a human heart without God. As his conscience bears witness that something vital is missing, the lost person often begins to despair of all other aspects of life; nothing has meaning or vibrancy.
Movie: The Fed Ex man says, “Thomas Anderson?” Thomas accepts the illusionary identity by saying, “Yeah, that’s me.” The cell phone rings and Morpheus prompts, “Hello, Neo. Do you know who this is?” Thomas replies, “Morpheus!” Morpheus says, “They’re coming for you, Neo.” Thomas asks, “Who’s coming for me?” to which Morpheus replies, “Stand up and see for yourself.” Thomas asks “What, right now?” Morpheus replies, “Yes. Now.” Thomas stands, and for the first time, he sees enemy Agents and policemen entering his office to catch him.
Christian Allegory: God helps the lost person to see his own sin and sense the spiritual enemy that craves his death. As God warned Cain: “sin is crouching near your doorway [like the Agents entering the office], turning toward you. However, you must take dominion over it.” [Genesis 4:7]. Morpheus’ response of “now” stresses the urgency of the situation. We do not casually decide when to grapple with evil: it is a predator that eventually strikes its final deathblow. We must escape while God gives us opportunity: “Listen, now is really the ‘right time’! Now is the ‘day of salvation’!” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Movie: Morpheus offers Thomas a way out: more one-way choices! Morpheus warns, “I can guide you, but you must do exactly as I say.”
Christian Allegory: For the sinner, there is no alternative: exact adherence to God’s way of salvation, or face the consequences. God “will provide a way out.” [1 Corinthians 10:13].
Movie: As Morpheus guides Thomas to the office, Thomas asks, “How do you know all this?” Morpheus responds, “We don’t have time, Neo…”
Christian Allegory: A lost person could never understand God anyway; he has not yet become new and he does not have spiritual understanding. Sin cannot comprehend holiness, nor can deception grasp all truth. Thomas’ query is the lost man’s resistance to faith: he wants to know all the answers
before making a decision. Morpheus describing each step in advance once again symbolizes God’s omniscience.
Movie: In one of the most symbolic choices in the movie, Morpheus tells Thomas, “There are two ways out of this building. One is that scaffold, the other is in their custody.”
Christian Allegory: The MetaCortex building represents the fallen world in concise form. The scaffold hints at the cross of Christ. The scaffold goes up, symbolizing going to God. In the custody of the Agents means going down. The lost man finds that he truly has no neutral ground! In his pride, he fancies himself having many choices and plenty of time. But in truth, he can only be on one of two paths: heaven or hell.
Movie: Thomas responds to Morpheus: “No way. No way! This is crazy. This is insane.”
Christian Allegory: To a man who has only paid attention to his mortal life, the sudden realization of eternity in heaven or hell shakes him. There is nothing he can do to earn his own salvation except to trust in God’s way out. And that way is by faith in Christ, which is difficult for the natural man to accept, especially as it is not dependent on his own good works!
Movie: Thomas mutters in frustration, “What did I do? I didn’t do anything. I’m nobody.”
Christian Allegory: Thomas lies to himself. He committed many crimes; he is a hacker! Thomas is a lawbreaker who does not want to follow rules or face consequences for his wrong actions. But the unbending truth is that there is no neutral ground for the sinner. Thomas says he is a “nobody” as another excuse. But again, no lack or excess of a person’s social status, age, achievements, identity, can remove the fact that he is caught between heaven and hell and is still personally accountable for a choice between them. There are no nobodies to God and Satan.
Movie: Thomas begins to inch his way along the narrow path of the ledge toward the scaffold. But then he takes his eyes away and looks at the street far below. Gasping in fear, a strong wind causes him to drop his cell phone and says, “I can’t do this.” Fear cripples him, and the enemy captures him as a result.
Christian Allegory: In addition to the doubting Thomas symbolism, this metaphor reminds us of the apostle Peter trying to walk on water to come to Christ.
As long as Peter’s eyes were fixed on Christ, he was able to continue. But “when he noticed the strong wind, he was frightened” [Matthew 14:30], meaning he was no longer looking at Christ. Peter became afraid and “began to sink.” Christ reached out and rescued him, just as we will later see Morpheus reaching out to Thomas again. Dropping the cell phone represents both Peter losing his fix on Christ, and also the lost man abandoning his communication with God as his way of salvation. The narrow ledge illustrates “how constricted is the road that leads to life” [Matthew 7:14]. Thomas had no alternatives. Either he climbed the scaffold, or he was captured. Thomas could not have infinite chances to make his escape, nor could he simply stroll back to his cubicle and pretend his crisis of destiny did not exist. Like it or not, we will all face that crisis and must choose before our time is up. When Thomas says, “I can’t do this,” he reiterates that a lost man cannot save himself. That is why God had to do the work for him on the cross. Peter asked, “Who, then, can be saved?” to which Jesus answered, “For humans this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26].
Scene #4 – The Interrogation
Movie: Before Agent Smith lectures Thomas, he flips through a record of Thomas’ crimes.
Christian Allegory: Smith is like Satan, who will always be called “the one who accuses” [Revelation 12:10].
Movie: Agent Smith tells Thomas three distinct lies during the interrogation scene.
Christian Allegory: Satan “is a liar and the father of lies.” [John 8:44].
Movie: Lie #1: Agent Smith indicates that Thomas’ illusionary matrix life is reality: having a job, paying taxes, helping the landlady. In contrast, Smith tells Thomas that his other hacker life is “lived in computers,” which is an interesting twist of words! In truth, it is Thomas’ illusionary life in the matrix [his job, taxes, and landlady] that is “lived in computers” that generate the matrix simulation! The real life that Thomas will live as Neo outside the Matrix is not “lived in computers.”