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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.

10. Evolution.

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].