At last, The Matrix decoded
Thursday, November 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Matrix movies are among the most incomprehensible of sci-fi action flicks. It doesn’t help that writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski don’t talk about the meanings behind the trilogy. They have, however, acknowledged an interest in mythology, theology and some higher-level mathematics, so let’s use those fancy “ologies” as a key to cinematic nirvana. If you were lost at the end of The Matrix Reloaded (and let’s face it, most people were), here’s a handy guide to understanding the movie in terms of religion, philosophy and mathematics. From Platonic theory to religious imagery, somewhere between the Alice in Wonderland references and kung fu fighting, lie themes of deception, self-

sacrifice and hope. Have fun impressing your date.

Neo’s conundrum

The problem Neo faces at the end of The Matrix Reloaded is complex. When he meets the Architect, the creator of the Matrix, Neo learns that the myth of the One, the savior of humanity, has lasted through the growth and destruction of five previous Zions, the human stronghold on machine-controlled Earth. The Oracle who helped find Neo is a program within the Matrix. And the machines are preparing to destroy Zion again.

Neo is given a choice. He can save Zion, and the Matrix will be destroyed. Unfortunately, every human who’s trapped in the Matrix will die — thousands of innocent casualties including

(uh-oh) Neo’s beloved Trinity. His alternative is to save Trinity, in which case Zion will be destroyed.

Of course Neo decides to save Trinity — and then Zion. The Architect tells him he’s a fool for thinking he can have his cake and eat it, too, and insists that Neo already has decided the fate of every other human on the planet. It’s rough news for the supposed savior of humankind.

The religious explanation

The people of Zion once cherished the myth of a savior figure. Morpheus, a true believer, found Neo and told him he was the One. Neo got past Cypher (read: Judas) in The Matrix. He’s already died once to save his friends, and when he was resurrected, he gained power over the Matrix. He’s Zion’s own personal Jesus.

We also have Agent Smith, a kind of fallen angel. In many ways, he is Neo’s antithesis, an almost satanic figure.

Enter the Architect. How much meaning does Neo’s mythical status have if the godlike and none-too-benevolent) Architect created the myth? Wouldn’t that make Agent Smith, who’s operating outside the Architect’s control, stronger than Neo? How likely is it that the Wachowskis will repeat the pattern of killing and resurrecting Neo in the third movie? Let’s look elsewhere.

The philosophical explanation

Neo is Plato’s philosopher in the cave. Humanity watches shadows dance on the cave wall, and although Neo can leave the cave, he can’t convince the rest of the people that they’re in a cave and not in the real world. Instead, he has to bulldoze a hole in the cave and force them to see for themselves. Easy enough, right?

Nope. Neo might have simply crawled down a tunnel. “He’s discovering the ways in which he’s destined to have taken the steps he thought he was free in taking,” says Jon Trerise, a philosophy graduate student at MU and film critic for KCOU/88.1 FM. “Here, the questions of whether you are being deceived sort of blur into the question of free will and determinism.” It’s a question the Architect seems to have answered. According to him, there is no free will; everything is part of the plan of the Matrix.

The mathematical explanation

But maybe not. The Architect has a math problem. He had to use an equation to form the Matrix, and there cannot be a perfectly balanced, variable-driven equation. It’s impossible, even for the Architect. Ask any computer scientist. The imbalance in the Architect’s equation produced the anomaly of Zion. The Architect can’t get rid of the imbalance; he just keeps it contained within a loop of growth and destruction.

The Architect says he can see the future, but he might be basing his statements on what he has seen in the past. The laws of probability declare Zion’s loop of growth and destruction must be broken. You can call it odds or hope or divine intervention, but Neo’s got it on his side. He’s too determined to let a bunch of lofty talk about free will and predetermination stop him. He has an Agent to defeat, machine butt to kick and Zion to save. Be warned, Architect: If you destroy Zion enough times, sooner or later Zion will destroy you.

Amber Taufen

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