- The Matrix

- The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Revolutions

Written by G. Lee Ramsey, Jr.

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers
Warner Brothers, R rating

Revolutions of all stripes—social, political, economic, religious, and artistic—usually attempt to overthrow something old and usher in the new. Revolutions move forward, or at least promise to. Not so with the long-awaited conclusion to the Wachowski Brothers' Matrix trilogy.

The Matrix Revolutions makes you want to go back to the good old days of 1999, when the first of these movies, The Matrix, delivered so much and promised so much more. This one, Revolutions, twists wildly out of control, full of gee-whiz science fiction action (hundreds of thousands of flying mechanical squids, swarming like bees invading the underground city of Zion), but with such a philosophical gobbledy-gook resolution of the story as to leave your head spinning. The movie is full of sound and fury but signifies very little. It's a downright disappointment; The Matrix Revolutions turns out to be just entertainment when the meaning-seeking viewer had hoped for much more. As such, it casts a backward glancing pall over the whole series.

So what gives? Why all the fascination with The Matrix and its misbegotten sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions? What is it about the original Matrix that created such a cultural stir, and that, subsequently, makes the shallow follow-ups so frustrating?

For starters, the original Matrix plugs into the diffuse though nonetheless potent spiritual hunger of 21st century Western culture. When the leather-clad and beautiful Trinity whispers mysteriously, "I know why you are here, Neo… It's the question that brought you here…The answer is out there, Neo," she is naming the longings of whole groups of baby boomer seekers, generation X techno-sophisticates, and generation Y neo-traditionalists. When Trinity whispers, "The answer will find you if you want it to," a whole lot of heads are shaking in agreement.

The multilayered and eclectic use of Eastern and Western religious symbolism reinforces the spiritual dimensions of the movie. The name, "Neo," is the scrambled version of the "One." The enigmatic Morpheus ushers Neo into the rabbit hole of discovery where he promises, god-like, that Neo will learn how to separate truth from appearances. Neo's companion and lover, Trinity, will eventually die to help Neo achieve his purpose to defeat mechanized evil and gain peace for Zion, the last colony of true humanity. By the end of the trilogy, in Revolutions, Neo is "blind" but now he can truly "see" as he sacrifices himself in the final battle.

ou can knock such symbolism and call it sophomoric. But that's one reason why The Matrix hooks so many viewers—the promise of spiritual meaning just over the horizon, or more in keeping with the script, deep down at the center of things in Zion, the movie's obvious city of true humanity and God. We know it's "just a movie," but the Matrix trilogy, especially the first movie, names for many viewers an inchoate spiritual longing while hinting at fulfillment.

If this is a little too mushy minded for the thoughtful viewer, the Matrix movies do flash a sharper edge. They probe at the dark underside of a culture that is now so technologically inventive that it threatens true humanity. The matrix, with its deceptive simulation of reality, plays off of our awareness that not only can we travel the world without ever leaving our living rooms, we now have the capability to alter our very own genetic structure and, thereby, mastermind human identity. This is the kind of hubris, "toying with the Gods," that Greek playwrights, Jewish prophets, and Christian theologians have warned us against. As the culture critic, Jacques Ellul, says in The Technological Society, "Technique worships nothing, respects nothing. It has a single role… to transform everything into means…We set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere."

For all its promises and deliveries of "progress," human technology also enslaves, as anyone knows who has spent too many hours in the black hole of internet cyber-space, not to mention the numbing depersonalization of mass communication and the dehumanization of modern medicine. Such awareness drives the Matrix trilogy's hero, Neo, to confront the false gods of technological society with the force of human will and to seek a lasting peace within the social order. Ironically, in The Matrix, technology subverts itself. Only those who can be "unplugged" from the machine world can be truly human—free to love others, able to choose how to live and, sometimes, how to die. These movies challenge us to unplug ourselves.

Finally, the Matrix series raises critical questions for 21st century Christians about church and culture. After all, the Zion of the movie is the last remaining colony of true humanity. Zion is the only place where neighbor love still exists, where hope matters, where a faithful remnant of resistance fighters are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other and to wrest peace out of the maw of death. It's not much of a stretch to see the Zion of the movie as an awkward parallel to the church, where in Paul's words, "We do not war against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities" (Ephesians 6:12). T

The biblical scholar, Walter Wink, in Naming the Powers, has argued convincingly that these "powers and principalities" of the New Testament are not the ethereal demons and bad-angels of misinformed spirituality. Rather, they are the corrupting forces within earthly life, within our economic, political, and religious institutions that wreak havoc among us, unleashing violence and despair among the human community. The church has a much more difficult task than we might have imagined. The church of today, like the Zion of The Matrix trilogy, must confront and engage the domineering forces that destroy human community from without and within.

So, what does it mean to be faithful in the face of the powers and principalities? To name just a few of those powers: a culture based upon voracious consumption (greed); nations waging war in the name of maintaining international peace (power); politics that are shrink-wrapped and scripted for entertainment rather than earnest intent to further and preserve the common good (deception); unquestioned zeal for technological mastery (idolatry). These are not distant, malevolent forces out there somewhere in the atmosphere. Rather, the powers are ever- present. They corrupt earthly existence and threaten to undue human community and God-centered faithfulness. How is the church to live faithfully in times such as these? What does it mean to say in the face of such "powers" that we believe in the One, Jesus Christ, who blessed the poor, confronted the deception of empires, and who came not to be served but to serve?

The Matrix and its sequels cannot answer these questions for the believer. But these movies, for all their limitations, can lift our heads. They can open our eyes with a kind of apocalyptic urgency to see how high the stakes are in a world that is "groaning to be set free" (see Romans 8:21-23). The answers are out there, though. We look for them in worship, in a book of sacred writings, in breaking bread together and drinking wine, in prayers for others and shared acts of human compassion. If we look there closely enough in patience and grace, we will not find all the answers to questions that the Matrix movies raise, but we will find "the One" who is.

Copyright ©2003 Dr. Lee Ramsey