Written and directed by Andy and
Larry Wachowski (they're brothers), Matrix may well come to be considered a classic
work of science fiction. Of course the Wachowskis borrow freely from sci-fi
conventions and cliches, all the way to Buck Rogers and Star Wars. So much so
that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a particular scene is intended
to be a parody, and when the audience is laughing, whether the laughter is intended.
Normally film makers want to avoid the gray zone between satire and plagiarism,
but the Wachowskis walk confidently into this field of land mines apparently convinced
that the visual power and originality of their film will win the willing suspension
of disbelief necessary to make a fantasy like this one work. And work it
does. The action sequences and special effects are highly entertaining. Keneau
Reeves (as Neo), Carrie-Anne Moss (as Trinity) and Laurence Fishburne (as Morpheus)
make a seductive trio in their roles as heroes. They wage war against a
villain we never actually see: a race of machines represented on what remains
of earth by a small army of "Sentient Agents," who appear to be human,
but actually are machines endowed with spectacular powers.
action unfolds in the distant future some untold years after the earth as we know
it has been destroyed during a cataclysmic war between the computers and their
human creators. The computers have won. They control the entire planet and
keep the human race alive in a totally helpless state, imprisoned in cocoon like
shells, and farmed as an energy source. Everyone is blissfully unaware of
these circumstances because the computers have re-created the earth in the form
of a virtual reality world in which people carry out their daily routines, coming
and going, getting and spending, living and dying, much as we are doing now. But
this veneer of normalcy is only a mask and an illusion. It is The Matrix.
In fact, the entire human race has been reduced to a condition of abject slavery
small group of rebels wages a struggle, apparently against all odds, to reveal
the truth and liberate the human race from its oppression. Their hope lies
in finding The Chosen One, a human being endowed with God-like powers who will
lead them in a war of liberation. During much of the movie, the suspense builds
and the drama gathers force around the question: is Keneau Reeves The One?
Or shall we be forced to look for another? Here the Wachowski brothers reach
beyond and behind science fiction to draw upon the Bible as well as classical
mythology. Neo, Trinity and Morpheus, the names themselves suggest their line
is not science fiction, it is in fact a new genre of film-making in which special
effects combine with ancient metaphor and symbol. It is spirituality fiction.
Without giving away the
movie's outcome, it is revealing that the strengths which our heroes bring to
the struggle are a composite of skills both technological and spiritual. Neo and
his colleagues combine a mastery of the computer with the force of mind over matter.
In fact, the outcome of the movie hinges around whether Neo can conquer his own
fear and draw upon the deepest resources of the human spirit.
the end this film is really a statement of faith in a sort of new-age spirituality
in which humanity triumphs over the evil which it itself has unleashed upon the
earth by drawing upon its own most inward and spiritual strengths.
though this film is of both classical and biblical traditions, it is lacking,
however, in one crucial ingredient -- the element of the divine. There is nothing
supernatural about either the Evil which these characters confront or the Freedom
which they seek. In the end, everything is defined in the terms of the here
and now. Which leaves this viewer with a disturbing question. Our heroes
struggle to be free -- but free for what? In the end the film makers do
not show how the liberated world would be in any fundamental way different from
the world of the Matrix -- that is, the world as we know it today in the closing
hours of the millennium. Hence, when you think about it, the outcome of their
battle counts for very little after all, for life has become indistinguishable
from a computer game, albeit a spell binding one to be sure. For a follow-up review
of the sequel: The Matrix: Revolutions
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.