Commentary by Dr. Lee Ramsey
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.
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.
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?
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. You 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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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