When I first watched ‘the Matrix’, like a lot of people I thought of it as nothing more than an ordinary sci-fi or action film. It had a good plot and great action scenes. However after watching it again I realised it had scratched the surface of many theological ideas. Little flashes of information that could be related to religious and philosophical concepts.
The film follows a storyline not unlike others in the genre. These often have humans fighting against an evil suppressor, or a hero figure rescuing a ‘damsel in distress’ from evil. There is often the use of space or time travel. The movie has the basic good versus bad scenario. In most cases you can be sure of good prevailing over evil against all odds. Nearly all sci-fi films have a ‘happy ending’. The Matrix has many of these elements in the film. There is good versus bad: fighting against all odds; a conspiracy; and the fact that love conquers all, such as in when Trinity reveals her love for Neo after he has been killed by the agents and then is brought back to life. All of this along with the futuristic weaponry, such as the weapon that is shot by Cipher at Tank, this would make it appear to be a sci-fi film. However there are other elements in the film than link it to the action genre, therefore it has a mixture of the two genres.
To make the Matrix appeal to wider audiences, there is the love interest between Trinity and Neo. This gives the film a double plot. This technique is used often in Hollywood blockbusters. Although in the Matrix this is not a big part of the film.
A big Hollywood actor, Keanu Reeves, plays the part of the main character. This is again to attract big audiences, as it is often the case that people will go and see a film because of a certain actor being in it.
Throughout the film there are some major action scenes. These consist mainly of fights, a chase or destruction. These are the scenes in the film that will get the audiences’ adrenalin pumping. This is what a lot of people want from a film and so it makes a lot of money. After all, that is the main purpose of making a film. The key action scenes in ‘the Matrix’ are the ‘Rescue of Morpheus’, ‘Neo Escapes’ and ‘The Glitch in the Matrix’. These combine a number of techniques, used by directors, to add to the suspense and drama in the film.
There are elements in the film that link to films in the past, such as when Trinity and Neo fight through many armed guards without getting shot. This links to many kung fu films. Also the scene with Neo and Agent Smith in the station relates to many western shootouts. Both men stand opposite each other with a pistol, and then they start shooting at each other.
The Matrix also uses many groundbreaking special effects. Such as bullet-time, which allows a three hundred and sixty degree rotation of Neo while he appears in a freeze frame. The directors appear to slow down time when the bullets are shot at Neo on the rooftop.
The Matrix contains a story that shows many of our fears in modern day living, such as the development of A.I.; what we are doing to the environment; and the effects of genetic engineering and nuclear testing will be. This gives a possible look into the future. This not only makes the film tenser but also uses the fears we have to make the film more realistic. This has been done many times before. It was often done in the sixties, with the threat of nuclear war.
Most action films have a hero to lead the fight against the enemy. The Matrix is no exception. The enemy are the Agents, and because they are computer programs they show no emotion, can dodge bullets and can change into people.
Throughout the film, at the same time as all the action and explosions, there are snippets of information relating to Christianity and Buddhism. Both these religions, although different in traditions, both say the problem of ignorance can be solved by an individual’s reorientation of perspective concerning the material realm. They also both believe in a guide who helps those still trapped in the limiting world of illusion. In ‘the Matrix’ this figure is Neo.
One relationship with religious and philosophical ideas is the choice of names used for the characters. Most people would notice the name Trinity from Christian beliefs, however there are some more subtle ones, these include: Neo, this being an anagram of ‘One’, Neo’s real name, Thomas Anderson, Thomas means ‘twin’ and in ancient Christian legend was Jesus’ twin brother and Ander/son (from the Greek andras meaning man, therefore making ‘Son of Man’). The ship is named the Nebuchadnezzar after the Babylonian king who had puzzling dreams that where interpreted, Morpheus (Greek God of Sleep, he had the power to shape people’s dreams) and Zion, synonymous with Jerusalem.
The relationship with Neo as Jesus is made stronger in many ways. The other computer hacker says to Neo, “You’re my saviour, man, my own personal Jesus Christ.” Also the rest of the Nebuchadnezzar crew swear by saying “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ”.
When Neo first enters the ‘real world’ he is picked up by the Nebuchadnezzar, which at the time has it’s spotlights on, so it looks like a blinding white light (cinematic description of heaven). When Neo gets on the Nebuchadnezzar the camera pans to a sign that reads, Mark III no. II. This refers to Mark 3:11. This says, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God.’
As stated The Matrix also has links with Buddhism. The Matrix was described as “a prison for your mind.” All the people in The Matrix are part of an inter-woven web. This web resembles the Buddhist idea of Samara, which tells us the world is constructed by our desires. When in the Matrix, Neo is told the way in which he perceives himself is “the mental projection of your digital self.” Everything in the “real” world is a just electronic signal. According to both Buddhism and The Matrix, the conviction of reality based upon sensory experience, ignorance and desire keeps humans locked in illusion until they are able to recognise the false nature of reality and relinquish their mistaken sense of identity.
In Buddhist terms, Humans are trapped in a cycle of illusion, and their ignorance of their cycle keeps them locked up. The sensory projections, given off by this cycle, are strengthened by peoples’ desire to believe that what they perceive is real. Everyone cannot control this desire, for the Matrix. This is shown by Cipher and Mouse, both give in to temptation . Cipher asks to be reinserted into the Matrix. He knows it isn’t real but the ignorance is better than enlightenment for him. Mouse had given in when he was distracted by the ‘woman in red’ when he should have been paying attention. Not everyone in the film gives in. Despite the fact the rest of the crew are wearing threadbare clothes, subsisting on gruel, and sleeping in bare cells, they enact the Middle Way teachings. This allows no absolute asceticism or indulgence to distract them from their work.
In conclusion I think that the filmmakers used the theological ideas to make a philosophical piece. This would then form a cult following and create a buzz around the film. Evidence of this would be the numerous web sites that went up saying the Matrix was a new kind of religion. I believe the makers used this to help publicise the film. However the film itself is nothing more than an action film.