The Matrix is simultaneously a philosophical model and a popular myth — a postmodern analogue to both Plato’s cave and Homer’s Odyssey, Descartes’ daemon and Pilgrim’s Progress, the brains-in-vats scenario and Star Wars.
Morpheus’s expository speech to Neo in the first film about the history of the power behind the Matrix — particularly the bit about the solar issue and the moment when he holds up the battery — is both the least persuasive and the least interesting thing about the film. It’s a perfunctory plot-level explanation that one accepts for the sake of the action and the hero’s journey, not something one particularly cares about for its own sake.
Beyond that, unlike Reloaded, which featured an impressive but hardly groundbreaking freeway chase scene as its biggest set piece, Revolutions has startling new sights to offer, notably a spectacular siege scene that recalls the first act of The Empire Strikes Back with its Walker attack on the Hoth Rebel base. In fact, The Matrix Revolutions arguably had the potential to be the Empire Strikes Back to The Matrix’s Star Wars, had the Wachowskis not squandered that opportunity six months ago with Reloaded.
Be that as it may, scratch the surface of the vast body of commentary and discussion devoted to The Matrix, and you could start to get the impression that Morpheus’s comment is a fairly accurate description of the film itself. The Matrix has been described as everything from a neo-gnostic parable to a Christian allegory, from a strikingly innovative action film to a derivative rip-off of kung-fu clichés and stock anime conventions. Commentators have found influences from Plato and Descartes, Lewis Carroll and Star Wars. At the end of the day, can anyone really say what The Matrix is?
Four years after its release, the world of The Matrix has been greatly elaborated by a pair of sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Given the intense philosophical and religious scrutiny to which the original film has been subjected, doubtless fans will be scrutinizing the new films to see what light they shed on the first film, and how they themselves should be viewed in light of the spiritual questions raised by the first film.
This level of interest is not primarily due to The Matrix’s visual innovations, such as its groundbreaking use of bullet-time photography. Nor is it, for example, Keanu Reeves’s acting that cries out for more critical discussion. Rather, it’s the philosophical, spiritual, and moral implications of this phenomenally popular action pic that are responsible for all the attention.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.