“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you.” –Morpheus, The Matrix
Chances are excellent that you don’t know just how true this statement is. The Matrix, while a smash blockbuster success and a captivating science fiction story, is simply a blanket that has been pulled over the real story being told. The fact that most people will catch a hint of religious undertone in this movie and never fully grasp the magnitude of the project would probably bring a sly smile to the lips of its creators, the Wachowski brothers, whom I confess to knowing nothing about. (A mystique that they’ve only added to by refusing to grant interviews.) This isn’t merely the story of a bleak future dominated by artificial intelligence, but a vast and deeply complex allegory for the Gnostic mythos. To paraphrase Morpheus, just how far down does the rabbit hole go?
A brief recounting of the Gnostic creation myth may help illuminate the point. The creator of our world, the cosmos in which we live, is not the creator God of the great monotheistic traditions popular today. Instead, there was originally both a male and a female deity. The Mother, Sophia (“wisdom”) wanted to make another creation, but did so on her own rather than with her partner. The resulting Demiurge was an abomination. An accident and a disaster, he was, quite simply, insane, and she cast him off and hid him in a cloud. This is the creator of our world. He trapped the Spirit in matter, and mankind has been trying to escape, to get back to the true God, ever since. The Gnostics teach that there is a savior, the One, who will come to reconcile us with the Absolute, the God that we cannot reach easily. We must get past the insane architect of our own world first.
The first movie in the trilogy (The Matrix Reloaded premiered last week, and The Matrix Revolutions opens in early November) hinted at the veiled tale. Once you peel back the initial layer of the film, it showed us a world (the Matrix) that was meant to deceive us and keep us from knowing the truth, something only a select few were permitted access to. This is, in a word, Gnosticism. Only a few are given access to the truth, while the rest must prove themselves worthy of the knowledge in order to gain access to the Absolute.
The naming conventions of The Matrix and Reloaded betray a good deal of the underlying story, while simultaneously raising more questions. One might ask why only a select few are permitted to have this sacred knowledge. Why not share it with the whole world? St. Jude Thaddeus asked this very question of Jesus at the Last Supper. Those people who have viewed the Animatrix, a collection of short animated films that complement and enrich The Matrix movies, will recognize that Thaddeus was the captain of the ship Osiris. As the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, Thaddeus was naturally doomed, along with his ship, destroyed by evil.
As we learned in the first film, the ship in which Morpheus (Greek god of Dreams), Trinity (a word that permeates Gnosticism for many reasons), and Neo (“new” and an anagram for “One”) ride is called the Nebuchadnezzar, named after the King of the Babylonians, mentioned in the Bible. He conquers Jerusalem, but does so as a tool of God, who destroyed them as punishment for their idolatry. (2 Chronicles 36:15-20) The last great city of Man that remains in the bleak future of The Matrix is called Zion, another name for the land of Jerusalem. Should we expect the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Zion in the final film? Or is the name going to ultimately signify an altogether different fate? The layers are so tightly packed that we cannot draw them apart yet (or maybe ever).
The analogy of Neo as the new Messiah has become even stronger in Reloaded than it was in the original film. We initially met Neo as the One, whom a prophet named Oracle said would one day return. (There was a savior before, and it was predicted that he would come again, mirroring Biblical prophecy). Neo is able to perform miraculous acts, and, as we saw in the first film, he died and rose from the dead (at the very end even ascending into the heavens bodily). The sequel draws even stronger imagery of Neo as the Messiah, in one scene showing him arriving in Zion to find many of its inhabitants greeting him as devotees, asking for blessings and later leaving offerings outside his door. Throughout the film, he performs miracles that cannot be explained.
The religious imagery permeates even the most action-packed fighting sequences, as in one that takes place in a great hall where we witness Neo fighting off enemies as statues of ancient gods and demons crumble around him. It’s suggestive of the stories of the saints who would exorcise demons from the sick; as they did so, the nearby statues would break, evidence that the spirits had been dispelled.
We meet characters named Niobe (a name familiar as a boastful woman of Greek mythology), Persephone (who has been stolen into the Underworld to be a bride and wishes to escape), Merovingian (a dynasty of Kings in France, believed to contain members of the Grail bloodline — direct descendants of Jesus Christ, protected by several secret societies), Cain (original son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy). We see a ship called the Logos, which to the Gnostics is the light that brings knowledge (and which manifests in the Messiah), and we even hear a woman mention her son Jacob, who is stationed on a ship called Gnosis.
The hints are all there, but only the very receptive may perceive them. We’re even spoiled with a scene where Neo meets the Architect of the Matrix (the Demiurge, insane creator of the cosmos we inhabit?), who tells Neo that he is the Alpha and the Omega, words that bear great meaning to any reader of the Bible as a description of the Messiah. Even numbers are important clues in Reloaded. The crew at one point is given 314 seconds to complete a task, which could have several interpretations: In gematria, the study of numbers used by the Gnostics but most often by the Jewish mystics, 314 is the numerical equivalent of the name of God (Shaddai). Another possibility is that it refers to a passage in the book of Revelations in which the beginning and end of creation are described.
We were told in the first film that this is not the original Matrix simulation that the machines designed, and this fact is confirmed in Reloaded. The first Matrix was perfect. It was a work of art. But humankind rejected it. Much like the Garden of Eden, mankind could not accept a perfect environment and so was cast out into a place that better suited its murderous tendencies.
Where will the story go next? The analogies are so dense and overlapping that it is difficult to predict what will happen in the final film, even for those with some knowledge of the Gnostic traditions on which the tale appears to be based. The richness of the science fiction story itself and the fast and heavy action sequences are the very matrix of this film for the majority of viewers; it is the world that has been pulled over their eyes to blind them from the truth. Only a few will recognize the gnosis underlying the story, and, most likely, that’s exactly as it should be. So just how far down does the rabbit hole go? We must earn the answer to this question, as it seems only a select few have that knowledge.
Robin L. Zebrowski is a philosopher and part-time science fiction writer. She did her graduate work in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science and its applications to Artificial Intelligence. She has most recently taught philosophy at Rowan University in New Jersey. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.