It’s been well established within the Christian circle that the Matrix Trilogy is filled with religious overtone since its release more than twenty years ago. Names like “Trinity”, “Zion”, or “Nebuchadnezzar” gave away the obvious Christian reference, not to mention major theological themes played out in all of the first three films. Therefore, my biggest curiosity to its fourth production has to do with how the underlying religious tone continues. And, what would be its message.
A major reason for Matrix to have established its authoritative position in film history is because it gave birth to a new series of postmodern movies. Think of similar genre like Vanilla Sky and Inception. These films blurred the boundaries between illusions and reality, playing to the theme of postmodernism which denies the domination of any meta-narratives. Instead, we each have our own small story that is as legitimate as any other’s. While the Matrix Trilogy operates on this platform as a way of expression, the subject of its conversation is about something else. The first Matrix speaks of “the promised Messiah”. The Matrix Reloaded hinges on the concept of predestination or “choice.” Then finally, The Matrix Revolution deals with the the major pillars of Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. But what of the fourth one, The Matrix Resurrections? It turns out this last production is the most profound among all of The Matrix series.
The Matrix Resurrections is produced against the backdrop of a post-postmodern era in the worst sense. The polarized culture across the nation has created fragments of “reality” among different communities with each living within its own narrative, not only claiming its own “truths” but also competing for dominance. In this environment, discernment of reality proves taxing. Likewise, audiences find themselves struggling together with Neo at the beginning of the movie on telling what reality is. “Am I crazy?” Neo keeps asking himself. And the blue pills that he takes is a strong symbol that he keeps feeding himself with illusions. The tension is even higher than his first encounter with Morpheus in the first film, because he knows he is supposed to be over this and there is no Oracle to guide him this time either. So what is real? Those of us who sit on this side of the Matrix that stare at the silver screen are waiting for the protagonist to finally sort out his reality, that he will once again assume his heroic identity prophesied. The One will battle the archenemy – agent Smith or whoever, whatever – saving the future of mankind one more time. [Pause] We would be disappointed. This is not what it’s about. The Matrix is not telling the story of the digitally constructed fantasy. It is telling our story using different vocabularies.
In the counseling scene, Neo’s therapist gives a perfect explanation of what actually happened. “It was your great ambition to make a game that was indistinguishable from reality. To achieve this goal, you converted elements of your life into narrative. Your sublimated anger toward your business partner cast him as your nemesis. A married woman named Tiffany became the “Trinity” of a domed romance.” In our reality, the same exact happened. Elements of our lives are used to construct into narratives. In these narratives, we face existential dangers. Our world is racing toward ruins – either by the liberals, the radical right, or whoever needed for the moment. Like Neo, we live in our own Matrix, and it is also indistinguishable from reality. This Matrix “weaponizes every idea, every dream, everything that’s important to us (Bugs).” The game designers say this: “Obviously, The Matrix is about trans politics, Cryptofascism. It is a metaphor for capitalist exploitation.” How is it that The Matrix is not about our story?
The striking horror of the truth is the revelation of how the machines can no longer survive on merely the body heat of humans. The demanded high productivity comes from our feelings. Our anxieties! The machines put human beings in pods and make them live in constructed stories in their minds. And it was their feelings that make their fictions real. Neo’s therapist says, “[Feelings] are so much easier to control than facts. Turns out, in my Matrix, the worse we treat you, the more we manipulate you, the more energy you produce. And, the best part, zero resistance.” In this world, everybody is “quietly yearning for what you don’t have while dreading losing what you do. For 99.9% of your race, that is the definition of reality.” The machines are controlling mankind with desire and fear. They might be distressed or angry, but they have the comfort of certainty of what to desire and fear. This certainty makes them no longer want freedom or empowerment. They become comfortable in their enslavement.
In this new world of The Matrix Resurrections, the remnants of humankind have a vision different from that of the Trilogy. The refuge no longer resides with Zion, which deemed outdated because it is “stuck in the past”, stuck in the war mode which believed that it had to be “us or them.” The new Garden of Eden, IO, where you can grow strawberries is built by “us and them” – by humans, and machines, and digital image of programs existing in the real world. It is a place of harmony that different kinds who don’t seek dominance may live together in peace. [Pause] But the most refreshing perspective is from where salvation now comes. In every action film, the climax is always in the last great battle scene. For the Trilogy, Neo faces agent Smith in their final confrontation. His victory or defeat will determine the future of the entire human race. But in Resurrections, Neo is no longer the hero. There is no prophesied Savior to save the day. There is none. The future of mankind no longer hinges on a final battle scene. Instead, our destiny hangs by a thread on whether someone will love you back! Salvation does not come in the form of violence. What can truly break the Matrix of fear and anxiety comes from loving one another. This must be a two-way dynamic. One may initiate, but the other has to respond the same. In this mode, we may discard the “blue pills” and build our new construct based on our terms, using love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness and not fear and anxieties.
This is the mystery of the scene of the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3. There was never a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It was a metaphor. What was forbidden was the disobedience of God. But what was God’s command that mankind disobeyed? We find the answer in the New Testament where Jesus gives it again in plain sight: Love one another! Disobey that, and death will come. Not because God will be so angry that He will kill us all. But we will destroy each other. Love one another is not an aspiration that “it would be nice if we can also do that.” It is the key to life. It is a dead-or-life issue. If we practice love one another, we can survive the pandemic, the politics, climate change, poverty, racial tension, and more. If we practice love one another, we won’t need another savior. And this is why I think The Matrix Resurrections has the most profound message among the Matrix series.