Monday, November 10, 2008

The Matrix Review

I watched the Matrix for the second time last night. Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug). This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school. Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it.

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand. Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new. Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant. I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie.

The Matrix is about fate and choice. For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do?” The answer is nothing. Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not.

In the story, there is an Oracle. She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know. This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix. There is a strong idea of fate in this. Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power.

The mind is important in the story. Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix. And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are. Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive.

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story. (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.) At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix. Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too. The body cannot live without the mind. And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it. Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will. There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses. Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix.

That’s the framework. But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact. One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good. All of the questions represent a belief about truth. How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie? How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again? What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you?

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off. Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures? The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus. The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo. Whose will wins? Why? While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is. His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind.

Neo makes decisions based on what is right. He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do. We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right. He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well. And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will.

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy. However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a fa├žade, an intimidation tactic. No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice. It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race.

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers. The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot. The second brother dies. Greater love has no man than this… Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man…

The story isn’t all that new. A pure heart sacrifices itself for love. The will is superior to the feelings. Love conquers all. Truth and love are inseparably connected. It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie.

To God be all glory.

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