Okay, I’ll be honest. I really didn’t like the Matrix movies that much. I tend to prefer my science-fiction a tad more coherent, and I really like to see more colors than just black, gray and brown, and more than three hours’ worth of plot and character in seven hours of screen time. But here I'm not concerned with whether it’s good sci-fi, but if it’s good spi-fi, and yes, the Matrix trilogy is very good spiritual fiction.
The Matrix story stands apart from the mass of other virtual-reality movies like The Thirteenth Floor, Existenz, Vanilla Sky, and others by consciously making spiritual connections. Its spiritual symbolism is so evident in fact, that even a pubescent vid-kid entranced by the techno-dazzle might give a few thoughts to what it means.
The Matrix of delusion
This saga, whatever its weaknesses may be, is a profound analogy for spiritual awakening. Enlightenment teachers such as Vernon Kitabu Turner and David Oshana sometimes use it in their teachings. “The Matrix” is the world that all but a few humans are experiencing—the world that we all know, with its ups, downs, distractions and rewards. It’s not perfect, but that’s life—the world simply is the way it is, right?
Not quite. Neo Anderson, our hero, learns that this world he’s known and accepted all of his life is a façade, a massive virtual reality program designed to control humanity. The deception of the Matrix shelters people from the terrible truth of their real existence, which is horrible beyond words. People are kept caged from birth in pods, grown by machines for the purpose of powering the machines that really rule the world—an unending hell in which there simply is no human intelligence in control at all.
Good thing it’s just fiction. Right?
Or could it be that we do live in a façade? That we are not in control, but from birth, we’ve been programmed relentlessly by our culture to do what the culture wants, to be persons not in God’s image, but in society’s? Could it be that our defense mechanisms, mechanical reactions, and institutional machinery is what really runs our lives? Is the product of our personal fears and collective ego a machine-mind which powers itself by keeping us ignorant throughout our lives? Is the human condition simply powering the mechanisms that keep us bound in darkness? Is there help?
How can we wake up? This is the ultimate question. The Matrix portrays the desperateness and misery of our ignorance with a punch. We're not awake. We're living in dream-world, fueling the mechanisms of our own delusions. We need to wake up. Who will show us the way?
Zion is the only city of free people remaining. However, the "Real World" is not very pleasant. The hundred thousand or so people who have been taken out of the illusions of the Matrix are losing a desperate war against the machines (the spiritual battle against the forces of delusion). Morpheus (named after the god of dreams) rescues Neo from the Matrix and brings him into the Real World, believing him to be "The One," the savior who can end the war and save mankind. Neo also meets Trinity, whose love symbolizes the love of God. Together, the three work on freeing mankind by going into the illusory world to wake up others and find the machines' weakness.
Neo is the most-discussed savior character to appear in recent cinematic fiction. Neo is both Greek for new as well as an anagram for one which underscores his Messianic title: The One. Anderson literally means "Son of Man," the title Jesus used in the Gospels. Neo not only typifies Christ as the Savior, but also the Buddha as the Awakened One.
Like the Buddha, when Neo becomes aware of the enormity of human suffering, he devotes himself to training so that he will have the power to go into the Matrix without succumbing to the illusion. When he becomes truly aware of the falseness of the Matrix, he can see the "agent programs" who seek to destroy him simply as the machine code they really are.
However, like Christ, he manifests superhuman powers as he realizes his own true nature in both the Matrix and the Real World (spiritual reality). It's interesting that the story actually shows two Resurrection scenes. The first one, which takes place at the climax of the first film shows the divine point-of-view; when Neo dies within the Matrix (our world), Trinity (in the Real World) brings him back to life with a kiss, symbolizing Christ being raised by God. The climax of the third movie is another Resurrection scene focussing on the human point-of-view of the Resurrection. In the Matrix, he voluntarily allows the satanic Agent Smith to kill him, and his sacrifice floods the false world with a glorious, purifying light. The result is that everyone still captive in the Matrix now has the choice to either enjoy a beautiful illusion (free from the agents) or to awaken and live in true freedom. Simultaneously, conscious people in the Real World enjoy divine peace, and the machines can no longer threaten them.
The Matrix's myriad religious images are mostly Christian and Buddhist, but there are other elements in the mix. Although Zion is a city of about a hundred thousand people, its worship is tribal—a wild, sensual dance galvanizes the people as they prepare to face the battle that may destroy them. It's one of the most interesting scenes in the trilogy, and a sad reminder that our modern religions have lost almost all traces of primal earthiness. Neo and Trinity's lovemaking in the background pictures a restored human innocence as well as the spiritual lovemaking of God and the soul in Christian mysticism.
Chris Seay points out in The Gospel Reloaded that The Matrix is particularly consistent with the Gnostic movement in early Christianity, which emphasized the inadequacy and falseness of this world, with the need for enlightenment or awakening, (which they called gnosis. "knowledge"). Other Gnostic elements are the Oracle (Sophia, divine Wisdom) constantly urging those who call on her to look within for the Truth, and the Architect (the Demiurge), the deceptive spiritual force which keeps the massive illusion in place.
What The Matrix doesn't show is the Reality beyond the "Real World": the hidden splendor and unity of all things in God. Instead, it offers an original and powerful lesson on the urgency and challenge of living in true freedom: You are in the Matrix. It's time to wake up.