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Thread: The Matrix - Spoon-fed Symbolism

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    The Matrix - Spoon-fed Symbolism

    One of the features that, according to many reviewers, makes The Matrix such an ‘epic’, are the religious overtones that lie parallel with much of the action. The story of Neo (or the ‘New’ in Latin; an anagram of ‘one’) is, quite obviously, synonymous with that of Christ (whose name, in Hebrew, means ‘Anointed One’). Neo dies, is resurrected and saves the world. Morpheus is a John the Baptist figure, clearing the way for the coming of Christ, just as Cypher reflects Judas’ betrayal. One source within The Matrix camp hinted recently that the third instalment should, instead of The Matrix Revolutions, be named The Matrix Resurrection.

    The point is, all this blatant symbolism seems aimed at an audience unwilling to think about the implications of the film. Subsequently, while the film claims ‘there is no spoon’, it simultaneously uses one to spoon-feed the implications to the audience. Spoon-fed, in this case, by Morpheus, whose main role in the first film seems to be merely explaining the narrative and its complicated ‘rules’ (Leonard Maltin criticised the film for its ‘high mumbo jumbo quotient’ and I’m inclined to agree) and the Wachowskis who even name their characters with such brazen aplomb that their origin, function and ultimate fate can be guessed without even seeing the film e.g. Trinity, Niobe, Seraph and Persephone. In contrast, a film like Blade Runner explores recurrent philosophical themes, of what it means to be human, and yet doesn’t force them on the audience. In fact, it remains ambiguous whether the protagonist Deckard is, himself a ‘Replicant’. Thus the film allows multiple interpretations, something that The Matrix does not deign to do.

    In a sense, The Matrix (and, presumably, its sequels) can be watched on two levels, both, unfortunately, intrinsically flawed. From a philosophical angle, The Matrix brings nothing new to the table, merely a bibliographic catalogue of references to superior works. Interestingly, these same themes, of false perceptions of the world and redemption from a Christ figure, have even been explored recently (and, for mine, much more satisfactorily) in Alex Proyas’ Dark City, which comes without any of the pretension of The Matrix. On another level, as an action movie, The Matrix succeeds admirably at times. Although it is, as a whole, compromised by its philosophical pretensions in a way that something like the Star Wars series (in spite of its mythological references, specifically Joseph Campbell) is not. It’s a lose-lose situation. The Wachowskis bit off more than they (and the audience) could chew. Hopefully with the further instalments of The Matrix trilogy, the Wachowskis offer a more palatable meal.

    Any thoughts?

    Brett Nolan

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    Well Said

    I was actually engaged and amused for about an hour of Matrix, before it collapsed under the weight of the "mumbo jumbo" and unearned pretensions. I find your analysis quite perceptive. I don't intend to appear condescending when I say such well-thought-out opinions are rare in 18 year olds. It'd be fun to disagree so we can debate a bit.

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    More's the pity.

    People that treat films like The Matrix as a sort of populist religion - 'Hey man, you reckon the world's really been taken over by robots? Whoa!' - tend to piss me off. Similarly, I noted a short-lived spate of occurrences stemming from the release of Fight Club a few years ago, before everyone came slinking back to their khakis and lattes.

    I can't think of anything more stupid than a bunch of blokes sitting round and debating whether a representation of a spoon (itself created by the filmmakers) exists or not.

    Still, I hope the Wachowskis find the right balance for the sequels. The franchise has a definite potential to reinvent certain conventions for the 'thoughtful' action movie in a way that the recent influx of comic book adaptations does not.

    Cheers.

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    On Fight Club

    "Fincher dresses up mainstream masochism and macho posturing in grungy designer duds. Influential? The horror!"(me)

    "The most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since Death Wish. It's macho porn." (Roger Ebert)

    "What's most troubling is the realization that Fight Club thinks it's saying something significant" (L.A. Times)

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    I quite like the last one, 'what's most troubling is the realization that Fight Club thinks it's saying something significant'.

    Seems to be perfectly exemplified by the shot within the film of Tyler Durden preaching to an unseen audience, 'You are not your job...etc', with a vibrating camera (possibly the work of the evil brother of Steadicam?). Atmospheric? Perhaps. Unnecessary? Definitely.

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    excellent topic

    I agree whole-heartedly with the "spoon-fed" analogy of the Matrix movies.

    I immediately started to disregard the religious undertones in the first film when Neo was in the white room- "What is real?". It was nothing I hadn't heard or read before, and I just grinned to myself that these brothers were calling on some heavy juju with their Christ references. Imagine my surprise when no backlash occurred..No one raised a fuss, no one condemned the film (at least from the church-I haven't heard of any) & I seem to recall a devout Christian friend not being too upset either.. So, is it because it was such rousing entertainment that the "blasphemy" was ignored?- (no, I'm not religious-I'm spiritual ;)
    In my case, YOU BET YOUR ASS! - I got my advance ticket for RELOADED already!
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I'm hardly surprised there wasn't any backlash from the holy rollers. It's not as if the film was deliberately inflammatory in the way that something like Monty Python's Life Of Brian, from what I hear the Christians went on a rampage after the release of that one.

    Anyway the Christ analogy is an archetypal one that pops up a lot in films, or you might say it's one that is easily applicable to many films. Not only The Matrix and other 'epic' films but One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest springs to mind as another example.

    I've got my ticket for Reloaded as well. My sister and I were in Sydney the day they were filming the big helicopter scene for (I think) The Matrix Revolutions and it should be amazing.

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    I Like The Movie For Its Sci Fi/Action

    I just enjoy the movie as an experience and the more basic idea of machine, man, and mind thriller. I don't care about the intellectual religious symbolism. I just go to watch the action and believe that it has more substance than most sci fi action movies.

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    As a pure action movie, in a similar vein of Speed or something, The Matrix would have worked far better than it did, being compromised by the bullshit.

    It's too fucking long. Admittedly it kicks off, sheds the pretensions and just goes for it towards the end but getting to the final denouement is an exercise in patience and mind-boggling boredom. Personally, having to sit and listen to Morpheus' guff about the 'real' and the 'created', slavery and redemption, was a trying experience.

    The Terminator, for example, gets all that out of the way as swiftly as possible - 'Sarah Connor? I've come from the future to save you so you can give birth to the saviour of humanity! Let's go!' Speed is similarly streamlined with the death of Jack's partner done away with almost as swiftly as it is introduced.

    I'm not saying that The Matrix didn't, in turn,reward the audience for sitting through the entire movie, merely that it could have been a lot better (and shorter).

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    Substantive Sounding Stuff

    I didn't mind Matrix trying to high road to philosophy, whether intentional or not, whether realistic based and researched or not, the audience gets to enjoy watching a sci-fi action thriller while at the same time either pretending or even intellectualizing with the sophisticated sounding dialogue and supposedly deeper meanings of the movie - however, I just go with the flow, believing that this movie is superior to the plain action stuff. Thus as an academic, I can pretend to have my cake and it too. I can have the action but as the same time believe that I'm above the mundane, simple, brainless movies (true or not) by watching a movie such as "Matrix."

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    Christian Reaction to The Matrix

    Originally posted by Johann
    I just grinned to myself that these brothers were calling on some heavy juju with their Christ references. Imagine my surprise when no backlash occurred. No one raised a fuss, no one condemned the film. So, is it because it was such rousing entertainment that the "blasphemy" was ignored?
    I am sure that applies to a percentage of Christians. Others objected to the violence and language. I read comments from a few uneasy about Christian symbols and references cohabitating with "Eastern" doctrine. But you are right, the response was mild, with no backlash from religious institutions. There is a new film from Peter Mullan(Orphans) called The Magdalene Sisters. It sounds like the kind of film the Catholic church makes popular by condemning it. The bishops don't seem to be in the mood though.

    For comments about The Matrix from Christians go to: http://www.christiananswers.net/spot...thematrix.html

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    Well Tabuno, I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

    I still believe The Matrix fails on both levels, as action and as philosophy, each failing because of the attempted presence of the other. When the sermonising rears its head, the action falls flat on its face. Conversely, when the action picks itself up again, the sermonising slinks off.

    At best, the two are uneasy bedfellows.

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    I had a quick look at the Christian website, that was good for a giggle or two.

    Anyway, in spite of the fact that I've been using Christian analogies for The Matrix, I don't believe by any stretch of the imagination that the parallels are exclusively Christian, or that of any other denonination for that matter.

    It might, just as relevantly, be the prerogative of Buddhists or Hindis to get offended. It's only some of the names and stories that specifically relate to Christianity (Seraph, Trinity) while others (Morpheus, Niobe, Persephone) most definitely do not.

    As I remember one of my lecturers once noting, 'there's only seven great stories of literature' and, presumably, other narrative art (including films). It's important to note that 'literature' includes The Bible, in spite of what most Christians think. The themes of The Matrix are hardly unique.
    Last edited by fuzzy_nolan; 05-16-2003 at 09:21 PM.

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    Here's a scenario that actually happened. The original climax to "Blade Runner" was scripted as a Bruce Lee style fight between Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford. Here we have a movie with some intense visuals and some equally intense philosophical points, with a fair bit of action that actually served the purpose of the plot. When Harrison Ford is chasing down Joanna Cassidy through the city streets, or when he is taking a beating while being mocked by Brion James, it's action, but it doesn't overshadow the story...it helps to advance the story. Now they want to have an elaborate action-oriented standoff more suited to "Bloodsport" or "Enter the Dragon"? The thought doesn't exactly work does it? It was Rutger Hauer who said, "No matter how much I train, I will NOT be Bruce Lee. Let's make it more like the game of life." In this suggestion, they ended up filming a climax that was thrilling AND poetic. The point was made more poignant by the vision of the android not as a fighting machine as he was created to be, but as a man taking in every ounce of life he could. Martial arts movies can be fun, and the action is great, but to me there's always the sense of the characters getting busy dying as opposed to enjoying their life. In the fight, I hardly ever get the sense that they truly feel alive (which I think was one of the few ideas "Fight Club" tried but failed to portray). In "Blade Runner," you can tell that Rutger's character felt more alive than he ever had, and he was going to squeeze as much life out as was possible, even so far as to driving a nail into his hand to get that extra burst of adrenaline. And then he saved Harrison Ford, because in those last moments of his life, he also recognized the beauty of life in general. He didn't want to kill Harrison Ford...he wanted to make him see how beautiful a thing life is while simultaneously reaffirming his own. And this climax was just as thrilling as any fight scene could have been.

    In "Blade Runner," it is not an action scene pretending to have a point. It is a point made stronger by a good action sequence, one in which the action is less about violence and more about the heightening of tension and suspense. When dealing with violence, it's easy to get lured into the idea that it must have a point. I think it speaks volumes that the director's cut of "Blade Runner" omits the extra bits of violence that the international version includes. We don't have to see the blood shooting out of the man's head when Rutger Hauer crushes his skull to understand what is going on. We need only see Rutger's reaction and to hear the sound. Maybe it's Hitchcockian in that regard, but it proves to be more effective because it's more powerful. Through suggestion, the audience fills in their own blanks, and in doing so instills more thought into the point that is being conveyed. It's hard to think about that point when you're busy being grossed out and shrivelling in your seat. I think this is why many gore flicks do not often attempt to have a deeper story than it actually does. This is why I think "Fight Club" fails. It had a good idea in theory, but there was too much emphasis on the violence. I didn't need to see Jared Leto's face getting beaten to death (at all...nevermind that the version in the final film is different from what they originally had planned as the DVD shows...it should've been cut even more) to get the point...but seeing it just made me resist what he was trying to say. Yes the story can be advanced by the violence since its premise is based on it, but did we need to see so much of it? I don't think so.

    As far as "The Matrix" having religious undertones...I'm not surprised nobody raised a fuss, but at the same time I find that a bit insulting. I'm not a Christian...far from it...but I admire anybody who tries to defend their belief system, no matter how flawed it might be. There is no belief system without flaws, no faith without contradiction. The Christ-like references in "The Matrix" are pretentious because of the inherently violent nature of the film. Leaving aside the fact that more wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other cause, the idea of Christ was that of nonviolence. Do you fight injustice by killing a tyrant? It's almost the same argument that ensues in police dramas...is it better to catch the criminal by breaking the law, or is it better to obey the law and let the criminal go free? Christ, as best as I understand it, fought injustice not by killing the Roman emperor, but by preaching the word to others...fight injustice and violence...by being just and nonviolent. He didn't scorn those who crucified him...he said, "Forgive them lord, for they know not what they do." "The Matrix" on the other hand is loaded with violence, all surrounding a central Christ-like figure who fights tyranny...with more weaponry in his coat than an army can carry a whole brigade. When he is resurrected...he destroys the evil figure, blows him up from the inside out. Not that I want to accuse the filmmakers of blasphemy, but it seems like a pretentious way to make your point. Same thing with "The Phantom Menace." All the Christ references were there...and already it was a practice in blasphemy because Christ, though flawed and still human (as Scorcese's film and Kazantzakis' book tried to convey, not as blasphemy, but as a dualistic interpretation of how a divine figure touches us as humans), was never evil. He may have succumbed to temptation, but the idea of Christ is that as a divine figure, he is representative of all that is good and divine in both god and man. In "The Phantom Menace," the Christ figure is destined to become a servant of evil. It doesn't matter that in the end he finds his way and returns to good before dying, he still became evil. You don't get more blasphemous than that. Did anybody raise a fuss? If they did, please tell me. It's not uncommon for these things to happen in films pretending to have some deeper truth or meaning. In the end, it becomes just a muddled mess. You can pretend all you want that it had something significant to say, but if you don't say it in a good way, it becomes pointless. It's like trying to demonstrate the horrors of war to people by starting one yourself. Do people see your point? No...they see you as a warmonger, and they punish you. Your point is lost.
    Last edited by Ilker81x; 08-25-2003 at 03:45 PM.

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    You make an interesting point about the association of Christ - essentially 'a historical personage, a harmless country wise man of the semi-oriental past, who preached a benign doctrine of 'do as you would be done by'' - with the ultra violence of today's blockbuster.

    Perhaps it's blasphemy, but I daresay it's also infinitely more relevant to today's youth than the Christ of the modern progressive Church. The thought of a Christ who went and flykicked some Romans is also more appealing than someone who was executed as a criminal, whose death we are supposed to view as a 'splendid lesson in integrity and fortitude.'

    I think it - to some extent - a good thing that the teachings (not that I know what these are) are still being reinvigorated through popular art. I don't think there's any militant Christians patrolling this site, so I'll quote a bit from Joseph Cambell:
    Whenever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history or science, it is killed. Such a blight has certainly descended on the Bible and on a great part of the Christian cult.
    Don't get me wrong, I do have a lot of the problems with the supposedly 'mythic' nature of The Matrix but I do find it inspiring that someone's willing to attempt to bring the myth back to life, if not the religion.

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