Monday, December 21, 2009

Matrix - Review

Summary of the Plot

The first part of The Matrix series was released in the late 90s and has captured the hearts and minds of moviegoers with a penchant for explosive action mixed with futuristic science fiction. The movie itself is loaded with several New Age themes including some close parallels to some elements from the Bible and is packed with mind blowing and innovative action sequences unparalleled in the history of Hollywood movie making.

The central character in the movie is played by Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson, who works as a programmer for a software firm. He is representative of an average silicon valley software professional. Anderson assumes the role of Neo in his time after work and spends most of his time as a hacker involved in all possible cybercrimes. Neo appears against the backdrop of ‘The Matrix’ which is really a simulation created by artificially intelligent (AI) beings who use humans as their power source. The time this occurs is in the year 2199 AD. Man’s quest to reign supreme and his faith in technology led to the creation and dependence on machines, the culmination of which was the artificial intelligence. The revolt of the AI beings against mankind led to a war between them and mankind. The AI creatures (Sentient Agents) were originally designed to use solar power believed to be a long-lasting source of energy, but a nuclear winter changed the situation. The AI forms adapt by using humans as batteries. To this end, they create an elaborate hoax known as the matrix, where the humans are bred and raised to believe they lead existences as if nothing ever happened. Neo is being sought after by the leader of a band of rebels (Morpheus played by Lawrence Fishburne) who escaped the matrix and seek to redeem mankind. For the same reason, Neo is also sought after by the Sentient Agents. Led by the Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), the Sentient Agents are intelligent programs within the matrix that act to reinforce the AI control of earth's populace. Since everything in the matrix is an illusion, all the action is really a metaphor for a battle of wills. Neo is the one capable of inflicting damage on the AI system and free the people who have their minds enslaved.

In the second part, Neo having discovered that he is indeed ‘The One’ through his last encounter with Agent Smith, continues to help the rebels free more people from the clutches of the sentient AI while learning of a plot by the machines to invade and destroy Zion. They take the battle to the Matrix itself. In this part, Agent Smith is now able to clone himself.
In the final part, Neo takes the sacrificial path of killing himself to defeat the AI system and liberate human beings from them. Interestingly, the last scenes also depicts him as coming back to life.


The movie raises several issues chief among them being ‘What is reality?’ It plays satire on man’s quest and dependence on technology with today’s modern/postmodern world tending to place a lot of faith on technology to redeem mankind of all ills. Man has advanced in his engagement with technology trying to wrench out solutions for all of man’s problems purely using technology that he is now far removed from reality and becomes enslaved in a pseudo world created by the very machines that he originally designed himself. In addition, the movie extrapolates what the world would look like when the effects of ecological and environmental disaster that awaits us because of our poor handling of resources comes to fruition.
Another parallel theme that runs through the series are allusions to several New Age themes including that of Christianity. In this sense, the movie has truly identified the presence and rise of religiosity even in the advanced techno culture, where man might have to fall back on should technology fail to redeem him. Deeply entrenched in the story line are close parallels to Christian icons and Hindu philosophy. Morpheus, Neo and Trinity could possibly remind a Christian audience of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in some sense (with Neo even dying and coming alive at the end). However, at a philosophical level there are explicit narrations (particularly by the character Ramakrishna – the original name of the proponent of advaitic Vedanta) of Vedantic philosophy that equates the matrix to Maya and even touches upon transmigration of souls and cyclic birth and rebirth and some esoteric themes involving the Oracle to which Hindu and New Age audiences could identify themselves with. Interestingly the last song is a mantra from the Upanishads shown below reflecting the above.
“asato ma sadgamaya (lead me from nontruth to truth)
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya (lead me from darkness to light)
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya (lead me from death to immortality)
Om shanthi shanthi shanthi (peace peace peace)”*
In conclusion, the synthesis of the plot of The Matrix series closely captures the various ingredients of today’s modern/postmodern world with man seriously engaging technology on the one hand to make the world a better place to live and the rising suspicion and lack of trust by others in such a realization who turn to back religion.

* Quoted in ‘Diana L. Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993, p.117.

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