Sunday, June 29, 2003
Neo flies in the Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix: Reloaded, Decoded

Is Neo in a Cult? Are You?

The tragedy of The Matrix Reloaded is not only that it           abandons the savior motif it so obviously advertised in the first           film for a bait and switch, but also that the product delivered           in the sequel is not even good old Hinduism or Buddhism—or even           relativism for that matter—but a vapid and reheated heresy packaged           in a smart business suit and sold at a price in a hotel conference           room.

By the brothers ::: philms ::: (63) Comments ::: Read the whole thing

Comments

1

Someone tell me why a Harvard/Princton scholar like Cornell West can get so much delight having 2 lines of dialogue in a film; so he has a SAG card now, yippie for him! The only purpose West seems to find in doing this film and existing at all is to self promote himself and his ideas.  I have no problem with that but why in a film that seems to parody socialism, has undertones of all those self help scams/cults, and like those est / Landmark Education seminars this film uses psychological trickery, not of fear and dehumanization like est but of cinematic techniques of explosions and Kun Fu to, “soften up th ...minds and help then take on desired patterns of belief.” But for God’s sake someone tell me what the doctrine of this film is…or is it like an Landmark seminar, “I give them my money and they make me feel less guilty for not saving a Jerry’s kid, and enjoying mindless action and chicks in leather as long as it looks cool, because hey, this world is all an illusion anyway. But, alas, I left feeling empty inside…for what is a Keanu film without the standard “Whoa,” I felt just a little cheated. 

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 29 Jun 03 at 04:07 AM
2

Read…...... What about all the religious connotations that you pointed out, I think that the real answers to the film will be answered on the third film, I am hoping that “Salvation” will come.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 30 Jun 03 at 12:13 PM
3

I’ll second thomas’s post…I left the theatre feeling not unlike going to a high-tier restaurant, complete with coat and tie, taking the best fare from the menu, and ending up with potato chips and dip…not even the good tasting chips, mind you, but the type that has been sitting too long in a vending machine.  And as for Cornel…what a disappointment.  I feel he has much to offer, but along his pilgramge, he got distracted at Vanity Fair.

Should I spend the $13 or so for part III, or wait for cable?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 30 Jun 03 at 12:36 PM
4

found hidden behind what we would term radical thinkers, or perhaps radical artists, is another possible let down revealing ideology and thought control.
it seems like an endless curtain opening, with a forever changing wizard behind every unveiling.
any confirmation about est from chuck, or the brothers wachowski published?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 30 Jun 03 at 03:19 PM
5

A couple o’ comments—

I was a bit disappointed with the Metaphilm review.  After all the work involved in the first one, this one seemed really thin.  The content it provided seemed interesting, but worked more on a “guilty by association” premise than anything else.

The review also failed to acknowledge that this film was part two in a three part series.  There always will be unresolved issues in a middle film, so I think it’s a bit premature to say the WB’s have abandoned the religious imagery of their previous film. 

If you’d like a more detailed review, I’ve written one for Riverwest Currents.  It also has a link to an updated, full length scholarly article about the first two Matrix films:

http://www.riverwestcurrents.org/2003/June/000695.html

Jim Rovira

Posted by Jim Rovira on 30 Jun 03 at 05:09 PM
6

Neo is not Aslan. So what?

For the life of me I can’t see the logic behind such an extreme reaction to this film. It seems like a lot of Christians are angry at the WBs for not portraying Neo as a 1 to 1 metaphor for Christ. Is it possible this disappointment stems not from any fault of the film but from some underlying anxiety caused by the possibility that Christianity is losing it’s appeal to pop culture? Many Christians became excited about the original Matrix and it’s religious overtones, thinking that it would perhaps it would stir up some fresh enthusiasm for the real thing. But now that the 2nd film has abandoned the “savior motif so obviously advertised in the first film” it seems a lot of people are feeling personally let down. It obvious now that the WBs weren’t interested in promoting any one religious viewpoint. But is the Matrix Reloaded heresy? By suggesting that the fictional character Neo was a symbol for Jesus, were the filmmakers then responsible to deliverer a product that was 100% “in-line” with the doctrines of the Church? Well, of course not, it’s just an action movie after all.

Besides, a less reactionary interpretation of the film definitely allows for Neo to fulfill his role as savior in the third act, even if the filmmakers seemingly reject the fanaticism and immature idolatry of some contemporary Christianity.

Also, the author of this article thought it was useful to equate the Matrix with a cult. If anything, this film is a blazing critic of the cult mentality. It wants to slap you in the face with the real possibility that perhaps Neo is a lie; it begs the viewer to question everything we have been taught to think about saviors and heroes. How many cult leaders would encourage you to question his or her authority? How many Pastors would suggest that the Bible might be unreliable and that Jesus himself could have been the invention of one or several different authors? No, the filmmakers (taking a cue from Buddhism) urge you to distrust all of you preconceptions, to purge your mind of dogma. In an age where human spirituality and God himself has taken a back seat to empty institutional ritual and religious fundamentalism, I can’t imagine a more timely and important message.

As for Jesus’ part in the final installment of the Matrix trilogy? Well I still think he may have a part to play, it just might not be exactly the one we want him to play. To borrow from C.S. Lewis: “He’s not a tame Lion.”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Jul 03 at 02:57 AM
7

I think Neo is pretty clearly a cult figure to the people in Zion in “Reloaded,” but I also think he rejects/is uncomfortable with that position. 

I really can’t speak for the reaction of some Christians to the film.  There are large segments of American Evangelicalism that very much wants its faith fairly represented in mass culture.  This isn’t much different from any other marginalized group, whether we’re talking about African-Americans, Jews, or members of the queer community, everyone wants a fair shake.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The reaction to a perceived “unfair” shake is usually fairly vocal in all marginalized groups as well.  This doesn’t bother me.  It is a mistake to identify American Evangelicals with all American Christians, though, and especially a mistake to identify them with all Christians period.  Catholicism isn’t nearly so hung up on representations of it in pop culture, for example.

Neo is, I think, clearly still going to be a savior figure in the third installment.  The real question to me is, “What kind of salvation will he provide?”  “How is salvation defined?”  The WB’s have pretty well painted themselves into a corner, but it’s a corner already painted, so to speak, by the critical tradition they inherited—how they work themselves out of it will reveal the depth of their thinking about the subject.  I agree with you about the questioning, though.  I just don’t know how deep it runs, and won’t until that third movie.

Jim  

Posted by Jim Rovira on 01 Jul 03 at 12:06 PM
8

Oh I totally agree with most of what you are saying. But I would have to point out that yes Neo’s following does have a certain cult like aspect, but so do all religions (based on the criteria presented in the article). And I think the film does a good job of pointing out the inherent danger of blindly following any religious doctrine, just look what happens to “poor Morpheus.”

Also, I don’t think that there is anything “wrong” per say to desire seeing your beliefs expressed in a positive manner in pop media. But I don’t think it makes for interesting critique when a film is expressly judged on the merit of how well it promotes one’s faith, especially when it’s a sci-fi fantasy film that never had the intention of promoting any particular faith to begin with. And to blast Reloaded as “vapid and reheated heresy packaged in a smart business suit and sold at a price in a hotel conference room” seems a reactionary and basically meaningless outside of a strict Christian context.

That is all. And also, my post is obviously a bit reactionary too. I’m just a sci-fi fan who has read one too many internet post on the subject of how Reloaded “sucks” based on the fact it’s no longer “good” Christianity. To me that just seems way too narrow minded. (and i also happen to think it is “good” Christianity)

It has always been obvious to me that the Matrix is a very secular film, but in the end isn’t it good to know that secular people are at least thinking about Jesus? I am especially interested (and this is just my personal slant) in the idea that redemption is possible even if one is “enlightened” to the likely prospect that all of the belief systems we have inherited have inevitably been corrupted is some manner.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Jul 03 at 04:36 PM
9

Thanks mucho for the reply, Charles.  I see where you’re coming from.  If you follow my links (posted above), you’ll be led to a short film review, and then a longer scholarly article that expressly talks about religious imagery in the film.  I argued that the first film employed generic religious symbols so wasn’t advocating any specific faith, even though the predominant sign system was provided by Christianity. 

I think I’d be annoyed by the critiques you describe too.  I think people had mistaken expectations.  My main problem with the film was that it was about 45 mins of plot in 2.5 hours of movie :).  Most of it was eye candy. 

Jim

Posted by Jim Rovira on 01 Jul 03 at 04:43 PM
10

it kiiiiind of seems like the brothers wachowski were listening when everyone leapt upon their movie and its philosophical undertones, as well as religious themes. in an effort to further, “blow the mind” of their audience, ( a term used by Wilhelm Gerhardt in reference to his EST training, as the editor initally pointed out, the WB’s are graduates of said program) they went overboard, thematically. in their rush to incorporate more philosophy, and even a professor of it, as well as keep the ball rolling with the religion, (note the scene where morpheus speaks from a raised rock, which triggers a bass thudding orgiastic scene of dionysian grinding, sweaty bodies and alluring angles of body parts) and in doing so, tried too hard, gave us too much poorly represented philosophy, and left a muddled message regarding religion, determinism and the like.
the attempt at complicated ethical issues, belief systems and the last 2000 years of thought isn’t easily dumbed down for the masses, evidenced by reloaded, and the shortcomings being a direct reflection of trying to get too much thought in to too little thinking.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Jul 03 at 05:39 PM
11

Thanks Jim, I’m at work so I haven’t been able to read your full text but seems like very good stuff. And although I do truly appreciate the spiritual/philisophical themes within the Matrix, I probably enjoyed the film more than most people precisely because my expectations weren’t that high. I don’t expect anything too profound from my summer blockbusters, and I have to admit I am a big fan of “eye candy” (it goes great with popcorn).

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Jul 03 at 06:23 PM
12

heh…on that level, they’re great films :).  I look for more when it’s there.

Really liked this line: “trying to get too much thought into too little thinking.”

Jim

Posted by Jim Rovira on 02 Jul 03 at 11:01 AM
13

I do enjoy Metaphilm’s slightly incendiary (and tenuously substantiated) take on the film, especially the article about est training.  There are certainly glimmers of non-reason in the new Matrix-verse, not so much in the film proper, but in the video game and The Animatrix (and good grief, let’s have an article on the merchandising of these films!).  In the VG (which I goaded my brother into playing so I could watch the film clips) a main character name-drops philosophers like there’s a test tomorrow.  At one point he presents a sort of cheerful Kierkegaardian take on Neo: belief because the believed upon is absurd, not in spite of it.

And thank you Mr. Rovira for putting your articles on the board. You have some insights that I did not catch in my viewings of the films.  As for “Is Neo A Cult?” - I tend to agree with Mr. Gibson’s comments: Reloaded questions all of its characters’ legitimacy as religious figures.  Anyway, an exact correlation between Jesus and Neo would cut down on the suspense factor, no? 
 

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03 Jul 03 at 04:10 AM
14

Mycteris—Yeah, the emphasis on irrationality in the second film is pretty hard to escape. I think this is a continuation of themes in the first film, though, not a reversal.

Irrationality in the second film seemed signified by the bacchanal “club” scene, by the reaction of some residents of Zion to Neo (he was a religious figure to them, and they made offerings to him), by Neo’s love for Trinity, by Persephone’s jealous betrayal of the Merovingian and her demand for a kiss from Neo, etc.

I see this, in relationship to the first film, as giving us some insight into one of the purposes of the religious imagery in the first film.  Religion is placed in the category of the irrational, and religious enlightenment is more an emotional process like falling in love than just the acquisition of a set of new ideas. 

Rationality in the film is signified, ultimately, by the Architect and by the Matrix itself; specifically reason devoted to the purpose of control, thus instrumental reason (in the sense established by Horkheimer and Adorno in _The Dialectic of Enlightenment_).

Yeah…someone should write something about the Animatrix and the video game.  The Animatrix was pretty entertaining, good animation, shed a little light on the world of the Matrix, but didn’t offer that much.  Seams in reality are explained by glitches in the program—the “haunted house” in the Animatrix is equivalent to the existence of ghosts or vampires in “Reloaded,” which also has a parallel in marginalized individuals (the teenager skateboard kid) and people capable of exceeding normal human ability (the runner).  I would say religious experiences fit into this category too—the pull us beyond our normal perceptions, thus leading us to question the system of control.

This is a real reversal and socially significant, I think, as this type of social criticism commonly views religious systems as part of the system of control.  The WBs emphasized the mystical or ecstatic side of religious experience, and saw a different potential for it.

Jim

Posted by Jim Rovira on 03 Jul 03 at 10:16 AM
15

I have to say I am ultimately disappointed in this review/analysis by Metaphilm.  I’m sure people were eagerly awaiting the article, but I think it was premature.  The Wachowskis have gone on record indicating the second and third films in the trilogy should not be viewed as separate films, but rather as one large film separated into two servings.  I look forward to some redeeming elements in the third installment, but I’m certainly not going to start attacking a story and theme that are only halfway completed.

Furthermore, that article was as bland and empty of content as they come.  It reads as though the author has simply jumped on the bandwagon of naysayers who refuse to enjoy a film simply because it’s a summer blockbuster - it lacks all resemblence to the depth of the article for the first film, despite exploring a film that pulsates with social & religious commentary. 

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08 Jul 03 at 05:24 AM
16

If you really want to see reactionary, how about Laurence Fishburne’s inability to deal with anything other than adoring fans?  Fishburne showed the critics of Reloaded what he really felt in no uncertain terms and then walked away.  But to answer many of the queries or difficulties spelled out in this excellent thread of posts, a fuller explanation is coming to spell out in detail what many missed in between the hyperlinked cracks.

Posted by publisher on 08 Jul 03 at 11:53 PM
17

I’m in a cult called “Metaphilm”.

Posted by bibble on 09 Jul 03 at 01:02 AM
18

either by accident or or planning, the first matrix exploded the concept that it was cool to think. this was of course buried within a bit of smoke and mirrors and kung fu, but once that cleared, we had some basic philosophical concepts, mass produced for the young, something new, at least in the memory of the mtv generation, myself included. the second movies inability to live up to the first, may be driven by alternative conceptions of what “should” happen in made up story, by the audience, and what they expect. the WB seemed content giving lots of action, without much substance, while thinning the thinking, or at the least, falling pretty neatly into age old religious traditions, from the trickery, to martyrs, to buddhist “oneness”, then mixing them up, and calling it good.
are people overly critical? perhaps, but only because they expected more, and were led astray from what they thought was going to be a stimulating sequel. certain moments of cliche, the necklace giving, the tribal dancing scene, morpheus on the mount, neo’s weakness in the cave with trinity…the people prostrating themselves and giving gifts to neo…this all reached too far into history. we know what was said to have happened biblically, seeing it in technicolor with reeves is garish and tacky. a thought provoking, perhaps stimulating movie that america deeply needed was what the original offered, but in the second this thread was not followed. the third could redeem, or really sour the entire package.
or perhaps, most simply, karate chops and philosophy were never meant to mix…kicks or kant, ninja-flips of nietzsche, the american choice is clear…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09 Jul 03 at 09:23 AM
19

Thanks for the many excellent comments.

After reading this Metaphilm review, I had the impression that it was written from the perspective of a jilted lover…the author seemed angry and betrayed at having noticed the “connection” between the Brothers and Landmark’s The Forum. Consequently, “The Matrix” is reinterpreted as the story of Neo’s induction into a cult. Is this a valid argument? Sure, in the same way that the case can be made (and has been) for “The Matrix” to be about a wide variety of other (often disparate) things. But this cult interpretation is troublesome. Does the Metalphilm’s reviewer have direct personal experience with The Forum? From his/her seemingly caustic reaction, it is unlikely. From my experience in this three-day seminar back in 1994, I observed that while some people came out of it Forum “moonies,” others didn’t feel it worth their $290, and quickly forgot about it. So that the brothers did “The Forum” means nothing more to me than that they read “Simulation and Simulcra,” are fans of Kung-Fu movies, etc. To dismiss “Reloaded” as a plot to impose the tenants of some new religion (Dianetics/est/The Forum) on its viewers deprives we Metaphilm readers of the thoughts of a demonstrably great reviewer. I want a Re-Review!!!

By the way, Landmark Communications is NOT Landmark Education!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10 Jul 03 at 12:46 AM
20

Read—

Looking forward to the expanded review.  I think there are some good ideas there that I’d like to see spelled out.

I think the last comment is right.  It’s not clear that the WB’s connection with EST is very meaningful from your article, but hopefully your expanded version will resolve some of this.

I do think, though, contrary to the last poster, that it’s very significant that the WBs read Simulacra and Simulation.  It’s viritually the entire basis of the first film and casts some small light on the second.

Jim

Posted by Jim Rovira on 10 Jul 03 at 02:53 PM
21

I find it quite amusing that Agent Smith apparently took a day off to read a little Deleuze.

“Exactly like a speed or a temperature, which is not composed of other speeds and temperatures but rather is enveloped in or envelopes others, each of which marks a change in nature.”

Sadly, he has not learned how to fly yet.  I would have enjoyed seeing several hundred Agent Smiths chasing Neo through the sky.  Regrettably, he is still confined to the laws of the system.

“There are no individual statements, only statement producing machinic assemblages.  We say that the assemblage is fundamentally libidinal and unconscious.  It is the unconscious in person.”

I like the idea of Neo as a cult, but only insofar as him representing hope as another layer of control.  How, after all, if he is flying around could he not be part of that same system?  Most religions work by providing a level of hope because hope as a prescription for fear of death is powerful.  Neo is “becoming” this perfect hope, by doing exactly what he is meant to do and no more.  But isn’t it easier to cheer for the personified (simulated) hope as an underdog?  Perhaps we should really be taking the counsel of Agent Smith.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11 Jul 03 at 12:02 AM
22

I’m a Conservative Christian, and I’d like to clear the air. Christians are not the ones who are upset about Neo not being a ‘1 to 1 metaphor for Christ’ as Charles Gibson accused. Neo isn’t Aslan, yes, the truth is he’s more like Peter or Edmund. But the people who are the most upset about the gaps in the Jesus-Neo conversion that I’ve talked with are either Agnostic or out and out Atheists. Most of my Christian friends think that ‘The Matrix’ is about growing up or politics. Ultimately, ‘The Matrix’ like ‘Mulholland Drive’ is a cinematic Rorschach, a celluloid inkblot. People see what they want to see. Young people see growing up, philosophy doctorates see a culmination of abstract thought, current event watchers see political upheavals. I think that all of this religious debate is a sign of those searching for the meaning of their own lives and responding to a subconscious suspiscion that religion holds the answer. Whoever brought up C.S. Lewis should recognize that idea from ‘Mere Christianity’. But what do I know? I’m just a Baptist Psychology major.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11 Jul 03 at 08:20 PM
23

I found this review to be a quite nice, different and fresh take on the Reloaded Movie.

As a true postmodernist and taking the advice of the silly movie to ‘question everything’ The first thing I did react to was the first comment on this board. Using the Subconscious as a scapegoat. The unconsius is just a theory and nothing much more. Freud was under the influence of the reductionalism and I would beg to differ of the existance of any subconciouss whatsoever.

Anyways.. Some of you guys seem to bring on the notion that this is a second movie in a series of three. And granted, this is the case. It does not automatically makes mediocre filmmaking okay and presentable. What I mean by that is well. The first Matrix movie had an beginning, a middle and an ending. All I got from this movie was squggily cloudy notions painted with rainbow colours all over the place without much continuety or value…

Star wars ‘the empire strikes back’ Stands as a better model on how a middle film should be executed. Altho not a great film and probably the weakest of the three, it still has an beginning, middle and an ending.

The notion that ‘matrix made thinking cool’ is to me a very sad and scary one. Altho in the harsh perspective it might be true in some form, I do hope it’s not.  That a whole so called ‘mtv culture’ had not explored their own surroundings in an descarteian matter is quite strange to me..

seeing the ripples of Descartes and Castandea was by the way my initall reaction to the first film… Seems to me the descartes prespective is forgotten in many cases.  In religous overtones the idea that a perverted devil lies to you about everything and such on is pretty good material for interpretation..

I did not pay a dime to see this movie. And i’m glad I didn’t. I think that if I did, I would be very dissapointed..

and I did NOT like the lame dialogue/acting…

Posted by divstah on 19 Jul 03 at 02:14 PM
24

Well, regardless of how sad or scary it is, ‘The Matrix’ has spurred the so-called ‘MTV Generation’ into examining their world with eyes that wonder what lies beneath the surface. Just seeing how people react to ideas about existentialism and the like in casual conversation, you can tell who has seen ‘The Matrix’ and who skipped it. I’m 18 and I’ve seen my friends watch ‘The Matrix’ for the first time, in weeks a lot of them completely changed the way they act, think, and generally live. Their music tastes changed, ‘your clothes are differant, you hair has changed…’. It sounds made up, but this movie has changed people’s lives in very positive and intellectually beneficial way. More power to the Wachowski Bros.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 19 Jul 03 at 05:00 PM
25

I don’t mean to excuse bad writing by the fact that the film is a middle movie, just that if we’re complaining because issues aren’t resolved and questions aren’t answered, we should give the film slack because it’s a middle film.

Middle films do seem cursed, though.

Descartes’ evil deceiver can certainly serve as a parallel for the AI that created the Matrix, but how far does that parallel take us?

Jim

Posted by Jim Rovira on 19 Jul 03 at 10:46 PM

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