This is predominantly an action film.
On the surface is the same old “man can self destruct because of his creations” story, and there is plenty of action to hold the audience’s attention while this idea is didactically driven home for the people who don’t bother to look beneath it. However underneath the action and superficial storyline is a veritable smorgasbord for the spiritually minded.
Like many good stories, there are a few ways to go with the overall meaning. In keeping with some of the traditional norms, the assumption that will be held here is that Neo would be the protagonist. He triumphs over the assumed antagonist (Agent Smith). The tricky part is that Smith is Neo in a sense, so the story of man against himself is no doubt the type of story being told. To put it another way, a soliloquy is a way to show a man’s struggle with himself, but rather than use that approach, the authors chose dialog between Smith and Neo, perhaps to conceal the drama. Therefore, at the heart of it all, Neo struggles with himself.
The aforementioned conclusion is fed by Neo’s relationship with Trinity, Persephone’s betrayal of the Merovingian and the conflict between Morpheus and Commander Lock. Morpheus was Neo’s foil character. Morpheus had a belief. Throughout the trilogy, he never wavered from that belief. Before the story setting, Morpheus lost Niobe to Lock. However after the story was told, Morpheus re-established his relationship with Niobe. In contrast, Neo loses Trinity forever.
Thus far, nothing has been said to qualify this as a “God Movie”. The analysis is, IMHO, rather existential. The reason this qualifies as a movie about God is because in between the two extremes of a man’s struggle against himself and mankind’s likeliness to cause its own extinction, is the idea that our perception of reality is not necessarily the true reality. In the history of philosophy, some philosophers held the idea that the “ontological world” is the real world and the “existence world” is the merely a world generally accepted as the real world, but not real in actuality. By comparison, in the movie, the real world (the existence world) is in fact called the real world and the matrix is the world, imagined or perceived by any human effectively “jacked in” to it.1 That being said, Cypher prefers to live in the dream world and betrays Morpheus in order to relive his dream. As an analyst I think this makes Cypher’s symbolic role in the movie important, even though his part in the movie is relatively insignificant. It is Cypher’s regret for taking the red pill that helps to make this a movie about God.
While Cypher effectively illustrates how the dreamer sometimes prefers the dream because he or she perceives it to be more pleasant than the reality, from the dramatic point of view, his significance is debatable because his role is minor. On the other hand, Morpheus is the character that seems more responsible for driving the plot. He also, in a sense, drives a ship named Nebuchadnezzar. From the sequels, the Merovingian (sometimes called the Frenchman) is part of the antagonistic network determined to stop Neo. In contrast, Morpheus is bound and determined to see Neo succeed. However Morpheus (who does not seem to be the protagonist) does not struggle with the Merovingian directly. Instead Morpheus’s struggle seems more with Commander Lock2, commander of the Zionist’s defense and with Niobe in between the two of them. Since Lock never witnessed Neo’s extraordinary ability, Lock has a limited perception of reality when contrasted with Morpheus, who has a much broader scope. A person must "see" in order to actually believe. Indeed, Link and Tank were both able to witness in some sense, that which Neo was able to do and they too believed that Neo could be the answer. In that regard, a philosopher’s take on reality, generally has a broader scope than a person who lives according to the pragmatism of what amounts to the materialism of day to day life. The name Lock could be an allusion to the famous philosopher John Locke. Like John Locke, the commander seemed bound up by the chains of empiricism. Perhaps the authors allude to the idea that Lock was an empiricist who felt no sound strategy can rest on a leap of faith. A lot of people lost their lives helping Morpheus, who was essentially driven by a leap of faith.3 The animosity that Cypher felt for Morpheus was not exactly unwarranted. Since Morpheus is driving the plot, I prefer to focus upon him rather than Cypher. Since Morpheus is driven by faith, this movie is about God in general and faith based initiatives in particular. His disagreement with Lock is a building block of the overall theme. Lock is a rational person driven by reason. It is his behavior that in turn, puts the spotlight upon Morpheus’s behavior. This dichotomy makes Morpheus’s attempt to “bet the house” on Neo to be seen as irrational behavior by comparison. Likewise, many atheists (and for that matter agnostics) find theism to be irrational because it requires the same “leap of faith” as Morpheus’s hope that Neo will be able to save Zion requires.
As the Merovingian teaches the audience about cause and effect and Agent Smith teaches about purpose, this movie goes a long way to teach about why things are the way things are. Since I think the movie goes way too far with the action scenes and special effects, I could never accuse the authors of being didactic (except of course in the previously mentioned superficial interpretation of the meaning of the movie). Both Agent Smith and the Merovingian focus on the question “why”. One of the four great questions is why are we here? The authors use Persephone (the Merovingian’s wife) to highlight how love tends to influence the “why” in our lives. Persephone provides Neo with the keymaker. Her role is key to linking the theme of love and the theme of why.
1The characters in the movie that “existed” only in the matrix, were called programs. In contrast, the characters that existed in the real world were either born naturally or “grown” (likely harvested eggs artificially inseminated) by the machines in order to function as electrical power sources. Those who were grown, and subsequently freed, could be plugged into the matrix, during which time the mind of those plugged in would effectively dream whatever would be programmed into the computer to which that particular brain was connected. When the machines plugged in the human in question, that human would be completely unaware of the real world, but when the humans plugged other humans in, those who where plugged in seemed completely aware that they were dreaming while dreaming. It is a fact that has no bearing on this analysis, but a fact none the less. Today empiricists want to portray the mind as a part of the phenomenal world. Since dreams are in the mind, are dreams phenomenal or imaginary? Immanuel Kant kept the mind out of the phenomenal world in his analysis. If today's emipricists held to Kant's philosophy, this would not be a dilemma.
2 As stated, Morpheus’s ultimate goal is to save Zion and he was willing to jeopardize his relationship with Niobe in order to achieve that goal. Niobe, no doubt sought a partner who appeared to be more devoted to her until she was able to understand what was truly motivating Morpheus. It is Persephone’s contribution that helps shed light on this aspect of Morpheus’s struggle.
3At the end of the movie about the Bible on the history channel, the narrator mentioned that all the apostles were martyred. Obviously I cannot rightfully blame the history channel for pointing out a matter of fact. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if the "moral of the story" from the history channel's perspective is that religion is bad for a progressive society. History is very subjective and I couldn't help but wonder if the history channel was trying to discourage anybody currently sitting on the fence.