Matrix Resurrections release: how the saga plays with religious references

Matrix is it a spiritual film? ” Yes ! », responds without hesitation Rafik Djoumi, cultural journalist specializing in geek culture and popular culture, who is also an expert “exegete” of Matrix. “Because the Wachowskis who made the film are people who are sensitive to everything related to the spiritual or even esoteric universe. »

Literally “everything”. What makes of Matrix a curious (but fascinating) philosophical-religious mixture. “The saga borrows from multiple aesthetic currents, explains Rafik Djoumi. It’s a mix of Asian pop culture, comic book, science fiction… but also a more literate culture, which goes from Gnosticism to Nietzsche via the Judeo-Christian tradition and Buddhism, without a hierarchy is established between these various inspirations. »

This somewhat crazy assembly has left some Christians skeptical. They saw it as a mishmash “very beautiful but general, wanting everything and nothing to say”, slips us a monk left unsatisfied. Or downright “a parody of a Christian film that escaped those who were unaware of the cultural sources and the insolence of the Wachowskis”, indicates a catholic versed in the cinema. Religious varnish? Parody of Christianity? Even subversion? Let’s try to clarify this.

1. Numerous allusions to the Judeo-Christian tradition

First, it is certain that allusions to the Judeo-Christian tradition are legion. Here are some examples. In the movies, Zion is the name of the last human city that stands against the machines and “the Matrix” (a digital virtual world created by the machines to enslave humans). Or Zion (or Sion, in French) designates the city of Jerusalem in the Bible, the holy city of the Promised Land, the place that God has chosen for his people.

Another reference to Judaism: the ship driven by Morpheus, one of the main characters in search of the chosen one who will deliver them from the machines, is called the Nebuchadnezzar. A reference to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon who invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and deported the Jews. But at the end of his life and before sinking into madness, Nebuchadnezzar gives glory to the God of Israel.

By naming this ship thus, the Wachowskis probably show the ambivalence of the heroes and their need to use the machines – like this ship – to free themselves from them later. The reference demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of the Bible.

Let’s come to Christianity. The messianism of Matrix is clearly one of the main themes of the film. The main character is embodied by Neo, whose letters, if rearranged, can give: “One” or “the One”, which can be translated as “the chosen one”. He becomes in the first film a sort of Messiah with impressive powers. From the moment he accepts his mission, Neo will be dressed in a kind of black cassock, an obvious religious symbol, which will not pose any problem for him to fight in kung fu against the evil Agent Smith.

In the Nebuchadnezzar, which will serve as a means of transport for Neo once Morpheus has found it, we can also read written on its hull: “Mark III No. 11 made in the USA year 2069.” A reference to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 3, verse 11: “The unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ »

Less obviously, Neo’s old name, before he chose to break free from the power of the machines, is Thomas Anderson. This banal name, however, probably has a hidden meaning, when we know that the Wachowskis leave nothing to chance. Thomas could refer to the apostle Thomas, the one who doubts the resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as Neo will doubt being the chosen one. His surname, Anderson, means “son of Andrew”, one of the first apostles, or, if we consider the etymological root of Andrew (andros), son of man. An expression that Jesus uses to qualify himself and to signify that he is the Messiah.

Neo’s companion is named Trinity. Should we see an allusion to the Trinity – the divine essence formed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? “Not necessarily in its religious sense but in the concept of the “trinitarian” which would transcend the “binary”, the world of the machinereplies Rafik Djoumi. In the first film, Trinity is presented to us in apartment 303 and Neo in apartment 101. Trinity is thus Neo’s triune, the Unique. It is moreover by her kiss that she resurrects him and allows Neo to fully embrace his role. »

The list of Christian allusions is still long. Should this be seen as a subversion of the Christian message? “When the film was released in 1999, the Christian message had already been largely subverted, indicates Rafik Djoumi who does not believe in this thesis. The Wachowskis are not religious people, they are more from post-structuralism or deconstructivism, explains Rafik Djoumi. They therefore proceed rather to a deconstruction of religious archetypes. »

For example, the architect scene in the second part, Matrix Reloaded, is a clear evocation to Genesis and to the forbidden fruit, according to Rafik Djoumi: “The Architect is the equivalent of the biblical God who built the garden, deciphers the journalist. Neo faces him, but in contradiction to his role as Messiah, he symbolizes the snake instead. » Malicious provocation? Not according to Rafik Djoumi. “The Wachowskis were nourished by sacred texts and the infinite network of meanings they carry”, he prefers to think.

2. A Gnostic and Esoteric Film

In fact of Christianity, whose themes are distilled here and there, Matrix places itself much more clearly in the filiation of a Christian heresy: gnosticism or gnosis. This philosophical-religious current born in the IIe century was quickly opposed by the nascent Church.

“Gnostics see the world as the creation of a false God and believe that the divine source is to be sought within the individual, says Rafik Djoumi. The universe in which we live is a prison, an illusion and the source of liberation is to be sought deep within oneself. » One of the references of this current is The Gospel According to Thomas, an apocryphal writing (i.e. not recognized by the Church). Thomas Anderson’s bedside book alias Neo? The Gnostic interpretation is in any case a key to the explicit reading of the film.

“It’s a Gnostic film”, abounds the Dominican Paul-Adrien D’Hardemare on his YouTube channel, which as a good brother of the order of preachers details the content of this heresy: “It is salvation through intellectual knowledge. (…) It is an esoteric knowledge because one does not reach it by an effort of meditation (as in Buddhism) or by a moral effort (as in Christianity), but only if one is lucky enough to have a guide and if one undergoes an initiatory experience. »

The esotericism resides in this restriction of knowledge only to initiates, elected officials to whom knowledge is offered. This is the meaning of the famous scene of the red and blue pills proposed by Morpheus to Neo. There is the contradiction with Christianity which postulates that salvation is reserved for all and, on the other hand, is not of the order of intellectual knowledge but of an encounter with the person of Christ.

The Wachowskis push this filiation with esotericism to the end because the film is also esoteric on a formal and artistic level. “He hides the strings, explains the Dominican. Apparently, it’s an action movie. In reality, it speaks of something else: it is necessary to decipher the references and the allusions. »

“If we seek to understand, we must expect the ground to give way under our feet, recognizes Rafik Djoumi. But it’s not an occult film either, since the Matrix project is to be seen by everyone and to leave the individual the possibility of creating his own path in his network of meanings. »

3. Asian spiritualities

References to Buddhism, and more generally to Asian spiritualities (Taoism and Hinduism), are the other strong marker of Matrix. They fit perfectly with the main theme of the films: the questioning of reality and illusion. When he decides to follow Morpheus to get rid of the influence of the matrix in the cult scene of the red and blue pills, Neo follows in the footsteps of Buddha, “the Awakened” who understands that everything he believed before was only an illusion and breaks the infinite cycle of reincarnations, or rather of the different updates of the matrix.

“The acting of Keanu Reeves, the actor who embodies Neo, testifies to this inspiration, says Rafik Djoumi. He himself is close to Buddhist spirituality. He had interpreted Buddha in the film LittleBuddha by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1993. And from the second film, Reeves plays the role of the exhausted, another reference to Buddha. It no longer has the energy and vitality of the first film. »

As for Christianity, we can then easily identify in the film an abundant network of references: starting with the omnipresence of kung-fu, Neo’s favorite mode of combat, the principles of which are inscribed in the Tao Te Ching, founding text of Taoism attributed to Lao Tseu. In the third movie, Matrix: Revolution the soundtrack plays songs in Sanskrit with verses from the Upanishads, this set of philosophical texts at the base of the Hindu religion and which more or less retraces Neo’s journey.

4. The Nietzschean apology for the de(con)struction of idols

At the heart of this monumental syncretism, the Wachowskis finally deliver a message with Nietzschean accents, detected Rafik Djoumi. ” In the twilight of the idols, Nietzsche describes himself as striking with a hammer all the icons that we have set up for ourselves and that block our thinking. But the films offer us precisely to identify the hollow sound of our idols. He constantly takes us from one image of God to another: from Morpheus, a paternal figure, to the cold and calculating Architect… At each stage, the spectator believes he finally recognizes God or the Source of the matrix, but in fine he is always disappointed. Like the character of Morpheus himself, who finally comes to doubt and no longer understand anything. »

But by dint of endless questions, doesn’t Matrix pay nihilism, that is to say the loss of meaning and bearings? “No, it’s an invitation to constantly rise”, Rafik Djoumi defends himself. But he admits that it was precisely this labyrinthine construction that lost a large number of fans when the second installment was released. “At the end of the first, we thought we had understood but seeing the second, we realize that the hero only freed himself from an illusion to enter another control system, decrypts Djoumi. This film is very aggressive compared to the first where we are guided by our emotions. »

The release of the fourth opus, named Resurrections, is logically awaited with fear and trembling by the fans. Because the whole previous system could be called into question. End of the suspense in theaters, December 22!

Find our review of Matrix Resurrections.

Matrix Resurrections release: how the saga plays with religious references