The Matrix: A Heroic Tale
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation - initiation - return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth." - Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
The Matrix strings together aspects of the hero’s journey in order to manifest its main character. Neo (also known as Thomas Anderson), the protagonist of the film, closely follows the path of a traditional hero. The film also offers views of mythical themes and archetypes that are present in heroic mythic tales.
Neo, the One, commences the film agitated, looking for answers to an elusive feeling. He is called to a quest by Trinity, who warns Neo that he is in danger. Agents oppose him and direct him toward detachment from Neo’s illusionary vision of the Matrix. He then encounters his mentor, Morpheus, who offers him a choice of accepting the call to take his journey or return to the old world. After his acceptance, marked by taking the red pill, he becomes completely separated from the illusionary old world, as he is discarded as dead and cast out of the physical matrix reality, and is reborn into the real world. With guides by his side, he begins preparation for tests to come in the new world. The Oracle provides Neo with more direction as a mentor. He confronts the antagonist that is the Matrix in order to save Morpheus, successfully overcoming his adversaries and reaching his destiny. He returns from the experience with knowledge of his abilities and realization of Trinity’s passion. The final scene displays a challenge to the old order, as Neo states that he will remake the world and complete the Journey.
Myths function as a mirror of the soul, displaying our beliefs and fears for analysis. Numerous people can relate to The Matrix. Who hasn’t had the feeling of question regarding the world and all that we can physically experience? The Matrix is a mythological manifestation of that questioning, fears and doubts.
From the first call to journey, Neo follows the cyclic stages of the hero’s development. From his refusal to answer the call to the acceptance of supernatural help to his crossing of the threshold into the dark world, all of the stages of the traditional journey are present.
Neo is in an environment where he is not comfortable. He needs something to change. He is going through the motions of life, subconsciously searching for more. Neo can sense there is something out there; something he can’t see, that he can sense. After initial refusal, he eventually becomes brave enough to follow his senses and answer his calling.
Neo must answer the call in order to grow and fulfill himself as a person. The call, in this case, appeared in the form of Trinity. She tells Neo that he is really searching for the Matrix. Trinity recognizes the hero within Neo, but Neo does not recognize Trinity.
Neo originally rejects the call to take his journey. By choosing not to follow Morpheus’ directions to escape, he figuratively and physically refuses the call by dropping his cell phone, succumbing to the custody of the antagonists. This refusal could have led to his absolute imprisonment in a world where all is known, leaving his abilities unfulfilled. The antagonists plant a tracking device inside Neo as punishment for his refusal to answer the call.
Neo eventually answers the call, moving into a world of quest where infinite growth is possible. He commits himself to the journey by saying “yes” to Morpheus on the phone. He travels to his mentor in the middle of the night and in severe weather. Danger is present in the air, presenting another reason for Neo to turn back. He is given another chance to reject his call, but accepts it upon Trinity’s influential words. She also warns him of Morpheus’ knowledge, saying that he knows more than Neo could imagine.
Neo meets his seemingly supernatural aid. Meeting his mentor helps him overcome his fear that led to his previous refusal to answer the call. The mentor knows of Neo, as Morpheus has been watching the One. Neo is only aware of his supernatural aid through word of mouth. The One is currently unaware of his destiny. Regardless, Morpheus provides the hero with spiritual advice, offering him a road that leads to answers. At this moment, Neo consciously chooses to embark on his adventure.
Neo proceeds to prepare himself physically and spiritually for his quest. His mentor teaches him lessons; among them to avoid temptations presented by the material world (e.g. women). These dangers would stand in his way to prevent him from completing his journey. He has now crossed the threshold, as the preparation is over and he is ready to set out on his adventure.
Neo begins to test his allies and enemies. He begins to experiment with the new world, seeing what is new, who’s on his side, and how everything works, meanwhile learning some lessons (e.g. the child with the spoon). Neo begins his journey with helpers and guides in Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest of the crew, facing challenges that the Matrix presents along the way. How he deals with these challenges indicates the depth of his inner and outer strength. All of the tests attribute to the same meaning; there are difficulties involved in achieving any goal worth having.
Now that Neo has explored his new world and uncovered some of its mysteries, he can get ready to face his adversaries (the agents) and follow his beliefs (saving his mentor Morpheus and creating peace). There is a moment of preparation before he faces his ultimate challenge. The agents challenge Neo in order to force the One to confront his fears. They draw forth aspects of Neo’s personality that is not readily perceived, allowing Neo a deeper understanding of self. The agents allow Neo to demonstrate his abilities (Neo realizes his full potential and ultimately defeats Agent Smith), and overcome his fear that his opponents have been exploiting.
Neo is rewarded for surviving his challenges. He finds true love in the form of Trinity. This love is so powerful that she is able to bring Neo back to life by declaring her love. Trinity is also a martyr. Neo does everything possible to keep her alive, whereas she accepts her potential death as a necessary part of Neo’s quest to save the world. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for Neo is not a sign of a weakness, rather a demonstration of her complete belief and commitment to a cause. She is just as determined to save humanity as Neo; her role in the journey is just different.
The One now must collect himself and start finishing his quest. This is indicated by his willingness to stand and fight against Agent Smith. At this moment, he is a changed person, beginning to believe in a cause greater than himself.
Neo must face death one last time, in a more final way, on a deeper level and bigger scale; so he is truly tested on what he has learned on his journey. Neo dies for humanity. Because of this, he holds out the promise for new life through this sacrifice. He displays the positive nature of death, as it is a catalyst for new birth through spirit and a final voyage into the unknown.
Lastly, there is a final return when Trinity acts as an elixir and revives Neo by declaring her love. Neo changes and brings back power and understanding to share with his cause. This is a moment of ultimate self-realization. He has faced and overcome death, being reborn with power that has been discovered on his journey. This power allows him to destroy his opponents and capture control of his reality.
Man vs. Machine
Similar to the story of Grendel, The Matrix reveals that both humans and machines possess similar qualities. Humans are restlessly driven towards their beliefs, just like machines. Morpheus has full faith in the Oracle’s prophecy and in Neo. His beliefs are unquestioning, and his followers automatically follow him in his pursuit of his beliefs. Trinity’s love for Neo is consistent like machines. Her actions display her love, but her love is expressed through her actions rather than through emotion and passion. Neo expresses a robotic calm once he is transformed, similar to Beowulf’s machine-like qualities in Grendel. He and Trinity wear black, plain clothes that symbolize machine’s bleakness. They possess incredible strength and fighting skills that parallel the machines as a result of downloaded computer programs into their bodies.
In contrast, the Agents (antagonists) are creative, adaptive, and smooth. They shape-shift easily throughout different programs, listening to human speech and responding in accordance with their beliefs. Agent Smith displays human emotions of disgust and fear when he converses with Morpheus while trying to crack his brain. He confesses himself after removing his glasses and ordering his comrades out of the room. Smith is seemingly desperate to become human.
How interdependent is man and machine? Technology threatens to become more intelligent than humans; however, technology does not need to be smarter than humans in order to enslave them. As long as humans use technology to solve human issues, humans and technology are interdependent. The machines grow and harvest humans in order to sustain their existence, as they are dependent on humans for life. Humans don’t rely on machines to survive unless they choose. At one point in time, humans needed A.I. for something and created it in order to satisfy that need.
The Matrix offers the illusion of choice. The Matrix is a world with predetermined results, all questions already answered. In the real world, humans possess the power to alter their fate, make mistakes, and act on their beliefs. Neo chooses the real world and the choices that come along with it by swallowing the red pill earlier in the film. He learns that free will does not come easy, as the real world is dangerous and unorganized. Pleasure seemingly only exists in the Matrix as a computer program.
Cypher regrets choosing the red pill. He believes that even false pleasure is better than no pleasure, saying that “ignorance is bliss.” He sees the truth as an unnecessary nightmare. He is the classic betrayer, symbolizing Satan. Cypher wears red and has a goatee, which are representational images of Lucifer. In contrast, Neo and his supporters value reality and the ability to make choices, however unsatisfying they may be. Everyone has a responsibility to choose between the fake world and the real world.
Cypher is a classic example of a betrayer. He cooperates with the enemy in order to ensure his own false reality. However, without Cypher’s betrayal, Neo would not have transformed through resurrection. Was this destiny? Was this the plan? If it was a plan, is there really a choice that can be made?
Neo is an example of free will, as fate plays an important role in his quest. He relies heavily on the Oracle, as everything she says comes true in one shape or form. She guides Neo towards the right decisions, as she can see around time. If she does this correctly, Neo doesn’t have to choose and use his free will.
Morpheus attempts to describe the Oracle as a guide, not just someone who can foresee the future. She is always right, raising questions as to how much free will Neo actually possesses. Her intelligence and swagger allows her visitors to trust in her, which may be why her prophecies are self-fulfilling. In this sense, she shares the same ultimate goal as Neo and his crew; they are trying to shape the future.
The antagonists are constantly wearing sunglasses in the film. Sunglasses cover the eyes and reflect the image of those looking into them. When the sunglasses are removed, this indicates that the character is developing a new perspective or is vulnerable in some way. When Morpheus offers Neo a choice between the blue and red pill, they are reflected in each of Morpheus’ sunglasses, a reference to the two alternate views that Neo must choose between. When Neo enters the new world, his glasses protect him from dangers he encounters.
Mirrors offer a view of how we see ourselves in our world as well as the outside world. After Neo takes the red pill, he enters the real world, touching a mirror that infects him with a metallic substance. This suggests the dismissal of all illusions set forth by the Matrix as he enters a new world of perception. Reflective materials are consistent throughout the film (e.g. rain and building glass), shifting forms and locations, transforming its reflections.
Archetypes and Character Analysis
The Ruler/Savior/Messiah archetype exists in all cultures and beliefs, as it is the heart of philosophy of modern mankind. Neo represents this icon, imparting peace and a sense of hope for mankind. He is associated with a hidden understanding, singled out to be admired. He is different from the rest. He represents things that others are not. In this sense, Neo will use his abilities to save mankind from possible extinction. He uses his powers to heal rather than destroy. The healing, hope, and knowledge he imparts to those in the Matrix causes them to worship him, even though he claims that he didn’t save them, they saved themselves.
Neo, being the Ruler, has a counterpart in Agent Smith. Smith is the anti-hero. Like a mirror, there can be no reflection unless there is an image that first appears in the glass. Neo and Smith are light and dark. They are polar opposites. Where there is a Savior, there is a Demon. Without the existence of Neo, there would be no Smith. There can be no light without darkness.
Neo and Smith begin to mirror each other, one becoming more machine-like and the other becoming more human-like. The future of society rests on the balance of power between Neo and Smith. The film shows us that peace is greater than good and evil. Good and evil are the same, yet opposites. The only difference between Neo and Smith is their individual beliefs.
Neo wants peace while Smith desires destruction. Smith’s desire to destroy is without reason. Smith could be viewed as a shadow Magician and shadow Ruler, as he attempts to turn all positive into negative. Neo follows his path because it is what he believes. Smith simply acts without thought or comprehension of an end result. At the end of the entire Matrix Trilogy, peace is only restored once both good and evil is destroyed. Neo understands that through his understanding, he has the ability to achieve his goal of peace, giving up his life for others; that is a true hero.
Trinity symbolizes archetypes of the Lover and Caregiver. She helps Neo access knowledge within himself, while at the same displaying unconditional love for the One. He became the One because of her powerful love. If not for her love, Neo would have died at the hands of Agent Smith in the hallway at the end of the film. His transformation and resurrection was a direct result of her love. Upon his resurrection, his vision became clear. She is the Spirit, divine force behind the One, and their union is unbreakable.
Morpheus represents a mix of the Seeker and Sage. He searches for the One, seeking out elements to create a better life for himself and others. He wants to achieve what he believes. He becomes wise due to his experiences and uses this wisdom in an effort to save humanity. He encourages Neo to develop a clarity of vision and to act in accordance with his beliefs. He wants to “free his mind.”
Morpheus believes without question that a Messiah exists and that it is his destiny to locate this being. He inspires with his words of wisdom. He found the One and trusts in Zion’s safe future. He possesses absolute conviction about his beliefs. He spoke of a prophecy he trusts in and prepared those around him for the arrival of the One so when he came, they would be prepared to receive him. Perhaps Morpheus’ purpose is to subconsciously care for the inhabitants of Zion though a message that could potentially be false.
The Oracle represents one side of the Creator. She represents love, guidance, and compassion. Her intent seems to be to aid mankind in finding purpose in their lives, especially Neo. She is also a source of hope for Morpheus. She informed him that he would find the One, and through this belief and faith, he fulfilled that prophecy.
The Oracle could also be seen as a Sage, possessing a pronounced wisdom that helps people discover why things happen. She represents femininity through her temperate, slow manor. She is viewed in the form of a woman living in a housing project, enjoying the simplicities of life. She speaks compassionately, as she is abstract. She is mythical, with a sense of humor. She understands the importance of machines and humans living in peace, and acts in accordance with this understanding.
The Oracle is the true heroine in the film. She risks all she knows in order to preserve peace. Once it is clear to her that Neo believes in lasting peace, she gives him an opportunity to achieve this idea. She is motivated by pure love. She loves the creation that is the Matrix, as well as humans existing alongside the machines. She believes fondly in peace and guides all aspects of making peace possible. She believes in Neo and trusts in him to make a sacrifice for the greater good of society. She never truly knows the outcome of others decisions, but simply believes.
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