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April 2nd, 2010, 11:47 PM
MATRIX and The Matrix Reloaded

Frances Flannery-Dailey and Rachel Wagner's groundbreaking article: "Wake Up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix," published two years after the release of the film, convincingly argued that The Matrix draws on several religious traditions in its presentation of an unreal material world, a world which requires of the masses a mental liberation in order for them to participate in life’s true reality. This article has provided the impetus for much fruitful discussion of The Matrix both in the scholarly and popular press(1). The Matrix was released in Australia the very week I retired from my thirty year career as a teacher. It was in the first days of April 1999; 1999 was also some forty years after I had joined the Bahá'í Faith in Canada at the age of 15.

The film's sequel, The Matrix Reloaded(2003), came out as I was ensconced in a town by the sea, the oldest town, George Town, on the oldest continent—Australia. I had taken a sea-change as they call it in the Antipodes. I had also taken an early retirement at the age of 55 and was on a disability pension by 2003. I was writing, editing and publishing full-time by the time the 3rd millennium turned its corner in 2001 and this sequel to The Matrix was released into cinemas around the world.

The Matrix Reloaded critiques what many saw as the gnostic religious position that Flannery-Dailey and Wagner use to philosophically underpin their film The Matrix. The Wachowski brothers, the writers and directors of both films, reveal the limitations and inconsistencies of the gnostic approach to reality through their portrayal of a type of "realized eschatology" similar to that found in some outposts of the early Christian church. Eschatology is a word for the happenings when the world ends, the end times, when Jesus returns, inter alia. Gnosticism typically: (a) rejects the material world as malevolent and illusory, and (b) advocates a program of special intellectual training culminating in the possession of secret knowledge in order to escape both this world and its illusory nature. Gnosticism, of course, is quite a complex subject, far too complex to deal with in a prose-poem like this one.

In The Matrix Reloaded, Zion, the underground outpost of the free humans, is, quite literally, thy kingdom come, the kingdom of God on Earth, that realized eschatology, the time of the end. Within it the enlightened and those who are saved enjoy a foretaste of what all civilization will some day be after the machines are defeated in a final and apocalyptic showdown at some future time. This model of the future not only accepts, but also embraces and celebrates, the material world as the embodiment of spiritual reality perhaps, for some viewers of this film, it is but the metaphorical nature of a deeper spiritual reality. The illusions of The Matrix are to be found in the non-material world of: ideas, computer programs, data and information. It is and was this world that gnosticism has always claimed as the dimension of true reality.

In short, this cinematic sequel turns the first aspect of the gnostic system on its head. Flannery-Dailey and Wagner note that when we ask the question, 'To what do we awaken?', the film appears to diverge sharply from Gnosticism and Buddhism, two major religious paths. 'Waking up' in the film means a leaving behind the matrix and awakening to a dismal cyber-world which is our real material world. The Matrix leaves open the possibility that the "desert of the real," the one that Neo is shown on a computer screen, is not in fact real at all. While that reading may have been possible with the evidence of the first film alone, The Matrix Reloaded significantly alters the possibilities for a gnostic interpretation. A realm of true reality: a material, embodied, and historical realm of human existence--is the setting for much of the second film's action. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Julien R. Fielding, "Reassessing The Matrix Reloaded," Journal of Religion and Film, Vol.7, No.2, October 2003.

Neo is the Messiah of The Matrix films;
Zion awaits the coming of a Paul & the
revel that accompanies an awakening-an
exodus, or a liberation which cannot be
productively translated into an MO, a...
modus vivendi or a modus operandi. Paul
created a Christianity with stable religious
institutions by identifying a third way that
was between an asceticism and libertinism,
a praxis of realism liberally salted with......
regeneration, undergirded by Christian hope.

This third way required the proponents of a
realized eschatology to see some very real
conditions of ongoing life in this our world
including relationships of dependence and
practicality. Salvation and enlightenment is
not the end of the story....nor does the plot..
continue only at the level of the great cosmic
battle of God, of light and darkness. We may
live authentically and mindfully or forget who
we are and fall into new errors and illusions;
both alternatives are possible for saved persons.

Paul wanted to show that the category of Christian
contains the possibility of grievous error, evil and
deceit. Blinded by gnostic underpinnings they see
that they have attained some transcendence over
dangerous illusion. A Paul must emerge to teach
them a sustainable and honest perspective on their
lives, reconciling their belief system with their......
many unstated assumptions in the practice of their
daily existence &, if not Paul, perhaps, The Return.(1)

(1) For a stimulating commentary on this film, a commentary from which I have drawn in the above prose-poem, see: Donna Bowman, “The Gnostic Illusion: Problematic Realized Eschatology in The Matrix Reloaded,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 4, Summer 2003.

Ron Price
3 April 2010