In their film, The Matrix, Andy and Larry Wachowski have included many literary allusions and symbols to enhance the appeal of this groundbreaking science fiction film. As incredible as the special effects and cinematography are in this film, the Wachowski brothers have significantly bolstered the appeal of The Matrix by an elaborately constructed story spanning time and reality. These allusions and symbols include references from infamous writers such as Lewis Carol, Jung, John Bunyan and Descartes. However, the most meaningful and abundant references come from The Holy Bible.1 When the trailer for this film was first introduced to the public, many expected The Matrix to be just another science-fiction film with phenomenal special effects which lacked an intriguing plot. The majority of the reviews definitely put an end to this misconception. Most of the reviews written on this film eloquently complement the Wachowski brothers on their excellent story line. The Biblical references of this film incorporated with the phenomenal cinematography distinguish The Matrix from all other science-fiction films in which the main characters are on a race to save humanity. "The script, written by the Wachowski brothers is intelligent but carefully not geeky."2
The most obvious Biblical references of this film are that of the five main characters; Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Cypher and Agent Smith. These characters are intended to represent the roles of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate respectively. All of these biblical characters had major roles in the biblical story of Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity. The Wachowski brothers have done excellent work in incorporating dazzling cinematography to enhance these biblical references. Cinematographic elements such as lighting, editing, camera lenses and angles, composition, costumes, sound and filters were all used to create a certain feeling or aura around these characters so that the Christian references would be more apparent to the viewers.
The main plot of The Matrix is that Artificial Intelligence has taken over humanity. These human-created machines now harvest humans in crops in order to provide energy for them to survive. It is known that the human body cannot survive without the mind, so the Artificial Intelligence has designed a computer-generated world in which the human mind can live and survive. This computer-generated world is known as the Matrix. "It is a computerized simulation of life as we know it, or we imagine we know it. What the movies postulates is a version of virtual reality so vast and tentacular as to encompass the entire globe."3 The story line of this film suggests that humans are not really living a "real" life. It suggests that no human has every used their eyes, ears, muscles, or any other sense. As Laurence Fishburne’s character, Morpheus, puts it; "the matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control, in order to change a human being into [a battery]."4 Realizing that the main characters of this film are a few of the only humans functioning in the real world as we know it now, there must be some form of artificially created authority. These authority figures are known as agents and the main agent in The Matrix is Agent Smith. "[The agents] resemble the Gnostic concepts of Archons or cosmic minions of a false Creator God, the agents are responsible for keeping order and submission to that reality. Morpheus says as much when he mentions how ‘they guard all the doors, they hold all the keys’. It is a ‘zoo’, a ‘prison’ to them and just like the Gnostic Archons, they are the guards, the wardens."5
Agent Smith’s character is a direct reference to The Holy Bible’s Pontius Pilate. 6 "Whenever local rulers failed to keep the colonies in line, Rome appointed its own strongmen, called ‘procurators’ or ‘governors’. Pontius Pilate served as the Roman procurator of Judea, a regional ruler for the most powerful empire in the history of the planet up to that time." 7 When Pilate met Jesus, he mainly saw one more sense of trouble and he felt that Jesus’ death would create order in Rome.8
This relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate is eloquently represented in the scene when Agent Smith arrests Neo, and he interrogates him about his knowledge of Morpheus and the other rebel forces. (This is the sixth chapter on the DVD.) The Wachowski brothers used green filters in this scene to represent the sickly, decaying world of the matrix.9 They also use normal lenses in this scene to create the feeling that the viewer is in the interrogation room with the agents and Neo. It is mainly a still composition for the first part of this scene. Agent Smith and Neo are sitting across from one another. Later in the scene when Neo becomes threatened by the Agents, the composition begins to move more because Neo is attempting to fight off the agents. The composition is fairly flat for the entire scene because the room is so small. High key lighting is also used in this scene. There is a lot of fill light to create a brighter scene. These bright lights put the viewer in Neo’s point of view. The abundance of fill lights make the viewer feel pressured and hot, as Neo must feel at this point in the plot. This scene marks the beginning of the ongoing battle between Neo and Agent Smith.
Morpheus, the leader or father figure of the rebel forces, represents The Holy Bible’s John the Baptist.10 John the Baptist is something new and he certainly stood out from his surroundings. This is comparable to Morpheus’ mysterious costume and mannerism. The character of Morpheus is shocking to the audience at the first introduction. In The Holy Bible John the Baptist spreads the message that the Messiah is coming and when he first meets Jesus he recognizes him as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world".11 When Morpheus prophetizes that Neo is "The One", it is a direct reference to this story of John the Baptist and Jesus. *
This reference is most apparent in the scene when Morpheus tells Neo that he believes that Neo is the savior for all of humanity. (This is the thirteenth chapter on the DVD.) This scene has a distinctive sense of mystery. It is filmed entirely with normal to long lenses to provide the viewer with a sense of intimacy with these two characters. These lenses make the viewer feel as if they are part of a very secret and meaningful conversation between Morpheus and Neo. The Wachowski brothers also used low key lighting for this scene to enhance the sense of mystery and secretiveness. The lighting seems to be coming from one main source in the right bottom corner of the screen. This light source seems to be representing a candle or a lamp by the bed. The colors of this scene are also very vivid, despite the low lighting, compared to the scenes within the matrix. The directors wanted to present a sense of health within the Nebuchadnezzar in comparison with the green, sickly filters of the scenes shot in the matrix. This scene also has a very still composition. Neither of the characters moves in this scene. The Wachowski brothers also used classical editing in this particular scene, switching from Morpheus to Neo. Although it lacks the dazzling special effects and "edge of your seat action", this scene is extremely important to the plot of The Matrix. It is during this scene that the audience is first introduced to the biblical reference that Morpheus is intended to represent John the Baptist.
The Matrix also includes many references to the popular Christian epic, The Pilgrim’s Progress. For example, Zion is the last human city outside of the matrix. It is found deep inside the earth’s core. Tank describes it with sentimentality and great pride in his voice. Zion can be seen as the only place that the existing humans have left that is not destroyed or decaying. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is on a journey to discover a way to be relieved of his "burden". He has been told that if he travels to Zion, the celestial city, he will be relieved of this burden.12 Zion is also noted in The Holy Bible as Heaven, the kingdom of God.13 Another reference to The Pilgrim’s Progress in The Matrix is that of the Oracle representing the Interpreter. Christian is told that the Interpreter "will show [him] excellent things that will help [him] on [his] journey.14 This is exactly what the Oracle does for Neo. She tells him exactly what he needs to hear and nothing more. The Oracle tells Neo that he is not "the one". She says that maybe he will be in his next life. This causes Neo to be more willing to risk his life to save Morpheus’ life. Neo is eventually killed and then resurrected to become "the one". Hence, the Oracle’s prophecy was correct. This is very similar to what the Interpreter tells Christian. In this meeting Christian learns all that he needs to know to successfully continue on his journey.15
Another biblical reference of The Matrix is that of the rebel ship, the Nebuchadnezzar.16 In The Holy Bible, Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian king that destroyed Jerusalem.17 This is not one of the strongest biblical references of the film because Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the holy city, but it is closely related to the rebel forces using the ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, to destroy the matrix.
The character of Cypher is intended to represent Judas Iscariot in The Holy Bible.18 Judas, also known as "Devil Man", is one of Jesus’ disciples. Judas is the disciple that betrayed Jesus and gave his life to the Jews that murdered him. This is very similar to Cypher’s betrayal towards Morpheus. The name Cypher even has a sadistic connotation to it, being a shortened version of Lucifer.19 In The Matrix Cypher leads Agent Smith directly to Morpheus so that he can be reinserted into the matrix and live an "easier" life. Agent Smith and Cypher make these arrangements over dinner. This dinner scene is very important to the plot of The Matrix.
(This is the nineteenth chapter on the DVD.)*
The Wachowski brothers have used many cinematographical elements to enhance the mystery and conspiracy that this scene reveals. Low key lighting is used throughout this scene to create high contrast. This lighting also suggests the secretive nature of the meeting. The main lighting source seems to be representing a candle or a small light on the table. However, there is a small amount of fill lighting behind Cypher. Normal lenses are used when the characters are speaking to one another. When the scene first opens, the viewer is listening to Cypher describe his feelings towards the matrix and his life as a rebel. The scene then cuts to the harpist where the camera switches to a short lens. This cut serves as a break from Cypher’s feeling into his actual intended plan of action. It is not until after this cut that the viewer discovers the purpose of this meeting. The dark costumes and Agent Smiths sunglasses also add a certain sense of mystery to the scene. This scene also makes great use of sound effects. The most obvious are Cypher cutting his steak and chewing. These sound effects also add mystery to the scene because it emphasizes the silence of the conversation. *
As I mentioned earlier Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, is intended to represent Jesus Christ. "[Neo] had to face a decision to die for all. He was chosen to free us, who are slaves to the material, dream world. This is similar to Christ dying for [our sins]."20 In his final battle with Agent Smith, Neo is murdered. In this scene he has sacrificed his life for all of humanity. Since Neo does not believe that he is the one at this point in the film, he has risked his life to save Morpheus. This can be seen as his risking his life for humanity because Morpheus can now continue pursuing his goal of finding and training "the one". Neo’s representation of Jesus Christ becomes most apparent during the scene when he is resurrected after he is murdered by Agent Smith.
Another meaningful biblical representation is that of Carrie-Anne Moss’ character of Trinity. Trinity is a member of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar who is intended to represent the biblical character of Mary Magdalene.21 In The Holy Bible Mary Magdalene dedicated her life to Jesus Christ because he once drove seven demons from her. When Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem Mary Magdalene stayed near him. She carefully watched where he was buried and faithfully went there at the earliest opportunity to care for his body. As a result, she was the very first person to see Jesus risen from the dead and the first to spread the word.22 The first evidence that Trinity is intended to represent Mary Magdalene comes when she is one of Neo’s biggest supporters. However, this representation becomes extremely apparent when Neo is reborn after being murdered by Agent Smith. Trinity is right by Neo’s side during this suspenseful scene, and she delivers the kiss which causes him to become resurrected.
The resurrection scene is not only one of the most suspenseful scenes of The Matrix, but it is also one of the most meaningful scenes to the plot of this film. (This scene is the thirty-fifth chapter of the DVD.) The Wachowski brothers have done amazing work incorporating music and special effects into this scene. Both eloquently complement the tense action of this moment in the film. This scene alternates back and forth between action on the Nebuchadnezzar and action in the matrix. Once again green filters are used in the matrix to emphasize the sick, decaying aspects of this computer-generated world. Just as the audience becomes convinced that Neo is passing through the door into safety, the viewer sees a close view of Agent Smith, blocking the doorway. Using all long lenses, the camera cuts from Agent Smith’s face to Neo’s face as the audience hears a gun firing. The camera then cuts to Neo’s abdomen, where the viewer is now looking through Neo’s eyes. This is done through the use of a birds-eye-view camera angle. From this point of view, the audience sees that Neo has been shot. From this point of view, the Wachowski brothers cut directly to the gun as Agent Smith fires another shot into Neo. After the first couple of shots, the camera cuts to a short lens, so that the viewer can see Agent Smith killing Neo from the point of view of a distant bystander. The camera then cuts back to Neo so the audience can see that Neo has been defeated. Agent Smith has emptied a round into Neo from about three feet away.
This scene then cuts to the Nebuchadnezzar, where the viewer sees Trinity holding Neo. A long lens is also used in this shot to create a sense of intimacy. The camera suddenly cuts back to the matrix where the audience sees Neo’s defeat from both Neo’s and Agent Smith’s point of view. Since Agent Smith is standing over Neo, the camera is angled up when the viewer is in Neo’s point of view and vice versa. When Agent Smith is finished firing at Neo, the camera focuses in on Neo with an extremely long lens. From here the camera follows Neo to the floor. The directors cut directly back to the Nebuchadnezzar where the audience sees Trinity holding Neo as his health monitor reveals that his heart has stopped. The camera then cuts from Trinity to Morpheus, revealing their astonishment. At this point the audience is convinced that Agent Smith has defeated Neo and he can no longer be "the one" .
At this point the audience is taken back to the Nebuchadnezzar where the sentials are destroying the ship. The special effects and the sound are phenomenal at this point in the scene. The directors then use a long lens to show Trinity revealing her secrets that the Oracle has shared with her. At this point we realize that Neo has to be "the one", and the viewer is being prepared for a twist in the plot. Trinity kisses Neo, bringing him back to life. The lighting is very low at this point, causing high contrast and heavy shadows which hide Neo’s face. Neo’s health monitor begins to show signs of a heart beat once again, revealing Neo’s resurrection to the audience. The camera then cuts back to the matrix once more, to show the viewer that Neo has risen back to life. The music becomes very loud and triumphant. The next shot uses slow motion, showing that Neo is definitely "the one". He now possesses the ability to stop bullets. This scene uses phenomenal special effects, along with impressive cinematography to reveal to the audience that Neo represents Jesus Christ.
The Wachowski brothers have made a number of references to The Holy Bible in their film, The Matrix. These references have eloquently enhanced the plot of this groundbreaking science fiction film. This film basically retells the story of Jesus Christ’s rise in The Holy Bible, including his supporters and the one who leads to his downfall, using modern science fiction appeal and special effects. Considering The Matrix is the first film of a trilogy, it will certainly be entertaining to see what the Wachowski brothers do next with Keanu Reeve’s science fiction, action-packed Christ figure.