I know what you might be thinking… The hidden spirituality of the matrix is an oxymoron - because it’s not hidden! And trust me - I get it. Even writing this script was hard, because how do we make this episode without basically just describing every scene in the movie… We could probably write an hour-long dissertation on the spiritual allusions in The Matrix and still not run out of things to talk about…
But listen - it’s important to remember that what might be more obvious aspects of spirituality to some, maybe hidden to others. After all, this is one of the essential points of the movie. So let us get into it and see what we find!
Now, as far as I can tell, The Matrix is a documentary about real-life disguised as a sci-fi action movie! Well, okay, maybe not COMPLETELY, but like… 90%… give or take...
To me, The Matrix feels like an encoded message for humanity about the awakening process, and about what we personally go through internally as we discover the truth, and step into a greater understanding of life. The film elegantly weaves together a narrative of biblical references, genius literary devices, symbolism, fantastic storytelling, and meaningful character moments, giving us a movie that actually becomes something so much more than just a movie… It becomes an idea that stands for something very personal to all of those who connect with it.
Wake up Neo - the screen reads on his computer when Neo is first introduced. Certainly, he’s asleep and needs to wake up, but this is an innuendo, as this very act sets him on the path of awakening to a greater truth of what’s going on.
As the experience of the film occurs within the electrical impulses in our minds as we watch it, we bear witness to this man, Neo, discover that the reality he has been living within is an illusion, as he frees himself from the artificial reality and moves into the real world, a place where humanity is grown in tubes as an energy source for artificially intelligent robot overlords… Although, we have to say Matpat and the film theorists did a pretty good job of demonstrating that the real world that we are shown in the movie, is just another layer of encoded reality within the matrix. It’s completely brilliant, and I recommend watching that after this.
Anyway, Neo - a name which is an anagram of One, is set upon this path of self-discovery, learning that he is in fact - the One - the prophesied individual who can liberate humanity from the control of the machines. His story, which ends with his death, rebirth, and ascension - largely draws upon the stories of Christ. Like Jesus, Neo was prophesied to arrive, performs miraculous feats, dies and resurrects… but like, in a more modern kind of way. In fact, if this wasn’t made clear by the end of the film, we are told it outright right at the beginning, when the guy at Neos door says “You’re my savior man, My own personal Jesus Christ ''. Although - it might be worth mentioning that Neo is more of a Gnostic Christ, than straight-up Jesus, in that much of his own liberation happens through the breaking of illusions, a common idea within Gnosticism.
Speaking of spiritual and religious allegories, we also see the matrix speak on Samsara, a Buddhist concept of the cyclical nature of the world, and even sometimes taken to mean “"a cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence". Much of Buddhist philosophy speaks of freeing yourself from the cycles of Samsara - and this is demonstrated as Neo frees himself from Matrix, the world where he is Thomas Anderson, a boring old programmer for some big company... but then this process continues, for Morpheus continually guides him after that to “free his mind”.
The idea of freeing yourself from one reality and birthing into a new one is a concept that spans far back into history in other ways too. Diving into the ancient mystery schools, we see spiritual death and rebirth being something that initiates actively strived to experience. This was an ego death, the death of the old illusion, the old self, and birthing into a new reality, something that Neo does twice in the film, first in his transition between the matrix and the real world, and second when he is killed by Agent Smith and is reborn moments later by the power of love. Yet, all of this comes about as a result of something very significant in the earlier part of the movie… News choice.
As we know, Neo is brought to a meeting with Trinity, who is named after the holy trinity. We see several trinities in the movie, including the partnership between Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity, but also with Agents Smith, Brown, and Jones. The film even begins and ends with room 303, and on that note, Neo's room is 101, he is the one after all.
When Neo and Morpheus meet face to face, Morpheus explains that nobody can be told what the Matrix is, you have to be shown, and offers him the decision between the red pill, or the blue pill. Now, there are several layers to this, but for now, let’s focus on this.
For Neo, it all boils down to this choice - the truth, or living whatever life, whatever fantasyland he wants to live out. Sometimes we make our choices for granted, but the hidden lesson here is that we are regularly invited to make this choice every day of our lives. By our very actions, what we do on a day to day basis, what we spend our time doing, in doing all these things we are choosing if we want to create and live a life of discovery, of experiencing greater truths or just enjoying the illusion of the world that is put in front of our eyes. Of course in the film, Neo picks the red pill and undergoes an experience of his consciousness reconnecting with his true self in the real world, and waking up there.
This describes the discovery of truth, and it completely shatters his understanding of everything, but further illustrating an important aspect of the awakening process. We could relate this with a plant medicine experience, sometimes the plant medicine will show you something very difficult to experience, it might even make you purge, but once you’ve come to terms with it, you begin to grow exponentially as a person, which happens as Neo learns to fight, rapidly downloading all of these fighting methods over the course of the day.
But the concept here of shattering illusion is really something that happens to all of us in life, with or without plant medicine. For example, growing up in the world we are often taught or shown specific ideas, ideologies, along with tons of media programming that gives us this particular image of the world, but then later you realize something greater, maybe it’s that those advertisements were showing you really fun or exciting images to sell you something unhealthy…. candy and soda industries, I’m looking at you!
But the matrix takes us way deeper down the rabbit hole than just this and speaking of rabbit holes, it very openly gives us several references to Alice in Wonderland - an age-old story about a girl who breaks free of her everyday reality into a strange and different world. And where the matrix goes is that it invites us to ask, what if this entire reality is an illusion, a construct within our minds, an illusion we’re collectively living out?
What’s especially amazing about this is that it’s actually completely true, in three different ways. One is that everything that you ever experience is all information that is relayed within the brain. When you stub your toe, it's your brain that identifies the pain, and Morpheus explains this by asking neo “what is real? How do you define real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste, and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Giving rise to the deeper understanding, that ALL is WITHIN.
The second way the matrix describes that all of reality is an illusion is that we are now seeing today that everything we think of as the physical universe, on a quantum level, is almost entirely empty space, and little bits of quantum data flying around giving us the perception that reality is tangible and solid. The matrix describes this by the idea that reality entirely exists within a really big VR MMORPG simulation of 1999, and reminding us that there is no spoon, it’s not the spoon that bends, it’s you! Everything is an energetic reflection of you!
And third, perhaps one of the most direct revelations about reality being an illusion, is that the film gives us this indicates that we have become so saturated with digital media, advertisements, and programming, that we have lost all sense of what is really real. A lot of our deeper, more intimate personal connections with each other are lost because we have become glued to our technology instead, and the matrix subtly illustrates this by the contrast of reality inside the matrix, versus the outside.
The film essentially illustrates the concept of collective consciousness, a collective dream, and this is another bridge to the world today. See, Morpheus is named after the Greek God of Dreams - whose name literally means “one who forms” - giving us this idea of Morpheus as a bit of a guider of dreams -almost akin to the Greek Psychopomp, helping Neo navigate the various planes of reality that he walks in. Further, the Greek Morpheus used these two Gates - the gates of horn and ivory, to distinguish dreams that were real, and those that were illusions. This is another layer that is implied by the two pills earlier on. We also see Morpheus’s ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, which is a biblical reference of a king who was haunted by his dreams, and as evidenced by the story - the living world does seem to be a bit like a nightmare.
Astro-mythologically, we can gain even more insight here by learning about Neptune, which tells us that we are dreaming our reality into being, but that we must be mindful that some things are seductive illusions, but there are a greater truth and reality to be discovered. But in that, we are invited to draw upon our creative imaginations to dream a world into being that is in harmony with the rest of the natural world. In the matrix, the people who live in it don’t know about their octopus spider bot overlords, and they don’t really care, because they are concerned with other days to day things. So… what reality are they collectively dreaming? Well, one where they go to work and live their lives, and nothing out of the ordinary ever happened…
Cypher illustrates this very well with his betrayal, mirroring the betrayal of Judas in the bible a little bit. See, cipher turns over Morpheus to agent smith, and as he’s monologuing (giving Tank some time to get his gun), he explains his thinking, mirroring one particular mindset that is not uncommon in today's world. You call this free? He asks, alluding that the reality in the matrix is so much more diverse, with more possibilities for freedom than the “real world”. Cypher wants to return to that old way of life, to the world before he was awoken, but this is a fool's errand, once you know the truth about something, there’s very little forgetting, except in cipher's case, where he was going to have his mind erased.
Now, speaking of villains, we also must talk about Agent Smith. During the scenes where he’s got Morpheus, trying to extract the codes, he says some very interesting things… He begins by reflecting upon the collective unconscious, the same thing we just looked at, and then recounts the history of the matrix, explaining how people define their reality through misery and suffering, a perfect world was not meant to work, they tried it, but to no avail.
Logically - he’s not wrong, because, at this stage of human history, we are in a stage of suffering, though as many wisdom teachings would describe, we are simply passing through between two golden ages of light. This is evident even today, there’s so much suffering because we haven’t yet learned how to live in harmony with each other and the planet, and so the machines actively encoded the matrix to be based around the average level of consciousness of the people, whose minds populated the matrix.
Hmmm… What the robots didn’t try though - was starting their simulation in the 1999 world and then creating an evolutionary program to help humanity learn and heal and become harmonious beings… But then again, maybe they wouldn’t do that, because this particular AI consciousness didn’t have a heart, as we learn in the sequel film, they have wiped the matrix several times, and have become exceedingly efficient at it.
But in addition to that, he also says this very interesting thing… Humans are not actually mammals…. mammals create an equilibrium with the surrounding environment. You move to an area and multiply and use all of the resources, and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area… There is another organism on this planet that follows this pattern… it is a virus.”
A very deep and heavy-hitting line, especially right now, given our current situation. We are invited to see that our behavioral patterns and the way that we live our lives are not in harmony with the world, but it could be - if we would all wake up, just as Neo is doing throughout the movie.
Agent smith describes that he doesn’t like the smell of people, he can’t stand it, and he wants to get out, he wants to be free of this prison, this zoo, whatever you want to call it. Now, I know his intentions are not very good, but him explaining his feelings like this actually might give us a little bit of compassion for Agent Smith, who really wants to live a higher life himself, exist in a higher reality, but he can’t because he’s programmed to have to wrangle all of the humans together, and as long as Zion exists - a biblical reference to Israel - he cannot ascend in his own right…
At any rate, throughout the entire Morpheus rescue, and then fighting Smith afterward, Neo continually believes in himself more and more, until he comes to be the embodiment of a fully ascended being. When he returns to life and takes out Agent Smith, we see him take a moment to do some full-body breathing, and he breathes life through the walls around him as well, showing his interconnection with the energy and computer code that makes up all things.
I wonder when he died if his consciousness entered the space between his physical body and his matrix body, and when he returned back to life, he brought with him some deep wisdom about the workings of the universe, and that’s why he could see the code. This is no different than what many people report after having a near-death experience!
And we’re still just scratching the surface here. One aspect of the film we haven’t discussed was the visit to the Oracle, this all-knowing wise woman who guides all awakening souls through the matrix. The plaque above her door says “Know thyself” - something that Neo does by the end, but a rather significant line of hers was “Don’t worry about the vase”, and then he does it. She follows this with “what’s really gonna bake your noodle… is would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?” The reason this is significant is that the oracle leaves him with some wisdom and advice ‘you’re not the one kiddo’ - advice that ultimately leads Neo to believe in himself to save Morpheus, to putting others in front of himself. But if she hadn’t told him that, would he have gone to save Morpheus?
Much like a few of the other movies we’ve covered, the matrix carries a multitude of layers of spiritual depth - some which are laid bare for all to see, and others that require a little bit deeper exploration. So please, take a moment to let us know in the comments, do you think the matrix is about our world or is it just a sci-fi action film for entertainment purposes only?
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