Matrix’ sequel takes on audiences, Christ

Becky Bowman

The year 1999 was a long time ago — pre-Sept. 11, pre-War in Iraq, pre-Gore v. Bush, pre-SARS. We were a country of apathy: a country bored with its prospects and jaded by a decade of boom. “The Matrix” was just what we needed — a theoretical conspiracy against Big Brother, with special effects to raise the bar, too.

Knowing these things makes it unfair to expect the second part of the trilogy to enthrall audiences. Few plots could compare to the mind-fuck effects of one that had audiences around the world reconsidering their very existence.

Society changed, too. Since 1999, an ardently religious president has taken office; a questionably imperial war has been fought, with the possibility of another entertained; and Americans, who once lounged loftily at the top of the food chain, find themselves seeking security as a bottom life — in jobs, relationships. Fear and suspicion lurk where a daze used to dawdle.

But “The Matrix,” in both concept and characters, still proves relevant in 2003. Audiences this weekend made that clear, and it’s easy to see why — in a country dominated by the White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant and a world that has produced few blockbuster religions in, say, the last century. That’s why “The Matrix” trilogy will continue to attract its followers: It screws with America’s fundamental Christian notions of life.

There are the obvious comparisons, as referenced by the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday: Neo as an anagram for One; Trinity as a John the Baptist figure; the Nebuchadnezzar’s make and model, which references a Bible verse about the Son of God. But the comforting effects — that sense that we as Americans have finally found a religion — comes from a deeper analysis of what’s before us.

Take Neo — the meek and timid One, the Wachowski brothers’ version of Jesus Christ. Neo, played by the often unemotive Keanu Reeves, is nothing more than a computer geek. He doubts his abilities and questions the prophecy. Moreover, he’s in love — the tragic flaw of Greek heroes, and an anathema to the Christian tenets of a celibate Messiah. But how many audience members in the year A.D. 2003 would accept — or desire — a lust-less savior? Weren’t you just dying for Neo and Trinity to get it on?

Trinity’s character addresses a grand gap in religions — the active role of a woman as a man’s equal. She is the strong one in the love plot, holding Neo’s hand as he fumbles through his thoughts. Let’s not forget, too, that she saves Neo before he saves her. I’m not quite sure what that says about this savior-figure, but it does raise some interesting questions.

Then there is the whole issue of technology, upon which the entire trilogy is built. Christianity’s main text was completed nearly two millennia before the advent of computers, before telephones, electricity and digital sound design. It goes nowhere near addressing the role of technology in the life of a spiritual person. “The Matrix,” on the other hand, is rooted in technology. Without the very instruments that brought us so many ethical debates, Zion and the Matrix could not even exist.

Heretofore, then, the story has not strayed much from the basics of Christianity. But Neo’s effective defiance of the programs that run the Matrix leaves one with endless speculation on where the trilogy will end. Christ asked for the cup to be taken away, but he didn’t pour out its contents. And the idea that the Matrix created something more powerful than itself now has audiences enthralled.

Do the Wachowski brothers have the guts to bring down this up-swirling drama in a tragedy? Optimistic viewers who seek the inspiration it has brought so far hope not. On the other hand, though — in a world where office buildings tumble and powder-puff football leaves physical scars — who has the courage to bring us a happy ending?

We hope Andy and Larry do. C’mon boys — give us a reason to believe.