“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”Morpheus, The Matrix
The Matrix Trilogy is fully loaded with Christian symbolism, so much so that anyone familiar with both Christianity and The Matrix will not be surprised to hear that the overarching narrative is nearly allegorical in nature. The protagonist, Mr. Anderson (who goes by the hacker alias “Neo”), is pegged from the beginning of the first film as a Christ figure, though a first-time viewer might miss the verbal affirmation that is given to his role in the dialogue, since it comes from a pretty shady character who is procuring Neo’s black market services in the middle of the night. Once Neo delivers the goods, the satisfied buyer declares: “You’re my savior, man, my own personal Jesus Christ.” By the end of the trilogy, Neo indeed confronts the powers of darkness which are bent on his destruction and sacrifices his life in order to save the entire human race. And in December, there will be a 4th installment of The Matrix – The Matrix Resurrections, with Keanu Reeves reprising his role as Neo again. He’s already been killed and resurrected once, so perhaps the allegory breaks down here as he’s apparently being resurrected again! Jesus, of course, had but one death and resurrection.
If that isn’t enough to persuade you of the influence of the Christian story upon the movies, I’ve got more: the name of Neo’s love interest is Trinity, the name for the Christian notion that the very nature of God is an eternal love relationship between three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) – and it is Trinity’s love for Neo that first raises him back to life. The ship that Morpheus pilots is called The Nebuchadnezzar, named after a Biblical king who is troubled by his dreams. And when Morpheus’ vision of the One is shattered by some painful truths that Neo uncovers in The Matrix Reloaded, Morpheus echoes King Nebuchadnezzer with the line: “I dreamed a dream, and now that dream is gone from me” (Daniel 2). Neo – his name a transparent anagram of the One – has been prophesied to be the salvation of mankind from the machines, and he’s treated as a spiritually revered hero from the moment he sets foot in Zion. Zion, the last human city and refuge from the machines, is also the name of the hill upon which the city of Jerusalem was built. Jerusalem served as the present and future hope of the Jews, the center of worship where God met with his chosen people. And if mankind has any present or future hope in its war against the machines, Zion must survive.
However, like Morpheus, I want to “show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” There is yet another parallel between the Christian story and The Matrix, simultaneously the most foundational and the most captivating. It’s that something which is missing, something which is not quite right with the world. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know that it’s there. At the outset of the first film, Neo is searching for it. Trinity asserts that “it’s the question that drives us.” Morpheus claims that “you can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes.” The question is: What if I’ve only ever scratched the surface of all that life has to offer? What if there is a deeper, truer current of reality, ever-present behind all of my life’s experiences, to which I might awaken at any moment?
In a decisive moment, Neo is confronted with a bitter truth and then asked to make an irrevocable choice. Morpheus reveals, “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch.” And then, beginning to grasp the poverty of his condition, Neo must choose either to sink back into as much blissful ignorance as the blue pill can afford him or else to take the red pill and pursue the truth which Morpheus claims will free Neo’s mind. Of course, the prison that Neo must escape from in The Matrix is a prison for the mind – an intricate virtual program which the machines have created in order to dupe their human batteries into complacency while their bodies generate power for the machine world. But aside from the particular circumstances of this sci-fi thriller, the core resemblance to the Christian story is truly remarkable.
We, too, are confronted with the horrific truth that we were born into slavery, though it is slavery to sin, and not to The Matrix, from which we must be liberated (Romans 3-6). Knowing this, we must also make our choice. Will we accept the truth of Christ and follow him into freedom? (John 8:31-36). Or will we return to our comfortably enslaved lives, wake up tomorrow morning and “believe whatever [we] want to believe?” If the right choice does not seem as obvious to us as it did to Neo, perhaps we have not yet truly grasped the beauty of the promise of the “abundant life” which Jesus offers us (John 10:10). Or maybe we do not yet fully realize just how perilous our spiritual condition is without him. Let us take the red pill and see how much insight into our spiritual lives The Matrix may still provide.
There really is an alternate reality available to us: a powerful new life, grounded in the spiritual realm. The Biblical metaphor that is used for our liberation might very well resemble what Neo undergoes when his body is rescued from the machines’ power plant. Thankfully, for those of you who share my fear of needles, there need not be nearly as much acupuncture. But for us, it is no less than being raised from death to life. As Christians, we are to count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). We are a “new creation” because of Jesus’ great love for us, transformed by the power of his spirit through his sacrifice: “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17). In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis has a beautiful way of illustrating this radical transformation that takes place in our lives when they are infused with the spiritual life of God – he says that it’s as though we’ve gone through “as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man:
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”
That’s the deeper truth of The Matrix which we all intuitively know to be real based on our own experience of this life. It’s no accident that Neo, before his transformation, is working a life-draining office job, complete with a boss who lectures him upon the virtues of punctuality. It’s meant to sharpen the contrast for you between the real world and “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” He knows there’s something more out there. We all do. There must be.
Such is the measure of the vitality of the life we gain through the Holy Spirit. We have been “called out of darkness into [God’s] wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). To now be in the light when we once walked in darkness – well, that changes everything. Tim Keller emphasizes how, looking back on our own story of redemption, we should be humbled by the realization that “there is no ‘kind of person’ who sees the truth… God can and does work with any kind of person,” and therefore “we should never think anyone is beyond hope of change.” We can see the radical transformation that has taken place in our own lives, empowered purely by God’s gift of grace, and we are moved by compassion to free the minds of others who are still enslaved to sin. In The Matrix, Morpheus speaks of a rule of redemption that has been established, one which he has broken by liberating Neo: “We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous. The mind has trouble letting go.” But there is no age, no disposition, no point at which we can ever look at someone else and think: they’re too far gone. They’re beyond saving. We are filled with love because He first loved us – because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This love leads us into new life and this resurrection life infuses our world with paradigm-shattering love.
But – if we would take the blue pill – what is our spiritual danger? Jesus describes it this way in the gospel of John:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers.”
A jarring but apt analogy: if we cut ourselves off from Christ, we are pulling the plug on our minds. Just as “the body cannot live without the mind,” so the soul cannot live without Christ. He is the very source of all that is good, the giver and sustainer of life. In one of my favorite passages, Lewis puts it this way:
“If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?”
We are given the full measure of this danger in the character of Cypher, whose rejection of salvation leads to a betrayal which ends in his own destruction. “Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill?” he laments to Neo one night before sneaking off to Agent Smith to arrange the details of his treachery. He wants to return to The Matrix. Having seen the trials that he must face as one whose mind has been freed, he longs to return to the alluring simplicity and creature comforts of The Matrix: “Ignorance is bliss,” he confesses as he seeks to justify his course. But there’s no turning back. Neither Morpheus nor Jesus offer their disciples a life of comfort. Morpheus warns Neo, “All I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” Likewise, Jesus warns his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). However, Jesus is also able to promise something more: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In the end, we’ve come back around to that choice, the one that only you can make. Will you sink back into slavery or walk in freedom? Will you stay a statue in the sculptor’s shop or will you come to life? I’ll give Morpheus the last word and hope that his wisdom will guide your next steps: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”