catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 22 :: 2003.11.21 — 2003.12.04


The Matrix Revolutions and the irrationality of God

There are two kinds of movie heroes. The first is an Indiana-Jones
type who, no matter what the odds, always finds the perfect tool,
strategy or bon mot to get himself through an ordeal. We rarely, if
ever, worry for his safety. He lets us live a fantasy of being dashing,
self-assured and utterly confident in our destiny.

The second is a Luke Skywalker-type, the everyman who is thrust into
extraordinary circumstances and rises to the challenge. He makes
mistakes; he wonders if he knows what he's doing. His journey is the
much more emotional of the two, because we find ourselves asking: What
would I do in that situation? In the first two installments of The Matrix, Neo is a Luke
Skywalker kind of hero. As he's called upon to escape out an office
window, we're right there with him in his incredulity. As he's told
he's a prophesied savior, we feel the uncomfortable weight on his
shoulders. In the second film he is more powerful, to be sure, but we
empathize with his conflict over whether to follow the path everyone
has told him to take or the one his gut tells him to take.

In The Matrix Revolutions, Neo slips into the Indiana-Jones
mold (only without the necessary sense of humor). He makes his biggest
decision of the film while sitting in silence, with the audience
unaware of what options he's even weighing. He heads out without a
plan, trusting only in the screenwriters' sense of story arc to ensure
he makes it there alive. He battles Mr. Smith with no clear agenda in
mind, but as the audience we know that somehow he'll win. In other
words, we're left simply to watch agog as Neo does his stuff—which is
an adrenaline ride to be sure, but not much more.

It's not just the awkward narrative jump that bugs me, though. I
think it bothers me because Neo has always been a kind of Christ figure
in these movies. And I like films that reveal to me the human side of
Jesus and that let me understand the struggles and emotions he must
have gone through coming to terms with his destiny as our Messiah. I
grew up with films where Jesus stood very rigidly and recited Bible
verses to people (the "Vulcan Jesus," as Robert Jewett puts it), where
he always knew where to stand and what to say because he knew the whole
story as was just acting out his part as written. But that is not the
way I experience my life, and if Jesus was as truly human as he was
truly God, then he must have truly wept at Lazarus's passing, been
truly honored as his feet were anointed, been truly tempted in the
wilderness. The Matrix was a film that helped enrich my
conception of a human being living with saviorhood looming over him.
But by the time we get to Revolutions, Neo stoically heads off
on his preordained path with virtually no emotion; the script told him
what to do and so he's doing it. He's become a different kind of hero.

Does it really matter, though, how I envision God? Is it at all
important that I identify with him instead of simply boggling at his
greatness? I think so. I think it makes a huge difference to one's
Christian faith. I believe in a God who is passionate, daring, loving,
joyous, fierce, and alive. Against all that is right and fair, he has
invited me into his presence and has unguarded his heart before me. He
shocks me with his irrational passion for humanity. He honors me by
asking me to adopt it. He is a Luke Skywalker kind of God, who entices
me to come along on his journey.

The alternative is a more sane God, a God whose perfection permits
him only a reasonable measure of emotion. He is a standard-bearer, an
icon of truth, justice, and love for us to look up to. Out of duty to
his creation, he tries his best to improve our behavior, but primarily
he longs for the day he will usher in a new world, without sin, where
he can bear to be near us. He asks us, like Indiana Jones, to sit back
and await his mighty deeds. That second kind of God is the kind I grew
up with. Even though the whole crux of the Gospel message is that God
loves human beings more than his own standards and that he put himself
through death in order to break the hold those standards had on him,
the image of God as measuring stick persists. Even though Christians
are given the gift of God's own Spirit, I was told to insulate myself
in church activities and wait out my life on earth rather than risk
bringing that Spirit into the world. This changed for me only when I
began to understand the irrationality of God, when I started to believe
that he loves us to an unreasonable degree. I still struggle to grasp
it completely. But I have to say I am much more in awe of this
passion-fueled God than I ever was of the stolid one.

So I found it particularly disappointing that, paired with Neo's increasing remoteness, The Matrix Revolutions
makes Neo a more blatant Christ figure than ever before. The Wachowski
brothers, who had been careful to mix elements of Jesus, Buddha and the
mythological "hero of a thousand faces" into the character of Neo, go
as far as to show a cross of light burst from Neo's chest during a
scene where he's stretched in a crucifix position. I imagine that many
Christians will find this strengthened parallel to be exciting. But to
me it was representative of the biggest flaw in the film: so many
characters, events, and places are reduced to only symbolic purposes.
The characters we cared about in the first movie all but
disappear—Morpheus literally takes a back seat in the film, and
Trinity has little to do but stand by her man. Instead we get new
characters that are mere placeholders for the concepts of love, youth,
beauty, and courage. The Wachowski brothers seem to be involved mainly
in universe-building, in expanding the palette of places and people in
their fiction, as if to fill out a deck of role-playing cards. Their
main story—the one about overcoming our human resistance to belief, to
prophecy and destiny—fades away. It's all too simple: just do what the
script says.

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