By: Jay Dyer
The Matrix, as I’ve joked many times, is one of those perennial topics in philosophy 101 classes that tends to evoke the most inane and mindless “philosophizing” by the mind-warped morass of modern morlocks. Yet still, it is a film that is packed with esoteric symbolism, philosophy, “predictive programming,” and all other manner of poppy culture engineering. In this analysis, we are going to go elucidate themes, motifs and symbols missed by other sites, as we consider one of the system’s principal works of self-flattery. Interestingly, of all films to analyze in the way sites like mine do, this the most obvious seems forgotten in the haze of the now umpteen hundred Eyes Wide Shut analyses.
The Matrix begins with a computerized image of the Warner Bros. logo, a phone ring, and a conversation between Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) about watching “him” (Neo, Keanu Reeves), and whether the line is secure. The implication is that the communications are all surveilled (think of how few knew of the mass NSA surveillance that existed at the time the film was released). The viewer sees the screen morph into 1s and 0s and the now-famous green screen code. From the outset, this is to signify that the audience, as with Eyes Wide Shut, is in the dark. It is the movie going public that is about to enter into the videodrome “matrix,” as they step into the theater to see what will be a largely CGI Hollywood production. The audience is not only stepping into the matrix of the videodrome, but as the overall message of the film will convey, lives out lives occupied almost entirely in an engineered world of simulated reality. In this regard, The Matrix will operate on multiple levels, from the conspiratorial/geo-political, to the psychological, to the metaphysical.
In the first scene, the viewer is shown a motel called “Heart O’ The City,” where bumbling police enter room “303.” Numerology does play into the film, especially since binary code is the very heart of computers. “303” is the equivalent of 33, and Trinity is caught trying to dial into the “real world” to escape her inner-matrix watching of Neo. Alchemy and numerology place a high value on the number 33, being the highest degree of Scottish Rite Masonry. Manly P. Hall speaks of 33 as highly significant for alchemy because 3×3=9, the number of the emanations from the One, and conversely as the number of initiation. We can therefore speculate that, given the many examples of masonic and occult symbols and referents in the film, this is very likely the paradigm from which the film was crafted. The heart is also crucial to alchemy, inasmuch as the heart and intellect must combine to produce balance. “Trinity” is also a triadic symbol and name, so the usage is not accidental. Trinity will function as the feminine principle to Neo’s masculine principle, as they join to complete the alchemical mystical union in the trilogy of Matrix films. Trinity here is not used here in the common Christian sense, it is meant in the sense of a gnostic feminine principle, sophia.
Agent Smith and his cronies quickly arrive and exemplify jurisdictional control over the local police: In terms of actual politics they represent the shadow intelligence establishment. The Matrix will operate on one level as an allegory for this intelligence world. The Agents are controlled by cold, calculating numeric logic, with no empathy or emotion. Through an “informant” (Cypher), they had intercepted the transmission and are on the case of tracking down this “Neo.” In the next scene, we see Neo and some interesting images appear on his computer screen in his apartment. An image of “Morpheus,” said by “British Intelligence to be an international terrorist” on the run from authorities. Given the hints at 9/11 that are in the film which premiered in 1999, we can surmise this was intentional as another key to unlocking the multiple layers of meaning and “programming.” Morpheus is shown as wanted by Arab news sites like An-Nahar, giving the impression Morpheus is a bin Laden-esque “terrorist.” On a deeper, esoteric level, the establishment was weaving into the narrative hints and clues to 9/11, especially with the infamous date on Neo’s file.
Neo is asleep listening to Massive Attack on his headphones, and the lyrics are “Feels like something I’ve done before….” This will be meaningful later in the film, as the narrative the trilogy presents is one of cyclical history. Neo is not the first “Neo,” but one among a series of avatars and Neos that had previously come before. On his screen appears a sudden message telling him to wake up because the matrix has him. This is “waking up” in the Buddhist sense of “enlightenment,” as the film will also be filled with ideas from far eastern philosophy. Neo’s apartment is shown as “101,” the very image of binary code, and he is instructed to follow the “white rabbit,” a reference to Alice in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland is also a classic allegory for both the intelligence world, the conspiracy world, mind control and the psyche and its journey, as well as having other esoteric connotations that fit perfectly with the interpretation presented here. Neo then meets visitors who pay him for his hacking skills and invite him to a skanky goth bar. Neo opens Baudrillard’s book Simulacra & Simulation to the chapter “On Nihilism” where he hides his stolen data and sees the rabbit tattoo on his friend’s shoulder. He decides to “unplug” and go out to the goth bar and there meets Trinity.
Baudrillard’s chapter “On Nihilism” is very relevant for the film. It reads:
“These two forms no longer concern us except in part, or not at all. The nihilism of transparency is no longer either aesthetic or political, no longer borrows from either the extermination of appearances, nor from extinguishing the embers of meaning, nor from the last nuances of an apocalypse. There is no longer an apocalypse (only aleatory terrorism still tries to reflect it, but it is certainly no longer political, and it only has one mode of manifestation left that is at the same time a mode of disappearance: the media – now the media are not a stage where something is played, they are a strip, a track, a perforated map of which we are no longer even spectators: receivers). The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference. I will leave it to be considered whether there can be a romanticism, an aesthetic of the neutral therein. I don’t think so – all that remains, is the fascination for desert-like and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.”
As Morpheus says, “Welcome to the desert of the real.” In apocalyptic fashion, the real world of The Matrix is a desolate post-apocalyptic nihilism where machines have taken over and enslaved humans as battery pods, where they are cloned and grown in vats. The quote of Baudrillard is appropriate as well due to the film’s focus on simulated reality. Because western civilization and modernity as a whole have rejected meaning and objectivity (based on bad philosophy!), the result has been the loss of meaning in any sense, with the rise of a sort of Nietzschean power politics. Meaningless 1s and 0s now dominate in a world under the sway of the reign of quantity. Materialism always births nihilism. For Baudrillard, we are post–post modern, and post-nihilism. We have entered a realm of post-nihilism, where everything is bland neutrality. This is precisely the world The Matrix intends to portray, and in this regard, it is a brilliant message. Baudrillard continues, perfectly describing The Matrix:
“If it is nihilistic to be obsessed by the mode of disappearance, and no longer by the mode of production, then I am a nihilist. Disappearance, aphanisis, implosion, Fury of Verschwindens. Transpolitics is the elective sphere of the mode of disappearance (of the real, of meaning, of the stage, of history, of the social, of the individual). To tell the truth, it is no longer so much a question of nihilism: in disappearance, in the desert-like, aleatory, and indifferent form, there is no longer even pathos, the pathetic of nihilism – that mythical energy that is still the force of nihilism, of radicality, mythic denial, dramatic anticipation. It is no longer even disenchantment, with the seductive and nostalgic, itself enchanted, tonality of disenchantment. It is simply disappearance. The trace of this radicality of the mode of disappearance is already found in Adorno and Benjamin, parallel to a nostalgic exercise of the dialectic.
Because there is a nostalgia of the dialectic, and without a doubt the most subtle dialectic is nostalgic to begin with. But more deeply, there is in Benjamin and Adorno another tonality, that of a melancholy attached to the system itself, one that is incurable and beyond any dialectic. It is this melancholia of systems that today takes the upper hand through the ironically transparent forms that surround us. It is this melancholia that is becoming our fundamental passion. It is no longer the spleen or the vague yearnings of the fin-de-siecle soul. It is no longer nihilism either, which in some sense aims at normalizing everything through destruction, the passion of resentment (ressentiment).*2 No, melancholia is the fundamental tonality of functional systems, of current systems of simulation, of programming and information. Melancholia is the inherent quality of the mode of the disappearance of meaning, of the mode of the volatilization of meaning in operational systems. And we are all melancholic.”
Baudrillard goes on to explain that tyranny under terrorism is the only result of a nihilistic society. This is precisely what Neo finds himself swept into – an anarchic/communistic anti-establishment secret society that seeks to overthrow the tyrannical overlord computer system. This is why Morpheus is described in the media as a “terrorist” linked with hackers. They are members of the underground occult establishment that purports to “free your mind.” This is why, when Morpheus meets Neo, he offers him the two pills that grant enlightenment and going further “down the rabbit hole,” or the other which keeps one in wonderland/dreamland. Neo can join Morpheus’ secret, revolutionary society, or return to his “profane” existence.
That scene transpires in a building with a checkered floor like a masonic lodge, only Neo’s “initiation” includes a drug trip (hence the pill) that “awakens” him from the matrix. In fact, Neo’s experience is remarkably similar to an LSD trip. At this point the film draws once again on far eastern and shamanic traditions, where the hallucinogenic experience awakens the shaman from the unreality of the dream world of his normal existence. The “real world” is often there portrayed as the dream of the god(s), and the shaman’s initiatory revelation of the “other world,” or spirit realm is believed to be more real. In this sense, the team of humans that occupies the Nebuchadnezzar (their ship in the “real world”) are able to plug in and “astrally project” into the matrix world.
The Matrix world is therefore dominated by a ruling archon or demiurge, the Architect, which is also directly from masonic and perennial philosophy. Although the idea of an “architect” working with prima materia is an ancient notion in Aristotle and Plato, it is more recently known as a masonic doctrine. Regardless, the entire ethos of The Matrix is clearly a syncretic gnosticism. The occult aspects again arise when Neo visits the “Oracle,” hearkening to the Platonic Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle told Socrates he was the wisest man in Athens, and the oracle in the matrix tells Neo he isn’t (but is) “the One.” Platonic elements come to the fore, as the allegory of the cave is a fitting image of the matrix. In the allegory of the cave, the philosopher attempts to free those whose gaze in the cave is fixated on the shadows of appearances, and not on the sun outside the cave. While speaking to the Oracle, Neo sees a Latin inscription “know thyself,” as well as the double-headed eagle of Scottish Rite Masonry, illustrating the principle of gnostic dualism. Dualism is the ultimate philosophy of The Matrix‘s gnosis, inasmuch as the Architect’s plans for Neo and the Matrix are foiled, and Neo restores the proper balance, allowing authority and freedom to work in harmony.
So we have mention of intelligence agencies, Arab-esque terrorists, secret anarchic societies, hermeticism, specific dates of future real terror events, total surveillance, and jacking into the web through brain implants. This is obviously no ordinary movie script, but one tailored to the theosophy of the cryptocracy and their designs for a new world order. In fact, the film even includes the theme of a mass kill-off that resulted from the invention of AI (artificial intelligence), which led to a small band of human elite known as “Zion,” going underground in bunkers. That is an actual Pentagon plan, and is the deepest secret of the global shadow government – to effect a great culling through AI machines, go underground, and re-emerge to merge with the great computer hive to become gods: transhumanism. In The Matrix, Neo gradually perfects his control over “nature,” and as his skills progress, he is able to eventually face the central grid and Architect (in the close of the trilogy). He is a kind of anti-hero, fulfilling his name’s meaning – Neo, as in new, or the classic communist doctrine of the “New Man,” but in a singular, anarchic, individualistic form. Neo is the Promethean rebel who does not accept any authority, being willing to sacrifice himself to kill the system and “solve” the matrix.
The film ends with Neo realizing his demigod status, the divine spark within, halting the bullets of Agent Smith, and rescuing an injured Morpheus and Trinity. While Morpheus was captured due to Cypher’s Judas-like betrayal, Agent Smith informed him that the philosophy of the machines is that mankind is a disease. Mankind had messed up the earlier plans of perfection the Architect had, and the machines have come to create a scenario where all were happy. Humans would be batteries and the machines would parasitically feed off of them. Agent Smith, however, desires to see the humans eradicated, because they are a cancer and as a “rebel program,” that would be his goal. It is my thesis that in many ways The Matrix betrays more of the actual elite plans than even Eyes Wide Shut. There are rituals and spooky things in Eyes Wide Shut, but no mention of the actual shadow government plans to kill off most of the population, use terrorism as mass psych warfare, program the populace to be inserted into the web through brain implants, and accept dualistic, gnostic cosmology.
In part two, the team even blows up a power grid as an act of terror, but it is justified due to being a war on the machines. The great irony is that in the end, the machines were no better or worse than the humans, and the Architect was just another demiurge. Neo was one of many cyclical attempts at transcending the limitations of time and space, but the previous Neos had failed. This Keanu succeeds, but only succeeds in reconciling a relativized good and evil into a monistic scheme. At the end, Neo says his goal is to show a world without any boundaries or control, while the screen shows “System Failure.” In other words, the gnostic Promethean liberator will need to destroy the prevailing power structure in order to bring apotheosis. This is Illuminism 101 – only, as history shows us, the gnostic communist/anarchist “New Man” liberator never delivers on that promise, and is instead a tool of other powerful interests. In this gnostic version of the kabbalah, reality is a simulation made up of codes and bytes, and just as the paper thin dualism of the plot reveals a controlled opposition of “Zion,” so in our world the opposition of terrorists and anarchists and communists are always controlled opposition. There is no real revolution that is not funded by some larger, wealthy faction of elites seeking to topple some other faction. The revolutionary Morpheus secret society isn’t real – all real world analogues, be they secret societies, humanism, liberalism, fascism, socialism, etc., are fronts for governments and banks and intelligence agencies. And in a hilarious twist of revelation of the method, The Matrix even admits that.
The Matrix is being built…
For reference, Mark Passio’s Matrix analysis is also worth watching.