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.
“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.”
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.
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 caveis 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.
For reference, Mark Passio’s Matrix analysis is also worth watching.