"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. ... It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth. ... Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."
Morpheus said those words in the first installment of The Matrix, but they ring especially true now with the release of the trilogy's second part, Reloaded. Had Keanu Reeves taken the blue pill, The Matrix would have been no more than an Outer Limits episode. But because he chose the red pill, it sent moviegoers headlong into a trippy sci-fi phenomenon that raises all sorts of philosophical and metaphysical questions while it transports fans to a futuristic alternate reality. It's not much of a stretch to say The Matrix and its sequels have become this generation's Star Wars.
An unlikely actor to flesh out a superhero, Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Speed, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) plays Neo, a computer hacker-cum-messiah who is the last hope for what's left of humanity in a godless, post-apocalyptic wasteland. Apparently, 21st century mankind proudly introduced artificial intelligence—a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines. War ensued. Almost overnight, humans who depended on machines for their survival became enslaved by a mechanized race harvesting people for bioelectric power. Kept alive in tanks like embryos, humanity's oblivious masses have their minds co-opted by an intricate computer network called the Matrix (our world as we know it) where they live in ignorance of their true condition.
A ragtag band of freedom fighters must protect the last human city from the swarms of motorized demons bent on controlling the human "virus." And with a large-scale battle still looming, the first film ended on a note of empowerment. Like a postmodern Moses, Neo stood determined to liberate mankind from the artificial world of the Matrix and open their eyes to a boundless land of opportunity. The Matrix Reloaded watches as he begins ticking off his pre-war tasks of intelligence gathering and sabotage.
positive elements: To defend one's country (or race) is a high calling in the world of the Matrix. The human city of Zion is zealously and sacrificially protected by men and women devoted to its military. Scores give up normal lives, time with family and friends, and the relative safety of the fortified city in an effort to overthrow the machines. Every human that exists outside the confines of the Matrix values reality (even a dreary one at times) over virtual existence.
Despite demanding sensual kisses from Neo, an unlikely ally named Persephone speaks of more than common lust when she tells Neo's main squeeze, Trinity, of her longing for true love. She seems genuinely envious (for all the right reasons) of Trinity's devoted relationship with Neo.
spiritual content: Writing for Christianity Today, Frederica Mathewes-Green says the Christian themes in The Matrix are "so obvious that even nonbelievers can spot them across the room." She also calls it "the most overanalyzed movie since they invented Christian film critics." Indeed, Christians were certainly intrigued by the first movie's metaphysical mind games. And there's lots more to speculate about in Reloaded.
Although much of the trilogy's spiritual content is as limply analogous to biblical truth as Star Wars' Force, some ponderings do parallel the Christian worldview. As Eden was, so the world of The Matrix has become defiled. As the spiritual realm and the physical realm intertwine in our world, so does the computer realm and the physical realm in the Matrix. The age-old Christian discussion about predestination and free will is resurrected in unexpected ways.
[Spoiler Warning] Trinity brings Neo back to life with a kiss in the first film. Here, Neo returns the favor, resuscitating Trinity by reaching inside her digitized body and "healing" the computer code that's been disrupted by a bullet. The Oracle reappears, once again giving Neo ambiguous advice about how he is to fulfill his role as savior. Her sayings and prophesies are respected and revered throughout Zion. Morpheus, in particular, clings to her words, expressing unfailing faith in their validity. In fact, the story contrasts Morpheus' faith in the Oracle's prophesies with another military leader's faith in "chariots and horses" (Psalm 20:7). "Not everyone believes what you believe," Morpheus' commander rants. "My beliefs do not require them to," Morpheus calmly replies. It should also be noted that Zion is home to a pagan spirituality that manifests itself through a sexual orgy.
Neo, meanwhile, continues to be about as flawed a savior as one can imagine. While Jesus withdrew from the multitudes to commune with His Father, Neo attempts to escape throngs of "worshippers" so that he can have sex with Trinity. He succumbs to various temptations. He's easily deceived. He's unsure of what his next steps should be. And he accomplishes his mission through the use of lethal force.
That's partly whey, when push comes to shove, The Matrix and its sequel don't boast enough purity of focus to allow them to be called Christian allegories: Buddhism, Hinduism, Greek mythology, Alice in Wonderland, The Terminator and Superman get just as much screen time as "Christian" imagery, if not more. It's as if the filmmakers know just enough about spiritual things to lace the script with engaging material, but not enough to make it all hang together. Co-star Monica Bellucci, who plays the sultry Persephone, got it right when she said the films are about "love, the philosophy of life, and a man who is looking inside for the power he has within himself. He's looking for God inside, not outside, which is like Oriental and Indian philosophy in a way."
sexual content: This is the area in which Reloaded proves to be the most different from its predecessor. When a "temple meeting" begins to turn into a pulsating orgy, Neo and Trinity escape to a bedroom where they have sex to the tempo of the wildly beating drums. Glimpses of rear and side nudity accompany their movements (rendered less explicit than they might have been by the dim light). Their rendezvous is intercut with images of the celebration going on in the cavern outside. Barely-clothed bodies sway and leap, rub and thrust as the torch-lit mob gives themselves to the tribal (Stomp-inspired) rhythms.
In other scenes, Neo and Trinity kiss several times and wake up in bed together. Neo kisses Persephone to persuade her to help him. Persephone bares quite a bit of cleavage. It's implied that the Merovingian manipulates Matrix code in a way that compels a woman to give him oral sex. Flashes of nudity are seen on a bank of TV screens.
violent content: Heavily influenced by Japanese anime, this series has become instantly famous for its gracefully lethal action sequences. John Leo of U.S. News & World Report said of the first film, "Keanu Reeves' slaughter of his enemies is filmed as a beautiful ballet. ... [It] makes gunning down people seem like a wonderfully satisfying hobby, as if a brilliant ad agency had just landed the violence account."
Reloaded continues the ballet. Producer Joel Silver tried to downplay the violence by saying, "If you have kung-fu fights with kicks to the head, it automatically makes it [rated] R." But while kung-fu kicks to the head are frequent, they're hardly the end of the story. After sparring with Neo, the Oracle's bodyguard says, "You do not truly know someone until you fight them." If he's right, then these characters know a lot about one another. In generally bloodless battles, Neo takes on a vast array of unfriendlies (from a replicated crowd of 100 Agent Smiths, to wraith-like killers who snap in and out of spatial reality), using a succession of weapons (hands and feet, a scythe, a sword, a metal pole, etc.). Like the Man of Steel, bullets no longer faze Neo. He simply holds out his hand and they bounce harmlessly to the ground.
That means instances of gunplay are down from the first movie. It doesn't mean guns are gone altogether. Far from it. One of the film's most striking moments is a slo-mo treatment of Trinity diving off the top of a skyscraper, firing her pistols as she falls. Globules of fire belch from the barrels, lighting up the darkness around her. Morpheus blows up an SUV by shooting its gas tank. Persephone, the wife of the ultra-bad Merovingian, shoots a werewolf at pointblank range with a silver bullet. Machine-gun fire strafes cars, walls, doors and people. Electromagnetic pulses destroy some of Zion's ships. An explosion decimates a large power station.
And what may be cinema's most extravagantly perilous car chase ever features enough vehicles crashing and burning to make the creators of The Fast and the Furious drool with envy. Morpheus and Agent Smith duke it out on top a speeding semi before it crashes and explodes. Elsewhere, people are stabbed, bludgeoned, flung against brick walls, blown up or impaled. A man deliberately slices open the palm of his hand. Blood drips from Neo's hand during a fight and trickles down Trinity's face.
crude or profane language: One f-word echoes around a room full of video monitors displaying Neo's face—Max Headroom-style. A dozen-plus s-words also appear in dialogue, as do a few flurries of milder profanity. Jesus' name is abused twice. "God" is misused. (It's combined with "d--n" a half-dozen times.) Neo makes an obscene gesture. Crude slang is assigned to sexual anatomy. And the Merovingian revels in his talent for spouting French profanity.
drug and alcohol content: The Merovingian drinks wine.
other negative elements: Morpheus and his crew take great pride in their reputation as rule-breakers. Faced with the "need" to defy a direct order from the Zion high command, they laugh it off as part of their nature ("The reason we all are here is because of our affinity for disobedience").
conclusion: Reloaded isn't as much a story as a glorified video game. At each stage, heroes fight off attackers in order to finish that level and proceed to the next one. First, Neo must reach the Oracle. She tells him to find the Key Maker and get the key that opens a secret door. To secure the Key Maker, Neo must get through the Merovingian and his henchmen. To reach the secret door, Zionites must disable the booby traps ... or it's game over.
Worse, Reloaded does very little to further the plot of The Matrix. At the end of the first film, Zionites face extinction by the machines and pray that Neo can save them. At the end of the second, Zionites face extinction by the machines and pray that Neo can save them. At least now Neo can fly!
Video game-inspired or not (R-rated or not), the Matrix films have vast appeal. In USA Today, columnist Jeffrey Wells suggests, "All the kids in the world suspect they're living in some kind of plastic, affluent penal colony, and maybe half believe that real life is perhaps more real and vivid on their hard drives than out in the street." To characters onscreen, the Matrix is an intricate web of deception that blinds them to reality. To young truth-seekers, these provocative, enigmatic films—steeped in muddled philosophy and operatic violence—may do the same.