The Matrix (1999): Beware of Existential Crisis.


The Matrix, while presenting the story of a rescue from a dystopian society, is every computer geek’s dream come true. Directed by the Wachowski brothers and released in 1999, it details the double life of seemingly average Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a mediocre office worker in a cubicle by day and a genius computer hacker known as Neo by night.

One night, as Neo is asleep by his computer, he is wakened by messages on his screen from somebody who seems to know who he is and directs him to a meeting. Neo follows the instructions and is confronted by another famous hacker named Trinity, who claims that she knows he has been looking into the matrix and he is now in great danger. Despite this warning, Neo is very shocked that the infamous Trinity, hacker of the IRS database, is a woman.

The scene cuts to Neo waking up late in his bed the next morning and rushing to work. However, this is no ordinary day: mysterious agents in dark glasses swarm the workplace after Neo is contacted by a dangerous and wanted computer hacker named Morpheus. Following this contact leads a sequence of events in which Neo is transferred from the hands of the agents to that of Morpheus’ black-leather-clad gang. Among this group, references are made to him being “The One.”

When Neo meets Morpheus face to face, the truth about the matrix is revealed to him. The matrix is the world we live in: where we breathe, live, and work daily. However, all this life is in fact nothing but a carefully constructed virtual reality. Human bodies are actually dominated by technological forces and lie asleep in pods in their dystopian structure, providing energy to the ruling artificial intelligence. This occurred as a result of a war between machines and humans. Supposedly Neo is The One to save humanity from this miserable existence.

At this point, Neo is confronted with a crucial choice upon which the future of mankind depends. He can consume a red pill and become further involved with Morpheus’ gang of male and female super-humans in leather to save the human race; or, he can take a blue pill that will make him forget everything he has learned and continue to live his ordinary, ignorant life.

Our protagonist of course chooses the red pill, and sets off on his destiny to save the world. He is trained in the martial arts via computer chips, and battles the agents who represent the controlling world and operators of the matrix program. He learns to bend the virtual world of the matrix to his will, knowing that the governing laws of physics are actually meaningless. This mental strength and his physical strength as The One help him to defeat the machines in a final battle full of slowmo gunshot scenes. The movie ends with a promised next step to reveal to humanity that the world they live in is nothing but a construction.


Technology and Ethics

The theme of technology has a prominent role to play in The Matrix, and it is not the most positive one. The downfall of humanity came about from man’s complete dominance on it. As Morpheus tells Neo, “You are a slave.” Indeed, many modern humans have been enslaved to revolutionary technologies (How many times did you check your smart phone while reading this internet blog post?). Historically, the dependency developed to such an extreme that it produced the Y2K scare of the turn of the century that was certainly in full hype during the production of The Matrix. The loss of computer systems meant the falling apart of many necessary things we rely on computers for, including big business.

This extreme expression of technology to ultimately control society is also represented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where technologies such as feelies and soma render the masses utterly dependent. However, the directors show, through both Neo’s mental and physical powers in the matrix and productive technologies such as the computer chips that teach concepts in mere seconds, how technology can be harnessed by humans and mastered rather than the other way around.

Ethics certainly has a role to play in the technological world, particularly the heated debate over the power of artificial intelligence, which has formidably taken over the world in this movie.

The actions of all the characters are ethically questionable, as Neo and all of his friends are wanted computer hackers (note that this practice is illegal in iLand Getaway!)



Religion also has its threads in The Matrix. Neo is a Christ-like figure in many ways. He is the Messiah of Morpheus’s crew, hailed by oracle prophecies as “The One” in the same way that Jesus was referred to in the Old Testament and foretold by John the Baptist. Continuing on the path of Jesus’ life, one of the group members, Cypher, betrays Neo’s location to the agents in exchange for nice dinners and a promise that he will forget all about The Matrix and live ignorantly. This inside agent is reminiscent of Judas, who betrays Jesus to the Pharisees in exchange for a monetary favor. Neo even operates with Morpheus from Zion, the last human civilization to exist and not coincidentally the name of the mountain from which Christ will reign during his second coming in the Bible.

Perhaps the most clear reference to Neo as a Christ-like figure is his death and resurrection to a new body in the final fight with head agent Smith. Though he is shot and his heart stops beating, in an act that defies logic, he comes back to life in a restored body that is even more physically and mentally capable than before. Neo completes his Christ-like journey by ascending into the sky at the movie’s end, as Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection.


Compare and Contrast

The Matrix reminded me of the concept of The Giver and the cave scene from Plato’s Republic, especially regarding how the reality the population experiences is not all that is really there. In The Giver, the true world of emotions and color is stomped under the surface via daily injections and rules, leaving community members to experience a weaker version of the real world. The cave scene detailed by Plato paints a similar picture, as members of the cave blindly sit and watch the shadows flicker on the wall. They are ignorant to the goings on of the real world; this constructed reality is the definition of their existence, until one cave dweller ventures outside and sees the beauty of the real world. Similarly, the Matrix is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” The only contrast here is that the real world is not a beautiful one in any sense, but rather a nightmare that some such as Cypher would risk everything to forget about and go back to blissful ignorance. However, a parallel can be drawn between Neo and countless utopian protagonists such as Jonas from The Giver, who cannot turn back to their old way of living once they have tasted the truth.


Famous Red Pill/Blue Pill scene

The scene of Neo’s death and resurrection, referred to as The Passion of Neo

6 thoughts on “The Matrix (1999): Beware of Existential Crisis.

  1. Great review and connection to course themes :). The Matrix is the movie that got me into movies. Maybe I should rephrase this: after seeing this movie for the first time in the fifth grade (in some ways, my parents allowing me to see it at that age should have scared me more than inspired me), I realized that movies can be more than just feel-good Disney comedies or romances that take up a few hours of your time and put you right back where you started after watching it, without really significantly effecting you. The world the Wachowskis created for The Matrix is filled with such amazing and mind-bending ideas that really gets your mind to wander in all directions. Anybody who sees it is destined to throughout their lives remember the themes presented in the film, and wonder about whether the life we think we know so well truly exists…
    Many sci-fi films center around the classic theme of human-machine interaction and the idea of a “ghost in the machine,” but I would argue that The Wachowski’s take on technology is very unique amongst other cyberpunk dystopias. Even more so today than in 1999, interaction with machines is a facet of daily life and something that’s impossible to avoid, but few works of fiction introduce the idea of machines relying on humanity for survival rather than the other way around. In The Matrix, this dependence is very direct, with humans serving the role of a source of power on which all machines operate, as explained by Morpheus in the scene where he compares humans worth to the machines to a Duracell battery which he is holding (product placement??). In other words, you may think that you wouldn’t be able to function without your iPhone or Macbook, but in the Wachowski’s world, machines literally can’t exist without using you as a source of power. This is just one of the interesting twists on our modern thinking in the film, and a great example of how it stays so relevant through the years.
    I love the parallels that can be drawn between Neo and Christ, although admittedly this is nowhere near as unique of a theme. It seems like a standard of every sci fi film of the ’90s to come out of the box with a Christ-like figure. Our protagonists and their crew of renegades seek to open people’s eyes to the truth. Is it not the same mission of every active religious sect?
    This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, Agent Smith’s monologue of a machine attempting to present man with utopia. It may just do the trick and inspire an existential crisis; you’ve given us a fair warning in your title!

  2. This was a great review! You made me laugh actually in your comment about the reader checking their smartphone while reading the post (I checked mine a few times, to be honest). The movie really does a great job of presenting the fears of the time of its production. There is definitely some truth to the fears as well. Our society and economy has become increasingly dependent on technology. For instance, it is difficult to imagine how the process of globalization could function without it.

    Your analysis of Neo as a Christ figure is an aspect I had never thought of before, but the connections you draw make sense! Not only does Neo possess Christ-like qualities, but so do the characters around him, and the plot reinforces the idea.

  3. Woah!!! This was so mind-blowing!! I definitely need to see this movie now.

    I think that the blue pill/red pill scene is so powerful because of how it relates to our basic themes we discussed in class AND the books that we have read. It definitely made me reflect on what reality really is since they find out that what they see isn’t all that there is. The theme of deception to control people is relatable throughout many of the novels we read in class and heard about. The Giver is a perfect example of a story in which the members of the society are hidden from the truth because it may be too much to handle for them.

    Really awesome review!

  4. I did watch this movie before but I never thought about it in this way. I do agree that in this age we are very attached to our technology. You see everywhere people are checking their phones and even when friends meet up they are constantly checking their phones. This movie reminds me of Ghost in the Shell where people rely on technology to do everyday things. Also the parallel worlds are an interesting concept. This made me question my own existence (I get really into movies sometimes) and wonder if all of us are living in such a place. And if we are…can we also find a way to the truth?

Comments are closed.