The Matrix: Revolutions, Explained
It is interesting to contrast how I approached this essay with how I approached the essay for The Matrix: Reloaded. What compelled me to write for Reloaded was frustration. Everyone seemed to be missing the point. With Revolutions, even though many people are still not getting it, I have seen an astounding, deeply gratifying wealth of insight. It appears that after having digested Reloaded for a while we have got our brains into gear, and we are much better prepared for the messages in Revolutions. And so I come to this essay from a much calmer place. What motivates me is…well, nothing at all. I just choose to do it.
I was gratified at the wu hsing quality of the trilogy. The wu hsing are the five Chinese elements, in constant motion, and these elements generate each other. That’s the universe of the Matrix. Humans caused the deification of machines, which cause the deification of humans, which cause the deification of machines. What I especially like about wu hsing is its complexity. Nothing is clear-cut black-and-white. That feels like the philosophy of elders, and I find that very comforting. That is probably what draws me to the Matrix philosophy so strongly.
Before I get to the part where I advance the thesis for Revolutions, I want to clear something up that has been a problem for the Reloaded essay. I said in that essay that Reloaded was the story of Genesis. Unfortunately, some people couldn’t get past that. They insisted on trying to make an allegory out of Reloaded, in which characters from the Matrix could be mapped onto characters from the Bible. That is getting way off track. The Matrix story is packed with parallel spiritual metaphors, but it doesn’t do any good to try and strictly interpret the Merovingian as The Devil (for example). So when I say Reloaded is the story of Genesis I mean that Genesis has similar symbols and we can use it as a way to understand what is happening in Reloaded. It will be the same for Revolutions.
Now, here we go: Revolutions is the story of the Quest for the Holy Grail and the Ascension of Christ. It is the story of the transition from the sixth day of Creation to the seventh.
And before we get past that I want to invite you to look extremely closely at the opening sequence of Revolutions, where we zoom into the streams of code, all the way up to a single symbol. It’s a chalice — the Grail. We’re told from the first instant of the film what the story will be about.
Foreword on Motivations
“You’ve got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.” – The Oracle
It seems easy to talk about “choice” as the main issue in Revolutions. But that is far from an easy subject. What constitutes making a choice? Is there anything beyond mere chains of cause and effect? Do we live in a Skinnerian prison, bounded by our past experiences?
That is where we get some of the most difficult lines in Reloaded: “You’ve already made the choice. Now you just have to understand why you made it” — and — “You can’t see past the choices you don’t understand.” Those are hard lines. It’s like one hand clapping, and the difference between a duck. What these words mean is that it’s hard to know why you did something. You may think you’ve opted for the chicken or the steak, but have you really? Are you perhaps going with the crowd, or compensting for an irritable stomach, or have you recently read an article about free-range chickens? That is what the Merovingian says. Your why is that your environment directs you toward this choice or that one, and so that is what you do.
We feel in our deepest selves that this is not ultimately true, though. I am not a number! I am a free man! So how do you make a choice that is truly free? It is not easy, and Neo shows us precisely how difficult it is. You have to release everything, and pass between the pillars of fear and desire, above the blackened sky of the world, out of the world and into the timelessness of being, so that nothing — nothing — can make you do what you do. There becomes only will: the will to go back down below the clouds into the painful realm of time and act.
In Revolutions we see Neo get to that place. No purpose. Neither fear, nor desire. Only will. The gift, the sacrifice, made by will alone, and it overcomes everything. There is no higher why.
Smith asks, “Why, Mr. Anderson, why do you persist?” And Neo’s reply is,
Because I choose to.
“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62
This really begins at the Mobil Avenue station, but I am going to save that for last. Instead, I am going to start at the end. The fight between Neo and Smith comes to an apparent standstill. Neo is five-nines to enlightenment. Smith, who cannot understand why Neo is doing what he is doing, makes his speech. He lists every possible motivation he can think of, and of course the answer is none of the above. Instantly after that, Neo lands such a blow to Smith’s face it’s a little surprising Smith’s head didn’t fly clean off.
I think if that’s what had happened everyone would have cheered. I would have felt like cheering. It’s quite close to how I thought the end would be — Neo acting by will alone, utterly defeating Smith, and then evolving somehow into a new transcendent being. But, you know, when I ruminated on the ending a while, I realized that would have been like Gandhi saying “fuck it” and mowing down his opponents with an AK-47. Justified? Maybe. Right? Not so much.
The mighty cross to Smith’s jaw didn’t mean Neo was going to beat Smith with kung fu. It was something else. In his hands Neo held godlike power — he could fight as long as he chose to — but his choice was to lay down that power voluntarily. That is the gift. Smith, the dark side, cannot lay down the sword. Neo can, and by doing so chooses the path between light and dark; between desire and fear. He is like Jesus going willingly with the Roman guards. Surely the Son of God could have roasted his persecutors alive with but a nod. The followers of Jesus believed he was The One who would “end the war,” and they were extremely confused, like Morpheus, when the prophecy didn’t come true. They didn’t understand the way he seemed to give up the fight and waste all the momentum he had built up.
This part of Revolutions is one of the two events that mainly everyone seemed to misinterpret. The tendency seems to be toward a “Smith won” kind of explanation. That’s not right. It could be that they are just too young to remember how Obi Wan Kenobi did not lose the lightsaber duel. It’s time to pull out the dialogue. The chronology here is very tight. Smith wonders why Neo continues to fight, and Neo replies “Because I choose to,” and after that Smith is a mess. The way Smith delivers this next line indicates he has very little idea what is happening now — or why. (Remember that no one can see past choices they don’t understand? We just crossed that line.) Not only does Smith fail to understand Neo, Smith’s understanding of his own choices unravels quickly.
SMITH – Wait… I’ve seen this. This is it, this is the end. Yes, you were laying right there, just like that, and I… I… I stand here, right here, I’m… I’m supposed to say something. I say… Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.
The exact words of the Oracle! Also, for the first time, Smith calls his enemy “Neo.”
I want to quickly flash back through the entire trilogy. We have been leading up to this the entire time.
[ M1: Neo and Smith are fighting in the subway station. ]
SMITH – Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your death. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson.
[ M2: The Burly Brawl; Smiths are piling on. ]
SMITH – It is inevitable.
[ M2: Hall of back doors, on the way to the Architect's chamber. ]
SMITH – If you can’t beat us, join us.
[ M2: The Architect's speech. ]
ARCHITECT – Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end.
[ M3: Conversation between Neo and the Oracle. ]
ORACLE – Everything that has a beginning has an end.
[ M3: Neo and Bane fight on the Logos. ]
NEO – It’s impossible.
BANE – Not impossible. Inevitable. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson.
[ M3: Final battle between Neo and Smith. ]
SMITH – Can you feel it, Mr. Anderson, closing in on you? Well, I can. I really should thank you for it, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.
Hearing Smith speak these words brings understanding to Neo. What is inevitable is that Neo and Smith will merge. What began with a merge will end with a merge. Neo stands up. Smith is completely baffled by his own behavior.
SMITH – What? What did I just say? No… No, this isn’t right, this can’t be right. Get away from me!
Come again? Why does Smith suddenly want Neo to get away? Just when Smith seems to have Neo on the ropes, Smith starts staggering away from Neo like Neo has the plague. When Smith speaks the word “No” in that line he is fighting off the realization of what is coming, the joining together, and he is afraid of it. At the same time, Neo seems clear-headed and certain. The next lines spoken are like exploding bombs.
NEO – What are you afraid of?
SMITH – It’s a trick!
Agent Smith is flailing desperately for an explanation that will allow him to escape. He wants this to be an illusion. (As some very keen readers have pointed out, Smith is also telling us a fact. Everything that seems so real and so important is a trick of the mind. The inescapable fact is that we are all going to die and none of those spoils of war are going to come with us.)
NEO – You were right, Smith. You were always right. It was inevitable.
I can almost see two moments in time colliding as that word is spoken. The beginning and the end coming together. The dark and the light coming together. Without seeming to know why, Smith plunges his hand into Neo and starts absorbing him. While this happens, Neo is calm. In a few seconds another Smith stands where Neo stood. Now remember Smith is almost cowering before this new copy. He speaks this line with a shaky, unsure voice.
SMITH – Is it over?
Smith doesn’t know! How could he not know? We have gone from Smith being slightly confused to Smith having absolutely no idea what’s going on. If Smith didn’t grok Neo standing “by choice” alone, he is impossibly lost at Neo’s sacrifice. The new Smith is not part of the “collective Smith” at all. The new Smith does not speak, nor hardly move except to nod his head. This is a recreation of Smith’s initial death in the first movie. Neo is absorbed into Smith and shatters him from within. The beginning and the end are one. In the real world, there is a cross of light upon Neo’s body, the sign of his sacrifice — the choosing of the Holy Grail, the way between the pairs of opposites.
The light and the dark are one. The One.
So the question perhaps most asked is: did Neo die? Well, yes. And Smith died as well. They joined (very much against Smith’s wishes) into the true One, and in that being Neo is no more and Smith is no more. Or, nearly. Smith is definitely gone, but in some way Neo is still present.
Now somber, humble machines pull Neo’s body, arms out in the shape of a cross, to a temple of light. Streams of energy course out from Neo along mechanical veins, gifting his divinity. And he ascends, he returns home, to the Source, where the path of The One ends.
I believe there is a personal discussion going on between Neo and God in the final scenes in addition to the superficial deal-cutting. (The pantheon can get a little hard to follow — I don’t mean the Creator-God, the Architect. The floating head is the Infinite God, the Source from which finite Gods like the Architect have sprung.) God asks of Neo, “What do you want?” On the surface it looks like God is negotiating with Neo, and that they are making a deal to call off the squiddies if Neo can defeat Smith. But that means we’re interpreting God’s line as, “What does your side demand?” That’s not what He said. It was,
What do you want?
This is a personal question directed at Neo. (I wonder what would have happened if Neo had said, “I want Trinity back.”) Neo’s response is, “Peace.” If we look at this as an answer to a personal question, then Neo is asking for rest, for balance. He wants to end. The purpose of life is to end. At-one-ness. It just so happens that this reflects perfectly in the war between the machines and the humans. The One’s personal ascension brings gifts to entire world.
Peace for Neo is the first gift of ascension.
Peace for Zion is the second of the gifts.
The third gift is the rewriting of the Matrix. I will discuss the Fourth Age later.
The fourth gift is mysterious. The machine city noticeably brightens when the One’s spirit courses into it. What the machines gain is not revealed, but I believe there are clues laid down at the Mobil Avenue station and echoed in the final conversation between programs.
There is one more thing that needs to be looked at closely, because it has apparently caused an enormous amount of confusion. What I’m talking about is the “mechanism” by which Smith was…er…removed. Actually, I don’t much go in for mechanical explanations — they end up being highly speculative, and we’ve got extremely little evidence to rely on, and at any rate this is completely in the realm of fiction. Fans seem to forget sometimes that “warp drive” has scientific parity with “magic missile.” That said, having explained a lot of the why, I am going to try and clear up a little of the how. Surely some readers will persist in their dissatisfaction.
First, we have to give up the notion that Neo and Smith can be represented as +1 and -1. That’s much too simple. In several email exchanges I likened the final moment between Neo and Smith to the climactic ending of A Wizard of Earthsea, wherein Ged embraces and unites with the personification of his dark side. Ged doesn’t disappear at that point. He’s still there, only now transcendent. Neo is left at the end too. Instead of saying that Neo and Smith merged, we can say that the Light One and the Dark One merged, just like the annihilation of a proton meeting an antiproton. Neo and Smith could fight each other to a standstill as the Light One and the Dark One, and if that’s all there was to it they might have ended up killing each other and that would be that. No elevation, no gifts, no transcendence. But the reality is this:
The Dark One
The Light One
This is why I said that Neo lays his power down. He steps away from his role as the Light One and goes into the middle path between the opposites. Smith cannot go there. Smith cannot (will not!) lay down his power as the Dark One, and so Smith is obliterated in the merging of the Light and the Dark. This is also why everyone who had been absorbed by Smith is restored (we don’t see them all, but I believe they are there). It is the Smith-ness that clings to the identity of the Dark One, and so it is the Smith-ness that is destroyed, leaving the remainder behind.
On the most basic level, the “mechanical” explanation for why Smith was destroyed is that he got himself connected to the Source. I received floods of email proposing various means by which the deletion might have been accomplished: surges of electricity, anti-virus code, etc. Such additional weapons are purely unnecessary. There are three pieces of evidence that suggest how simple this can be:
- Any individual Smith can command the power of all the other Smiths, and can know what all of the other Smiths know. Power and information shift freely within the horde.
- Neo is connected to the Source. The evidence for this is really abundant, and I’ll dig into this quite a bit when I get to Neo’s own section.
- Connecting to the Source equals deletion for programs. In Reloaded, the Oracle says, “Usually a program chooses exile when it faces deletion…a program can either choose to hide [in the Matrix], or return to the Source [and be deleted].”
I hardly even need to describe it further. When Smith absorbs Neo, that individual Smith is connected to the Source. Deleted. And since power and information flow freely within the horde, all the other Smiths get deleted too.
That brings us to the last bit of explanation of the merger, and the question of God’s involvement. (I’m getting back to symbolic language now, sorry.) After Neo is absorbed, we see the code view of the real world, and a single pulse of orange light goes into Neo’s body. Orange light is code in the real world. (Green light is code in the Matrix.) So some piece of code travels from the machine city, presumably from the Source, into Neo. A lot of people have speculated that this is anti-viral code being implanted into Neo, and that this code deletes Smith. I think it fits in with the “pure deletion” explanation as, well, the deletion code for Smith. The inevitable question that follows is “Why didn’t the DEM [Deus Ex Machina] do this before, and why in the world did the machines need Neo at all?”
One very good answer is that the “DEM” didn’t do anything. The destruction of Smith was Neo’s doing. At the moment of his sacrifice, Neo is in his divinity. He has claimed the Holy Grail — the way between the pairs of opposites — and walked back through the Portal to the Garden. When we see code moving from the Source to Neo, it is the connection between Neo and the ground of all being. It is the taking of the fruit of the Second Tree and the beginning of the ascent into Nirvana.
The Buddha, sitting under the World Tree, was challenged by a thousand-armed god of death and his legions. The Buddha reached out his hand and placed his fingertips on the earth, which is the Source, and drew into himself the essence of the Infinite God. The death god and all his armies were shattered.
But another very good explanation is that when we submit ourselves to something bigger, we can become a conduit for divnine energy. The acts of our hands become the acts of God. This is what is meant (but little understood, I think) by the Christian prayer, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Quite certainly this concept of “as above, so below” is not the property of Christians. It’s found everywhere. I’m just using an example.) Let my hands become God’s hands, this prayer says. Let me become a conduit for the divine.
Precisely what happens under those circumstances is this: you (honestly, you) come into the “Christ energy” that we see in stories of figures like Jesus. The surgeon’s hands become God’s hands; the birthing mother’s body becomes God’s body; the Word of God flows from the pen of the author. The power of God flows into and through such people.
So when a surge goes into Neo, as if he is a conduit, well that is exactly right. He is the door through which the Light of God enters the world. Recall, if you will, what the Light of God does to Smith.
The Yin and Yang of Neo
“God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” – Genesis 1:4
Throughout the trilogy, the theme of tension between pairs of opposites is constant. It underpins everything else, and lack of understanding this theme leads to a basic lack of understanding of the trilogy. It is obvious that Neo and Smith are to be regarded as opposite sides of the same character, but the theme of opposites goes far deeper — so far as to provide us with a fairly detailed roadmap of the storyline of both Reloaded and Revolutions.
Before I get to anything else, it is absolutely critical to understand the symbolism of creation stories. Creation stories are inevitably about splitting things apart. At first there is only singular. I am. Then there is division. Think of it this way: if God was alone at the start, and He was All, and then He created any thing, it would necessarily have to come out of Himself. From one, two. In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness, and the sea from the sky, and then the land from the sea. He is the wielder of the cosmic sword, cutting what was one into two. There is an Iroquois story about the First Mother getting pregnant from the wind (i.e., a “virgin mother”) and giving birth to twins. There it is again, the one becoming two.
Creation stories are the key. They are what get you started toward the big picture of the spiritual cycle, which goes like this:
- Exit from the Garden
- Quest for the Holy Grail
Then it starts over again. If you imagine a horizontal line between Nos. 2 and 3, that is the mirror line. Exiting from the Garden is the opposite of the Quest; Reunion is the opposite of Creation. Now you can see why I started by explaining that creation is equivalent to division. And perhaps you can also see how deep the pairs of opposites go in these films. Even the plot events themselves are pairs of opposites.
(A short aside: This cycle is astonishingly similar to the cycle of the Hero, c.f. Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, although I was not at all thinking about the heroic cycle when I wrote that list of four steps above.)
In the previous section, I described how the reunion — the ascension back into divinity — happens at the end of Revolutions. The moment of creation is in the first movie, at the point when Neo gets back up after being shot by Smith, runs down the hallway, into Smith, and then shatters him. As Smith informs us in Reloaded, something from Neo imprinted onto what was left of Smith. In other words, the creative act is the dividing of The One — part continues as Neo, and part continues as Smith. The two middle parts of the cycle are what constitute Reloaded and Revolutions. I described in detail how Reloaded is the story of the exit from the Garden in the Reloaded essay. That leaves the Quest for the Grail.
The Grail is not a thing. Among the mountains of email I received, there were a large number of requests for me to identify what object in the movies represents the Grail. But in fact, the Grail is the state of being Neo is in when he allows Smith to absorb him. The Grail is a way — it is the doorway back into the Garden. Christ talks about himself like that: “I am the way.” In the Grail legend, the Grail is said to be the cup in which Jesus’ blood was caught when he was crucified. There is the same message. The blood of the Christ — the sacrifice of the Christ — is the way.
A lot has been made of the Grail being a kind of passport to immortality. That is a reference to the Tree of Life. Remember, Adam and Eve didn’t eat from that tree, and the idea is that, with the Grail, you can get back into the Garden and chow on some immortality fruit. We need to read this as a story, however — these are metaphors. The tree and the Grail are both metaphors for a transformation in you. (Don’t read metaphors as facts. It’s bad for you.) You obtain the Grail (the Royal Blood; your kingship; your divinity) by choosing the way of Christ. That way is the middle way between the pairs of opposites and the reuniting of the divided self.
The Quest is the journey to the World Tree, the sacrificial cross, where the sang royale is expressed and gifted to the world. This is Neo’s journey to the machine city and to the Source. Neo chooses the way of the Christ when he steps off of the Mjolnir and onto the Logos. Logos is symbol-speak for Christ. (There is another meaning to this transition: it is the laying down of the war-power of Thor’s hammer and the choosing of the word-power of Jesus or the Buddha. Before the Buddha was born, his mother was told her son would either be a great warrior-king or a great teacher. Emphasis on or. Likewise, Jesus is offered dominion over the kingdoms of the world, which is taken to be mutually exclusive with continuing as a teacher.) In case we’re doubting what kind of journey this will be, Bane attacks. During the ensuing fight, Neo’s eyes are scorched out of their sockets. Blind, he is mocked by Bane. This is identical to what happened to Jesus on the way to his crucifixion — he was blindfolded and beaten by the soldiers, who challenged him to use his second sight to identify his attackers. And we see that this is in fact Neo’s full awaking to his second sight. His first words after being blinded are, “I can see you.” The spiritual journey, the Quest for the Grail, begins, on the road that can be seen only with the inner eye.
The cloak of Christ falls on Neo’s shoulders.
But didn’t I call Neo the Devil last time? Why, yes I did.
The Serpent and the Christ
I have done plenty to talk about Neo as a divided pair, especially as the Light One and the Dark One (i.e., Smith). Neo is divided in another way, too. He “switches sides” for a while — actually, throughout Reloaded. I managed to irritate some people by suggesting Neo was equivalent to the Devil in Reloaded. I managed to irritate them even more by suggesting a connection, a family tie no less, between the Christ and the Devil. Well, that’s unfortunate for them. It’s a requirement that these symbols aren’t clung to as if they were literal. In the first and third films, Neo acts like a Christ. In the second film, Neo acts like the Serpent. This is exactly what I laid down at the end of the Reloaded essay.
At the end of the first movie, we are left with a powerful Messiah. It could have stopped there, and that might have been fine. But we had not been told a story of wholeness. The pairs of opposites remained. Neo had dealt a blow to the machines from within the Matrix, but the machines still ruled the real world. The Bros. W chose to continue this story, and bring it completion, by turning inward on the very nature of the Christ (which is why the second two movies seem so overwhelmingly philosophical). And that story starts with the Serpent.
In the heavenly sphere, there is no time and there is no suffering. It is also quite boring. No growth, no emotion. A human being needs to emerge from the Garden and come into the field of time. This introduces a problem. With time, things pass away. Trinity dies in the field of time. That is pain. With time comes suffering. The Serpent is what leads us out of the Garden into the field of time, where invention, love, growth, and…suffering are possible. Neo in Reloaded was the Serpent. He disobeyed God and took the red pill. The consequence was an assault on Zion.
Now here is the wonderful part. Suffering awakens us to compassion. There is no compassion without suffering. There is no Christ without the Serpent. Compassion is a complex good that can only exist on Earth. There is the Christ, the compassionate savior, on Earth. There is Neo in Revolutions. He is not the military savior; he is not Lock. Lock has no compassion (Lock is willing to march every inhabitant of Zion into the dock; for him, the ends justify the means). The Christ offers the way back to Heaven by countering suffering with compassion, manifest in selfless, willing sacrifice. Smith becomes suffering for all. Neo becomes compassion for all.
The pairs of opposites, the particle and the antiparticle, the yin and the yang of Neo, accelerate toward each other.
The Merovingian and Club Hel
The Merovingian is one of the most mysterious figures in the trilogy. While I analyze this part of the film, I will try to stick close to the facts here, and not stray too far into wild speculation, although I shall not entirely succeed.
First of all, we have to go back to the Grail legend. The Holy Grail is the middle ground — the entrance back into the Garden, guarded by firey angels. In the legend, there is a line of Frankish kings called the Merovingians, who are descended from Christ. They protect the Grail by their keeping of the bloodline of Christ. It makes perfect sense that on the Quest for the Grail one would encounter its protector.
However, there are two kinds of protection. The first kind of protection is protection against evil. What evil? Well, that is the second kind of protection. The second kind seeks to prevent anyone from attaining the Grail. The legend says that there are angels in favor of mankind, and those against mankind. This is the basis of the War in Heaven, the result of which is the casting out of Those Opposed, led by Lucifer.
Here is one of my small indulgences with regard to speculation — I am going to say that this “casting out” is part of the history of the Matrix universe, and that it means “cast out from the machine city into the Matrix.”
We know that “the Merovingian” is a protector of the Grail, and we know that there are two protectors. The first protector is the Merovingian. The fact that Merv’s wife is Persephone makes it absolutely clear that he is Hades, who is analogous to Lucifer. The other protector is the firey angel who calls himself a protector: Seraph. (We see that these two know each other, so I feel like that is evidence for what I’m saying here.)
I am going to take this a little further and say that the Merovingian is opposed to mankind. He is also opposed to God, by which I mean the Architect and the Oracle (and by inference, the Source). And the Merovingian will strike at all of them every time he gets a chance, out of pure hatred, for being cast out, which was definitely not his idea. Most especially he is against the Oracle, because this “Age” of the Matrix is very much her creation. (This is why he wants to harm the Oracle, c.f. Enter the Matrix.) The whole “Neo thing” invented by the Oracle is definitely on the Merovingian’s shit list.
For Reloaded, we have his motivation for imprisoning the Keymaker. The Keymaker is a a route to the machine city and because the Merovingian cannot go, he forbids others to go as well by controllling the Keeper of Doors. And for Revolutions, we have his motivation for taking advantage of Neo being trapped at the Mobil Avenue station by demanding the eyes of the Oracle. The Merovingian surely had no intention of releasing Neo from Mobil station. Not ever. He would have harmed the Oracle (again) and harmed Neo at the same time. A nice victory for the Merovingian.
Now that we have properly set up the Merovingian as the Devil, it is time to turn our attention to the Club Hel scene. The events at the club are tightly connected to the events at the Mobile Avenue station, and it all gets its start when Neo halted the squiddies at the end of Reloaded and fell into a coma. That coma was compared by many readers to a death, and the question was frequently raised whether Neo would be transformed after he woke up. I suspected as much, and it turns out to be true in a bigger way than I ever anticipated. It is representative of Christ’s post-crucifixion and pre-resurrection experience. In the Apostle’s Creed, Christ descends into Hell after his death on the cross. The Creed doesn’t really say any more than this, but it gets heavy interpretation in the Catholic Church, so there are several variations on the whole story. At the moment of his death, Christ’s soul and body separated from each other — his body stayed on Earth and his soul went down into…well, this varies. Sometimes it’s Sheol, the place of the dead. Sometimes Hell. And sometimes Limbo.
This fits in extremely nicely with our yin/yang Christ. The yin can descend to Hell, while the yang spends time in Limbo. I will get to yang/Neo’s side of this experience in the next section. For now, I will focus on yin/Trinity.
I have all but spelled this out, but in case you weren’t paying attention, I believe that Neo and Trinity represent one person. If something happens to Trinity, we can just as well say it happened to Neo. This is mainly true since the end of Reloaded, after Neo resurrects Trinity. After that they are like one. Therefore, Trinity’s trip to Club Hel counts as Christ’s descent into Hell. I find it fascinating that Trinity is accompanied by Morpheus and Seraph.
A minor sidetracking… When this trio approaches the main doors of Club Hel, the bouncers recognize Seraph immediately and call him “Wingless.” Inside the club, the Merovingian calls Seraph “L’ange sans ailes” (Wingless Angel). This reveals a depth and complexity about Seraph that is very intriguing. He has had his wings clipped. Seraph, too, must be some kind of exile from the machine city, and his protection of the Grail may be work of atonement.
Now a few choice bits of dialogue. As Trinity, Morpheus, and Seraph enter the club:
MEROVINGIAN – What in the hell?
Precisely. If there was any doubt, let it be gone. This is hell. Actually, just in case you still aren’t certain, the Merovingian repeats himself later: “You have fought through hell.” And if you are truly dense, the clothing worn by Persephone and the Merovingian is positively devilish. The Trainman is with the Merovingian, quite likely informing him that Neo is stuck at Mobil Avenue station. The Trainman is quite certainly The Boatman, i.e, Charon, who serves Hades. So the roles are very clear. Then Morpheus does something strange and tells the Merovingian that they want to make a deal.
MEROVINGIAN – Okay. I have something you want. To make a deal, you must have something I want, yes? And it so happens there is something I want. Something I’ve wanted ever since I first came here. It is said they cannot be taken, they can only be given.
MORPHEUS – What?
MEROVINGIAN – The eyes of the Oracle.
His seething hatred for the Oracle runs deep. For him, it’s not enough that he had her exterminated. The Merovingian wants the Oracle’s soul. Apparently, he has wanted this kind of possessive revenge since the moment he entered the Matrix. I’ll take this as additional evidence that he was forced out of the machine city and into the Matrix against his wishes, and (from what it looks like) as a result of the Oracle’s actions. The creepiest part of it all was that while the Merovingian was asking for the Oracle’s eyes he was slowly munching on two eyeball-looking olives.
The subtext in these lines is just as amazing. This is truly a deal with the Devil. The subtext says, “Yes, I will give you what you want, but in exchange you must turn against God.” Given what happens later in the movie, I strongly suspect that Neo, even if he had been released, would have been thwarted from achieving the Grail if the Oracle’s eyes had been delivered to the Devil. The Oracle played a key part in Neo’s transformation, a part that wouldn’t have occurred.
I am very unsure about Morpheus here. I think he might have been ready to shake hands and go collect some eyeballs. He is a little pissed off at the Oracle too. But that’s all academic, because Trinity changes the equation by pointing a gun directly at the Merovingian’s forehead. And this is the behavior we expect from Christ toward the Devil. Deal-making is really out of the question. And anyway, Hades was never good for letting the dead return to the world of the living. He always had to be coerced somehow.
Precisely at this instant, Neo, at Mobile Avenue station, says, “You got yourself into this. You can get yourself out.” And that’s exactly what happens.
The Mobil Avenue Station and the Program Family
I know this scene was severely misunderstood. The two most important scenes in Revolutions are Mobil Avenue and the final showdown with Smith, and so that is really all I have dealt with aside from some tinkering with Neo and the Merovingian. Mobil Avenue tells us exactly what’s going to happen at the end of the movie. In fact, Mobil Avenue is so central to the story that I had to force myself to put it at the end of the essay, and force myself to refrain from writing it until I had explored some of the other areas of the movie first.
Let’s first get this out of the way: Mobil is an anagram for Limbo. I think just about everyone caught that, but I’ll say it just to be sure. As I explained in the Merovingian section, Christ’s body and soul have separated from each other and Christ’s soul, like everything else, is a pair of opposites. (Why? Because everything that is created is a one-becomes-two bit of work. Remember?) Yin-Christ is Trinity. Yang-Christ is Neo. The half that is Trinity descended into Hell. The half that is Neo went into Limbo.
The location of Mobil Avenue station (I’ll just call it Mobil from now on) can be very confusing, principally because, in the movie, it is described from two different perspectives at the same time. It’s the River Styx. Only instead of a river, we have train tracks; instead of a boat, we have a train; and instead of a Boatman we have…well, a Trainman. In Greek mythology, Charon the Boatman works for Hades. Similarly, our Trainman works for the Merovingian.
The other confusing aspect of Mobil is what the program family is actually doing. I’ll clear that up before I dig into the heart of this scene. Mobil is a place between the machine city and the Matrix. At first it seems like they are smuggling their daughter out of the Matrix. It’s just the opposite. The program family is from the machine city and they are smuggling their daughter into the Matrix, where there are plenty of exiles who have no purpose. As long as an Agent doesn’t find her, the daughter will be safe.
Now, as I said before, Mobil is Limbo. The theme of the entire film is described by that name. Limbo, the limbus patrum, is the place where purified souls go to await the ascension of Christ into heaven. I ask you to please go back and re-read that last sentence again. Think about what they are waiting for.
As if that’s not enough, we are (subtly) told where the ascension will take place. Because Mobil leads to the machine city, Neo will ascend to heaven in the machine city.
In the Reloaded essay, I did some work in the Architect section on the idea that Neo was the “sixth day” of Creation. In other words, Neo represents genuine human beings (the human being eats the apple and leaves the Garden). I also planted the seeds of suspicion that Neo might be the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, called Parashurama. These are both wholly, completely verified by what transpires at Mobil. Earlier in this essay, I claimed that Neo’s coma was a metaphorical death. I think it’s possible to assert that the sixth incarnation of Neo didn’t make it past the Architect’s chamber in Reloaded, but at least something of him survives to Mobil. This will be the end of him. Neo 6.0, who is the Serpent, who is Parashurama, never leaves Mobil Avenue station. The Neo that rides the train out at the end of the sequence is the seventh incarnation. Here is how it unfolds.
SATI – Good morning.
NEO – Who are you?
SATI – My name is Sati. Your name is Neo. My papa says you’re not supposed to be here. He says you must be lost. Are you lost, Neo?
The first thing we hear spoken is “Good morning.” That means, “Welcome to a new day.” You are a new person, Neo. Then we are introduced to the young girl, whose name is Sati. Remember these are the very first events that happen to Neo in Revolutions. Like good fiction does, we are having the entire movie explained to us in the first few minutes. Sati means “self-immolation.” More generally, willing self-sacrifice. This points directly at the final moments between Neo and Smith. It is interesting that Sati knows Neo’s name already. It isn’t that Sati recognizes Neo, but her father surely does, because they are the same person. And in that Sati knows what will come.
The part about being lost is important. This is about why Neo is at Mobil. (Remember why?) If he was there intentionally, he wouldn’t be lost. As we learn from the Oracle later, Parashurama isn’t prepared to go to the machine city. He cannot touch the Source and survive. He pops into Limbo entirely by accident. But now the father…
RAMA-KANDRA – I’m sorry, she is still very curious.
NEO – I know you.
Frequently in these films there are lines of dialogue that seem to carry a particular, superficial meaning but in fact are deep wells of symbolism. In Reloaded, when Neo and the Oracle talk in the park, Neo asks the Oracle why she is here. “Same reason as you,” she says. “I love candy.” (I have picked on this particular line before. It’s a perfect example.) What this really means is that the Oracle delights in disobedience — she loves the eating of the apple. When Neo says “I know you” it’s the same thing. Yes, he recognizes Rama-Kandra from the restaurant. What it really means, however, is that Neo recognizes Rama-Kandra like a mirror image. Neo is meeting himself. Chalk up another one for the pairs of opposites. The Neo-in-black is Parashurama, the Serpent. Rama-Kandra is, well, Ramachandra, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, the Christ. To be more accurate about it, Rama-Kandra is the divinity of the Christ.
In the Vishnu stories, Parashurama actually meets Ramachandra and there is a “passing of the torch,” so to speak. There is no way the meeting between Neo and Rama-Kandra is a coincidence. It gets better! After Parashurama cedes to Rama, Parashurama goes off to live high in the mountains (between Earth and Sky) to await the next age of the world. Welcome to Mobil Avenue station, Parashurama. Neo(6) stays in Mobil. Neo(7) leaves. It’s plain as day.
Like so many other symbols in this trilogy, we encounter another set of three. The trinity again. Rama formally introduces his family:
RAMA-KANDRA – I am Rama-Kandra. This is my wife Kamala, my daughter Sati. We are most honored to meet you.
In Hindu mythology, Kamala really is the wife of Ramachandra. (Er, maybe not exactly, but close enough. Kamala is an incarnation of Lakshmi just as Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu.) This is a matched pair, and like Neo and Trinity we can talk about them as if they were one person. Their daughter is Sati (although it doesn’t work out this way in the mythology). Taken on their names alone, I think the meaning here is that from divinity springs perfect sacrifice.
I will have to take a quick break to talk about divinity. This is the divinity of the human soul, not an external creature somewhere far away. It is inextricable from enlightenment, which in turn has everything to do with choice and with why choices are made. The Divine says, “There is nothing that can move me except my will to move.” Neither fear nor desire can touch the Divine because the Divine is outside of the field of time, and so, without influence of any kind, the choice made by the enlightened soul is a perfect choice. This is the root of the perfect, willing sacrifice. Do you see now why the purity of a choice is so important? A sacrifice for another cannot be done for a reason, only for LOVE, unconditionally. There must be no causal chain. The choice is the beginning and the end. Now when the Divine descends into the field of time, there is suffering, and there is compassion. The way back “up” to the Divine is through the sacrifice. The gift is the door, the Holy Grail, the way between the pairs of opposites.
Returning to Mobil, we see that as Rama speaks he holds Sati directly in front of him, between himself and Neo. The meaning is exactly what I have just said. The essence of the Grail is there, in the space between Parashurama and Ramachandra.
But what else do we know about Ramachandra and Kamala? It’s very strange. Rama is in charge of recycling at the “power plant.” Oh no. The power plant for the machines? Recycling? Let’s bring back what Morpheus said about that in the first movie:
MORPHEUS – Then I saw the fields with my own eyes. Watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living.
Rama-Kandra’s job is to oversee feeding the liquefied dead humans to the living humans in the power-generation pods. You would have to be made entirely of stone to not feel revolted by that. Yet… this is life. This is the Oroboros. A thousand generations of human beings have known this. In a footnote in the Reloaded essay I remarked that some vegetarians and most vegans try to avoid this but cannot. That sparked a handful of angry emails. I still maintain its truth. Life is dirty, and sometimes disgusting. You do not live except by consuming the dead. This is life. Smith is anti-life:
BANE – I admit, it is difficult to think, encased in this rotting piece of meat. The stink of it filling every breath, a suffocating cloud you can’t escape. Disgusting!
What we are really saying, then, with Rama in charge of “recycling,” is that he encompasses not just the glory of the Divine but also the gritty, earthy Oroboros — the world-snake eating its own tail, the consumptive animal. This is a lesson. You do not achieve the Grail by eliminating or leaving behind your animal self. It is as much a part of you as the divine. That is why Bane speaks those lines, and that is why Bane is wrong (as we feel he must be). The One is both Earth and Sky, the world below and the world above.
Recall where Limbo is; recall where Parashurama went. The One comes from Limbo, from between, to save both worlds. And so he does.
On the way out of Mobil station on the train, Morpheus and Link have a conversation on the cell phone. Here is what they said:
MORPHEUS – Are you ready for us?
LINK – Almost, sir. They got some pretty ancient hacks here, we’re working on it. Did you find Neo?
MORPHEUS – Can’t you see him?
LINK – No, sir. We were reading something but I couldn’t tell what it was.
Good morning, Neo. Today is the seventh day.
The Oracle, the Architect, and Sati
This is the first of the “speculative” sections of this essay. It is also the least speculative of the three (although believe me it is still speculative). The purpose is to dissect what happened at the end of Revolutions, because it was a little bit difficult to see.
There are two separate parts to the ending. The first part is what we see of the humans; the second part is what we see of the machines (i.e., programs). I am going to start immediately at the point of Neo’s ascension, when The Source declares “It is done.” The first human being who speaks after that is Lock, and we are informed of all the human ramifications of Neo’s actions.
LOCK – It doesn’t make sense.
As I hinted at before with the Grail legend, and as more than one sharp reader has also pointed out, the defeat of rationality is central to transcendence. Rationality is the Dragon, who needs to be slain in order to re-unite with the Princess, who represents Communion (use your imagination). Perhaps a better way to say it is that you cannot grow into your true humanity by rational means. It’s a nonrational journey, which is why the Zen master challenges his pupils to imagine the sound of one hand clapping, and, relatedly, why the Oracle puts certain kinds of question to Neo. We’re also getting right to the core of why Neo could not have simply pummeled Smith into submission; why the Christ has to irrationally allow himself to be sacrificed; why Ghandi cannot simply shred everyone with a machine gun. (C.f. The Passion of the Christ. The choice to lay down the sword is non-trivial and this movie makes you feel the skin flaying off your back for what you chose.) The only thing that would “make sense” (Lock is our voice of caution and reason) would be for Neo to come blasting through the hordes of squiddies with some kind of super laser cannon. I’ve had quite a pile of email from people saying exactly what Lock said — the machines just leaving Zion doesn’t make sense. They are right. It’s not rational.
We can also rewind a little to the voice of God, who says to Neo “We don’t need you.” Lock would say the same thing. The machines don’t need us. It’s the battery question all over again. Rationally, the machines don’t need humans. At least, as long as they are content to be machines. There is a difference, subtle but infinite, between a machine and a Man. More on that shortly.
The unraveling of the rationality puzzle is tied up with exploring Neo’s powers, espcially why he has powers in the real world. This is described later. I won’t say any more about that here, except as it applies to Sati (a few paragraphs below). The machines are of course perfectly rational. It is this that is their limitation, not the need for raw electricity. The machines cannot survive on cows, despite how many would explain it. Cows do not power the machines’ souls.
The Architect embodies all of this. The machines need humans to escape the prison of their own perfect rationality. That’s also what Lock is doing in this movie in the first place. He’s there to show that rationality is a box. What would have happened if the Council had only followed Lock’s recommendations? Disaster. The only path to growth, ascension, and peace is a nonrational one.
Now about this “real world” issue:
MORPHEUS – I have imagined this moment for so long. Is this real?
The fact that it’s Morpheus saying this is just incredible. Recall his words to Neo in the first movie, “Have you ever had a dream you were so sure was real…” For a time I was intending to write a piece about the reality of reality (the Reloaded essay still says something to that effect). I probably won’t now because Revolutions explained everything I was going to say, only using metaphoric language. There is definitely an entire book that could be written about that one line spoken by Morpheus. Is this real? We can interpret Morpheus’ words very simply, however, and it leads us directly into the part about the machines: This is the waking from a dream, the shaking off of slumber, the half-real state between the dream world and the waking world. The night is over. The sun is rising. Good morning, Morpheus. Today is the seventh day.
Just before the sunrise, the age turns. The deja-vu cat wakes Sati from her own sleep. Er, wait a minute. Sleep? We’ve got a program sleeping, and then waking immediately after Morpheus talks about waking from a dream. This proximty and parallel puts Sati directly at the center of all meaning as far as the machines are concerned. And just so we are sure about this point, here is what Sati says when she wakes up:
SATI – Good morning.
With Sati’s line we have all the information we need to fully construct what has happened with respect to the Matrix and the war. Everything that follows — the conversation between the Oracle, the Architect, and Sati — fills in the details. Here is the rundown (three parts):
- A new age has begun for humans
- A new age has begun for machines
- A new age has begun for the Matrix (i.e., the middle world) (see the Ages section)
Part of what these new ages are like can already be inferred from Sati herself. She is the new machine. As I explained in a previous section, Sati represents willing sacrifice. As I also said a few paragraphs ago, the [old] machines are perfectly rational. But since this kind of sacrifice is at heart an irrational act, she is set apart from earlier machines. She is the new; the Oneness of Neo (new) ascended to the Source and imprinted onto the program mind.
The Oracle’s first line in this scene is interesting because it draws attention to the fact that this is a new world.
ORACLE – Well, now, ain’t this a surprise.
Her remark is directed at the fact that the Architect walks into the park where she is hanging out. Now the park is really a substitute for garden, i.e., the Garden of Eden. As I explained in detail in the Reloaded essay, the Architect is the Creator God. So God (the creator) walking in the Garden is equivalent to a tour of a new world, precisely as we see God touring in Genesis. This conveniently brings us full circle. The wheel of time turns and a new world is born. (Another sidenote: there should be little wonder how the Oracle can predict as well as she does. It has all happened before, just as Indra is tutored in the way of the opening and closing of the Lotus and of Brahma’s eyes; worlds within worlds within worlds.)
The Oracle’s line contains a little dry humor, because of course the Oracle is not surprised in the least way. But now their banter:
|ARCHITECT – You’ve played a very dangerous game.
ORACLE – Change always is.
|The world has changed (we already knew that). The change was initiated by the Oracle, who is the embodiment of the nonlinear, nonrational path. The idea that it was “dangerous” seems to be brushed off by the Oracle’s offhanded manner. That indicates only the Architect perceives these events as dangerous. To him, abandoning reason is quite dangerous indeed.|
|ARCHITECT – Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?
ORACLE – As long as it can.
|There is a real peace, beyond rational and irrational; machine and human. For an indeterminate time to come there will be no more attacks on humans and vice versa. This time will be short. Resumed conflict is imminent, but it will be along different axes. The machine/man conflict is truly over, but there are still things to work out, e.g., to unplug or not to unplug (see next two exchanges).|
|ORACLE – What about the others?
ARCHITECT – What others?
ORACLE – The ones that want out.
|I find this very interesting. The Architect doesn’t see anything at issue here. He doesn’t understand that there are any divisions yet. That means there aren’t any divisions at the moment. Everything is One (c.f. The Fourth Age, next section). Remember the Oracle said the Architect has no future vision — he can’t see past any choices. The Oracle is looking a few steps down the road, though, and she knows both humans and machines will want to exit the system in some way. Humans will want to leave Zion. Machines will want to leave the machine city. And both humans and programs will want to leave the Matrix.|
|ARCHITECT – Obviously, they will be freed.||All of the classes of beings that I just mentioned will have the ability to exit the system. The system no longer exists to enslave, but to enable. Remember the Oracle said “The ones who want out” [my emphasis] and not merely “everyone.” It’s only those who both comprehend the system and desire to exit it who will have anything happen to them. Some will continue to defend the system as the “really real” reality, just as Morpheus described in the first movie. Not just humans, either. The Merovingian will not give up his kingdom easily.|
The very last bit is odd, though. The Oracle asks “Do I have your word?” with respect to releasing those who want to be freed. I don’t think she is testing whether the Architect is telling the truth. This is more the voice of concern for all the exiles. Sati is an exile. Perhaps Seraph is an exile now too. The Oracle wants assurances that the ones she cares for won’t be deleted.
What is much stranger about this exchange, however, is how the Architect answers. He does not say yes or no, but instead gives an ambiguous reply. He says, “What do you think I am? Human?” It’s likely that he means his statement will be honored — it would take a human to break a promise, i.e., todisobey. It is also possible that he means only a human would make a promise. In either case it shows that the Architect is still divorced from human beings. He is the old way.
Right after he speaks that line, Sati shows up. The new way. There are two things to note about the final set of lines. First, Sati apparently makes the sunrise. The second thing is that the Oracle says she did not know things would work out as they did, but she believed they would.
About the first: I said briefly before that the new Matrix exists not to enslave but to enable. Anyone in the new Matrix will be capable of shaping it, at least for a little while. Because Sati is the symbol of all this, she is shown crafting a sunrise. What is also important is that she does it on a whim. She does not say “Oh, it was 6:27 AM, and therefore time for the sun to come up.” She says only, “I did it for Neo.” No particular reason, no purpose, no one telling her to do it — just sentiment.
About the second: The Oracle only believed things would turn out the way they did. That is the same as hoping they would, which is the “human weakness” if you remember the Architect scene. The reason I make a point of it is that this indicates the time of the Oracle and the Architect are over. Sati is their replacement. It also shows that humans and machines were always on equal footing. To understand why, we have to go back to the Architect’s chamber in Reloaded (we’ve been back here a number of times!). Neo’s path back to The Source takes him to the Architect. That is, the Architect is the primary route for humans back to The Source. Remember, The Source is the Center — not aligned. So getting there is through the program that is most machine-like. The opposite is true for machines. Getting to The Source means going through the Oracle, who is the most human-like program. That is why Smith’s path took him to the Oracle.
This connects with Neo’s real-world powers and moots the battery question. The humans’ path of ascension leads them to the machines; the machines path of ascension leads them to the humans. Now that the age of ascension has arrived, these gateways are unnecessary. It is Sati’s time. The time of gift.
The Four Ages of the Matrix
I had a philosophy professor who said, (cue Indian accent) “If we humans ever advance to the point where we have created a perfect Utopia, the first thing we will do is start shoving spikes under our fingernails.” This is about disobedience, which I covered in the Reloaded essay. We can’t stand to be predictable.We can’t tolerate not having a choice.
My goal with this bit of speculation is to get into the progression of what I call the Four Ages of the Matrix. By “ages” I mean the grand rewrites of the Matrix that Smith and the Architect tell us about. (Persephone helps us out by hinting at “a much older version” of the Matrix in which creatures like vampires and werewolves were part of the design of the world.) These four ages are:
- The Perfect Garden
- The Wasteland
- The Return to the Source
It should be noted that these Ages are exactly like the steps of the “spiritual cycle” that I described when talking about the Holy Grail. These Ages, too, are a cycle — Nirvana pours into the Perfect Garden, and the wheel turns once again. That’s why the Oracle said that Neo will be back. The Third Age will come around sooner or later in the Great Cycle of Being. It’s got a Hindu ring to it, the cycles within cycles within cycles; worlds within worlds. Brahma opens his eyes and closes his eyes and within that space many Indras come and go.
The Third Age is what the trilogy of movies is all about. The first film starts near the end of the Third Age, and the last film closes with the dawning of the Fourth Age. I’ll talk about the Fourth Age first, since we have a little bit of direct evidence about it. Then I will speculate some about how the First and Second ages might fit into the big picture. I won’t directly talk about the Third Age at all in this section, because it’s already quite visible — just watch the films.
I opened this section talking about choice. There is an argument that travels from scene to scene in Reloaded and Revolutions that has to do with choices, fate, and control. Neo and Morpheus, as representatives of the human mind, argue that everything begins with choice. Figures like the Merovingian and the Architect, as representatives of the machine mind, argue that every event necessarily follows from the events before it, and therefore choice is an illusion. As I said many times in the Reloaded essay, the critical distinction between humans and machines is the ability to grow. (“Growth” is not the same thing as “learn,” and it is not the same thing as “change.” The machines can learn and change, but they cannot grow.) Growth requires the cycle — the exit and the return — and the cycle requires making a genuine choice. The Oracle points this out when she urges Neo to understand his choices. Interestingly, the Merovingian is also obsessed with finding out the reason, the why. The making of the decision is irrelevant. What’s important is why you made it. If you eat because you’re hungry, then you didn’t really make the choice to eat. It’s only cause and effect. You’re in the Merovingian’s mechanical, predictable world. But suppose you could resist hunger indefinitely. If you then ate, what would be the cause? The why is the difference. When the forces of the world and in your mind no longer have any sway over you, it is possible to make a pure, genuine choice. It might look the same as cause-and-effect behavior, but it is not the same at all. When Buddha sits on the Immovable Spot, where no force in the universe can cause him to do anything, he is divine.
To illustrate that last point very clearly, I want to zero in on the specific act of sacrifice. We have the act portrayed in Revolutions in a certain way. Neo makes it abundantly clear that nothing at all is moving him except his own will to move. He is on the Immovable Spot. His sacrifice is pure because of whyhe is doing it. As a mental experiment, let’s rewrite some of Revolutions to see how things could have been different. Suppose that after getting his eyes burned out, Neo and Trinity have a quarrel because she thinks he’s too damaged to proceed. Stung by his words, Trinity goes outside the hovercraft to sulk. Neo says to himself, “I’ll show her,” manages to get the hovercraft on autopilot, and flies by himself to the machine city. Once there, Neo gets himself plugged in and fights Smith. He knows he can really make her sorry by getting himself killed. That’ll teach her! So Neo sacrifices himself.
There’s not much divinity in that. It’s small and stupid. It’s the same act, but the reason it was done changes it from a beatific reunion with God into a spiteful, selfish stunt. There is Neo and there is the Merovingian, revealed.
Now that was a long way to come so that I can say Nirvana is the point at which no forces can exert themselves to make you do anything. It should be noted that this includes the passage of time, so Nirvana is a place outside of the domain of time. It is only in pristine emptiness that we can hear the music of the spheres and stand in the presence of the Divine.
What should also be clear is that this state of being cannot last more than an instant. As Neo ascends into the Source, the swirling Sentinels retreat, the humans of Zion euphorically cheer, it is the moment immediately before the sunrise when the universe holds its breath and time stands still. There is no need for action or decision — it is sufficient to be. The pause draws on and the second hand of the clock ticks forward, and we descend once more, falling out of the presence of the Divine and back into the domain of time. So truthfully the Fourth Age ought to be called the 4+1 Age, because it immediately transforms into the new Garden. I thought that would be much too confusing. When I say “Fourth Age” it really means the moment of Neo’s ascension and the Garden that follows. (This way it is also distinct from the previous First Age.)
In the Fourth Age the Matrix as an entity remains. It is a fundamentally different Matrix, however. The Matrix of the Fourth Age is a voluntary construct. If a human wants to leave or enter the Matrix, he will be free to do so. If a program wants to enter or leave the Matrix, it will be free to do so. This is essentially the lifting of the machines’ draconian insistence on purpose. (This insistence, which is really about social conformity, directly relates to the beginning of the Hero’s Journey, and that is the thesis of the first film in the trilogy. The hero disobeys.) No one has to die because of nonconformance in this Matrix. The truth about the Matrix would also necessarily be “let out” and over a few weeks I suppose everyone will have believed it, but not necessarily bought it, if you see what I mean.
The consequence of the freedom to come and go and to know the truth is that the Matrix of the Fourth Age will be adjustable to the wishes of its inhabitants. It will be an Age of Gods, human and machine.
Outside the Matrix, in the real world, humans will continue to live underground and machines will continue to live in their city. Emissaries from each group will eventually be welcome by the other, and the groups will gain from each other. It will be an Age of Gods, human and machine.
The Perfect Garden
Although I am talking here specifically about the “original” First Age of the Matrix (i.e., not the 4+1 Age I mentioned above), much of what follows will apply to the new Garden as well.
In the beginning, the Architect had to design and implement a world for humans to live in. Naturally, that world would be perfect in all its aspects, and every need of its population taken care of.
We can perhaps imagine that everyone is beautiful, healthy, and serene. No one ages and no one is ever injured. It is an absolute Utopia. I tend to think that it was a technological Utopia, because that is what a machine mind would invent. Agent Smith hints, “As soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization.” So there was probably some point in time at which things were going pretty easy for humanity in a near-100% machine-run world. All the machines would need to do is extrapolate from that.
There would have been some mechanism for dealing with the actual death of humans outside the Matrix, to prevent still-connected people from noticing that someone was no longer around and getting sad about it, but I admit I cannot think of a very good way to do that. And that might be the crack in the armor. At some point suffering is going to creep into the picture, if only because of the passage of time. I don’t suspect it would take that much, though, to get people chafing at the perfection. In order to be perfect, everything must be predictable. Most, if not all people will do almost anything to avoid being predictable. The more the environment succeeds at prediction, the harder they will try to disprove the environment. In other words, they will try to wake up from the Matrix. In mythic terms, we are at the equivalent of eating the apple. We want to know, no matter the cost. Like Neo, we are compelled to take the red pill.
So suffering enters into things. Smith says, “No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost.” The First Age enters a period of time (probably a very short period of time) when everything is in crisis. The idea that something is wrong with the world is spreading. Clearly the Matrix is going to have to be rewritten. And that is a point of division among machines. There is a disagreement. Smith says, “Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world.” That seems to suggest that the machines are divided about what to do next.
This is without any doubt the beginning of the story of the Merovingian. I am going to go into pure imagination mode and make up a possible scenario about him. At the time of the First Age the Merovingian is a program in the machine city (not the Matrix). He does not think humans are worth the trouble and advocates that the machines should abandon them and figure out a way to live alone. Much of what Smith says about humans in the first movie is applicable to the Merovingian’s opinion at this time. A number of other programs in the machine city also believe that the failure of the Matrix proves humans are ungovernable and their entire species should be scrapped.
The division among machines regarding humans is older than even the first Matrix, however. The decision to enslave humanity rather than terminate it was not a unanimous one. All those who were opposed then are opposed now. The old differences resurface, and the Merovingian attempts to “fork” the machine world. A machine civil war followed, fought entirely in codespace, and eventually the Merovingian and all the dissenters were brought back into conformity. Now dawns the Second Age.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” – Gensis 3:17
After the machine civil war is over, the Architect remakes the Matrix into a wasteland. It is no less perfect, but rather than a blissful Utopia the Matrix of the Second Age is a world of Mad Max-style hedonistic excess. We see what it was like in Club Hel. The entire world was that way. It is the age of vampires and werewolves. The Second Age is the Kingdom of the Merovingian.
The Merovingian was expelled from the machine city into the Matrix. His purpose as a program in the Matrix is to control the traffic between worlds. This is a job he shares with Seraph, who is also a gatekeeper. Together they guard the way back to the Source, and the Keymaker and the Trainman are their servants. For a time Seraph and the Merovingian are partners, although they interpret their duties very differently.
We already know from the Oracle that the Merovingian desires power. He probably had this urge all along, and asserted it from time to time, culminating in the disagreement over the failure of the First Age. Constrained by his purpose in the Matrix of the Second Age, he seeks power related to controlling the traffic of data (i.e., “a trafficker of information”). He uses his guardianship as a means to gain influence over other programs — you can move data for a price, he says, taxing everything that passes through his fingers. The currency he demands is loyalty and debt; deletion codes are his prized winnings. He gains exclusive control of the Keymaker and the Trainman, and he ensnares Persephone. The vampire and werewolf programs come under his control as well, as do the Twins and other such creatures. Not too long after the Second Age Matrix is created, the Merovingian is its master — he is the King of the Wasteland.
But all is not well in the Matrix. As before, some humans accept the program. Many others do not. The terms of expression in the Matrix were remade, but the essential premise was the same — humans are still commanded to do what they are told, to accept their world without question. The urge to take the red pill remained, and a growing number of people refused to believe in the Matrix. So a second crisis was looming for the machines.
At the same time, the tension between Seraph and the Merovingian was growing. It is likely that Seraph met the Oracle during the time of crisis, and saw a way to fulfill his purpose through her.
(I’m still in full imagination mode here.) The Oracle was a program from the First Age Matrix whose job it was to help predict what humans might do, and thereby allow the Matrix to function as a fully predictive construct. Her job was the same in the Second Age. By the time she meets Seraph, her predictive powers are quite good, and she knows how to rewrite the Matrix yet again so that humans would accept the program fully. (This makes the Oracle seem rather sinister. I’m sure she knew full well at this time what the Third Age Matrix would lead to, so her motives are merely convoluted.)
Of course, the Merovingian is not in favor of rewriting the Matrix again. He tries to destroy her, but Seraph intervenes and protects the Oracle. That is the nature of the “betrayal” and the bad blood between Seraph and the Merovingian. And that is also how Seraph came to protect the Oracle full time, and how the Merovingian came to hate the Oracle obsessively.
Eventually, despite the Merovingian’s efforts, the Matrix was rewritten to the Third Age. The Merovingian’s influence was enormous, however, and he was able to take a substantial part in the rewriting process. He preserved himself, Persephone, a host of henchmen, and much of his kingdom. He also preserved his old job: he still polices the route between worlds.
The Seven Incarnations of Neo
There were two Ages of the Matrix that failed. Then the Architect introduces us to the Third Age, the design “stumbled upon” by an intuitive program (i.e., the Oracle). It is this design of the Matrix that permits The One and allows humans to grow — to disobey now and then — yet that disobedience is still under control.
About the incarnations of Neo, the Architect says:
ARCHITECT – The Matrix is older than you know. I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next, in which case this is the 6th version.
This is never argued. The Neo who stands before the Architect is clearly Number 6. I posit that the Neo at the end of Revolutions is Number 7. What causes confusion is how the incarnations and the ages relate to each other. I believe the only scenario which matches all the available evidence is this:
Now I am not taking a position that says “Neo was spontaneous” or “Neo was created.” Both of these statements are true. The graph above only shows the relationship between the seven instances of Neo and the greater ages of the Matrix. Neo — i.e., The One — did not exist in the first two Ages. He will likewise not exist in the two Ages that will follow what I have labeled as the Fourth Age. But as a new Third Age comes around, he will return.
Concerning the 6th Incarnation
About Neo Number 7 we have very little to say. He is a god, and not really part of the story. He represents what the 6th Neo becomes. All the suffering is with Number 6, and so that is where my focus is. But even among the non-godly six, the sixth and final mortal incarnation is quite different than all who came before him.
Perhaps the most important way that the 6th Neo is different from his predecessors is that he wields apparently supernatural powers in the real world. I also think that his abilities within the Matrix are far beyond what any previous incarnation possessed. Let’s start with what the Architect says in Reloaded:
ARCHITECT – Your 5 predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication: a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of the One. While the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific, vis-a-vis love.
We have sufficient evidence here to say the 6th incarnation is different. But I want to explore the fact that the Architect says Neo’s attachment is by design. In one email exchange with a reader, I suggested that Neo might be genetically engineered. A “programmed” human would make perfect sense to the machines, and it would also seem to give credence to the idea that Neo is continually reincarnated — at the end of each incarnation’s journey his genetic code is recorded, then it is reinserted at a later date. The machines design Neo to feel an attachment toward the rest of humanity through genetic engineering just like they design his ability to manipulate the Matrix.
I know the genetically-engineered aspect is uncomfortable for a lot of people. It’s not the whole story of what I’m trying to say, either. I think it’s parallel with Dune and the kwisatz haderach. In Dune, the Bene Gesserit order has been manipulating bloodlines for eons (i.e., genetic engineering through selective breeding) in order to bring about a superbeing. Their experiments actually work, but in a way that they did not intend. Muad-dib is much greater than they imagined, and not under their control at all. So it is with Neo. The machines manipulate genes in order to try and “catch” the energy of the unbalanced equation — to provide a receptacle that can contain this energy and use it within the confines of a predefined script. Exactly how or when this “One” appears is unknown, but in aggregate statistics it’s an certainty that he will appear. And when he does, he is led down a specific path. What the machines do not grasp (except for the Oracle) is that this kwisatz haderach is not under their control and is becoming much more than they imagined.
(As a sidenote, I don’t think it is actually necessary to believe that Neo is reincarnated six times. It’s possible for the story to work perfectly well with no connection whatsoever between Neo and the previous six instances of The One. I think it adds to the awe of it to have the reincarnation aspect, though. It requires a soul, something greater than what can be rationally summed.)
Now regarding Neo’s special abilities: the functioning of the Matrix is the way to understanding these. It’s quite a popular opinion that the abilities in the Matrix correlate exactly to strength of will. The idea is that Neo is just willing himself over these obstacles. I think that ignores the facts. Neo’s powers in the Matrix manifest when he feels deep bonds with other human beings, most of all Trinity. As his relationship with Trinity grows, so does his power in the Matrix.
I don’t think this is very surprising. The Matrix is, in William Gibson’s language, a consensual hallucination. It should exhibit the qualities felt most strongly by its participants. (This is also why there is The One: to allow humans to exercise their will on the Matrix. More on this momentarily.) But even on a purely physical level it’s still the case. The Matrix is powered by human bio-electricity. What is that? It’s thoughts and feelings, impulses and urges of the body. Therefore, everything in the Matrix is the result of human emotion, or more accurately the ebb and flow of the aggregate emotion of the entire human race.
Neo is genetically designed to tap into this aggregate bio-electrical circuit, and he focuses and amplifies that energy. The extent of that amplification is tied to his personal emotional level. In his previous incarnations, Neo’s generic feeling toward the rest of humanity afforded him a certain amount of power in the Matrix. But this time around, because of Trinity, the depth of his emotion is incredibly multiplied. As a result, so is his power in the Matrix. The same explanation works for everyone else, too. ER, not really everyone. We don’t see special abilities in the Matrix from anyone except Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Ghost, and Niobe. All five of them have strong emotions and deep connections to others. It is possible to suppose that all five of these people were genetically designed as well. I won’t go either way on that except to say one thing: If the first interpretation that I gave regarding the relationship between the Ages and the Incarnations is true, then there is very little engineering that needs to be done.
It’s not a very big leap from powers in the Matrix to Neo’s powers in the real world. All the human bio-electricity flows from the pod fields to the Source, and then it is redistributed back to the Matrix along well-defined channels. The humans plugged into the Matrix then have experiences, from which they have emotions, and their emotional energy flows back to the Source. What I haven’t mentioned is the machines. They are parasites on this energy loop between the humans and the Source. We should also notice that Neo’s apparently “supernatural” abilities in the real world are strictly limited to affecting machines. He doesn’t fly or do kung fu in the real world. The reason for this limitation is that he is merely tapping into the energy loop and…modifying it. Just like in the Matrix, where he modifies the energy loop to defy gravity, etc.
In the real world, however, his interface to the loop is much less well defined. There’s no specific plug to filter the energy stream. He’s got to tap into it directly, and that puts him in immediate contact with the Source, and that leads straight to Mobil Ave (at least until he is mentally and spiritually prepared for such direct contact). Now I suppose there isn’t an explicit mechanism by which Neo should be able to tap into an energy loop in the real world, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to genetically design someone to be sensitive to electrical currents. I prefer to think that his real-world abilities were never part of the design.
There are of course much broader mythological meanings through all of this. The best evidence of that is Link and Zee. I think these were the two most emotionally charged characters in the trilogy, and between them accomplish some amazing things that strain the limits of possibility. And it happens in the real world. That’s where the real energy and the real message is.
I’d like to return once more to the idea that all the machines are running off of human emotion. It isn’t power that the machines need from humans, it’s feelings, belief, and hope. The electrical power angle is just the metaphor. One reader wrote me to ask “What makes the machines go on day after day? Why do they continue? What reason do they have to exist?” Aside from ringing all the symbolic bells in the entire story, it spotlighted the exact nature of the machines’ power source. The machines go on because the humans go on. The will to live and to grow and to feel and to experience is what they do not have and cannot invent. The power they get from human beings is the power to hope.
And finally this goes to the deepest core theme of the trilogy. At the end of the Reloaded essay when I speculated far and wide about what might come, I said this:
Humanity achieved “simple” godhood by creating beings in its own image. It will achieve “complex” godhood by reuniting with its estranged children. At the same time, so will machines.
Neo’s — humanity’s — path is toward reunion with The Source, with God. At the same time, the machines’ path is toward reunion with another God, the human beings who created them. They are each other’s path to the divine. As the Oracle said, the only way forward is together.
-  The gift described by the Oracle in the first movie is often interpreted this way: The Oracle hints it will come with Neo’s next life, and after Neo is shot by Smith and resurrected he is technically “on his next life” and so has become the One. If the original Matrix film had been the only story — if the second two movies had not been made — this would be absolutely correct. (It still is correct, but it’s like the Oracle saying, “I love candy.” The surface meaning is one thing, but the deeper meaning is much more profound.) But Neo does not really get into his next life until he exits the Architect’s chamber via the left-hand door. After that he is the Seventh Son. I’ll talk more about this later. The gift is the laying down of his power, choosing the middle way between light and dark, in order to become THE ONE. ↩
-  In Enter the Matrix, the Oracle talks about her “deletion code” being traded like a commodity, so I think it’s reasonable that Smith’s deletion code would be a discrete packet. ↩
-  At the time I wrote this essay, a great many emails flooded in demanding to know the particulars of my religious beliefs. A lot of them said that although they liked what I had written, they were going to hinge acceptance on whether I declared myself to be a Christian. Aside from being a really awful form of genetive requirement, and representative of close-mindedness, I was still (and always have been) eager to please everyone. So I insisted on being evasive. It was pointed out to me, however, that the way I phrased that sentence went beyond evasivess and right through into abrasiveness. As a bandage, I offer this explanation instead. And to answer the principle question: I am an uncompromising materialist. Myths are metaphors. As Joseph Campbell succinctly explained, it’s a dire error to take metaphors literally. ↩
-  I believe the exact words of the Oracle in Enter the Matrix were “mind and body.” I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never played the game. I like “soul” better, because it seems more like the whole person’s essence. “Mind” feels like dry intellect. ↩
-  It would be interesting to compare Rama and Kamala to the Architect and the Oracle. I think there is a good match-up there. I’m not going to go into it in this essay, though. ↩