Matrix: Reloaded Explained
The essay
Selected reader comments

Matrix: Revolutions Explained
The essay
Selected reader comments

Escaping the Maze (Part 2)

29 Dec, 2010 | Brian

"The heroes of all time have gone before us - the labyrinth is thoroughly known." -Joseph Campbell

Welcome nagging both internal and external has kept Inception well in my thoughts these weeks. It's past time that I press on with my study. I'm going to take it as solved from Part 1 that Cobb wakes up at the end, and therefore the film can be taken at face value, and that the film is not some sort of meta-comment on the acts of making and watching films (and might I add what an utterly boring premise for a story that is). Now I intend to focus on the subject of time, or subjective time, either way.

I heard it said that Ayn Rand's prose could stop a train. I don't know if that's a real quote or what. (Scratch that. It's definitely a real quote, because someone I know said it. I meant that maybe he was quoting a famous someone else.) But I tell you the truth that Rand has got nothing on Dallas Willard, who never passes up the chance to say with sixty words what could be said eloquently in six. I am almost ashamed to admit having tried Willard at all; I never got past the first quarter of one book before giving up. Anyway, he loves best to abscond regular words and concepts and redefine them in upside-down ways, and not a few people think this is required in order to advance his thesis. I have another opinion. He could have read some Joseph Campbell, who made many of the same points yet didn't need to redo the English language to get there.

The point of this, aside from treating you to a review-within-a-review, is to bring up a concept I like to call the simultaneity of eternity, which is a concept that Campbell dealt with a lot, and which Willard also tries to awkwardly grapple with. Rand I threw in there for the bricky writing. Well simultaneity of eternity is a real mouthful. It's also hard to explain. In Campbell's words, "Eternity isn't some later time. Eternity isn't a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out." What it means is that we have (or can have) a brush-up with the infinite in our everyday experience. A thing or event pulls me out of the normal passage of time and all of a sudden I have an amazing feeling of one-ness. It happens to me regularly when I run: after a few miles I'm right in tune with every two-legged ancestor who chased down an antelope. It's communion, and it steps outside of time. Contemplating most high-end physics gets me there as well, or deep meditation.

Mythologically this is "it" - the me without motive, without compulsion or fear. Everything is suspended for an eternal moment at the top of a parabolic arc. It's hang time. The universe is as it should be, and I can feel myself a part of that. There is total unity. I simply am.

I don't think this is elevated. It's just another view on human experience. It's a mistake to translate eternity as better or higher. In fact, complete abandonment to eternity is a sick state of being, just as much as letting one's instincts run rampant is a sick state of being. The proper course of human life is to vary between these two ways of viewing: the eternal view and the field-of-time view, going out and returning. Neither one is supposed to be a permanent condition.

In Inception, eternity is Limbo. This is where we find one-ness and resurrection. It is home to a central shrine of forbidden knowledge. The exit from Limbo is the taking of Morpheus' red pill, the eating of the red apple, or...the following of Ariadne's red thread. (Observe her red attire, which is sometimes as subtle as a red accessory. Quick parallel: Morpheus describes the red pill as a tracer program, which will help locate Neo's body in realspace.)

Dom and Mal are classical paired creator gods in Limbo. Most religions have a pair of them, husband and wife, Zeus and Hera, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Shu and Tefnut. Male and female energies working together in creative union. This is the subject of the Kama Sutra, and the real basis of this kind of eternity is sexual. Also like many religions, creation in Limbo is an act of dreaming, the way Brahma's dream is the universe.

Because creation and destruction are a self-devouring and self-propelling cycle, the location where creation happens is really a place of rebirth. What is old gives rise to an eternal garden, and the garden is supposed to give way in turn. In this case, "old" means what was brought into Limbo from the waking world. Dom and Mal were full of ideas about the kind of perfect garden they wanted to create. But the garden isn't a home, it's a staging area. Witness the failure of the "home" Mal built in Limbo. Once the garden is made, the natural progress isn't to rest forever after, admiring your own handiwork. No, the natural progression is out. The field of time calls. After a while in eternity, we have to go back to the field of ordinary time. It isn't a pleasant journey. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that all life is suffering. The reason for this is that in the field of time, things pass, and our attachment to things (which includes people, events, emotions, everything) causes us pain when they go. No matter what you do, you cannot keep the present from becoming the past, and this is painful. Sometimes the pain is very great.

So the field of time is also the field of pain. Going from a place of no-time and no-pain into a place defined by pain is an awful passage, and this is why we need to take the red pill. The projections are an illustration of the problem of passage. Our minds are made up of a large number of engines, and most of these engines are not under conscious control. Without signposts or a guide to help us out of Limbo, our own mental engines, such as the one that avoids pain, stymie our escape and keep us prisoner in Limbo. I trust the connections here with Dom and Mal's shared pain are sufficiently obvious. Dom can't let go, and not because he doesn't want to.

I mentioned that resting after creation wasn't natural, and I meant that very intentionally. As Campbell says, the creator is not the chief god of the garden. The serpent rules there. The Oroboros, god of resurrection, encircles the World Tree. The Matrix does this too. It was built by the Architect but is ruled by the Merovingian. And what does the serpent do? He is the inventor god (or perhaps reinventor). He implants new ideas.

The natural order, then, is to turn over the reigns from the creator to the serpent. Dom leaves off being the Architect - a role he never returns to - and becomes the Inceptor, the serpent, the suggester. He gives Mal the idea to break the rules. The journey out, into the field of time, begins.