Early in The Matrix, Neo learns that his life as he knows it has been an illusion, a computer-generated world beyond anything even his own computer-hacker sensibilities can comprehend. He gets over his shock swiftly and undertakes the task of liberating others from the virtual fate that’s been forced on them. Neo’s path to enlightenment is quick and smooth. He is sought out by those who already understand the truth and given the choice to learn the truth or return to a life of falsity. He chooses the red pill—the choice that opens his eyes and changes his direction from lazy hacker to hero of the universe. Neo never shows much emotion, and we get a sense of his growing self-confidence mainly by watching his increasingly shocking and skillful fighting moves.
As he embraces his role, Neo becomes a Christ figure in the trilogy. Morpheus, the Oracle, and other characters in the Matrix trilogy call Neo “the One,” and they are certain he is the man who will liberate and save them. Several parallels exist between Neo and Christ. Neo is resurrected from the dead at the end of The Matrix, a feat that cements his role as savior of the human race. Christ was both earthly and godly, and Neo, once he fully understands who he is, can see the Matrix’s code covering everything around him, which demonstrates his own ability to transcend the division between realms. Even Neo’s Matrix name, Thomas Anderson, suggests a parallel with Christ. “Anderson” literally means “son of man,” a phrase used to describe Christ in the Gospels. “Thomas” suggests the New Testament figure of the disciple Thomas who won’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he sees proof with his own eyes. Neo makes this same connection between believing and seeing, and he doubts himself and his abilities until he begins to actually accumulate experience. Neo is not meant to actually represent Christ, but these suggested connections elevate his status in the films and underscore the important role he plays in the battle to save the human race.
Morpheus serves as a leader in the real world, steadfast and courageous in the face of great danger and difficulty. He is the one who plucks Neo out of his comfortable life in the Matrix and shows him the truth, and he believes immediately that Neo is the One. Morpheus’s faith in Neo remains consistent even when Neo proves to be less than perfect, and his loyalty to Neo is so deep that he is willing to die so Neo can continue his work. Morpheus is a kind of father figure for Neo, Trinity, and the rest of the Nebuchadnezzar’s crew, and though Neo eventually eclipses him in terms of fighting skill and power, Morpheus remains the epicenter of wisdom and guidance. Morpheus represents the best kind of leader and teacher: He teaches Neo what he knows and guides him to the right path, then steps aside and lets Neo proceed on his own. Morpheus does not seek glory, and his selflessness makes him heroic in his own way.
The many philosophies and religions alluded to in the Matrix trilogy suggest that Morpheus has multiple roles and meanings. The name Morpheus itself suggests the Greek god of dreams, whose name literally means “he who forms.” The god Morpheus has the ability to change his own shape and manipulate reality, as well as the power to bewitch other people’s minds with dreams and fantasies. He also has the power to wake people up, and in The Matrix, Morpheus wakes Neo from the world of illusions. The root of the name Morpheus, “morph,” which means “form,” appears in words such as morphine, a drug known for its sleep- and dream-inducing qualities.
Once a computer hacker, Trinity was freed from the Matrix by Morpheus and is now one of a band of rebels living in Zion. Tough, leather-clad Trinity is a kind of super-woman in the Matrix. Master of kung fu fighting and a skilled shooter, Trinity can take out a roomful of gun-wielding enemies without tousling a hair out of place. She isn’t made entirely of steel, though, and when she meets Neo, she proves to be a loyal partner, willing to follow him into danger and chase after him when he’s in trouble. Her love for Neo is powerful, and she brings Neo back to life at the end of The Matrix by declaring her love. Trinity is also a martyr, and though Neo does everything he can to keep her alive, she accepts her death as a necessary part of Neo’s work to save the world. This willingness to die for Neo is not the mark of a weak will or a yearning for victimization. Rather her death demonstrates her total commitment to the cause she believes in. She’s just as determined to save the world as Neo is—her role in the quest is just different.
The name “Trinity” carries with it a host of Christian connotations. The Trinity, in Christian theology, represents the unity of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). According to a Christian view of salvation, we can receive eternal life through the Trinity. Just as the Holy Trinity acts as the center of Catholic religion, the Matrix trilogy is in many ways united by the relationship that develops between Trinity and Neo. God is the only savior who offers us salvation, and he offers it through Jesus Christ, whom we can only come to know through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Matrix trilogy, Trinity serves as a uniting force, the one who gives us access to Neo.
Smith is a computer program with a particular purpose to serve within the Matrix. When programs die in the Matrix—as the Keymaker does, for example—they are deleted because they have fulfilled their purpose. When Agent Smith fights Neo at the end of The Matrix, something unexpected happens to him. His program evolves or becomes corrupted, and increasingly Smith finds himself at odds with the Matrix world, where all the other Agents remain at ease. He is a program, but somehow he also demonstrates an evolution of character and purpose.
Hugo Weaving portrays Smith as a confused, complex entity. Smith is a program, but he also seems to possess human qualities. We see his desperation, for example, when he faces the Oracle and tries to figure out what she knows and how she knows it. Smith’s style of speech evolves as the trilogy progresses. Initially, Smith is smug, slow, and methodical in his questions, assured that whatever programs he is a part of will run smoothly. Slowly, though, doubt creeps into his voice, and his facial expressions become less controlled. He shows anger. The tone of his voice grows more varied. At crucial moments, Smith takes off his sunglasses and reveals his eyes. Smith blurs the line between man and machine, and though ultimately humans prove more powerful, his resilience suggests that victory was never certain, and that machines have more influence and potential than it might seem.
Like Morpheus, the Oracle is a trusted figure of wisdom and guidance who helps Neo make sense of his mission, but the actual scope of her powers is never quite clear. At times, she seems to be able to control the future, while at other times she seems able only to predict it or offer possibilities. In either case, her prophecies suggest that the future is predetermined and, therefore, that Neo and the others have no free will. However, her powers and her role evolve throughout the trilogy, as does our understanding of her. Eventually, we may question whether she truly knows anything about the future, or if she is instead simply a good judge of character. The discovery that the Oracle is actually a program, part of the Matrix itself, complicates our understanding of her abilities even further. Ultimately, her calm and comforting demeanor may help Neo and the others with their mission almost as much as an actual prophecy would or does.
The Wachowskis adapted their Oracle from the mythical Oracle at Delphi, who, according to legend, once declared Socrates the wisest man in the land. Socrates responded that if he was wise, it was only because he knew nothing. Neo, too, is aware of his own ignorance, and the inscription over the Oracle’s door, “Know Thyself,” suggests that self-knowledge is of the utmost importance. The Oracle in the Matrix films isn’t as grand or as awe-inspiring as the Oracle of ancient Greece, however. Where the ancient Oracle sat over a chasm in a three-pronged seat, inhaling hallucinatory vapors from the depths of the earth that were believed to be the breath of Apollo, here the Oracle sits on a three-legged stool in her tenement apartment and breathes in the smell of cookies baking in the oven.