The Matrix Trilogy

Themes

The Blurred Line Between Humans and Machines

The films of the Matrix trilogy pit man against machine in a clearly drawn battle, but they also reveal that the humans are more machinelike than they think, and that the machines possess human qualities as well. The humans, for their part, are as relentlessly driven as machines. Morpheus’s faith in the Oracle’s prophecy, and in Neo, is unwavering and unquestioning, and his own followers follow him automatically. Trinity’s loyalty and attachment to Neo have machinelike constancy. Her actions suggest her love, but her love expresses itself not so much as passion or emotion than as ceaseless, frenzied activity. As Neo, Keanu Reeves exudes an almost robotic calm, and both he and Carrie-Anne Moss wear sleek, androgynous clothes. Their incredible fighting skills and superhuman strength seem to put them in the machine category, and their fluid movements are the result of programs that have been downloaded into them. The Agents, by contrast, are fluid, adaptive, and creative. They shift seamlessly throughout the programs and listen intently to human speech, responding accordingly and sensitively. When Agent Smith removes his glasses and orders the other Agents out of the room in a decidedly unmachinelike manner so he can confess something personal to Morpheus, he infuses his speech with human emotions such as disgust and horror. Indeed, Smith seems to become almost desperately human, and his endless replication of himself is decidedly egocentric.

With the line between man and machine blurred to the point almost of disappearing, the Matrix trilogy raises the complicated question of how interdependent man and machine actually are, or might be. One fear of artificial intelligence is that technology will entrap us in level upon level of dependence, and in the trilogy Neo discovers more and more about the thoroughness and subtlety of the Matrix. Technology threatens to become smarter than humans, but one larger point of the trilogy is that technology doesn’t have to be smarter than us to enslave us. As long as humans turn to technology to solve human problems, humans and technology are interdependent. In the trilogy, the machines are dependent on the humans for life, and they grow and harvest humans so they can continue to exist. Though the reverse doesn’t necessarily follow—humans don’t rely on the machines for their existence—the trilogy’s entire story hinges on the fact that at one point humans needed artificial intelligence for something, and so created A.I. to fulfill that need.

Fate vs. Free Will in the Matrix and the Real World

When Morpheus asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will. In the Matrix, fate rules—since the world is preconstructed and actions predetermined, all questions already have answers and any choice is simply the illusion of choice. In the real world, humans have the power to change their fate, take individual action, and make mistakes. Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will isn’t pretty. The real world is a mess, dangerous and destitute. Pleasure exists almost entirely in the world of the Matrix, where it’s actually only a computer construct. Cypher, who regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix, views any pleasure, even false pleasure, as better than no pleasure at all. Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the others in Zion, of course, value free will and reality no matter how unpleasant they may be. The Matrix trilogy suggests that everyone has the individual responsibility to make the choice between the real world and an artificial world.

Though Neo is the exemplar of free will, fate plays a large role in his adventure. Neo relies on the Oracle, and everything she says comes true in some way. If she can see around time and guide Neo to the right decision at each encounter, he doesn’t have to exhibit much, if any, free will. Morpheus tries to describe the Oracle as a “guide,” not someone who knows the future, and at the end of the trilogy she tells Seraph that she actually knew nothing, she only believed. Nonetheless, the Oracle is always right, raising doubts about how much free Neo actually has. In another way, as an integral part of the Matrix, the Oracle’s intelligence and composure lead her visitors to believe what she says, a trust that perhaps renders her prophecies self-fulfilling. In this sense, she shares the same final goals as Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity, and together they actively shape the future.

The Relationship Between Body, Brain, and Mind

The Matrix trilogy explores the interconnection between the body, the brain, and the mind, especially how that connection changes when the world turns out to be an illusion. Two different kinds of humans populate the world of the Matrix films: ordinary humans and those who, thanks to a port in their head, can be jacked into the Matrix. People in the Matrix can feel physical sensations, which are created by the mind, and the Matrix trilogy makes it clear that the body cannot live without the mind. If skills, such as fighting skills, are downloaded into the brain, and if the mind is free, a person can control his or her body as if he or she actually has had these skills all along. The trilogy suggests that humans need the body, brain, and mind working together simultaneously to stay awake in the world, which, in a way, is a declaration of the power of individuality and humanity. The existence or absence of all three elements separates Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity from not only the Agents but also the Architect, the Oracle, and all the other Matrix-bound entities.