Monday, 3 October 2016

"The Matrix" (1999) - A review (Hero's Journey)

Fig 1.

The “Wachowski’s”seminal science fiction film “The Matrix” (1999) was an immense success in terms of showcasing new techniques in cinema, as well as offering a new contemporary vision of ‘the hero’s journey’. Chris Richardson describes “The Matrix” as having “...much in common with Star Wars both in terms of content and the details of their creation. Both created influential new technologies in order to express their vision” (Richardson, 2003). Centering on Neo/Thomas Anderson, an office worker by day and hacker extraordinaire by night, as he ponders a question - What is the Matrix? This question leads to a realisation that the world he inhabits isn’t ‘real’; instead it is a computer simulation created by machines in order to keep the mind of humans locked away, rendering humanity ignorant as the machines harness energy produced naturally by the human body in order to sustain themselves.

It is perhaps fair to say of “The Matrix”, that this is about as archetypically close to the structure of the “Hero’s Journey” as a film can get, indeed, the very notion of Neo becoming the “One” - the most powerful being in the universe of “The Matrix” - is referenced several times in dialogue, as well as the driving force behind the plot. Neo becoming the “Hero”, awakening his universal awareness and saving the human race is the crux of the film. It’s also worth mentioning, that Neo’s ordinary world is signified by one of his dual persona’s. That of “Thomas Anderson”, a seemingly normal office worker who emits a sense of boredom at his own circumstance. Whereas his “Neo” persona provides escape from his mundane existence as he hacks his way to notoriety and gains the attention of “Morpheus” - Neo’s mentor, “supernatural aid”, and agent of change. Interestingly, in etymology Morpheus is the word for the greek god of dreams, which is another not so subtle hint at Neo’s journey focusing on awakenings.

Neo’s call to adventure is entirely unsubtle; Writing for matrixcommunity.org in a post titled “Neo's Journey: The Mythic Structure of The Matrix,” a blogger called Igpajo states that “Vogler (Christopher) says "The Call to Adventure establishes the stakes of the game, and makes clear the hero's goal: to win the treasure or the lover, to get revenge or to right a wrong, to achieve a dream, confront a challenge or change a life." Most of those apply to Neo. His goal is to discover what the Matrix is, to answer his call as "the one", to confront the challenge of the Matrix and change all human lives.” (Igpajo, 1999) His call - “Follow the White Rabbit” - is a reference to Lewis Carroll'sAlice in Wonderland” (1865) in which the titular character, Alice, enters Wonderland through a rabbit hole. The White Rabbit in this case, is a tattoo on the arm of a member of a goth entourage whom Neo is doing some hacker work for; Neo, noticing the tattoo decides to do just that, where he ultimately encounters Trinity in a club.

Neo could be seen to have two moments where he “refuses the call”. The first being when he tries to escape the ‘Agents’ in his office, the second when he is offered the chance to meet Morpheus after having the “bug” removed from his stomach. Ultimately this culminates in a third choice Neo has to make in order to escape the Matrix, passing the first threshold as Neo chooses the “blue pill” and wakes up in the real world.

The moment where Neo experiences the “belly of the whale” are his moments shared with the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar as Morpheus brings him up to speed on the state of the real world, but no sooner is this done, Neo is put into training, giving him a literal “road of trials” - and in this case, 3 of them, the fight with Morpheus, the jump training and the explanation of ‘The Agents’, this third simulation is particularly important as it introduces us to the danger that the Matrix poses to people like Neo; as he walks through a crowd in the simulation he becomes distracted by a woman in a red dress - significant as the “Woman as Temptress” - he is swiftly reminded that if he buys into the illusion that he is still ‘of the Matrix’ then it will surely destroy him. Once the simulation is over and Neo returns to the real world, Neo meets “the goddess”, personified here by Trinity, as she brings him food after a particularly nasty turn in a training simulation makes Neo vomit on the floor and pass out.

In many ways, Morpheus can be attributed to be a father figure to Neo, as he is responsible for Neo’s awakening in both the real world and the Matrix. However, it is interesting to question the very nature of the Matrix and the way humans are now ‘grown’ instead of born conventionally mean that Neo has no Father in the traditional sense. But perhaps Neo can be seen to be a child of the Matrix itself? Its rules and existence personified as a paternal authority over not only Neo, but every child of The Matrix. As such, Neo’s journey is about reconciling himself with the Matrix, its control and what it means to be “The One”.

Speaking of “The One”, Neo’s apotheosis is much later in the film, saved for the third act wherein Neo and Trinity rush to rescue a captured Morpheus (The ultimate boon), who is being held by “The Agents”. In rescuing Morpheus, Neo achieves something which the characters refer to over the course of the movie as “Impossible”, thereby cementing his godhood in-universe and the burgeoning nature of both his awareness and skills.

Image result for neo
Fig 2.
From then, the remaining steps of “the hero’s journey” play out in quick succession, Neo’s “refusal of return” is very much in the moment where, instead of running from Agent Smith, he turns and faces him, beginning to believe in his growing power; His “magic flight” becoming the race Neo and Smith enter to an exit point from the Matrix. Running parallel to this are events in the real world, wherein the machines have sent Sentinels to destroy the Nebuchadnezzar and her crew - the only way of destroying these creatures being a costly EMP device that cannot be initiated without killing anyone currently ‘plugged in’ to the Matrix. In a particularly tense sequence of events, Neo just makes it to the exit point when he is shot and killed by Smith, just as the Sentinels reach and begin to destroy the Nebuchadnezzar. With Neo dead, Trinity explains that he cannot be dead because the Oracle told her that she would fall in love with “The One” and that she is in love with Neo, so he must be “The One”, sealing it with a kiss that revives Neo in the Matrix, very much becoming a moment of “help from without”.

At this point, Neo is “The One”, he has attained ultimate understanding of the universe and with it, ultimate power over his surroundings. And once he has displayed this power by destroying Agent Smith, he returns home - to the real world - thus crossing the “return threshold”. Richardson describes this moment as “The final aspect of the hero’s journey is the return. After his separation from the world of the Matrix and his initiation into truth, Neo, like all great heroes, like the bodhisattva eschewing nirvana for others’ liberation, returns to the world.” (Richardson, 2003). Neo then demonstrates that he is a master of two worlds by returning to the Matrix sometime afterwards, promising an unseen listener - but actually just addressing the audience - that he will free them all. He is forever changed, Thomas Anderson is dead, and Neo, as “The One”, exists.

Fig 3. 

The interesting thing about “The Matrix” above other typical examples of “the hero’s journey” is it’s clear signposting of said journey, within the dialogue itself. In going about it this way, the Wachowski’s have managed to insinuate that, in this case, “the hero’s journey” isn’t just a methodology used to generate a story, but rather, the story itself.


“Igpajo” “Neo's Journey: The Mythic Structure of The Matrix” matrixcommunity.org [online] http://www.matrixcommunity.org/archives/WB/002288.html [Accessed 03/10/2016]

Richardson, Chris “The Matrix as the Hero's Journey” theosophical.org [online] http://www.matrixcommunity.org/archives/WB/002288.html [Accessed 03/10/2016]


Fig 1. The Matrix Poster. [image] Available at: http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/matrix_ver1.jpg [Accessed 03/10/2016]

Fig 2. Neo's Understanding. [image] Available at: http://download.gamezone.com/uploads/image/data/1201507/article_post_width_Thomas-Anderson-aka-Neo-the-Matrix-1024x516.jpg [Accessed 03/10/2016]

Fig 3. The One. [image] Available at: http://assets.vg247.com/current//2016/04/matrix_neo.jpg [Accessed 03/10/2016]

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