in the Matrix
Magick is presented in blatant form in the Matrix, with multiple scenes involving actions made with little regard for the physical laws as we know them. Ludicrous leaps, insane gunfights and Kung Fu that exceeds the abilities of a Shaolin master, all these are the results of magical acts; acts made that directly modify the nature of external reality without utilizing physical procedures. Of course, this is actually the product of an advanced form of ‘hacking’. If we leave it here, we may go away satisfied, but it is my opinion that the magick of the Matrix lies not in the manipulation of programming parameters, but in a deeper level of reality that is implied by the movie but never directly referred to.
To begin, the film posits a dogmatic perception of human history, both in expositions of the past and in assumptions concerning the future. Paraphrased, these are that the known world is an illusion, a prison. This was
recognized by an unnamed individual at some point before the events of the film. This person had the unique capacity to interact with the false reality directly, thus was able to change it at will. However, despite their apparent salvific role, this would-be redeemer died before achieving any stated results on behalf of benighted mankind, besides freeing a few of the “first” resistance members. However, there was another person around at this time or shortly after, who had another apparently unique talent; she could foretell future events. It was her prediction that provided the impetus for the events depicted in the first film, which was that the original miracle worker would be reborn and
fulfill his task of saving humanity.
It is not my intention to destroy the magical interpretation of the Matrix, but it is necessary to differentiate between genuine magick and highly advanced programming skills. So far, the powers displayed by Neo (as well as most of the other characters) can be safely confined to the latter heading. Where then lies true magick in this film? First, with the Oracle. This woman does not fly about, bouncing off walls and defeating SWAT teams with her fists. She does little other than speak, but the words she uses have dramatic repercussions. As Morpheus says to Neo, “She told you what you needed to hear.” This is true to a surprising degree, for the Oracle does tell Neo what situation he will later face (with regard to the capture of Morpheus), and this is knowledge that appears to come from no clear source. The Oracle functions exactly as the name suggests; she presages the future. Now, it is possible that certain elements of the complex iterative algorithms that underlie the construction of a simulated reality by a computer system could become known to a person who is involved with that system and has a deep knowledge of it. Against this can be argued that the Matrix is an emergent system, it is so complex that its results cannot be predicted. Otherwise, the AI controllers would themselves be in the position of absolute knowledge. Also, the rebels are partially off-limits to the Matrix systems, they are not susceptible to remote detection/possession by the agents. So it is not very likely that the Oracle relied upon such sources of information to base her visions of the future. The advent of this knowledge is, for the moment, inexplicable. We are forced to accept a magical (or synchronistic) hypothesis, since there appears to be no legitimate causal explanation.
Having isolated one series of events within the film relying upon a form of magick that does not have its foundation in technology, we must now proceed to scour it for further such instances. Hopefully this will enable us to form an understanding thereof (here we have limited the oracular utterances to a single category, although there appear to have been several such). In fact, there are at least two other acceptable items. The first takes place when Cypher has betrayed the rebels and is preparing to murder Neo. As he says, if Neo is “the One”, something would have to prevent him from suffering death at this point. His cynical statement is proved true when Tank kills him, right after Trinity affirms her belief that Neo is the One. In most action films this event would be amenable to definition as a pathetic deus ex machina, designed merely to manipulate the audience’s emotional state (equivalent to James Bond being strapped to a table with a laser creeping towards his livelihood). In the present context, however, this scene takes on heightened significance. There is no reasonable explanation for Cypher to succeed in killing some of the rebels but to die himself just when he threatens the life of Neo. It is suggestive of an effect (Tank’s timely revival) without a cause.
The final event that bespeaks a magical nature is that of Neo’s actual death, at the hands of agent Smith. As we have been told, “the body cannot live without the mind”, and what we have seen happen with Mouse is repeated with Neo. His illusory body is riddled with bullets and slumps to the floor. Simultaneously, his physical body convulses and relaxes, and he flatlines. In this case, Neo has literally died. There can be no computer wizardry to save Neo after this point, yet he is revived. This occurs not by the application of lifesaving procedures, it only requires a few words and a kiss. These confirm Neo’s status as the One, when Trinity upholds the Oracle’s prophetic faculty by proclaiming her love for Neo. It is only after this death and rebirth, in the physical world, that Neo truly does become the One, and annihilates his enemy, agent Smith. Yet again, there is no precise causal factor in this happening, it just takes place at the right time.
We have seen that there are a number of occurrences within the film that cannot be explained as ‘hacker magick’ or as results of normative conceptions of determinism. These are a-causal, meaningful coincidences. To use Jung’s term, these are synchronicities. The essence of a synchronistic event is that it is meaningful, that it relates to a person’s perception or conception of reality, without being subject to the standard ‘laws of physics’. Within the Matrix, these laws are flexible or even negligible, but for them to be so outside the Matrix ought to be unthinkable. As we must accept the evidence of our senses, this information is highly suggestive. In my opinion, it is possible to regard all of these events as part of a pattern, and the shape of this pattern enables us to create a perspective of the true magick of the Matrix.
The prophecies of the Oracle demonstrate that there is an absolute knowledge available to people with certain qualities. This is absolute because it is certain beyond doubt, and because it deals with future events. Thus, the future is prefigured in the past, or time and space are relative, enabling the Oracle to perceive either with equal ease. Not only is the future laid out, but there is an intelligent design to the course of events, shown by the inability of Cypher to kill Neo, who is an apparently necessary item for the attainment of future goals. This is also shown in the communication by the Oracle to each of the three central characters exactly the right information to motivate them to act in the required manner (e.g. Neo decides to save Morpheus because of her statement to him, which was in fact partially untrue). Not only is there evidence for intelligent design, but for the relativization of physical laws, as in Neo’s revival. There is no evidence for literal beings (e.g. gods) manifesting themselves and creating these events, they appear to be exclusively a-causal. This implies that there is a universal mind or other organizing factor upon which are founded both the physical world and the artificial Matrix. We must also assume that this factor is (during the events of the film) concerned with the welfare of its human children (components being an equivalent term).
Having demonstrated the existence of a transcendental order in the subtext of the movie, it becomes necessary to ask if this has any value for us outside of the depth it adds to the viewing experience. The crux of this matter is whether evidence for such order exists in our own world, or if it is a mere plot device. In this context, I would like to quote William James: “the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come”. He is here deducing the existence of a ‘higher power’ from his analysis of documented cases of events spontaneously conforming to the needs of religious persons (as we have seen, the term “saving experiences” is directly applicable to pertinent events in the film). He provides a number of examples of this, and there are many such cases documented in Fortean as well as scriptural literature. James here presages Jung’s concept of synchronicity, but he is not the first to do so. In his own book on the subject, Jung quotes from the Tao Te Ch’ing, “Tao never does; yet through it all things are done”. This is similar to the statement of Heraclitus that “all things come to pass in accordance with this Word”. Here we have authoritative figures in the field of psychology arguing in favor of a force that acts in human affairs in a positive manner.
Given that the hypothetical organizing principle of the film appears to have support in the scientific field (albeit limited to those who are willing to explore the matter without preconceptions), one wonders what the value of this principle is for oneself. In a sense it is similar to the knowledge of nuclear processes and the technology that has developed from it, for this information appears to have only a tangential impact on the average individual. The question here is if this principle is involved with the lives of all people, or if it only enters their lives in the tales of ‘holy’ figures, those subject to ‘divine revelation’. We can ponder our personal histories and attempt to locate instances that conform to the character of meaningful coincidence. I am sure that most people have some experience of this factor, although it may not be recognized as such.
As the film is our prime source, let us see if it contains any directives in this regard. As before, we turn to the Oracle. In her sanctum is written the injunction “Know Thyself” (in an archaic tongue). She emphasizes the importance of obeying this precept when she converses with Neo, and one wonders if it has meaning for the audience as well. To quote William James again, the basis of “religious experience” lies in the “subconscious continuation of our conscious life”. He hypothesizes that magical effects are produced by a being or state that can be accessed through the mind, but not the conscious mind. This sits well with the Oracle’s precept, for knowledge of the conscious self is automatic; consciousness is defined by awareness. It is the occult (hidden) portions of one’s psyche that are relevant. Jung provides extensive support for this theory, although he develops it into the concept of a universe founded upon an order of meaning that is beyond rational comprehension.
Having shown that the supposed magical events of the film have a relation to concepts that have been posited by religious and philosophical figures of antiquity, then developed by scientifically trained investigators in modernity, it is rational to accept that they possess some degree of value for our own lives. If we take that as a sound assumption, what is the course of action suggested by the film? It has less to do with ultra violence, and more to do with self-knowledge. The first step would be to recognize that the socially mandated perception of life is untrue, an imposition. Thus one begins to attack this concretized accumulation of perceptual references by systematically examining every part of one’s character. Having achieved a provisional degree of self-knowledge by this ‘psychic cleansing’, one then begins the process of cultivating deep self-understanding. In this respect I can but point to the work of Jung and others on dream-analysis, for dreams are spontaneous products of the ‘other self’. Finally, at some point the “thought by which all things are steered” may reveal itself to you, as it evidently did to so many saints and mystics in the past. If this is the true goal of your life, then positive ‘coincidences’ will take place whenever you encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The acquisition of knowledge is only the first step. Self-knowledge is a vital prerequisite for the attainment of power, but there is a further stage a development that must be taken into account. It is appropriate to call Neo a “twice-born” person, for although he has three lives within the film (not counting the initial Thomas Anderson/Neo duality), only one of his ‘births’ is pertinent for our purpose. The “twice-born” are people whose lives are transformed by a religious or mystical experience, and thus undergo a change from a meaningless or painful existence to one of value. The term is also used loosely to refer to all members of the Christian faith, among others, for they are regarded as being redeemed, from a state of ‘sin’ into one of ‘grace’. In terms of the film, Neo is ‘born’ three times; initially created by the Matrix, then released out of that into the ‘real world’, and finally he dies and is reborn. All of these are important for the film, but it is the last that must be our focus for the present.
The “Emerald Tablet” has a line that goes: “It ascends from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth”, an action that grants “power” as well as the “glory of the whole world”. This is the goal of the magician, to gain the heights of wisdom and power and then to deploy these in the material world. It thus exceeds the goal of the mystic, who would be content to have scaled the heights and attained rest. Now, this is figurative language, it describes a process that does not take place physically, but spiritually. In order to do so, an aspirant must sacrifice their conscious self, exactly as happens to Neo. Note that the agent behind the door of room 303 was waiting for him; Neo could not have escaped his fate. Also that it is only the “mind” that is projected into the Matrix, as a “digital self-image”. The person that is killed is therefore equivalent to Neo’s ego. The fact that Neo was destined to die and be revived as a savior, points (as stated) to a transcendent order, but the place to which he goes during death is not referred to. This is by implication synonymous with the ascent and descent described in the “Emerald Tablet”. For the aspiring magician this alludes to a point in their development at which they will be forced to accept the destruction of their self-image (which is a thing of “Earth”) if they are to proceed. This is Crowley’s “Abyss”, and in fact has equivalents in all religious and magical systems of a “twice-born” nature. So we see that the film sets out both the introduction to the path, and prefigures the essential trial that every aspirant must eventually face.
The world of the Matrix is a work of fiction, but it is also a modern myth resounding with depth and hidden meaning. I do not think it is equivalent to a revelation discourse or a holy text, but a model of the spiritual situation of those who live in the present civilization. We are products of a world that is more complex than we know, and our society teaches us in the main to disregard this fact and concentrate on being good consumers/workers. In this situation, it is inevitable that the true nature of existence will try to make itself known, to lead those who are able to free themselves from their psychic prison. This, I think, is the hidden value of The Matrix. I am aware that there are many themes within the film, and that I have barely touched upon most of them. This is necessary, however, for I can only show you what I see therein. I encourage you to look beneath the surface, of the film and of your life, and try to see what is truly responsible for your world.
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