The Matrix 101: Your Guide to Understanding The MatrixThe Matrix 101: Your Guide to Understanding The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded Revolutions The Animatrix The Games The Books Get Stuff! Contributions
Reader Essays         Matrix Reader Theories         Reloaded Reader Theories         Revolutions Reader Theories
A feminist analysis spanning the entire Matrix trilogy, written for The Matrix 101.
by Stephen Faller
Author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
by Stephen Faller

Motherís Day seemed to be a good time to start the first of these articles with the online community. What follows is the first of five articles around the theme "The Matrix and The Mater" -- in short, an attempt at a feminist analysis spanning the entire Matrix trilogy. Not that everything will be completely explained from the feminist perspective, but that hopefully the key questions will be asked. Like Trinity says, it will be the question which drives us. And in our Socratic questioning, we are going to ask the questions that reveal different facets of the film from a feminist perspective. The goal isnít to destroy the wonderful work of the Wachowskis, but neither is the goal to falsely praise something either. Hopefully, we will see and understand the Matrix better by getting another view. If we look honestly, it wonít be easy, but it will be the truth.

A few introductions are in order, and then we can begin our discussion. My name is Stephen Faller and Iím a Matrix fan. I write about the Matrix in different places on the net, and I have a website at http://beyondthematrix.stephen-faller.com. You can probably surmise from my name that Iím male (this is no pseudonym in the tradition of George Sand), and so that may cast shadows of doubt over my ability to speak to these themes. But the entire artistic creation (everything that the Wachowskis have had a hand in) is a depiction of society and reality through the eyes of male artists. Therefore, it may be helpful to have a male guide interpret that artistic depiction, even as that artistic depiction dares to describe something about the feminine.

So let me say right up front that Iíll make every attempt to offer insight and analysis worthy of the readerís time, but that these views are not definitive. In fact, nothing would please me more than if my attempts inspired others to share their opinions, especially in regard to feminist analysis.

Further, I wanted to start a series of articles called "The Matrix and The Mater" because a number of my readers are women and they have expressed considerable interest in these themes. Elsewhere, I have written about the white, male privilege as depicted by the Agents, and the issues of patriarchy as depicted by the Architect (perhaps Derrida would say the Patriarchitect). But I had never explored the feminist themes strictly for their own sake, and upon further study, I discovered a gold mine of insights into the movies. It is my hope to share these insights with you. Over the next four pieces, we will look at the narrative arc of Trinityís story, the various depictions of female power, sexuality in the trilogy, and questions surrounding the issues of embodiment.

Let me begin by saying that my respectful disclaimer above is more than a disclaimer. I believe it is the first step necessary to decode the gender messages within the trilogy. I believe it is necessary to bring to consciousness that although the films do not come from the perspective of the "patriarchy" proper (in this case, the sexism of Hollywood), the films certainly emanate from the fraternity (both in the sense of the Brothers who made the film, and the cultural position they inhabit). I donít mean the Greek sense of fraternity, but rather the distinct relationship that todayís young men have with todayís young women. The sex roles of society are changing, and men are increasingly sensitive to sexism and generally better at hearing the female voice (although, of course, men and women can do a better job of hearing each other).

I tried to conclude whether or not women and feminine images in the film were more or less likely to be portrayed positively. Simply, is the Matrix Myth helpful or harmful to women? And throughout the process I went back and forth. There are more female heroes than villains. But the villains are more stereotypical in their power (Persephone). Trinity, is one of the great heroes and even named after the Godhead. But "Matrix" itself is the Latin word for "womb". And on it went, back and forth. ...continued in the second column...




Eventually the ambiguity of my answer became the answer itself: there are deliberate efforts to portray the feminine positively and negatively. This ambiguity felt more and more fitting; the Wachowskis wanted a metaphor that expressed the complexity of modern life and not something so dualistic as an all-good or all-evil assignment to the feminine.

Letís get more concrete in our examples. Remember when Neo woke up in his pod? We then saw the "re-birthing" process. Being "born again" obviously fit in with the movieís spiritual overtones, but the language itself is primarily a female image -- no, it is the epitome of the primal image. And letís be frank; the scene itself is a far cry from beautiful. Itís downright disturbing. It is depicted as ugly and colorless as Neo is expelled from the Matrix organism.

But I think that the Wachowskis are appreciative of the female experience. Remember the rape scene in the first movie? Male readers may be scratching their heads, but I suspect that female readers are very cognizant of the scene where Neoís body was held down in a gang bang and invaded by the wriggling intruder. It is almost as if the scene were an artistic attempt to make rape comprehensible to men, especially when Neoís mouth and voice melt away.

There are also other examples that directly point to issues of sex and gender throughout the trilogy. This occurrence is not just limited to the visuals, but it also extends to the plot. In the video game crossover Enter the Matrix, for example, we learn that Lock has tried to prohibit Niobe from military action in order to protect her. She needs no protection, and this is a running theme throughout their relationship (remember his lines, "it would be hard for any man to risk his life" and "no man can pilot mechanical").

It simply is an inadequate interpretation to assign a dualistic value of good or bad to female imagery in the films (although such essays are not hard to find). It is more accurate to say that beyond categories of good and evil the feminine is most likely to be portrayed as alien. This is where Geoff Darrowís concept art perhaps reveals more than it intends. The disclaimer herein is now fully expressed. The female is alien to the male mind, and the insect-like machines embody the strange horror men may discover in the presence of the feminine. The insects are an archetype of fecundity, and female birth and death have horrified men from the beginning (maybe hearkening back to the time when the patriarchy first felt the fear prompting it to take the power once and for all).

In the end, it all comes down to the Matrix and the Mater (the latter being Latin for "mother"). The dualistic is passed over in favor of the numinous. We are aware that Matrix means womb, and we remember the image of the infant plugged into the machine. We are also aware that our mothers are largely responsible for upbringing and transmitting societyís rules to children. We are raised on the rules of the Matrix.

But motherhood (and fatherhood and parenthood in general) is a powerful archetype. And our true mother and our true parents are the ones who help us move forward into freedom. These are the ones who sacrifice themselves so that we can become our true selves. This is the kind of mother that the Oracle is. This is the kind of mother who is willing to go as far as it takes. They give us what we need to hear. This is the kind of mother we find in God. The End of this section

To be continued in Part 2

The Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix Trilogy

Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles.

Back to the top
by Stephen Faller

"Such a thing is not meant to last..."
-- Persephone

This is the second installment of "The Matrix and The Mater" -- a series of five articles that deal with feminist themes spanning the Matrix trilogy. Hopefully, each of these little essays will help nuance and complicate our understanding of the Matrix. The Wachowskis display an awareness of feminist thought and by examining the Matrix universe, we can see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I am a Matrix fan, and I donít think these movies perpetuate the same, tired stereotypes against women. But these movies invite fans to ask the hard questions and at the same time acknowledge that accepting the truth often is not easy.

If we look at the Matrix trilogy under the magnifying glass of feminism, we will also find some hard truths. I believe that one such truth is that Trinity had to die. I donít mean to suggest that the trilogy is a science-fiction snuff film. But I do think that the Matrix mythology is woven together out of Western culture, and that Western culture has had a poor track record when it comes to womenís issues. Therefore, if the Wachowskis story is going to tell us about the world we live in, then when it comes to the matter of Trinityís death, we might have to concede that her death was "inevitable."

But first things are always first. Itís worth asking the question: How much was Trinity really alive to begin with? To what extent is she really her own person as a character, and to what extent is she a foil for Neo? It would have helped if we could have seen how and why she fell in love with Neo. This would have established the autonomy and vitality of her own love and her own motives. Some readers may think Iím crazy: What do you mean Trinity is not a strong character -- she knows all that kung fu? It takes more than physical power and violence to create character. It could be argued, in fact, that Trinity is a neo-Pygmalion (no pun intended). Pygmalion is the story of a woman who is created around the personality of a man, by him, and for his enjoyment. Maybe this is Trinity -- not that she was created by Neo, but that maybe she represents the new ideal of how nerds like their women. Are her qualities really hers, or does she represent the epitome of what nerds really desire? She knows her computers. Sheís physically fit. Sheís lusty and aggressive about satisfying her desire. She resorts to violence to solve her problems (in that sheís more concrete than emotional in problem-solving). Sheís jealous. And sheís devoted.

Maybe. But weíre going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Iím sure sheís not the only woman with that constellation of attributes. And after all, sheís the one who told Neo that "the Matrix cannot tell you who you are." So we are going to assume that she has taken full responsibility for who she is.

As we look at her death, we are going to peel the layers of meaning and cultural attitudes that required the Matrix mythology to unfold this particular way. Like an onion, weíll try to go deeper and deeper, offering possibilities to explain her death. And let me just say that these critiques have more to do with Western culture than the Wachowski Brothers.

At the first layer, she died because she is a great hero and therefore deserved a tragic and heroic ending. This is the kind of impression you get when she is the only human to have seen the sun. She has sacrificed and risked more than anyone else. She is willing to lay down her life and eventually this willingness deserves to be completed. And so, her noble sacrifice is achieved.

At the second layer -- a bit more practical -- her death solves a lot of problems plot-wise. What would she do in the machine city? Itís a long walk back... Could she cope with Neoís death? Would Neo have risked his life if she were depending on him? If she survived Neo, would that have been too tragic to break up the couple? Would she in some way suffer more than he does and would that gel with the rest of the mythology? ...continued in the second column...







We go deeper. If Neo is a Christ-figure, is it too scandalous to pair him off with a significant other? Are we willing to suggest, even loosely, that Christ had romantic feelings? Does it imply controversial things about the nature of Christ if Neo has a successful "marriage?" Is it so awful to suggest that Neo had emotional needs? As a side note, Jesus himself got into considerable trouble for his willingness to associate with women in his ministry. Also, tradition holds that Jesus first appeared to the women after the Resurrection -- a significant note because of the second-class status that women held.

Even deeper, beyond any contradictions with the Christian tradition, patriarchy in general has been very afraid of female power. This is part of why goddess images are so problematic in the West. Some people suggest that goddess images were co-opted in Christian belief, art, and spirituality, but in every case the image became celibate and chaste. Trinityís own name is an interesting footnote here, because she holds it as a feminized reference to the Godhead. In the broad spectrum of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps this echoes with the Sophia tradition -- a tradition that understands the Spirit of God as feminine. But the Wachowskis had fully established Trinity as a whole, sexual being and maybe historical contradictions between the sexual and the divine counted as another strike against Trinity surviving the trilogy. (I tend to doubt it -- the Wachowskis seem unafraid to thematically explore sexuality and divinity.) But in so far as there is the cultural belief that sexuality is bad and dirty, and in so far as Trinity is unashamed of her sexuality as a character, there were some fans who were glad to see her fade out of the picture.

There is still another layer. Itís a bit complicated. But if the last two layers probed at spirituality, religion, and sexuality, then the very last layer has to do with our deepest understanding of love itself. You see, Western culture has such a limited understanding of love, and erotic love, that we really donít know what to do with a story after lovers get together. The curtain either falls and fade to black, or somebody dies. This goes all the way back to Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet, further back into the heart of Western myth itself. I first discovered this in my studies of Soren Kierkegaard who lamented that love stories of his day often end precisely where they ought to begin: with the marriage. He says that humanity knows all too much about sexual conquest and consummation, but nothing about possession or contentment. And heís right. How many movies show sustained passion between a mature husband and wife? Not many. And we participate in this endless conquest, both as male and female audiences, whether itís "Cold Mountain" or James Bond. Once the couple has been successfully mated, we tend to lose interest in their bedroom and move on to the next movie.

Would it have been so awful for Trinity and Neo to remain together? Is togetherness so bad? Personally I donít think it is bad, but I think if the Wachowskis wanted their myth to be an honest overlay of our culture, then the conclusion is pretty obvious. Trinity had to die. The End of this section

To be continued in Part 3

The Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix Trilogy

Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles.

Back to the top
by Stephen Faller

Itís good to be writing again. Painful to think I started this piece a month ago. This is the third part of "The Matrix and the Mater", a series of articles planned out months back. The webmasters of The Matrix 101 have been kind enough to me to afford this space and I do apologize to their readers for the delay. But the delay speaks to something else; namely, the delicate connection between writer and reader. This series is not pre-planned, but is an attempt to continue an ongoing discussion in real time and is therefore susceptible to all of the delays that might interrupt any conversation.

That said, we can return to the topic proper. One of the ways that a movie communicates cultural messages is through displays of power. Who has the power and who is powerless? Who needs to be rescued? How do people manifest power and influence over other characters and their environment? How do these manifestations of power match with other things in the story, for example, are the only powerful women evil? These days we are increasingly aware of these questions, careful to cast our new fairytales in ways that donít diminish persons by accident (Shrek is a deliberate response to the fairytales of the past, both directly and indirectly).

One of the nice things about telling an extended story like the Matrix trilogy, there are a lot of characters to work with. Weíre not going to look at an exhaustive list of female characters. Some of them donít really stand out. And other characters do stand out -- maybe like Switch -- but thereís not all that much to say. Switch was one of the first characters we met who had an ambivalent reaction to Neo. She didnít worship him but she risked her life to rescue him. She had some interesting lines, introducing the nickname of "Coppertop", and also displayed a sense of honor about her death ("Not like this"), but otherwise thereís not much more to say.

Still, even the people around the edges have some pronounced character traits when you look at them together. Look at Switch, Zee, Charro, Kamala, and Maggie. None of these people would be described as demure or shy. They are all competent, confident, and outspoken. They are determined.

Trinity probably gets more screen time than any other woman. She is also the first hacker we meet; she is the first one to show us the kind of power that people have who are not jacked into the Matrix. So a lot of her power is physical. She is a woman of action. She is the sort of person who wonít let the chips fall where they may, she doesnít leave things to chance ("whatís is going to be, Merv"). She has some of the most stunning action scenes in the whole trilogy, including the heartstopping freeway scene in Reloaded. I canít underestimate the importance of this kind of power. Sheís changed the way we think about female action heroes, and has opened the door for others, like in the runaway TV series Alias. Of course there have been others, like Linda Hamilton (Terminator) or Sigourney Weaver (Alienses). Weaver has done some very interesting things in her Aliens series, but I think Trinity offers something different.

Trinity manages to hold onto her femininity while she grabs onto power. This plays out in stark contrast to a film like "Thelma and Louise". Part of the artistic merit of that film was to show movie women acting like movie men, to deliberately thumb noses at cultural double standards. But I didnít like "Thelma and Louise" because, in part, it seemed so derivative, so utterly dependent on defying double standards for its very storyline, and if there were no double standards then there would be no storyline. Trinity shows us something else; she is able to exercise physical power and even sexuality while still seeming spontaneous and authentic. She has something that neither Thelma nor Louise can claim -- she has purpose.

Niobe has many similar traits as Trinity, but she also has qualities of leadership. She is a Captain. Her name comes from a sorrowful myth, but she seems to lack a depressive mood. Perhaps the sad reference speaks to her difficulties in relationship with Morpheus and then Lock. As already indicated in the first article of this series, much of her power struggle with Lock happens right along the lines of gender politics. But hereís what Niobe illustrates most clearly of all: she embodies the formula for a strong character. ...continued in the second column...




She is a strong leader and a good pilot and she has these traits of honor. She has her own themes and issues that she hammers out with Lock. Sheís also capable of change and rekindling her relationship with Morpheus. But most important of all, she has her own quest. She has her own inner journey to follow as she decides what to make of Neo. This is a very important trait because this is what makes her so lifelike -- she has her own journey and her own reason for being. This seems so far beyond the kind of characterization of someone like Princess Leia, who never seems to escape the plight of being a foil. This is something that the Wachowskis understand about character: if you want to make someone believable, give them layers of traits and issues and faith (like with Zee) and most of all, their own purpose.

Persephone has a different power. In the articles and interviews, Bellucci describes her as a vampire, someone who needs the energy of others. It is said that she cannot be lied to. This may be true and thereís no reason to doubt the actress who brought her to life. But we do not see these powers delineated. What we do see is a very tempting sexuality and sensuality. And the power of temptation is not exploited by anyone else (with the possible exception of Dujour, but we never really learn the extent or intent of her character). This is an archetypal power; sensuality has long been the psychological root of the vampire myth. And this is also one of the many ironies of the Western double standard -- we have insisted that women embody the entire burden of cultural sexuality for the human race and then fear them for it.

The Oracle displays another power also associated with the feminine; hers is the power of intuition. Sheís described as an intuitive program. Intuition is a subject that interests me greatly. So much of written philosophy is so entrenched in analysis and deductive patterns that it really has little appreciation for inductive thought. The easy move is to discredit intuition as irrational. More aptly, it is extra-rational; its thought patterns are not required to travel the thought patterns of logic, but rather it may freely jump around like a shorted circuit. The spellbinding part of the Oracleís power is that she is never wrong. The more subtle part is that she never says too much. She is careful not to tell people how to interpret their own experience. For example, she never tells Neo that he is not the One (in the first film). In this way, she walks alongside experience inasmuch as ahead of it, knowing very well whatís happening in the moment and that just might have something to do with her fortunetelling.

Perhaps itís little Sati who has the greatest power of all. In Sanskrit, her name means "being" or "existence". And so, at the end of the movie we see her offering to Neo, the sunset. This is the power of creation This power of generativity has a childlike quality, and it should not be too heavily equated with fertility. If youíve ever been around a child for more than five minutes, then you have seen that child make up a song, or a game, or an imaginary friend. This is the power of life and the power to renew life.

With our dualistic culture, we have narrowly defined what power is. We have defined it as a .45 Magnum in the hand of some hunk-oid, and we have limited who may wield such weapons. But when we turn to myth we can see a multitude of powers. In this way, we can offer a variety of heroes and heroines to choose from. We can explore different expressions of authenticity and agency. We can explore a world without boundaries or rules. We can explore a world where women can have power and still be women. The End of this section

To be continued in Part 4

The Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix Trilogy

Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles.

Back to the top
by Stephen Faller

This one sent me back to the drawing board more than once. The difficulty is trying to manage a worthy discourse on the depictions of sexuality in the Matrix Trilogy. And the problem is that sexuality is very important. How we express our sexuality says a lot about who we are and what we hold as sacred. Furthermore, a movie series like the Matrix forces us to try to explore the mythic dimensions of sex, and any treatment of the subject needs to respect the Wachowskisí larger vision. All of this is complicated by the way in which the Wachowskis have explored sexuality in other projects and endeavors.

The easy question is "why go there?" And that can be asked everywhere. Why should I go there as a Matrix commentator? Why should the Wachowskis go there in their films? Why does this theme belong in this feminist-oriented series? To take the last question first, for better or worse our culture puts the burden of sexuality on women. Any supermarket can verify this. The condoms can be often found in the "feminine care" aisle. Or check the magazine rack. Womenís magazines are sold with pictures of sexualized women. And so are menís magazines. Or look at popular fashion. Menís clothes are getting baggier and baggier. The large T-shirt for men has turned into a tarp with a Nike logo. And womenís clothes are disappearing altogether. And the analysis can only be that men are uncomfortable embodying sensuality and sexual vulnerability (letís see belly shirts for men), and that women are increasingly designated to that sociological function. And for that matter, why didnít Neo and Trin switch costumes? But letís keep to the point: if weíre going to explore the sexual dimension in the films, the place for that discussion is here.

The Wachowskis had to go there as well. When you have a multi-dimensional myth that explores all of the different aspects of life as we know it, it would be remiss to omit it. If weíre going to talk about philosophy, spirituality, and psychology, then sexuality is unavoidable. Itís too much a part of humanity. Many of the great myths are unapologetically sexual in their subject matter.

Of course, the tricky part of it is: how do you tell it? How do you portray this intensely telling mystery of the soul? So there are two competing schools of thought on this, at least among the artists who appreciate the humanity of sexuality (there are many artists who disregard sexuality as something significant, and this is where porn and soft-porn come from, and here the point is to try to sell as many tickets as possible).

One school says we donít need to see. The audience doesnít need to know the intimate details. We can get the storyline when they go in the room and close the door. And there are some very sexual stories that follow this school. "The Graduate" is a story of how a young man takes ownership of his own life and sexuality and there is surprisingly little that we see. The idea is that if the audience does see, then the audience is forced to become some kind of participant which either interferes with the story, or spoils the uniqueness of whatís trying to be expressed. And this perspective makes a lot of sense. When we see the facial contortions that people make in the throws of passion, we are really learning more about the intimate habits of actors and actresses than we are actually learning meaningful information about the characters depicted. Less is more.

The other school says we need to see. There have been too many bad sex scenes and we need to create some alternative sexual cultural messages out there. Examples of some conventional cultural messages are those that suggest that sexual behaviors (and the watching of sexual behavior) exist for male enjoyment. Another message might be that male performance is the epicenter of the experience. Another message might be that women should embody all of the vulnerability (and so she screams, dresses sexy, and is revealed more than the male). You can find these in just about any date movie from "Jerry Maguire" to "Titanic". Both sexes suffer from these messages. So this school says that sexuality needs to be depicted the right way. We need to create images of intense passion and equality.

Currently, itís harder to make the argument for the first school of thought. When people are web-logging their sex lives, when people wear things that reveal every crevice and dimple of flesh, and having sex on reality TV, itís hard to hold a realistic position for modesty. Itís not a lost cause; works like "Simulcra and Simulation" can force us to examine the importance of images of all kinds and virtual experiences. The images that we see are a part of our tapestry of experience, and reality has ultimate primacy over illusion. But letís be honest: this is the minority view and probably not even the view of Baudrillard. ...continued in the second column...




Each of the movies has a sexualized dance/mosh scene. Reloaded also expresses the consummated love between Trinity and Neo. These scenes are going to take the remainder of our focus. Itís true that a lot of the characters wear sexy clothes, but letís set that aside and focus our attention on character actions and not character fashions.

The dance scenes all have things in common, but they also carry salient differences. The fetish clothing and mosh sensuality may simply be an interest of the Wachowskis, but I wonder if something more subtle is at work. Other recent movies have very similar club scenes. In the "Blade" series, thereís some kind of explanation of why this casual carnality is winding up in contemporary vampire movies, and this is a great articulation of sensuality within Goth-culture. Vampires need to feel intensely alive. They want their pulses to pound because so often, they feel nothing -- and Goth-culture can fall into a sort of bipolarity of pseudo-melancholy and hedonism.

We see Neo first go into a club when he is "searching". He spends his nights searching and trying to connect to others on the computer. Maybe these dance scenes are expressions of people who are lost and searching. One certainly wonders about who these people are at the Merovingianís Club Hel party. Are they horny computer programs? Are they people who stopped searching because they found what they were looking for? Are they lost in a sea of sensuality? Some people think that the scene is merely gratuitous, but the Wachowskis are directors who try to depict the "real thing". In their lesbian-noire movie "Bound", the Brothers hired an actual erotica writer to try to capture an authentic encounter instead of a male-centered fantasy. The Brothers want to display the real thing, and the question is why.

The answer may come from the fact that these scenes take place within the Matrix. The Matrix is a fallen world. The scene in Reloaded takes place in the real world, in Zion. This seems to explain why the temple dance was intercut with Neo and Trinityís consummate love. The tone is supposed to be different. In the temple we are seeing a celebration of humanity. While some fans were offended by the setting, there are reasons for this too. Interestingly, in some religious communities, ecstatic dancing is considered a vital part of worship. And not to overly invoke religious themes, but sexuality is such an intense part of humanity that it often reveals our best and worst traits, our greatest generosity and our deepest selfishness. Perhaps the scene in Reloaded is given a positive emphasis to offset the club scenes in the other two films.

When it comes down to the love scene between Trinity and Neo, there are some helpful observations to be made. First and foremost, the moment takes place in Zion. Itís real. Very little affection takes place in the Matrix. In some of the phony internet scripts of Reloaded, Trinity expressed that intimacy in the real world is more genuine and private. Further, the heroic couple establishes and maintains deep eye contact during the lovemaking. This stresses the quality of intimacy and tenderness. Finally, the scene is shot with an equal amount of exposure for both characters, both in terms of what is shown and not shown. And for these merits, the sex scene nakedly stands in contrast to many Hollywood values.

But all of this is still larger than life and glamorous on the movie screen. Most of us donít make love with a soundtrack and special effects. What really distinguishes this scene is the very human qualities. For one thing, it doesnít go on forever. It is sweet, but kept to human proportions. Afterwards, Neo has an experience of fear. This seems very human. Few people feel like doing a Tarzan yell. We donít dig up the Queen and play "We are the Champions". For a lot of people, when they experience true intimacy, they experience a sensation of panic about losing that intimacy. Itís nice to know that Neo is still human.

Sexuality is one of the most honest revelations of the human character. If the Matrix trilogy was going to try to capture the heroic myth of humanity, then it is inevitable that the sexual subject should spring forth. It is in our sexuality where we enact our deepest hopes and longings. This is the place where we hope to find human connection. It is this connection, this very real attachment to another that Rama Kandra speaks of. It is this connection that distinguishes Neo from the other Anomalies and makes him the One. And it is this connection that we find ourselves so often looking for, this delicate overlap of a kiss between love and purpose. The End of this section

To be concluded in Part 5

The Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix TrilogyThe Matrix 101 - Your Guide To Understanding The Matrix Trilogy

Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles.

Back to the top
by Stephen Faller

Certain dualities have been transmitted through Western thought, and insofar as the Matrix trilogy is a Western myth, the movies try to touch on some of these dualities. We are going to look at some of these dualities here. One such duality is the problem between mind and body. What are the dimensions of the mind? Where does it begin and end, and where does it intersect with the body? Can we really separate the human organ that thinks (the brain) from all of the other human organs? Are we whole persons, or are we organic computers housed in these living systems?

Interestingly, the mind/body problem has parallelled another duality in Western thought; namely, the duality between men and women. Women tend to be associated with the body and sensuality and men tend to be associated with the mind. And this stereotype oozes from just about everywhere, whether itís a hyper-rational male philosophy, or whether itís religion itself. And so the mind/body problem has become intertwined with the male/female problem.

Let me try and flesh this out a little bit. Some men will say that men are reasonable and that women are strictly emotional. There is a humorous irony here, which stems from two sources. One source is fact that human experience is largely effected by our hormones and both sexes have them. Our brains are regularly washed in hormones. But womenís hormones change a lot with different levels at different times. For men, itís pretty much the same level from start to finish. This constancy of hormones creates the illusion of stability, and because the world seems the same today as yesterday, there is the temptation to believe that we are seeing it the way it really is. The other source of irony is that men will cling to "rationality" and shun emotion because doing so produces a feeling of safety and control. We submit to all kinds of false-logic and the rejection of the romantic passions because doing so makes us feel good and safe. Funny.

In the Matrix trilogy we see some interesting approaches to this theme. This is what I mean by "embodiment". Embodiment is the name for trying to talk about these things. How do we talk about these things? How do we examine people as whole persons? How do we deal with the problem of having bodies and being in harmony with them? We do so by talking about embodiment. There seem to be three major ways that the film trilogy deals with the embodiment question. They are as follows: (1) Fashion, (2) Images -- usually of a shocking nature, and (3) Plot.

Fashion is one way that we struggle to fit into the world. The psychology and philosophy of fashion come into play as we try to coordinate and piece together how we are going to try to project ourselves to the outside world. Fashion is the place where we take ownership of our image. We can only do so much with our physical form (although these boundaries are constantly challenged). But little things, such as the clothes we are wearing or our hairstyle might become expressive of who we really are inside.

For this reason, itís probably no coincidence that these personal attempts take on the larger function of being counter-cultural. Forty years ago, it was very threatening to the status quo for men to wear their hair long, for example, and this was part of the biker mystique. The longer hair becomes both at once a form of self-expression and rebellion. The rebellion, of course, is against those who are content to express themselves through the conventions of the day. Today, weíve gone a got bit further than long hair. Now we have body piercings (of just about any pinch of flesh you can think of) and extensive tattoos -- and all of these are an attempt to articulate and embody personal truths. Of course, free expression can always become a type of conformity, where everybody whoís anybody has this or that body part pierced and people are unknowingly lined up around the block to get the same thing done.

As a side note, plastic surgery is worth a mention, whose name eerily suggests that the human countenance actually has become so malleable and moldable that it really is plastic. While it might be tempting to think of plastic surgery as a type of embodied image, a deeper reflection reveals that the purpose of plastic surgery is not a mission of individuality, but one of conformity. Instead of challenging and confronting the cultural norms, plastic surgery enthrones cultural norms and individuality is obliterated with fake boobs and chin implants. The human canvas is reduced to a blank sheet of paper, and the counter-cultural message of the Matrix trilogy is replaced, vis a vis the "Stepford Wives".

So itís no mistake that Agents are dressed like yuppies and our hero-hackers are dressed in varying degrees of Goth. For the Agents, the suit and tie are the uniform and armor of the establishment. And the point of our heroesí clothes is not so much that they are sexy, but that they are counter-cultural. ...continued in the second column...




Images are just as powerful in terms of exploring body issues. A lot of this credit deserves to be evenly distributed to Geoff Darrow and the Wachowski Brothers. There are positive and negative images, and they all have the effect of lingering in our imagination as we think about the nature of humanity. Some of these images are things that happen to our heroes. In the original Matrix, Neoís mouth melts away as he is invaded by the tracer bug. In the sequels, we also see that Smith erases the faces of his victims.

A lot of the images are things that exist in the "real world". From the insect-like appearance of the machines (tapping into our fear of insects and the mortality they represent), to the alien quality of the squiddies, we find ourselves continually assaulted by the horror of this brave new world. Maybe itís Neoís "rebirth". Maybe itís the organic quality of the machine-world at the end of Revolutions (in the scene following Trinityís death, set designers were trying to create the look of the central nervous system -- a mechanical spinal cord).

Some disturbing images happen to our heroes in the "real world". Certainly Neoís disfigurement is a powerful body image. We donít expect something like that to happen to Keanu. Or we think of the brutality of Mifuneís last stand. But these images occur throughout the series and I donít want to create the false impression that images that deal with embodiment are rare. Every time somebody jacks in, a foot-long spike goes into the base of the skull like pithing frogs in biology class. (Itís a nice touch that these Matrix ports become like orifices of vulnerability -- notice how Neo and Trinity clasp one anotherís Matrix port when they embrace). Through the series, disturbing body images create a rub in the viewerís subconscious mind. The effect achieves perfection at the end of Reloaded where we see dripping blood which parallels the dripping Matrix code.

There are many aspects of the Animatrix and the online comics that continue to expand this visual theme. In Detective Story, Trinity removes a homing device from the detectiveís eyeball. Or in the concept work called Bits and Pieces of Information we see the intensely destructive impact of machine against flesh. Everything about the Matrix vibrates along this string and forces us to see things that maybe we wished we hadnít.

When it comes to the question of plot, the greater trajectory of the storyline moves from fantasy to the real. More and more screen time is devoted to exploring Zion than the Matrix (so much so that key questions are left unresolved: what happened between Smith and the Merovingian or the Trainman?). We also get the sense that the real world is increasingly cold and stoic. In the first Matrix movie we get some of Cypherís bellyaching and complaining. But by the end of Revolutions, we know that the real is far less than ideal.

And this trajectory continues. Fans await to find out what happens next in The Matrix Online, a game that is shaped by the direction of the Wachowskis. Fantasy is no longer contained by the movie theater, and maybe -- just maybe -- Smith has found a way to cross over from his world into ours. And even if he hasnít, we are still confronted by our own estimation of what is real and unreal.

This has been The Matrix and the Mater. Weíve looked at the issues of mothering, Trinityís character, examples of female power in the Matrix, sexuality, and questions of embodiment. Unlike "The Passion of Neo", the individual essays are not linked by argument, but they are linked by theme and topic. And when we look at that common theme, we see that the Wachowskisí work readily resonates with the feminist critique. We see that this cyber mythology sheds a lot of light on our cultural project of trying to see men and women equally.

Thanks again to the gracious editors at The Matrix 101. I welcome your input and feedback. I really see this as a shared effort between you and me (and all those lurkers out there). So let me know what you think, and maybe if there is another theme you would like to explore together. If you would like to see other Matrix related articles, check out the "articles" section at http://beyondthematrix.stephen-faller.com. There is also a sign up feature if you would like to be informed of other new ideas and articles related to the Matrix. I do have some things in the pipeline, and the sign up feature is the best way to know about these new projects.

The Matrix has you. The End of this section

Stephen Faller is the author of Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations and is a frequent contributor to the online Matrix community. He maintains a website with additional information on his book, as well as other original essays and articles. The staff of The Matrix 101 are grateful we could bring this essay series to our readers, and we sincerely thank Stephen for the opportunity!

 
Did You Know?

A reason for the 'sixth' One: six is the biblical day on which humanity was made, and Neo is in a sense the first 'human'. He is certainly the first 'One' who defeats the system and establishes the basis for freedom. The seventh 'reloading' would then be a 'sabbath': a 'day' of rest, on which the war would be over, or at least paused.
- Suggested by Wes Howard-Brook
Main Character from The Matrix

The Matrix copyright © 1999 - 2015, Warner Bros. Warner Bros. is the owner of all copyrights and trademark rights in The Matrix.
Website content copyright © 2003 - 2015, The Matrix 101. All rights reserved.