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There are a lot of interesting aspects of The Matrix that provoke discussion, arguments, and debates over what the filmmakers meant by a particular scene, character, or piece of dialogue. Some of the hidden meaning is easy to find - other stuff is buried so deeply or only briefly referred to that a lot of the fun is digging around to see what you can find. A central theme of the Matrix is Neo's heroic journey as the One.
Neo believes he's living a normal, but slightly troubled life in 1999. By day, a computer programmer for a large, generic software company; by night, a hacker, providing the fruits of his labors to other troubled souls. He lives alone, he doesn't sleep, and there's a profound emptiness in his life, but it's something he can't put his finger on - until he is contacted by Trinity. "It's the question that drives us", she whispers in his ear, to which he correctly responds "What is the Matrix?" It is this question that has gnawed at Neo seemingly his entire life, yet he's never put it into words before now. It is the voicing of this question that begins his transformation into The One.
Morpheus has sent Trinity to contact Neo, believing he is The One of prophecy. Morpheus explains it to Neo in this way: "When the Matrix was first built there was a man born inside that had the ability to change what he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was this man who freed the first of us and taught us the truth - When he died, the Oracle prophesied his return and envisioned that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix."
Morpheus' followers believe in him, and they mostly believe in The Oracle's prophecy, but not necessarily his selection of candidates for The One. It is with both great anticipation and extreme dread that they "wake" Neo to the real world, knowing the path he has ahead of him, and the potential conclusion.
Neo's journey in the movie bears many hallmarks of classic myths. He is the Chosen One, the reluctant hero, the savior, and the one who will lead his people to freedom. In order to do that, he must sacrifice himself, and rise from the dead. He faces progressively greater challenges through the course of the movie, and as he begins to believe in himself, he is able to overcome these challenges, including besting his ultimate adversary, Agent Smith.
Neo's first meeting with The Oracle is a critical turning point in The Matrix. Now that the trilogy is complete, let's go back and look at that meeting to better understand The Oracle's role in Neo's journey. Through much of The Matrix, Neo is our doppleganger. We experience the difficult awakening and the gradual awareness of Neo's powers much as he does. The discussion with The Oracle is no exception. As Neo struggles to find meaning in her words, the audience struggles along with him. It's only later we learn that The Oracle "told [Neo] exactly what [he] needed to hear". So what did Neo need to hear? What exactly was the Oracle telling him? In an attempt to answer these questions, we're going to examine the dialogue in detail.
Neo: So is this the same Oracle that made the prophecy?
Morpheus: Yes. She's very old. She's been with us since the beginning.
Neo: The beginning...?
Morpheus: Of the Resistance.
Neo: And she knows what, everything?
Morpheus: She would say she knows enough.
Neo: And she's never wrong.
Morpheus: Try not to think of it in terms of right and wrong. She is a guide, Neo. She can help you to find the path.
This is our first hint that The Oracle isn't really interested in telling the future. She may be interested in knowing it, but she's not some fortune teller who's going to rhyme off all the things that will happen to you, or all the things you're going to do. She's going to guide you; she's going to help you find the path. This is a critical context for the scene that follows. The Oracle is guiding Neo with every word she says.
Neo: What did she tell you?
Morpheus: That I would find the one.... I told you I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.
[Scene: The Oracle's apartment]
Priestess: Hello, Neo. You're right on time.... Make yourself at home, Morpheus. Neo, come with me.... These are the other potentials, you can wait here.
The potentials are other candidates waiting to meet with The Oracle. Notice they're all children - except for Neo. This goes back to Morpheus' comment soon after waking Neo: "We never free a mind once it's reached a certain age. It's dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go."
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
"There is no spoon." One of the most common catchphrases that has entered the lexicon as a result of The Matrix. There is no spoon - the spoon exists only in the Matrix, which really means it doesn't exist as a physical object. This is an important lesson for Neo, to help him realize that manipulating the Matrix isn't about focusing on an object and trying to change it. The object doesn't exist, so he can't change it, he has to change himself. Metaphorically, it's all in his head - he has to look inside to exact any control, to bring about even the smallest change.
[Scene: The Oracle's kitchen]
The Oracle: I know, you're Neo. Be right with you.
Neo: You're The Oracle?
The Oracle: Bingo. Not quite what you were expecting, right? Almost done. Smell good, don't they?
An elderly woman baking cookies in an average urban apartment...is the great-and-powerful Oracle? Brilliant. The Oracle's appearance manages to be both unsettling and comforting. What's more comforting than a motherly figure in the kitchen baking? But do you have confidence in her words? Do you believe?
Neo: What vase?
[Neo knocks a vase to the floor]
The Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry.
The Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
The Oracle: What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything.
The noodle-baker. Clearly she can tell the future when she wants to. She can be specific. But the real key here is her last statement. Would he have broken it if she hadn't said anything? Here The Oracle is already guiding Neo. She planted something in his mind and he immediately responded. He immediately brought about a result she predicted/wanted. Was this a test to see if he was open to suggestion? Or was it simply a display of her pre-cognitive power? Either way it is the first concrete example of The Oracle guiding Neo's actions.
The Oracle: You're cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.
The Oracle: Not too bright, though.
Though we may have suspicions, we don't know who 'she' is, or why The Oracle knows until Trinity later confesses to Neo's lifeless body: "The Oracle told me that I would fall in love, and that that man, the man who I loved would be The One. So you see, you can't be dead."
Neo: I think so.
The Oracle: So, what do you think? Do you think you're The One?
Neo: I don't know.
The Oracle: You know what that means? It's Latin. Means `Know thyself'. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you're in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.
"Know thyself". That's really what The Oracle is all about. She opens the door but Neo has to choose to believe it for himself. He has to look inside, he has to know there's no spoon, and he has to know he's The One. And it's only through making the choice, once he finds the reason to do so, that he becomes The One. But he isn't ready yet...the next part of their conversation makes that abundantly clear. But she's planted the seed.
The Oracle: Okay. Now I'm supposed to say, `Umm, that's interesting, but...,' then you say...
Neo: But what?
The Oracle: But you already know what I'm going to tell you.
Neo: I'm not The One.
So who says Neo's not The One? The Oracle? Nope, Neo. Neo's looked inside and he doesn't believe. He's intrigued, he's listened to a very convincing man who believes, but Neo does not believe. And the Oracle's going to let him go with that belief, because as she said earlier, "No one can tell you you're The One, you just know it." And the physical examinination of Neo is just window-dressing. The Oracle doesn't learn anything from that that she didn't already know the minute Neo walked into her kitchen.
The Oracle: Your next life maybe, who knows? That's the way these things go.
The next life comment is particularly prophetic given that Neo is killed at the end of the movie and resurrected with the help of Trinity, whereupon he kicks some major Agent butt, exercising the power of his newfound belief. He is The One. But what is Neo really waiting for? At this point he's waiting for someone to tell him what he needs to hear, to help him find the path. In talking around it, The Oracle is both pointing out that he's waiting for something, and setting up the events that will lead to the something he's waiting for. That Oracle, she's crafty.
Neo: Morpheus. He...he almost had me convinced.
The Oracle: I know. Poor Morpheus. Without him we're lost.
And here's where she sets it up.
The Oracle: Are you sure you want to hear this? Morpheus believes in you, Neo. And no one, not you, not even me can convince him otherwise. He believes it so blindly that he's going to sacrifice his life to save yours.
The Oracle: You're going to have to make a choice. In the one hand you'll have Morpheus' life and in the other hand you'll have your own. One of you is going to die. Which one will be up to you. I'm sorry, kiddo, I really am. You have a good soul, and I hate giving good people bad news.
The Oracle is using Morpheus' jeopardy as the trigger...the trigger that will spur Neo into action, that will give him the something he's waiting for. He'll have to make a choice, but really, he's already made it. He's not going to let this man who believes so strongly in him throw his life away for nothing, and to Neo it would be for nothing, because he's not The One. And this is what The Oracle needs to happen: she needs to provide Neo with the something he's waiting for. And that's the key to her role - opening doors rather than telling people what is. It's all about choice and he chooses to play the role of The One once he finds the reasons to do so.
The cookie. Lots of interesting theories on the cookie. Since this is all a computer program, some strongly believe the cookie is a literal browser cookie. It's a small bit of information stored locally, ie, it's some bit of code the Oracle has planted in Neo. Is it an extra push down the path? Is it just what she says, something to help Neo feel right as rain? As far as she's concerned, Neo doesn't have to dwell on their discussion. She knows what she knows, and she's already doing what she can to help him find the path. She's told him exactly what he needed to hear.
Did You Know?
Cypher's choice to return to the Matrix is echoed in the Animatrix episode Program. Find out more about Program.