Hollywood Gets Religion — Again

Spiritual Undertones of ‘Matrix Reloaded’ Prompt Debate, Dissension Among Faithful
Knight-Ridder, May 24, 2003
By Mark I. Pinsky, Knight-Ridder

Even before the house lights come up in the theater, while the final credits for “The Matrix Reloaded” are still rolling, the arguments begin.

Is the character named “Neo” the Messiah? Will Zion be destroyed? Is the last face seen on the screen supposed to be Judas? The discussions, some of them heated, continue as viewers file from the multiplex and spill outside. As Matrix mania sweeps the country, Americans are debating whether the much anticipated sequel is just another science-fiction action movie or a spiritually significant film rife with profound religious symbolism.

“The whole thing correlates to some higher power,” said moviegoer Shylo Sorensen, 27, of Orlando, who describes himself as secular.

But Marny Linares, 42, of Casselberry, Fla., said that evidence of religious symbolism is more in the minds of the audience than on the screen.

“It’s just a story,” he said, and not a particularly religious one. “People are trying to find what they want to believe.”

Linares said filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski are using religious symbols to build a cult following around the original Matrix and the sequel, with apparent success. The first film has grossed $460 million, and expectations are equally high for “Reloaded.”

The second in the trilogy, “Reloaded” tells the story of a futuristic, messiah-like character who battles a menacing computer power called the Matrix. Portrayed by Keanu Reeves, Neo is described as “The One” who prophecy says will save the underground city of Zion and, ultimately, the world. Although many have latched on to Christian references, others have cited similarities to the story of Buddha.

“Any movie that touches on spiritual themes is going to be extremely popular with young people,” said the Rev. John Hever of H2O youth ministry in Orlando, a rapidly growing center of evangelism. “A great many young people have been eagerly waiting for this to come out.”

Hever, 40, said that he has referred to points from the original film in his sermons and that he expects the same will be true with the sequel.

The discussion about religion began with release of “The Matrix” in 1999.

Because “Reloaded” is rated R, some evangelicals may have to wait until an edited version of the sequel is shown on network television. But some Christian critics who have screened the unedited version have been harsh in their reviews.

Reloaded is “a violent story that contains a gratuitous sex scene, nudity, foul language,” according to Movie Guide, a Christian magazine and Web site in Southern California.

Despite dialogue about good vs. evil, and some “redemptive elements,” Movie Guide says, the film “contains cryptic philosophical discussions about choice, fate, control and purpose. No answers are really reached, but the movie seems to be leaning toward a humanistic view of such matters.”

Other Christian reviewers agree, though less vehemently.

“From the Christian perspective, I think the filmmakers missed the mark,” said Michael Elliot of the Orlando-based Christiancritic.com (http://Christiancritic.com). “The Christian analogies don’t hold up anymore. It’s a hodgepodge of spirituality. I’m not angry about it. I’m not offended by it. I think people will be disappointed. It’s filled with an aura of self-importance that it doesn’t deserve.”

The original Matrix spawned at least 100 Web sites dealing with Christian imagery, and three books have been written about religion and spirituality in the film.

Glenn Yeffeth, editor of “Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix,” a collection of essays by scientists, technologists, philosophers, social commentators and science fiction writers, said the plot follows classic, pre-Christian myth. It’s the tale of “a young man who decides that there is something wrong with the universe, goes off in search of the truth and in the process finds himself and his own power.”

The Rev. Chris Seay, a pastor and co-author of “The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in the Matrix,” has no problem with the mixture of religious symbolism.

“The Christian metaphor is the strongest metaphor, a prominent metaphor, but it is one of many, along with Buddhism and Hinduism,” he said. The character of Neo “is Jesus, but he is many other things as well.”

Seay predicts clips from the sequel will soon find their way into sermons across the country.

But Yeffeth said, ” ‘The Matrix’ is not a Christian film.”

“There are a number of Christian parallels, but this is not a film that will satisfy someone who is looking for a truly Christian film, because it is in love with too many different ideas,” he said.

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