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Date: 08 July, 2004

Matrix Revelations

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'Matrix Revelations argues passionately that the Matrix films can and do deal with the big questions.'

Is there anything left to say about The Matrix that's not been said before? Perhaps. That if you take every 114th word in the shooting script and juggle them about they reveal the location of Osama B's Atlantis hideout. But apart from the obvious?

The point of this book is not so much to say something new as to draw together what's been said and help fans to think beneath the surface, feasting their brains on a series that has plenty of food for thought.

Like Hollywood's other great spiritual-classic-in-disguise Groundhog Day, The Matrix has been claimed as Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Other (much like God himself). The book quotes Slavoj Zizek (though eccentrically dispensing with the space between his names) who likens it to a Rorschach test, where each viewer sees what is inside themself.

The book's writers (all 8 of them) are Christians, but rather than explaining the "message" of the film (Christian of otherwise), the focus of Matrix Revelations is more on investigating the questions it raises. It's a book of two halves. The first half looks at each of the films individually, and is bookended by a chapter on all the cultural influences that they pay homage to (from Superman's phone booths to John Woo's trenchcoats) and another on the cultual impact of the films.

In the second half, each chapter digs deeper into the philosophical and spiritual ideas that the films play with. After a quick whizz through the basics (Philosophy Room 101), one chapter investigates postmodernism, the writer Tony Watkins picking a fight with postmodern philosopher Jean Bauldrillard over his interpretation of the film. There are other chapters on consciousness and AI, free will, religion, and love and redemption, finally concluding with a "So....." chapter.

If all sounds rather dry and heavy, relax. If the films themselves can examine such issues without putting audiences to sleep (well, the first film anyway) then clearly there's no reason why they have to be boring. The book is all very easy to follow, even without the benefit of car chases and explosions.

Some will wonder whether the writers aren't just taking the whole thing a bit too seriously. Fans of guns and robots say, "It's just a cool sci-fi film. Who cares what philosophy you read into it?" while fans of philosophy often say "It's just a load of guns and robots. You can't do philosophy in a Hollywood sci-fi film, however cool." But Matrix Revelations argues passionately that the Matrix films can and do deal with the big questions.

I'm not entirely convinced. My view is that the first Matrix film was a superb exploration of spiritual themes, and the others weren't. Whether any of them did very much for the world of philosophy I'm not sure.

I was also a little uneasy about the book's religious agenda. I'm all for Christians writing Christian responses to films like the Matrix, or just analysing its ideas for a general audience, but Matrix Revelations seems to want to have it both ways. There's nothing at all about the book to show that it's by or for Christians, it just presents itself as a book about the ideas in The Matrix. But by the end the writers are saying, for example, that life's real answers are not found in the film, and so "The answer is that only by allowing God to change our being..." etc. It seems a bit sneaky and I can well imagine readers who have unsuspectingly followed the book to this point feeling cheated.

Matrix Revelations: A Thinking Fan's Guide to the Matrix Trilogy, ed. Steve "the couch" Couch, Damaris, 2003, 220pp

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