from Film Forum, 06/05/03

The struggle to discern what The Matrix Reloaded is really about is keeping religious press critics busy, just as the original film in the franchise inspired Christians to claim it as a religious allegory.

Peter T. Chattaway (Canadian Christianity) finds that the new film subverts the very messiah-story that led so many believers to celebrate the original. "The Matrix Reloaded may cause Christian fans to rethink their appropriation of Neo's story, not least because the new film seems to undermine the very messianic overtones of the first film. The new film asks whether there is any real difference between Fate and the Matrix—it asks, in effect, whether prophecies and promises of salvation may be just another form of control. Alas, pondering these questions is not as fun as it used to be, since The Matrix Reloaded is basically just one fight scene after another, with little to give them the meaning or narrative purpose that the fight scenes in the first film had."

Jamey Bennett (RazorMouth) praises and defends the film. "Reloaded brings philosophical issues to the forefront of our culture, raising questions of destiny, choice, and purpose."

But Joel McDurmon (RazorMouth) criticizes the film on several counts. First, he argues that the plot offers chaos over coherence. But he's more upset that the film is "the latest cutting edge attempt to subsume Christian ideas under the umbrella of New Age thought … Reloaded is the perfect idol of our generation. Aimed at the teen to young-adult audience, it has the potential to intrude the man-deifying heresies of Gnosticism, pantheism, etc., in the minds of young Christians under the guise of what's cool."

In last week's Dick Staub Interview, Chris Seay, coauthor of The Gospel Reloaded, said, "I cringed when I would hear people say that The Matrix was a Christian film, because of all the other religious traditions that are represented in The Matrix. We need to be really careful though, [because] the majority of the Christian metaphors are actually a Gnostic Christian influence and not really mainstream orthodox Christianity." Still, he concludes, "To leave behind doubt and to embrace faith is really what this movie is about."

Frankly, I found the film more tedious that tantalizing. But I saw it a second time this week in order to get past the sensory overload of its excessive action sequences and concentrate on its philosophical riddles. Reloaded raises more questions than it answers, calling into question whether the Christ-figure is really a messiah at all, whether he is acting with freewill or merely following metaphysical orders, and whether all religions might be merely systems of control that keep us blind and subservient. I have a discomforting suspicion that the film will not conclude that there is any Higher Power worth serving. It seems much more interested in the development of someone "merely human" into some kind of superman rather than emphasizing humanity's need for a savior. Morpheus staggers offscreen, devastated by what he perceives as the failure of his beliefs. But clearly, he must pick up and go on before all is lost. Similarly, Neo scolds one of his fanboy-disciples: "I didn't save you. You saved yourself."

I hope I'm wrong. Where do you think the series is headed?

from Film Forum, 06/26/03

Elsewhere, Charles Colson (Breakpoint) is talking about discernment at the movies. Commenting on The Matrix Reloaded, he says, "The film combines Eastern and Christian concepts in a way that does justice to neither worldview and only serves to confuse the audience."