Baptized into the Matrix
The 1999 blockbuster hit The Matrix is a film loaded with symbolism. There are symbolic representations from Gnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, and several old movies, just to name a few. The Wachowski brothers who created the film have shared that most of the symbolism was intentional, but the actual line between intended and accidental may never be drawn. Intended or not, one idea depicted throughout the film in that of Christian baptism. These representations of baptism leave us with the question—what are the links between baptism and The Matrix?
Movies are only made for entertainment, and never have a deeper, philosophical message, right? We are often led to believe that movies are only skin deep and don’t possess any meaning under the surface. Possibly the best example of a motion picture that gives viewers a deeper message is The Matrix. This 1999 blockbuster is loaded with symbolism, no matter what angle the movie is viewed from. The brothers who created the flick have remained relatively quiet when it comes to their movie. The Wachowskis have kept quiet about what influenced them when they created the movie, but it is quite obvious that religion played a role in its creation. Whether it is Buddhism, Gnosticism, or Christianity, one could argue that a certain religion is more prevalent in the movie than another.
No matter the conclusion, one religious aspect that is present is baptism. Baptism can have several different representations, depending on the religion, but the movie contains two parallels to baptism according to the Christian faith.
The first of these scenes takes place when Thomas Anderson is transformed into Neo. It is quite interesting that his new name is Neo, considering that “neo” is the Greek term for “new” (Healy). This transformation begins when Morpheus presents Thomas Anderson with the biggest decision of his life: take the blue pill and return to “normal” life, or step out in faith and take the red pill. Anderson chooses red, and he begins his new life as Neo, leaving his life as Thomas behind. By taking the red pill, he has begun a new life—a life that will last forever within the Matrix.
The same can be said for those who are baptized into the Christian faith. We are all given the choice to be baptized and follow Christ, and in a sense, leave our old life behind. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that “… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!” Isn’t the same true for Neo? By choosing to be in the Matrix, his old self is gone, and a new life has come! Unlike being baptized into the Matrix, baptism in the Christian faith is meant to represent the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When a person is baptized, he or she is completely immersed in water and then raised back out of the water. The immersion can be compared to being buried with Christ after his death, and being raised out of the water is a representation of Christ’s resurrection three days later (Davis 164). Baptism has been an important aspect of the Christian faith since Biblical times, and it’s meaning is still the same today. By being baptized, one makes the choice to start his or her new life as a Christian and to leave their past behind, just as Thomas Anderson left his old life to enter the Matrix.
Back to the pill—is there significance in the fact that the pill to enter the Matrix is red? The answer is yes. The red color of the pill is a representation of the blood Christ shed for those who follow him. In Ephesians it says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). By choosing the red pill, Anderson chooses to receive the benefits the pill could bring him, in accordance with what Morpheus had promised him. The first two words that are spoken after he takes the pill further the point that this scene is a representation of Christian baptism. Morpheus looks at Anderson, who is now Neo, and simply says, “Follow me” (The Matrix). Although Morpheus means it in a more literal way, this is the same command that Christ gives to Christians when they are baptized (Healy). By choosing to become a Christian, the person is also choosing to begin completely following Christ, just as Neo had to choose to completely become a part of the Matrix.
At this point in the movie, Neo begins to experience many drastic changes in his life. After a series of events, he wakes up in a cocoon-like chamber that seems to represent birth. By the movie showing a visual representation of birth, viewers are presented with the idea of his entrance into his new world of the Matrix. Upon leaving the chamber, Neo falls into a body of water below. He struggles to keep his head above water, but he is soon overtaken by it. Once he is completely immersed by the water, the crew’s ship, the Nebuchanezzar, lifts Neo from the water, bringing him to the ship and into the Matrix for the first time (The Matrix). This is the point at which Neo’s new life in the Matrix officially begins. Once he is completely covered in the water, he is baptized into the real world on the Nebuchadnezzar. The same thing happens when a person is baptized.
This series of events is not the only portion of the movie that has many parallels to Christian baptism. The next scene takes place towards the end of the movie when Neo and Trinity make the decision to try to rescue Morpheus from the agents who are trying to kill him. While working their way into the building where Morpheus is being held, the two cause an explosion, which in turn, activates the building’s sprinkler system. This takes place as Morpheus is on the brink of his death. When Neo and Trinity finally get to Morpheus, it is by way of a helicopter. Trinity flies them close to the outside windows of the room where Morpheus is being confined, and Neo uses the chopper’s assault rifle to take care of the agents. During this entire scene, the sprinklers are flooding the room, giving viewers an obvious image of water (The Matrix). This proves to be symbolic considering that water is the key to a Christian baptism. Whose baptism this scene represents, though, is a topic that is quite debatable.
The first candidate for a potential new beginning is Morpheus. When this series of rescue events occur, the chief of the Nebuchadnezzar seems to be on the brink of death. Once the agents are gone, though, he seems to get a new burst of life that allows for his rescue. In Acts, Jesus tells his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:8), which is what happens when a person is baptized. Just as the Holy Spirit can empower us, the Matrix empowered Morpheus.
Morpheus is not the only character who gains new power from this baptism like scene, though. This segment of the movie can also be seen once again as a baptism for Neo. Throughout the course of the entire film, Morpheus and the other crewmembers have been convinced that Neo is “the one.” Neo has convinced himself that this is not true, and has lost hope in the idea of his supremacy. Once Morpheus is rescued, though, Neo is faced with agents standing before him. He is eventually shot, and he is considered dead for a short time. He soon awakens and seems to have new strength that he did not previously possess. Suddenly he can recover from being shot and can stop bullets in mid-air. It took him dying for him to gain the faith that he is “the one” (The Matrix).
Now that Neo knows he possesses these new powers, his life has changed. Just as in baptism, Neo died to his old self, and was resurrected with new powers. Just as new life begins after a person is baptized, Neo began his new life as not only a citizen of the Matrix, but as “the one.” Hollywood films have portrayed a wide array of subjects over the years. Few films have had the symbolism of baptism and Christianity that is present in The Matrix. During an online interview, the Wachowski brothers were asked about how much of the religious symbolism in the movie was intended. Their answer—“Most of it is intentional” (“Chat…”). Intended or not, The Matrix takes us through a major change in a character’s life that seems to have many parallels to Christian baptism. By including these symbolisms of baptism in the movie, viewers have another type of representation for the new life that Neo enters. The symbolism of baptism couldn’t be more appropriate, considering that baptism is a representative of a new life in Christ—a new life that is quite similar to Neo’s new life in the Matrix.
“Chat With the Wachowski Brothers.” What is the Matrix?. Official Matrix Website. 19 Nov. 1999. 7 Dec. 2004. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/cmp/larryandychat.hqtml
Davis, Charles. “Today's Culture and the Meaning of Baptism.” Ecumenical Review; 39.2 Apr. 1987: 163.
Healy, Laura. “The Matrix: Thomas Anderson to Neo… A Simple Illustration of Salvation and The Walk Thereafter.” Tentpeg Ministries. (2002). 29 Nov. 2004. http://www.tentpegmin.org/the_matrix_thomas%20anderson_neo.html
Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
The Matrix. Writ. and Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Prod. Joel Silver. Perf. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers. 1999.