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The Matrix, Religion, and Philosophy

Christianity, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Philosophy & Skepticism

The Matrix, a wildly popular film that has been followed by an equally popular sequel, is often regarded (well, except for some critics) as a very "deep" film, tackling difficult subjects not commonly the focus of Hollywood's efforts. Is it, however, also a religious film - a film embodying religious subjects and transcendental values?

Many people believe exactly that - they see in The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded reflections of their own religious doctrines. Some perceive Keanu Reeve's character as analogous to the Christian Messiah, others see him as analogous to a Buddhist bodhisattava. But are these movies genuinely religious in nature, or is this common perception more maya than reality - more an illusion created by our own desires and prejudices? In other words, is the story of illusion in The Matrix creating its own illusions?

The Matrix as a Christian Film
Because Christianity is the predominant religious tradition in the United States, it is only natural that Christian themes and interpretations of The Matrix will also be dominant in discussions about this film series. The presence of Christian ideas in the the Matrix films is simply undeniable, but does this allow us to conclude that The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded are Christian movies? Warning: This section contains spoilers for the Matrix: Reloaded. Read with caution.

The Matrix as a Gnostic Film
Perhaps the idea that The Matrix is basically a Christian film stretches things a bit too far, but there are arguments that The Matrix has a stronger basis in Gnosticism and Gnostic Christianity. Gnosticism shares many basic ideas with orthodox Christianity, but there are also important differences between the two that make Gnosticism closer to the principles expressed in these films. Warning: This section contains spoilers for the Matrix: Reloaded. Read with caution.

The Matrix as a Buddhist Film
Although the presence of Christian themes is strong in The Matrix, the influence of Buddhism is equally powerful and evident. Indeed, the basic philosophical premises that drive major plot points would be nearly incomprehensible without a little background understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist doctrines. Does this force the conclusion that The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded are Buddhist movies?

The Matrix: Religion vs. Philosophy
There are good arguments against The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded being Christian or Buddhist movies, but it remains undeniable that there are powerful religious themes running throughout these films. Or is it really undeniable? The presence of such themes are the reason why many believe that these are fundamentally religious movies, even if they cannot be identified with any one particular religious tradition. Yet perhaps this conclusion is not so well founded after all.

The Matrix & Skepticism
One of the basic philosophical themes of the Matrix movies is skepticism - specifically, philosophical skepticism that questions the nature of reality and whether we can ever actually know anything at all. This theme is played out in the conflict between the "real" world where humans are struggling to survive in a war against the machines and the "simulated" world where humans are plugged into computers in order to serve the machines. Or is it? Warning: This section contains spoilers for the Matrix: Reloaded.

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