Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Matrix and Dante

While the movie "The Matrix" was critically praised, the other two films in the Matrix trilogy (The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions) were not as well-received and are now sort of dismissed. I would compare this phenomenon to another trilogy written about 700 years ago…Dante's Divine Comedy. The first part (the Inferno) gets all the praise, while the other two parts (Purgatorio and Paradiso) are less well-known and are often dismissed. Just as I'm a fan of the entire Divine Comedy, I am also a fan of the entire Matrix trilogy.

This comparison between The Matrix trilogy and The Divine Comedy turns out to be more than superficial. Tonight I re-watched watched The Matrix: Revolutions and what struck me this time were several direct references to Dante's old epic.

At the beginning of the film, the hero Neo is stuck in an intermediary realm between the real world and the world of The Matrix. It's an old subway stop at Mobil Avenue. The word "Mobil" is an anagram for "Limbo", which is the first place Dante visits on his journey in The Inferno. It is a place of stagnation, of waiting.

In order to rescue Neo, his three friends Morpheus, Trinity, and Seraph (a reference to a Biblical angel) must fight their way through a dungeon-like "Hell." To reach this place, they take an elevator down, and there is a brief shot of Morpheus pushing a red button that reads "Hell."

After being rescued from Hell, Neo must journey to the heart of the Machine City, a journey through a desolate wasteland that looks and feels an awful lot like Dante's Purgatory. Like Dante, Neo is not alone on his journey. He is accompanied by Trinity, who is there mostly for moral support and guidance, just as Virgil was for Dante.

Interestingly, toward the beginning of his journey through Purgatory, Neo is blinded by the devil-like villain Agent Smith. This is perhaps a reference to the characters Dante meets toward the beginning of Purgatory whose eyes are sewn shut. Trinity, like Virgil, guides the hero through a dark place.

In both The Inferno and Purgatorio, there are a few scenes when Dante is visited by his muse/lover Beatrice to give him light in darkness. There is a moment when Neo and Trinity encounter a barrage of machines on their journey and their only choice is to go up. They fly up above the dark clouds and, for a brief moment, they can see the sun. Trinity, like Beatrice, says, "Beautiful." The chief function of Beatrice, for Dante, is hope. That is Trinity's function as well.

When Neo reaches the Machine City and defeats the devilish agent Smith and sacrifices himself to make peace between the humans and machines, there is a shot of him, arms outstretched, like Christ. The final scene of the film takes place on a sunny day, in which The Oracle (the Holy Spirit), The Architect (God), Seraph, and a small child look toward the sunrise discussing Neo and the peace he achieved. This is Paradise.

I am willing to forgive The Matrix: Revolutions for some cheesy dialogue and so-so acting because the filmmakers clearly were inspired by one of my favorite epics ever…The Divine Comedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment