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Neo's mission

A film character's path reminds us of the struggling and sinewy New Humanity that Jesus embodied

Issue: "Lord of the Rings," Dec. 20, 2003

LIFE IS WHAT I DO BETWEEN TRYING TO DECIDE IF movies have any value in enhancing understanding of the gospel. Conceded: The Matrix Revolutions is more jam-packed with special effects than a political stump speech, the middle third is feminist feel-good pandering, and the whole of it is a string of clichŽs. But for all that, the film got to me.

The first four Christian centuries (to backtrack a bit) were spent arguing about who Jesus is. The divine became human-but how human? You mean really human? Or did God take a body like a hermit crab takes to squatting in a conch shell? Did Jesus have a learning curve? Did He know the experience of ignorance? Of self-discovery? Did He grow in consciousness of His identity and special mission? When Matthew 8:10 tells us Jesus "marveled" at some centurion's reaction, was he genuinely astonished? Hebrews 2:10 says Jesus was made "perfect through suffering." Should we take that literally?

The controversy was settled on paper in a.d. 451 at Chalcedon, but it was never quite settled in the popular imagination. Jesus had two natures, the Council affirmed, being "fully God and fully man ... without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." But something there is that resists seeing Jesus as true man, and His temptations as anything with bite to them. We see a Botticelli Jesus instead: ethereal, coiffed, every pleat in place, above the fray. I am embarrassed that it took the Matrix creators, the Wachowski brothers, to turn the lights on for me to the struggling and sinewy New Humanity that Jesus embodied.

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In the movie, after Neo meets the oracle for the last time, and before he goes to the Machine City, the captain and crew of the ship want to know right away what to do, but Neo has to get away by himself. "And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray" (Mark 6:46), I start thinking. Then Neo sets his face like flint toward the dreaded journey before him, the one for which he was chosen from all eternity. And I sit thinking of the Palestinian who screwed up His courage for a last trip to Jerusalem.

Every man walks the last mile alone. Aslan pulled away from the centaurs and Beavers and Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to talk with the White Witch alone. Neo in the end had no one with him, not even Trinity, love of his life. All fall back in the shadow-dappled garden across the Kidron Valley as the Savior of Zion starts the last leg of His journey sans human companionship, His befuddled and terrified friends scattered like sheep.

I have not been moved by Heinrich Hoffman's famous 1880 Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane the way I was moved at the specter of Neo's beaten form struggling to regain footing in the torrential rain and mean streets of the Matrix, in the climax where the Empty One takes his final stand against the Neo Humanity, the Chosen One, on whose choice the universe dangles.

"Why! Why! Why, Mr. Anderson! Why stand up!" the Evil one shrieks, all facade of sanity now snapped like flax before flame, as hatred and contempt-not unmixed with fear-wax into a crescendo. Smith spews sacrilege at the concepts of love, of virtue, of truth, of every dream of fools for which Mr. Anderson (as he calls Neo) is giving his pathetic life.

I will not be boorish and give away the ending, but it suffices for you to know that the Hollow One, Mr. Smith, now trips the switch of his own undoing by naming the Name he must never name. And from that instant all his magic falls apart. What happens next will make you mumble under your breath, as I did under mine: "He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

After the Reformation the Lutherans kept all the pretty stained glass windows, the Anabaptists banished them, and the Calvinists pushed them out the church door. But the latter group, finding yet some inspiration in the icons, built other housing for them, becoming patrons of the arts.

I found some inspiration in the Matrix finale. Don't get me wrong: Art is only art; Scripture is Scripture. I have outgrown asking much of a movie in terms of evangelism or pre-evangelism. The afterglow of any film has a short half-life with me, in any case. Nevertheless, now and then a picture is a prod to the imagination, a straight shot to the soul. And any art that makes my Savior dearer is a welcome thing.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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