In the first Matrix, there seems to be a running consensus that Neo is supposed to be like Jesus Christ; He is going to save the world. I would have to disagree with that theory. Neo differs from the legend of Jesus in that he starts off as a criminal, becomes enlightened, and then seeks to enlighten everyone else. Jesus starts off perfect, remains perfect, and then dies to save everyone. Rather, I’d like to suggest that the movie represents something much larger in scope.
First, let me describe some of the similarities between Jesus and Neo. Jesus was supposed to have been prophesied, as Neo was too. Jesus was a catalyst in human history, as is Neo. People look to Jesus as a great hope. As is apparent by the reactions of people Neo encounters, the same for is true for him. And of course there is Trinity, of which Christianity is known for. Note here that Trinity is not Neo.
Neo isn’t like Jesus because from the beginning, Neo is something of an outlaw. He hacks into computers, searching for someone named Morpheus and learns of the Matrix. He later learns that the world he has come to know is false, and now he seeks to “free people’s minds”.
I think the Matrix itself represents the whole of human society, and the agents are the governments, corporations, or other power brokers of the world who wish to keep the status quo intact, they are the ones that serve to benefit from a population that doesn’t know there’s another world. I am also going to suggest that the characters on board the hover ship Nebuchadnezzar represent various religions and philosophies of the world.
Mouse, for example, represents ethical egoism and perhaps nihilism. In response to jokes about him being a digital pimp, Mouse says, “To deny our own impulses, is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”
Mouse is the first main character to die in the film and I think this is representative of weaknesses in both ethical egoism and nihilism. Obviously, denying one’s impulses is probably what separates us from the animals and defines us as humans. His death is interesting, too. A wall forms around him and he is trapped, caught by surprise as he is gazing at the woman in the red dress (his own creation, by the way) and is systematically blown away by the police. A fitting death for a nihilist, perhaps even a likely one. It can possibly be seen as a symbolic statement against philosophies like nihilism; even with a wall around you the world (even if it is a fake one) will do you in.
Without wanting to get into further detail about other lesser characters, let me discuss the major ones instead and what they mean to each other. Morpheus, in Greek mythology, is the god of dreams and sleep. I think he represents just that, he is like a gateway to another world. Morpheus is the one who got Trinity to reach the real world, and of course Neo. Morpheus himself doesn’t represent a religion; he is more like a gateway. In the movie, the agents capture him and they try to hack into him because he holds the password keys to Zion, the last human city. What the agents did was akin to attacking a castle. They were trying to open the gateway to their enemy, the pesky folk who threaten the way of life they provided to the masses.
Trinity represents Christianity, a religion based on the belief that one man was God. Perhaps what the movie is suggesting is that Jesus Christ himself was enlightened, becoming aware of the real world, but the religion that followed him lost touch with that. This losing touch with Jesus’ enlightenment is the downfall of Christianity. In the second movie Trinity dies, but is resurrected, and then she dies again in the third one for a final time. Of course, her name itself is the give away, as the Trinity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity.
Finally, Neo represents a philosophy/religion that did not lose touch with what its founder came to realize; that the entirety of the world is One. I am speaking of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. True, later versions of Buddhism may have become slightly scrambled versions of what Siddhartha originally said, but they nonetheless remained true to the path of enlightenment. Perhaps that’s why Neo’s name can be unscrambled (or re-scrambled) to read One. It’s also important to note that Buddhism is considered both a philosophy and a religion.
I think the choice of Buddhism is significant, because Buddha represents the complete freedom of the mind, and that is why he is able to do so much in the Matrix. His death in the first Matrix symbolizes not Jesus’ resurrection, but Siddhartha’s own moment of enlightenment, being that they both discover that they are One.
I think the later movies in the Matrix series, and even his death, seek to prove Buddha’s view that everything is One, or that they are all part of one thing. We see that Neo can exercise his abilities in the real world, and that the agents are able to exist in the real world, too, albeit in the guise of another person. It appears that the Matrix and the real world are also one.
In conclusion, the Matrix is a movie about how various religions and philosophies duke it out in the battle to get “free minds”. We get glimpses of some of the major religions and philosophies in the characters of the movie, but for some reason the storywriter seems to prefer Buddhism.
Of course, I can’t deny the fact that there are many variations on how a movie like the Matrix can be interpreted.