Doctoral student Josh Alexander saw "The Matrix" in 1999 purely for entertainment. He left the theater not only feeling amused but contemplating the sci-fi film. Like millions of other viewers, he realized the movie's deeper than its innovative special effects.\nSince its release, college professors, students and other fans have pondered, ripped apart and scrutinized the movie's dense messages relating to philosophy, religion and ethics. Books, scholarly articles and college courses have pondered the philosophical thoughts: Is Neo a Christ-like character? Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? What's real and what's virtual? \nEven the actors had to pick up academic reading -- Keanu Reeves reportedly had to read French social theorist's Jean Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation."\n"Intro to Ethics (class) and every intro to philosophy class will deal with issues raised in 'The Matrix,'" says Sandra Shapshay, a visiting professor in IU's philosophy department who has used the film in class. "I encourage all 'Matrix' fans to take some philosophy. You'll love it."\nIn "The Matrix," a team of rebels tries to convince Neo (played by Reeves) that he is "The One" who must save the world from machines that steal humans' energy while forcing them to believe they live freely. In the sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded," which was released last week, Neo and the rebels try to save Zion, the last free city in the real world, from the machines. \nThe release of "The Matrix Reloaded" has only added to the pile of philosophical questions, leaving scholars and other fans hungry for answers in the final chapter, "The Matrix Revolutions," which opens in November. Until then, moviegoers have to remain satisfied unraveling mysteries from the trilogy's first two parts. \nProfessor Jonathan Weinberg has applied examples from "The Matrix" to the theory of knowledge in an introductory philosophy class at IU. He has shown the scene where Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) explains the Matrix as a world where machines feed humans artificial stimulations, although they are actually imprisoned. Weinberg has related the scene to the thoughts of philosopher René Descartes, who theorized an evil demon could be making him think he has arms and legs when he really has no appendages.\nAlexander also relates Descartes's theories to "The Matrix." He recently showed the film to an introductory philosophy class at IU-Purdue University Columbus. The students are using examples from the movie to argue about Descartes's philosophical ideas in discussions and papers. \n"Philosophical writing has its own style," Alexander says. "It's also writing from the 1600s. It's translated very well, but they will use 'The Matrix' as a means to make Descartes more vivid to them."\nDescartes's "Dream Argument," which claims people should doubt what's happening because they could be dreaming it, comes up frequently in "The Matrix," Alexander says. Neo, for example, questions whether he dreamed evil agents implanted a bug in his body.\nThe films also tackle issues of ethics. In class, Shapshay has referred to "The Matrix" when debating whether happiness is the greatest value. Those who think it is the best value would choose "a life of bliss" in the matrix over the "terrible" real world, Shapshay says. This issue was shown in "The Matrix" when Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) chooses to leave the real world for the comfort of the Matrix, she said.\nScholars have also studied religious symbolism in "The Matrix." Some say Neo is a Christ figure who is the chosen one to save Zion. With character names like Morpheus and Persephone, mythology plays a large role too.\nThe movies' official Web site (www.whatisthematrix.com) also takes a stab at defining the mysterious issues. More than a dozen scholars have posted articles about subjects, such as whether living in the Matrix is actually OK, Plato's cave and "The Matrix" and Buddhism in "The Matrix."\n"The Matrix Reloaded" seems to ask more questions than it answers, and its philosophical messages are less clear than those in the original film, Weinberg says. The sequel, for example, doesn't answer if Neo and the rebels can make their own choices and shape their own future.\nBecause of the lack of clarity in "The Matrix Reloaded," many inquisitive fans anticipate the third installment, "The Matrix Revolutions," for resolution.\n"I definitely have the intention to see it on opening weekend," says Kelsey Rinella, a doctoral student studying philosophy and cognitive science. "I don't think it will be able to answer all the questions I have, like about the meaning of life. But I don't expect movies to answer that"
Get stories like this in your inboxSubscribe