The Many Meanings of The Matrix

Lana Wachowski Aesthetic, Art & Creativity, Audio, Cognitive, Conversations, Creative, Editor's Picks, Free, Perspectives 4 Comments

BIO-Wachowski“You make a work of art, and you want it to be provocative, you want people to dialogue about it. You don’t want them to rely on somebody to tell them what it is. It’s like, the whole nature of the movie is exactly that — inspect it and pursue it yourself.”Lana Wachowski

Larry and Andy Wachowski, the writers and directors of The Matrix trilogy, have been reluctant to share their interpretation of the films from day one, fearing that whatever they said would turn into dogma. However, this did present a problem for Warner Brothers when producing The Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD boxed set. How do you have a director’s commentary—a must for any boxed set—when the directors refuse to comment?

What the Wachowskis did was to ask Ken Wilber and Cornel West to do the director’s commentary on all 3 films. The following dialogue was recorded right before Ken flew to LA to meet with Larry and Cornel and do the recorded commentary. Ken and Cornel recorded 15 hours of commentary, which has been edited down to 6 hours to fit the 3 films, and the boxed set with all 3 films—and 6 hours of Ken and Cornel’s commentary—will be released in October.

In the following dialogue, for the first time ever, we are lucky enough to hear Larry publicly comment on this situation. As he explains, the movies were in many ways designed not to give answers, but to introduce questions. What does it mean to be human? What is reality? Who is in control? Does God exist? and so on. If he was to explain what he thought the movies meant, he would be providing people with another concept of reality to either accept or reject—either way, the open space created by the question would vanish.

“The whole key to The Matrix trilogy is given in the last twenty minutes of the third film….”

The Matrix injected mainstream culture with a straight shot of the surreal, where fact and fiction and truth and appearance are not grounded in a single pre-given “reality,” because reality is simply what appears to be real. In a dream, the dream is real—until you wake up. In the Matrix, the Matrix is real—until you wake up. But what if you never woke up? It’s questions like that that Larry wished to inspire, and he certainly succeeded.

As Ken points out, the first movie is fairly easy to grok: everything in the Matrix is bad, everything outside of the Matrix is good. Everyone inside the Matrix is trapped, everyone outside the Matrix is free, and so on. But twenty minutes into part 2, Reloaded, and the audience discovers that the Oracle is a program, at which point most people go: um, what?

What had begun as a simple good guy/bad guy movie had just become a complex piece of literature, with different levels of interpretation and a very sophisticated model of reality. Ken suggests that it’s not until the last twenty minutes of part 3, Revolutions, that the key to the trilogy is revealed: although—and perhaps because—Neo is physically blind, he sees the machines as luminous, golden light—not quite how the “bad guys” are seen in most movies. And yet Neo is unmistakable in what he says to Trinity: “If you could see them as I see them, they are all made of Light….” Indeed, the machines represent Spirit, but Spirit as alienated and therefore attacking….

Thus, as Ken summarizes a more integral interpretation (that takes into account what is revealed in all three films), Zion represents body (filmed in blue tint), the Matrix represents mind (green tint), and the machines—this is the kicker revealed in part 3—represent spirit (golden tint). For those of you keeping track, this is indeed quite similar to the Great Nest of Being as taught by the world’s wisdom traditions, a spectrum of being and consciousness reaching from body to mind to spirit.

Borrowing from the wisdom of Christian mysticism, “The flames of Hell are but God’s love denied,” and so an alienated and dissociated spirit manifests as an army of machines bent on destroying humankind. It is only in the integration of body, mind, and spirit that all three are redeemed and peace returns.

Ken and Larry go on to discuss their shared lifelong passion for philosophy. As Ken points out, Larry is just about as philosophically/spiritually well read as anyone you’re likely to find, and The Matrix films are a stunning tribute to that fact. Larry said that when he found Ken’s work, “It was like Schopenhauer discovering the Upanishads.” Ken said that was grandiose enough to quote. Whereas Ken’s books have been known to disrupt many a happy home (my spouse won’t shut up about quadrants!), Larry’s love of philosophy seems to run in the family: Larry and his father are reading Sex, Ecology, Spirituality together. Tres cool!

This dialogue is meant to highlight what a more integral view of interpretation involves. In chapters 4 and 5 of The Eye of Spirit, Ken suggests that any work of art can be interpreted from at least four or five major perspectives, none of which is privileged, all of which are important. These include: the artist’s original intent (what did the artist himself or herself mean by this artwork?); unconscious factors in the artist; the cultural background of the artist; and the viewer response (what does the artwork mean to different viewers of the artwork?).

The Wachowskis did not want their own original intent to overpower the equally legitimate viewer response, and so they remained thunderously silent about their original intent. But, as this dialogue makes clear, Larry feels that perhaps the time is now ripe for some more integral interpretations of The Matrix trilogy that include all of those perspectives, which is why he and Ken have begun having these types of more public dialogues and commentaries. There is no single, definitive interpretation of The Matrix, because the sum total of perspectives is infinite. But there are more integral and less integral interpretations, and the integral interpretations—up to this point—have been getting the short end of the stick, something this dialogue is intended to end.

Once again, we are proud to present a conversation you will truly hear nowhere else. We hope you enjoy the show….

Lana Wachowski

About Lana Wachowski

Lana Wachowski grew up as Laurence Wachowski with younger sibling Lilly. The two entered filmmaking as screenwriters and directed 1996's Bound before going on to helm the groundbreaking Matrix trilogy. They later produced V for Vendetta and directed the films Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas as well as helming the Netflix series Sense8. Lana has also become a lauded spokesperson for transgender rights.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

Notable Replies

  1. The quality of the recording is not good enough for me follow the conversation. Is there any other way to hear the directors commentary by Ken Wilber and Cornel West than tot buy the DVD?

  2. I ran across this video yesterday.
    It’s a bit exaggerated (because that’s what the algorithm demands, lol)
    But if you screen through the exaggeration, hype, and constant repetition of Mark Zuckerberg’s name - it does present a sobering reality - where the majority of society is headed towards a kind of Matrix like dystopian existence.
    What is maybe left out or just understood among anyone involved in various gaming cultures - is what is going on in the MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) gaming industry where people are willing to fork out thousands of dollars for digital equipment, homes or even companions. There is also a gambling loophole because you can gamble for these things using something that is not money (but does need to be purchased with real money). For example, in Elder Scrolls Online you purchase decks of cards with real money and get a chance to win special mounts, costumes, etc that are only available through this gambling method. I myself never gamble, but there are people who get addicted to wanting these special digital items and literally spend thousands of dollars trying to get some unique digital pixels.
    Then also left out is that with COVID, it is now becoming the norm for people to work virtually - so industry will also be a part of this Matrix and in order to be employed you will have to pay a subscription and buy a digital suit, digital vehicle, and digital office and apartment.

    The reality is getting to be pretty insane as Gaming industry exploitation strategies meet social media and virtual worlds.
  3. Isn’t it so odd that they are trying to build the metaverse from Snow Crash, by acting like the one-dimensional antagonist from Ready Player One? They are trying to dominate the space before it even has a chance to emerge. I really hope a different VR company is able to out-compete. I would trust Steam with the metaverse far more than I would trust the Zuck :slight_smile:

  4. What Facebook needs to do in their next step of Global Domination is acquire a premier MMO Game Development company. These games are actually designed now from the bottom up with the primary intent to create addictive behavior that will result in purchase of virtual property and / or “work”. It was a moment of revelation to me a few years ago when I realized that I was logging in daily or even twice daily just to do some “chores” (daily quests that are basically not fun and very repetitive) in order to get some reward daily that would stack up and give a larger reward later.

    Here is a video about how Sid Meyers kind of accidentally discovered the formula for making games addictive. It involves having immediate short term goals intertwined with mid term achievements and long term achievements.

    That was over 20 years ago and modern game design has gotten much more sophisticated in integrating these addictive models into monetization.

    These trends in game design in my judgement become more nefarious when we look at the aspirations of companies like Facebook to make virtual worlds an increasingly significant part of our social life. How simple it would be to trade out daily quests for a bit of data entry or other virtual work. If you log in twice a day and do a half hour of work, after 3 months you get a special virtual item that gives you status in the virtual world but has no real actual value outside in the real world. It does not exist except as an entry in a database and some pixels on the screen.

    Here is a good look at the darker side of game design - in very factual and data-driven analyses.

    and here:

    Proteus, the mythical sea god who could alter his appearance at will, embodies one of the promises of online games: the ability to reinvent oneself. Yet inhabitants of virtual worlds rarely achieve this liberty, game researcher Nick Yee contends. Though online games evoke freedom and escapism, Yee shows that virtual spaces perpetuate social norms and stereotypes from the offline world, transform play into labor, and inspire racial scapegoating and superstitious thinking. And the change that does occur is often out of our control and effected by unparalleled—but rarely recognized—tools for controlling what players think and how they behave.

    Using player surveys, psychological experiments, and in-game data, Yee breaks down misconceptions about who plays fantasy games and the extent to which the online and offline worlds operate separately. With a wealth of entertaining and provocative examples, he explains what virtual worlds are about and why they matter, not only for entertainment but also for business and education. He uses gaming as a lens through which to examine the pressing question of what it means to be human in a digital world. His thought-provoking book is an invitation to think more deeply about virtual worlds and what they reveal to us about ourselves.

    Our insistence that these worlds are just games have blinded us to how much work is really being done in these worlds. These environments use a rewards cycle to train players to perform well. Over time, players are seduced to “play” industriously for 20 hours a week. Players who become pharmaceutical manufacturers or guild leaders often complain that their “fun” has become like a second job. And along come “sweatshops” from developing countries with the sole purpose of generating profit from these environments. By labeling these worlds as games, we in fact fail to see how they have blurred the boundaries between work and play

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