Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Well as I was visiting my friend in America she mentioned she just watched The Matrix for the first time a few days ago (I know, right?) and pointed out how the prophecy the Oracle gives is the same sort of thing they do in Mormon churches. Leaving aside the religious aspect of that (and how she hadn’t seen the sequels or otherwise she’d have realised how much of a backhand compliment that was to her own religion) lets actually look at The Oracle in The Matrix and ask the very simple question: Does choice really matter inside the Matrix? Or, like the world, is that just an illusion as well?
Lets start with the first movie and move on from there. The first meeting with the Oracle perhaps has more symbolism and meaning then most films have in their whole body, but lets focus on the very first things she says:
Oracle: I’d ask you to sit down, but, you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I’m sorry…
Oracle: I said don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?
This right here is where the first flaw in the concept of ‘fate’ rears its ugly head, on that my friend seemingly missed: Do prophecies and the like only become true because we work to make them become true? Or do they happen because the universe allows it to happen? Now the surface answer is â€œwell of course it wouldn’t have broken, it was her saying something that caused the vase to break in the first placeâ€. The Oracle was the one that caused it to happen by saying what she did. So in this view of the story choice does indeed matter. The Oracle chose to say it and as consequence the vase broke. But if she hadn’t said it would Neo still break the vase? What a lot of people tend to miss is her very first line: She tells Neo that he’s not going to sit down. This isn’t a question, or a guess. She accurately predicts that Neo isn’t going to sit down for their meeting. But did Neo want to sit down and chose to stand because she said he was going to stand, or was he always going to stand and she just said it because it was obviously going to happen? So we do have to look at this and wonder if choice exists. I mean we ourselves are not totally free. You could choose not to have the object fall when you drop it, but gravity has a completely different idea in mind. No matter how hard you choose you can’t change the basics: Things fall, time moves on, the fundamental laws of the universe exist in some way. But does that extend to the very actions that we ourselves commit? Are we tied to the universe in such a way that we have no freedom? Well in the real world we have no answers for this, but in The Matrix the rules are pretty clear: Everything the Oracle says in her five minutes of screen-time comes true in some way or another, no exceptions. By trying to go against destiny Neo ends up becoming entrapped in it. He fulfils the prophecy while trying his hardest not to do so. But what is the point of all this?
Well it gets brought up in the later films, but the Oracle is revealed to be a program and the prophecy is meant to be a system of control. For the Matrix to work a certain number of humans have to be free. Rather then just, you know, killing them then and there the machines instead decide to let them think there’s a prophecy foretelling their eventual defeat thanks to The One. However when the time came The One had to reset the Matrix and start the process all over again. If you’re wondering where I’m getting all this from, you know that really confusing scene with the Architect? Yeah that’s what it was getting at. But this does raise even more interesting questions: Is Neo free, or is he a slave to the prophecy the machines created as a means of control? I mean it’s actually quite a critical look at religion in general, claiming it exists as a way of keeping people in place and stop them revolting (hence why I found it even more hilarious when my Mormon friend compared it favourably to her religion). So is Neo free? The movie points out yes because this time round, The One has fallen in love and chooses to break the cycle to save her. Very touching, very fitting, kinda confusing if you’re not a philosophy major. In fact a lot of the more irrelevant scenes start to make sense when you get the general underlying theme (in other words it explains the Indian program in the train station doing what he does for love, highlighting the message of the film). So Neo breaks the cycle and has his own free will, right?
Well if I can get on my nice, well-worn soapbox for a moment: Anyone who believes in prophecies or by extension fate fundamentally fails at logic and critical thinking. Because I’ve yet to see an accurate prophecy in the real world that was also specific. Take Trinity’s prophecy in The Matrix: She reveals that she’d fall in love with The One and that he would die. Well I hate to break it to you dear reader but if you fall in love with someone they will die… as will you… and every other living being on this planet. Therein lies the problem. I could say something really, really vague like that and seem like I’m predicting the future. In fact my favourite joke at parties is to claim to see the future and predict that â€œAt some point, it will rainâ€ or â€œYou will age in a linear forward fashionâ€. Generic claims that cannot be proven wrong due to them being related to the fundamental rules of the universe. Much the same can be said for those so-called ‘psychics’ that can see the future. Believe it or not as a laugh I have had my future read out to me. Most of it was generic stuff that could be interpreted in any way… which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant for me. Same goes with astrology and the star signs in newspapers. Most of the time it’s so generic that you can easily apply it to your everyday life. So does this relate to The Matrix in any way?
As I said, what happens in The Matrix is foretold by the Oracle… but in such a way that one could argue it’s very vague about what is happening. The Oracle predicts that Neo would become The One in his next life. In the film Neo dies and comes back to life, becoming The One. So does that mean the Oracle correctly predicted it, or are we reading into the situation too closely? Likewise it’s Neo who says he’s not The One, not The Oracle. He is the one that comes to that conclusion based on how she led him on. If Neo had rejected the Oracle’s leading-on, would he still have been The One? Or would he still need to die? At the end of the day did Neo choose in a way to break the vase, or was the vase always going to break and Neo was just a pawn of the universe? The film makes an argument for both cases. It shows that everything is pre-destined and the future is in flux. That there are rules and they can be broken. But does choice actually exist in The Matrix? Well, who can tell. Does it really exist in our world either?
So there you have it. A rambling look at The Matrix and how it defines the concept of choice. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.