Continuing on our look through overarching themes, we thought we would look at Neo’s evolution through the duration of the first film and compare it to that of a spiritual aspirant.
Step 1: The thirst
“A splinter in your mind, driving you insane”. When Morpheus meets Neo for the first time, he provides a glimpse into the driving force that has led Neo to him. While Neo may not have known much about the true nature of the Matrix till that point, there has been some unknown voice in his head telling him that knowing more about the Matrix is important. Morpheus suggests that this urge to know more has dogged Neo, becoming increasingly urgent and difficult to ignore.
The genesis of spiritual journeys across philosophies and geographies has often lain in moments where either due to adversity or curiosity or some other reason, a spark is ignited in the minds of individuals. Where in the past, that spark might have died away, in this instance, it appears to light a fire which has been lying dormant, possibly covered by the debris of worldly matters. Once the fire is lit, the aspirant is nearly compelled to seek answers to “the question”.
Step 2: Seeking answers
Neo’s desire to know more about the Matrix is linked in his mind to Morpheus even before Morpheus explicitly discusses the nature of the Matrix. Neo knows in his heart that Morpheus is the key to unlocking the secret of the Matrix. Thus he plays the role of a spiritual aspirant who seeks a “true” guru, i.e., one who has true knowledge and is willing to share it. To Morpheus though, Neo is more than just any disciple of course. Morpheus believes Neo can do something that he himself cannot. In that sense Morpheus feels that Neo can excel beyond Morpheus’ achievements.
Step 3: Finding the path
Exactly how Morpheus finds Neo is a bit unclear but once he does, Neo is drawn to Morpheus as he seeks to understand what the Matrix is, and Morpheus makes an implicit promise to reveal the true nature of the Matrix.
Morpheus takes on a guru-like role with the intention of not just making Neo understand the Matrix and its limitations, but to truly believe in it so that when he is inside the Matrix, he can do nearly anything because he can manipulate the Matrix to suit his needs. Morpheus makes it clear that he can only show Neo the path and that Neo must walk on it by himself.
Step 4: Reaching the goal
When Neo rises from the dead and finally sees the true nature of the Matrix, he achieves his goal and stops bullets in mid-air because he has gained control over the program. While the Matrix is not directly comparable to God because it isn’t a creating entity (and for other reasons), the Hindu interpretation of God as intelligent consciousness which pervades every molecule of the physical universe, is a parallel concept. Thus Neo’s mastery over the Matrix represents achievement of self-realisation and unity of the individual consciousness with the universal one.
Each of these steps will be the subject of closer scrutiny as we go through The Matrix in greater detail. Let us begin our journey of discovery through the movie.