Heidegger and Neo: Things I Saw in the Matrix

Spoiler Alert: Anybody who still hasn’t seen The Matrix trilogy and plans to, better not read this yet. I mean… You’ve had 15 years already, but I know people have other things to do.

Before I burned out in college, I read some Heidegger. Who didn’t, right? In my case it was a bit like how I watched “The Matrix” the first time.

In the latter case I had seen no previews & gotten no spoilers. The only thing I knew was that Harris & Klebold had been huge fans, and many parents who hadn’t seen it were philistinically blaming the Wachowskis – alongside Marilyn Manson and Eminem – for the decline of America. Naturally I had to see it.

Morpheus – the charismatic spiritual zealot – scared the shit out of me (apparently also scared Laurence Fishburne on opening night). So did Trinity – the unquestioning, murderous angel at his side. About halfway through, Neo began to scare me even more as he began to embrace the more shadowy elements of Morpheus’ doctrine. Whoever the good guys were, they were being kept hidden from me.

The agents were bad, this we could be sure of; Hugo Weaving is the perfect villain if you need to get across the fact that something cartoonishly evil can still be a serious threat (Red Skull anyone?). And anyone who stands up against tyranny and oppression and stuff is a friend of mine.

But Morpheus was a holy warrior, and calm as a field of poppies; that combination should be terrifying, and it was (just as it was in any video I ever saw of a speech given by Osama Bin Laden). He explained with surgical detachment that killing innocents was permitted under the right circumstances. If you need to know where Morpheus is, just follow the screams.

Trinity was a devoted fury, killing anyone in her path with extreme prejudice. Hesitation meant death.

But even more terrifying were the increasing similarities between Neo (the everyman’s Messiah) and the Agents – movement, speed, environmental control. Most terrifying was that he did not appear to know who he was, despite all this power and good intention. Even as he and Trinity were clearly falling in love as they closed in on their target, I wondered deep down if Neo wasn’t the true villain in this story, whether he knew it or not.

I was of course shocked to learn – after reading “The Thing” twice – that Heidegger was a card-carrying, pin-wearing, flag-waving Nazi. Nothing in what he had written suggested anything but the exact opposite to me. Then I thought “Well, maybe he considered Jews and Gypsies to be Things, with no purpose other than to be emptied out for the good of humanity.” It’s fucked, I know. But what do you want? The guy was a Nazi. Nazis are fucked.

Maybe I’m just a bad judge of character. Neo turned out to be a pretty decent guy in the end, giving his life not only for his people, but for all intelligence – whether animal or digital. It was almost… Thingly.