Messiah complex

2 Jul

Enjoying my vacation in Arizona. I’ve spent most of my time relaxing and watching movies. Mostly movies on cable, since I’m trying to get some work done on my novel and who wants to venture out into the 110-degree heat, anyway?

But I have gone out twice now to the movie theater, once to see “Matrix 2” and then again to see “Terminator 3”. I can’t think of the last time I went to a newly-released movie on opening day, but since I’m on vacation, I can hit the less-crowded morning matinee. Plus I had the probably not-coincidental good fortune to catch both “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” on cable this week before Wednesday, so I was pretty primed for T3.

And I have to say, it was pretty satisfying. “Satisfying” means it didn’t end like T2 did, with this big time-paradox in which a cyborg comes back from the future and helps change history so that the technology that created him is never developed. In “T3”, they bit the bullet and went through with Judgement Day, and John Connor’s life is spared by someone from the present time for reasons that have nothing to do with him becoming the future leader of the post-apocalyptic human rebellion.

I guess most people watch the Terminator movies for the action sequences and cool special effects. I find the long drawn out car chases and crashes and explosions monotonous myself. Another car is crushed. Another building crumbles. Yet another car is crushed. Yet another building crumbles. *Yawn*, we get it, the evil Terminator is evil. Most humans are stupid. *Yawn*

The same goes with the fight sequences in The Matrix, which I’ll talk about in a minute. I actually had to pee pretty bad while watching Matrix 2 and chose one of those 15-minute fight sequences to do it. You don’t miss anything having to do with the plot.

What I enjoy most about the Terminator movies is their exploration of destiny and the Messiah archetype and the psychological effect foreknowledge of one’s role in destiny can have. I think the Messiah archetype is my favorite literary archetype. Or, I should say, the “I’m not the Messiah yet” archetype–the exploration of a future savior’s early life, when s/he is dealing with a destiny that hasn’t happened yet. But it’s just as interesting to me if they don’t know their destiny, either, and yet they have this destiny all the same.

And it’s not just about good Messiahs, but evil ones as well. My favorite moment in the movie “Damien: The Omen 2” is when Damien finds the number 666 tattooed on his scalp. He’s been told by the people around him that he is the anti-Christ, and he doesn’t want to believe it. He doesn’t want that destiny. Then he finds the tattoo and that, along with some other evidence, clinches it for him He IS the anti-Christ. He runs outside crying in despair and resistance. An emotionally stunning moment. Eventually, he accepts his identity, even embraces it. But it’s that time before hand, the early life of the Messiah before s/he faces the moment(s) of destiny, that fascinates me. I remember getting goose bumps the first time I laid eyes on teeny-bopper John Connor in “Terminator 2”, and it wasn’t because I thought Eddy Furlong was cute (a buffed-out Linda Hamilton, on the other hand–that wasn’t rivaled until Faith did pull-ups in “Salvage”).

I suppose that’s what originally turned me on about the character of Connor on Angel. He was this child of miraculous birth (which is a cool archetype in itself), and seemed to be a key part of the Nyazian prophecy “that would bring about the ruination or purification of Mankind”. I thought at the time (during the pregnant Darla arc in S. 3) that he was brought into being by the PTBs to serve some sort of important world-saving destiny. And I suppose that turned out to be true, more or less. Jasmine, a PTB, arranged for his conception. But in the end, the important thing he did to save the world was to kill Jasmine, his creator, to save the human race from her wrath after daddy Angel dethroned her.

But that doesn’t really count as Connor’s “destiny” in the sense that I am looking for, because ME had originally planned for Cordelia to wake up and kill Jasmine. Connor got to do it as a consolation prize. Then they write him off the show. So much for that big prophecy about the death of Sahjhan, huh?

The whole thread of prophecy and destiny in BtVS and Angel never bugged me, because I think destiny is a cool concept. Especially, as I said, when one’s destiny is something important and world-changing. I am not one of those people who thinks destiny takes away anything important in free will, because I’m not so sure our will is really all that free. As somebody put it once, “We are free to be the people that we are”. We have personality traits, and life experiences and people around us, and events around us that shape how we will act. The Messiah has the destiny s/he has because of the kind of person they are—brave, a leader, willing to fight the odds—and because of the dire circumstances they find themselves in, which aren’t entirely their choice.

This is what was cool about Terminator 3. John end up in the bomb shelter where he will survive the coming nuclear war, but he had gone there to stop the war, not wait it out. Circumstances beyond his control shaped his future.

This brings me to the Matrix, which is a completely different take on the Messiah archetype. In the first movie, you get a pretty standard Messiah story. Here is this evil world run by machines, and there is this oracle, who we assume is human, who tells the human rebels that a Messiah will come and save the human race from their enslavement. It’s destiny. Neo arrives on the scene, and it seems obvious to some that he is this long-anticipated Messiah.

As Rob on ATPo pointed out, though, Matrix 2 throws this completely on its head. It turns out that the oracle is a program, part of the Matrix itself, and that Neo’s skills and abilities, perhaps even some of his choices, are programs that have been written into the Matrix. Neo is human, but the creator of the Matrix is using him for “his” own purposes. As I understand it, and this movie is way too complex to digest on one viewing, the “Matrix” has been re-built six times. It took six tries to create a computer-generated reality that would be believable to the human minds forced to live in it. The first Matrix world was too perfect and none of the humans believed it was real. They rebelled. In fact, every time a Matrix world was created, humans eventually discovered its flaws and rebelled.

So the creator of the Matrix decided to program that rebellion into the machine-dominated world itself. It chose a human to become “The One” and gave him the skills to discover his world was false and to eventually escape and return to the Matrix to fight. Neo is horrified to discover that his role as “The One” isn’t some spiritual destiny that proves humans are better than machines and that we will fight the machines and win. He is “The One” because the machine world arranged for him to play a role in their more “realistic” scenario. Humans will rebel against the Matrix, the creator of the Matrix has accepted that, and built it into the machine-dominated world a cycle of re-creations of the Matrix, all with chosen “Ones” and Zion cities built and then destroyed.

This is the kind of “destiny” that people should be scared of. John Connor knew his destiny because people came back in time and told him. Nevertheless, his destiny will play out because of the kind of man he is, a good man who had a higher respect for individual human lives than even his mother/mentor had, and who survived the coming war through no choice of his own.

Neo, on the other hand, is a pawn in a giant game. One Messiah in an endless circular chain of machine-generated Messiahs. So you can almost predict what “Matrix 3” will be about. It will be about Neo ending this repeating cycle and claiming the world for humans once and for all, and if and when Neo does this, it will be not out of any sort of “destiny” at all. But it will come out of the kind of person he is. The personality traits within him that exist beyond the programming.

13 Responses to “Messiah complex”

  1. angeyja July 2, 2003 at 8:28 pm #

    very nice post, Masq… and glad to hear you’re enjoying the vaca, though naturally have missed reading your entries…
    Is it also a possibility that Neo will be claiming the world for both humans and AI? I’m thinking of the the scene with the Councillor in part…

  2. neshaffer July 2, 2003 at 9:52 pm #

    Like I said…
    I’d have to watch Matrix 2 again before I really understand what’s going on. A lot of what gets explained is in jargon and goes by so fast.
    It’s like these people who post about “BtVS” or “Angel” the night the episode airs or even the next morning. How do they comprehend the whole episode so well so fast? I have to watch it in scrutinizing detail and think about it for days before I know what’s going on and can do my analyses.

  3. scrollgirl July 2, 2003 at 10:29 pm #

    Hey Masq, hope you’re having fun visiting your parents! I too have been watching movies, though I’m not doing anything as ambitious as analysing the Messiah archetypes portrayed 😉 I actually haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, have no plans to see them, and didn’t even get to finish watching the first Matrix.
    But I’m fascinated by the idea of the computers writing a saviour and a rebellion into the Matrix itself. It makes sense, because “The One” acts as a release valve. He lets off the pressure, the pressure the humans undoubtly feel and which would lead to rebellion no matter what, but with “The One” as a safety valve, it’s like letting out steam in a controlled manner. So that even when the humans rebel, it’s still within the confines of the Matrix programme. Diabolical!

  4. oyceter July 2, 2003 at 11:43 pm #

    Ooooo, now I’m getting convinced that T3 is worth watching after all. I was a huge fan of T2 when I watched it in high school — ruminations on fate, free will, and, er, large explosions. Didn’t like the first one that much because Sarah Connor annoyed me in it. But man was she kickass in the second. I am still kind of leery getting into T3 because Cameron isn’t doing it and, er, I really really really liked Sarah Connor. And she is not in this one =(.
    I loved Matrix 2 because it turned the destiny/fate/Messiah tale upside down in a horrible twist that’s almost the exact opposite of Buffy’s move against destiny in Chosen. While Buffy’s choice hopefully frees people, Neo gets to find out that really, he’s not special. I kind of want to have something where Agent Smith is a One or something because he’s obviously the dark counterpart of Neo, a machine that can get out of the system and is somehow infected with human free will.

  5. angeyja July 3, 2003 at 5:33 am #

    Re: Like I said…
    I know. I’m not one of them you know… I think (but I’m not the best person for this) that with this movie it’s more… the compelling of the question amongst and audience that normally wouldn’t…
    Trinity: Hello Neo.
    Neo: How do you know that name?
    Trinity: I know a lot about you.
    Neo: Who are you?
    Trinity: My name is Trinity.
    Neo: Trinity. The Trinity? That cracked the IRS d-base?
    Trinity: That was a long time ago.
    Neo: Jesus.
    Trinity: What?
    Neo: I just thought, um…you were a guy.
    Trinity: Most guys do.
    Neo: It you on my computer. How did you do that?
    Trinity: Right now all I can tell you is that you’re in danger. I brought you here to warn you.
    Neo: Of what?
    Trinity: They’re watching you, Neo.
    Neo: Who is?
    Trinity: Please just listen. I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing. I know why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night you sit at your computer. You’re looking for him. I know, because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us mad. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question just as I did.
    Neo: What is the Matrix?
    And the second movie questions the first. I wish I could go back and watch it again for the first time. Just for that stop-time feeling I only get the first time I see something and only if I’m engaged in a way of having let go, which almost never happens any more and which was the opposite of how I intended to watch the movie, having saturated myself in readings about the first.
    The brothers are a little different. I’m intrigued. And glad it’s not too terribly long until the last one.
    Did I mention I’ve missed you? 🙂

  6. neshaffer July 3, 2003 at 8:47 am #

    Terminator
    You really should check out the “Terminator” series. It sounds like a big testosterone-fest, but it really is a lot more than action/fighting scenes. My favorite “Terminator” movie is the first one, because at the core of the movie is the romance between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, John’s parents.
    The second movie turns around a mother’s love for her son and their need to protect each other from danger and from their destiny.
    The third movie has a kick-butt female terminator, who is blonde and walks around in a leather ensemble. She’s the bad guy, but she reminded me of a certain other kick-butt blonde who paved the way for tiny strong women.

  7. neshaffer July 3, 2003 at 8:53 am #

    Terminator 3
    I was wary about seeing Terminator 3, too, mostly because of the way they seemed to screw up the whole time line at the end of the movie and ended up with this big paradox in which the future the Terminators came from never happened, which it had to have, since the Terminators were there!
    I watched the sci-fi channel special on it this week, and it seemed they were not going to wimp out on this again. I decided it was worth the risk.
    What influenced me was an interview with the new producer/director guy, who said he wanted to make a film that would be the next logical step in the sequence of the previous two films. He was a fan of the Terminator series, and wanted to create “the kind of film a fan would want to see next”. I think he succeeded in that, more or less, at least from this fan’s POV.

  8. neshaffer July 3, 2003 at 8:59 am #

    Re: Like I said…
    Did I mention I’ve missed you? 🙂
    Ah, jeepers! I’m only going to be gone a week. Just needed some vegging time, and it’s more comfortable vegging at my parent’s suburban house than my cramped urban hole-in-the-wall.
    Except for this whole computer thing. My mom’s computer is SOOO primitive. Can only stay on it a few minutes a day before I get hives. ; )

  9. Anonymous July 7, 2003 at 11:38 am #

    The Matrix
    I think it’s pretty remarkable how well the first movie holds up when you take into account the new mythology in the second. If for example (and I guess they haven’t confirmed this 100% yet the “real world” actually is another part of The Matrix, then this could explain, for one, how Neo was able to be brought back to life in the first film. While at the time, it seemed like it was Trinity’s love, it could also be the system rebooting and bringing him back to life, because The One can’t die or the program will fail.
    Btw, when I first saw “The Matrix” I liked it a lot more than you did, but the major problem I noticed was that The Oracle didn’t really make sense, either in the confines of the mythology, or in the fact that they had to visit her in the Matrix. If she was a human who knew about the Matrix and told prophecy, why wouldn’t she be unhooked and in Zion? So this “she’s a program” revelation was quite interesting. And makes everything make a whole lot more sense. Of course, right now, we’re still left wondering whose side she’s really on. I’m also very curious, re: destiny, whether when “love,” in the form of Trinity, was added into the equation, the program wants Neo to save Trinity or not. It seems like it could go either way at this point. Also curious about whether this chain reaction that was supposed to cause the destruction of the human race has begun from Neo not going into the Source to have his code dispersed back into the Matrix or not. Or was that a threat to get Neo to save Trinity?
    Re: how complicated the story is. I saw it 3 times so far and am still having some problems figuring it all out. What we really need is the third movie to come out and even more importantly, a DVD version of the film, so it can be paused, rewound, and seen with subtitles! I agree that the action scenes run on long, but this is the first movie in a long time that had my friend and I talking for at least 2 hours after we left the theatre, trying to figure out exactly what we’d just seen!
    Great article, btw. Loved the T3 stuff, too. As I did that movie! And hope you had a good vacation! I visited Arizona for the first time, this past March, and I had a great time.
    Rob

  10. Anonymous July 7, 2003 at 11:54 am #

    Re: Terminator 3
    Also, this film does fix the paradox, since now we know that Skynet actually wasn’t completely averted in the last film and the technology was in the hands of other people as well.
    This film does however ruin the continuity of a recent Terminator novelization about the future, since Sarah Connor, in that book, is alive and well, after she is supposed to have died in this film. Which is why I try not to read tie-in novels. I always get frustrated when I wasted time reading a story that couldn’t have taken place within the confines of the canon.
    Only disappointment in this film for me, btw, was that Sarah Connor couldn’t come back. Holy Moley was she kick-ass in T2!!
    Rob

  11. neshaffer July 7, 2003 at 12:03 pm #

    Re: The Matrix
    and I guess they haven’t confirmed this 100% yet the “real world” actually is another part of The Matrix,
    OK, now you are screwing with my brain!
    then this could explain, for one, how Neo was able to be brought back to life in the first film. While at the time, it seemed like it was Trinity’s love, it could also be the system rebooting and bringing him back to life, because The One can’t die or the program will fail.
    The idea that “someone’s love” can make someone else’s stopped heart start again didn’t seem plausible to me in the rules of the movie as I understood it when I watched it. So that part made me do the eye-rolling thing. At least in the second movie when Neo started Trinity’s heart again, he actually massaged her heart and did it using his Matrix skills.
    but the major problem I noticed was that The Oracle didn’t really make sense, either in the confines of the mythology,
    You read my analysis of The Matrix, didn’t you? I had the same problem while watching the first movie.
    BTW, most of my problems with the first movie were satisfactorily handled in the second movie. A friend of mine wants to see these films and I told her I’d watch them both with her. Maybe I’ll understand them both better the second time around!
    I visited Arizona for the first time, this past March, and I had a great time.
    Arizona is much more pleasant in March!

  12. neshaffer July 7, 2003 at 12:14 pm #

    Books and canon
    I used to read “Star Trek” novels with regularity. I don’t anymore, nor do I read “Buffy” novels and other novels based on television shows and movies (unless they’re novelizations of the script). I’m pretty finicky about canon, and I got tired of the way cool stuff in the novels would be subverted on the show or in a new film.
    I missed Sarah Connor, too, she was easy on the eyes (especially in T2). I miss Eddie Furlong as John, but the guy they got looks like him (kind of). His personality seemed a little bland compared to pint-sized John Connor, though.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Babylon 5 « Infinite Doorways - May 15, 2012

    […] against the Shadows. A lot like the DSN war against the Dominion. And I know there is a whole messiah story line involving Commander Sinclair as the Minbari prophet, Valen. It’s funny all the parallels […]

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