Breaking Free in The Matrix
Eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau begins his infamous discourse The Social Contract by stating, "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they." Both Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic and the Wachowski Brothers' hit film The Matrix discuss man's efforts on his journey towards illumination to break free of his chains and then liberate others imprisoned. While definite connections exist between the allegory and The Matrix, Plato and the Wachowski Brothers present different paths that one may take to achieve that end. The Matrix utilizes the symbolic figure of a hero, Nietzsche's Übermensch, who through fate acquires the responsibility of enlightening all, while Plato presents an individual journey in which others may act as guides but one attains enlightenment through one's desire for knowledge.
Throughout The Matrix, the Wachowski Brothers insert obvious hints of unusual skills that separate Neo from the other rebels. The film tells the story of the search for "the One" who will free the human race from its enslavement by the machines. "The One" possesses unique abilities and can manipulate the Matrix in ways that no other human has been able. Despite Neo's claim that "I'm nobody," he exhibits more "superhuman" qualities as the film progresses. Tank indicates, "He's a machine," able to spend hours learning kung fu, and Mouse notices while Neo fights Morpheus that "his neural kinetics are way above normal." Ironically at the beginning of the movie Neo's boss reprimands him for tardiness, saying, "You think you are special, that somehow the rules do not apply to you. Obviously you are mistaken." Obviously, Neo's boss is mistaken; Neo is "special" in that the rules of the Matrix do not apply to him. Because of these unique abilities Morpheus and the other rebels treat Neo as the only hope for winning the war. Although he possesses obvious talents, Morpheus cannot perform the feats that Neo can, and neither can Trinity, Cypher, Switch, nor any other member of the resistance. In turn, they elevate Neo to an almost savior-like position, their "own personal Jesus Christ." Like Christ, a prophecy heralded Neo's coming, which "...would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people." These aspects of the film emphasize Neo's superhero status, punctuated by the movie's ending image of him soaring into the sky like Superman.
In describing "...the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world..." (Jowett 179), Plato suggests a more personal journey. The Matrix suggests that "the One," a single person with certain unique abilities, must lead others to enlightenment while Plato's men in the cave do not possess any distinguishing characteristics, not even names. Plato does not denote any specifics...