The deeper meaning of “The Matrix” has been much debated since its release in 1999. The three most common have been that is about the ultimate struggle between man and machine, “the brain in the vat” (i.e. world as illusion) paradox or the coming of the Messiah. The last one is especially popular. In one version, Neo represents Jesus, Morpheus represents John the Baptist and Trinity represents Mary Magdalene. While all of these are appealing, I recently came across another which I prefer.
Joshua Clover in his book on the film argues that it is actually about the year 1999. Remember, in one scene Agent Smith specifically says that the Matrix is the imperfect world of 1999. He said that they had created a perfect world for humans, but “it was a disaster. No one accepted the program”.
And how is 1999 represented? Well, with lots of plain faced workers (Keanu included) stuck in their cubicles staring at screens. Joshua argues that the film is really about the transition from the “light on” world, where we look at things upon which light is shone (art, newspapers), to a “light through” world, where we look at things through which light shines (screens). So the surroundings can be dull and plain, but everyone is living more colourfully in the digital world. At the same time, as people come closer to this fully immersed virtual reality, they yearn for the past and become nostalgic. 1999 is the period they hold on to.
So “The Matrix” is really about about the transitioning from living in the “light on” world to the “light through” world. Put another way, it’s about moving into a world where we live in the digital world, and away from the physical world. Seem familiar?