Fiction or Freedom

*Contains major spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections.

In 1999, The Matrix became a cultural phenomenon, blowing the minds of moviegoers through its reality-bending storyline and cutting-edge special effects. After two sequels that were less successful than the original, it seemed the story of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus was complete. However, in 2021, viewers returned to the world of the Matrix in The Matrix Resurrections.

While Resurrections contains plenty of callbacks, clips, and references to the original Matrix trilogy, it also offers many critiques of our current society. Midway through the movie, Neo’s therapist is revealed as the film’s villain, the Analyst, who resurrected Neo and Trinity and created a new Matrix. The original Matrix was designed to seem as real as possible to keep its inhabitants trapped and satisfied. However, the Analyst claims that humans do not care for facts as much as they care about fiction. People are driven by desire and fear: desire for what they don’t have and fear of losing what they do have. Their fictions are validated by their feelings, and feelings are easier to manipulate than facts. So, to manipulate humans, the new Matrix is designed to manipulate their feelings, and is much more successful than the original iteration.

Fact vs. Feeling
Unfortunately, the Analyst may be right that people are easily manipulated by feelings. While there are certainly issues to be concerned about, traditional and social media use alarmism to stir up strong emotions like fear, anger, and guilt to drive people to immediate action. For example: The world is going to end now due to this global crisis (fear). If you don’t support my cause, then you are part of the problem (guilt). Those people are the true source of your problems (anger). Or, it could be emotionally charged messaging in TV and movies like, follow your heart. Forget what anyone else thinks. You do you.

Are there good causes that we ought to support? Yes! Are there quality products that will make our lives easier? Absolutely. But we won’t know the difference between good causes and bad causes or good products and bad products if we make decisions solely based on emotions and not on facts. Feelings can be fleeting. They may change from day to day, or even moment to moment. This is why we must be primarily guided by facts, not our feelings. If we make important decisions based merely on feelings and exclude the necessary facts, we may be happy in the short term, but face disastrous consequences in the long run.

Fact vs. Fiction
However, what if you seek to make your decisions based on facts but they are false? As the Analyst tells Neo, people prefer fiction to fact. We live in a time of “fake news,” where stories are crafted based on agendas and narrative, and unpopular beliefs are labeled as misinformation. We decide what is true based on what we like and believe, or we only accept the information that supports what we already hold to be true, which is known as confirmation bias. But isn’t it possible that we can be wrong? This is why it is important to gather all of the facts, even if they turn out to contradict our position. We must weigh every side of an issue to be sure that our position is correct.

The Truth Will Set You Free
Why should I care, though? Why shouldn’t I simply pursue whatever makes me happy, even if it isn’t true or real? Because eventually, reality wins. Choosing not to believe a doctor’s unpleasant diagnosis won’t make the cancer disappear. You can ignore the car speeding down the road or tell yourself it isn’t there, but that won’t save you from the impact. Facts are true whether you believe them or not. Ignoring them may have a terrible outcome.

In the original Matrix, Neo faces a critical decision: learn the truth, no matter how unpleasant, or return to his false, comfortable “life” in the Matrix. He chooses the truth. Neo picks freedom over captivity. As Christians, Jesus calls us to do the same. He said that if you follow his teachings, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Free from what, though? Our sin (v. 34). Jesus’s entire mission was to deliver the truth: “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Furthermore, the Bible warns us about the conditions of our heart. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Mark 7:21 says, “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” This is why we can’t always follow our feelings; we will ultimately be misled. We must seek the truth for our salvation. We must trust the person who claimed to be the Truth: Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

The Matrix Resurrections may not have resurrected its franchise (according to poor critical and viewer reception), but it still presents important and relevant ideas worth discussing. The Analyst directly critiques our culture, claiming that people don’t care about facts, they only care about fiction, which is based on their feelings. By keeping people trapped in a fictional reality, the Analyst can control them and feed off of them. In the real world, we risk a similar fate of allowing ourselves to be manipulated through our emotions. Corporations, politicians, and organizations tell us that buying their product or supporting their cause will make us happy, give us purpose, or prove that we are good people. But feelings are temporary and often misleading. We need more from life. We need the truth.

Throughout the Matrix films, characters are offered a choice: the red pill or the blue pill. Will they choose harsh-but-liberating reality or pleasant fiction? Freedom or imprisonment? You are given the same decision. Will you allow yourself to be manipulated through fiction and feelings or will you pursue truth? Fiction may feel good for a while, but only the truth will set you free.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at