It takes a lot for a movie to become a cultural phenomenon. It’s especially hard now because of the shortening of attention spans; everyone wants a quick dose of awesome, and then everyone forgets. A piece of art has to be something very special to achieve a cult status. Word of mouth helps, sure. But a film’s intrinsic ability to move the audience-to force them to think-plays a very important part. Inception achieved something similar six years ago. But “The Matrix” was the original “brain-twister”, the original “mind-blowing” piece of movie-making. The Matrix is the pinnacle of everything cool, in our opinion. The storytelling, the concept, and the themes; they all resonate with a wide-set of people. But this article is specifically dedicated to listing out the inspirations that the trilogy draws out from Hinduism.
“Matrix”, the world of illusion — or “maya”
When Neo is rescued by Morpheus and is shown what The Matrix really is, he rejects it and wants out. He refuses to believe that everything he had believed all this time was actually false and illusory. The experience is so intense for him that he throws up and falls unconscious.
When Neo and Morpheus meet, one of the first things Morpheus says is, “you look like a man who accepts what he sees because he’s expecting to wake up … this is not far from the truth.” A similar line comes a few minutes into this dialogue when Morpheus questions Neo, “if you had a dream that seemed so real, what if you were unable to wake from that dream, how would you know the difference between the real and the dream.”
This theme of distinguishing reality from illusion runs throughout the movie as the characters from the resistance constantly go in and out of the “Matrix”. It’s a theme that is constantly addressed in Bhagvada Gita. The Gita explains that we carry a false conception of ourselves because we identify with the physical body and aren’t able to see or experience the soul. As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
The description that Morpheous gives to Neo about what is “Matrix” is pretty close to what Hindus believe as “Maya”.