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Greg Garrett is the author of the Pultizer Prize-nominated novel, Free Bird, forty short stories, and numerous articles and essays on film, narrative, and spirituality. He wrote the popular course "The Genius of Alfred Hitchcock" for Barnes & Noble University at, and he directs Art & Soul, the nationally recognized festival of religion and the arts at Baylor University, where he is a professor of English. What exactly is the Matrix?

Greg Garrett: That is exactly the problem that we've wrestled with through the writing of the book. There can't be a single simple answer, because the Matrix films are very postmodern in their sensibilities. One of the things that they try to do is get us to think less in terms of either/or and more in terms of and/and. What is the Matrix? Every person who sees the movie is going to have different answers to what the Matrix is. Some may see it as this consumer culture that we're a part of. Some may see it as organized religion that tries to keep you from thinking for yourself. Some may see it as the numbness of the everyday, which deadens us to the presence of God. We carry away the messages that we most need to hear. What made you and Chris Seay get together and decide to write this book?

Greg Garrett: Chris and I are close friends and one of the things that we have in common is a strong interest in how faith and culture relate to each other. His standpoint is from a vocational/professional one because he's a pastor. He sees how people respond to the stories that they find in movies and television. I come at it from the standpoint of a writer and a professor. I write stories and talk about stories with students. The stories in The Matrix have interested both of us and we'd been looking for a writing project that we could do together. This seemed like an obvious one. The movies are really rich in faith stories and spiritual details. In The Gospel Reloaded you equate the matrix with organized religion. What are the comparisons?

Greg Garrett: I was teaching my film class in the spring semester and asked my students if they had thoughts or comments about the Matrix movies. One of my students wrote a response that echoed a lot of what Chris and I see in people from Gen-X and Gen-Y. For many of them, the traditions of organized religion are not meeting their spiritual needs. It's not to say that it doesn't meet people's needs, because it meets lots of people's needs. But one thing that Chris and I have both recognized is that God speaks to us in different ways. For this student as well as a lot of other people we've talked to, they felt stifled by the trappings of organized religion and they felt they were being asked to turn their minds off instead of challenging themselves and finding a living faith. It's not a value judgment. The church that I grew up in is a beautiful place for the people who meet God there, but it wouldn't work for me these days, because God comes to me in different ways. Sometimes it's hard for people to understand that God doesn't speak to everybody exactly the same. While movies don't function as formal religious training, they can inspire and encourage spiritual thought. And for some folks--despite the best efforts of Christian bumper stickers, billboards and t-shirts--the movie theater is the only place they're being engaged on that level. What are the spiritual themes in the movie that stand out that you address in The Gospel Reloaded?

Greg Garrett: We try to address both the Christian messages and the other themes that come from myth and religion. Because Chris and I are both in the Christian tradition, those are the stories that are most interesting to us. We talk a lot about the idea of Neo as a messiah figure and also as a representative person on a faith path. One of the great things about The Matrix is that it's not allegorical. One reading doesn't have to preclude another one. So Neo can be a Christ figure and he can also stand in for those like us who have to make a leap of faith and decide how we're going to get through each day and walk that path. Another case of and/and.

What Neo does is against all logic and against all rational thought. He chooses to make a leap of faith. And he says, "There are all these things out there that could be true, but I choose to believe this." What I love about the second film is that it takes that leap of faith from the first movie and makes it tangible for us. It's what we do every day. How do I walk the path when things get hard? When it looks like the promise is denied? That for me was a useful message.

One of the other elements that were really appealing to me was how the character of Trinity can represent the Holy Spirit. It can be startling for some people because all of our scripture and liturgies tend to be just he, he, he, over and over again. One of the things we point out in the book is that the spirit of God in Judaism is called Ruah, a feminine Hebrew word. That's how I've always liked to think of the Holy Spirit, in that feminine, nurturing kind of way. That was one of the readings of the film that was very powerful for me.

Outside of the Christian tradition, I was also drawn to the Buddhist ideal of consciously participating in your salvation. Paul talks about it too, "Working out your salvation." Every day we need to make a conscious choice to improve ourselves, to be more Christ-like. I think a lot of Christians - me included - could use the kind of spiritual discipline that we find in Buddhism. You mention some parallels in Gnosticism as well.

Greg Garrett: Chris and I ultimately reject the Gnostic heresy of "this world bad - other world good," but there are lot a mystical things about the Gnostic tradition that are appealing to me. I like the whole idea of the awakening, which is a part of both mainstream and Gnostic Christian thought. Awakening is at the heart of the "wake up" message that the first Matrix film deals with. We're often stuck in our everyday lives - bills, gadgets, routines - and we are not conscious enough to see clearly, to become the people that God really wants us to be. Newsweek magazine named 2003 "The Year of the Matrix." Can you explain why?

Greg Garrett: It has cross-cultural significance, which is one of the reasons why Chris and I were drawn to it. It's true that the films have cool Kung Fu, which appeals to a core audience. But then you look at the first film (and now the second) and realize that people are still passionately talking about it, arguing about it. There are hundreds of websites devoted to dissecting The Matrix. It's also a huge cross-genre phenomenon: in addition to the movies, you have the website, which is cutting edge, the animated films coming out this month (The Animatrix), the adventure game which fills in narrative gaps in the movie (Enter the Matrix). It's one of the first media phenomena to--in a very postmodern way--plug in to a lot of means that people get narrative today.

Demographically, the median age of people who saw the first film was somewhere around 24-25. I would guess that the second film might even skew a little older because of all the publicity. The producer of the films said that attendance for the first weekend of The Matrix: Reloaded was about 60% male, 40% female. So it's not strictly a young male phenomenon - teenage boys coming to get their action fix. The people who really like the movie are not just interested in the popular culture aspect of it. They are finding the intellectual and spiritual aspects of it compelling. Do you plan on writing another book?

Greg Garrett: I've finished my second novel, Cycling, which will be out in September 2003, and I'm working on my third. I'm also working on a book for Pinon Press about religion and comic books. Comic books are a powerful mythological force in American culture, and they wrestle with a number of religious and cultural issues. And I'm looking forward to writing with Chris Seay again very soon. We're hoping our next book together will be on religion and the HBO series "Six Feet Under," which is a profoundly moving and powerfully challenging story. Anything else you'd like to add?

Greg Garrett: I'm blown away by some of the revelations I've had in the process of talking about the Matrix films. The secular media often wanted me to characterize a Christian response to the movies, as though there is only one Christian response. They often treated me as a member of the religious right, and some of them were amazed that any Christian night willing to consider the worth of any sort of spirituality or culture outside of the Bible. Even though many Americans profess Christianity, it surprises me that we think we're all so much alike, that people don't recognize how multifaceted the Christian world is. Some of us want to hand out tracts on street corners; some of us want to feed the poor on those street corners. All of us profess the same God.

When I've talked with the Christian media, I've sometimes gotten even more progressive responses than from the secular media, especially among vocational workers thinking from a postmodern vantage point. Those who work more with young people are recognizing that our traditional approach is not reaching Gen-X and Gen-Y. They are just not going for it, whether it's the Last Supper with grape juice, or the Eucharist with wine. But I've also gotten very defensive, very frightened responses from Christian media. I think those are the two Christian responses to the world today: pull in our heads and read the scriptures a little louder to drown out the outside noises, or consider that there may be truth and beauty scattered throughout God's world and it can be a point of contact between us all - searching humans, and a reaching God. I understand the first response. But I choose the second.

My belief is if God wants to come to us - and God does - then we've got to acknowledge the ways that people find Him. What we are recognizing with postmodern Christianity is that people are coming to spiritual reflection and questions of faith through ways that the church is not sponsoring. We can use films like The Matrix as a touchstone and say "Let's talk about this stuff." Then we've got that point of contact. I'm excited by what I see in popular culture today, both in what I do as a writer and what I see in films and in books. There are filmmakers like M. Night Shyamalan and Stephen Spielberg who are making popular movies that have powerful spiritual themes imbedded in them. In the movie Signs, for example, you see this minister wrestling with his loss of faith, the whole question of theodicy, why do bad things happen in the world? Those are the same kinds of questions that we're trying to address in my church on Sunday morning. That I try to address in my faith on Sunday night. God can speak to us in so many ways if we are only willing and open.

We hope you enjoyed reading our interview.
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June 2003