How Deep Does the Rabbit Hole Go?

Editor’s note: This week, we’re running a series on questions, inspired by Matthew Lee Anderson’s book, The End of Our Exploring. We reviewed his book here. There’s a great deal going on this week: buy one copy of Matt’s book, and you can give one away for free. Check out the details here.

 In 1999, there was one film people were talking about (let’s ignore movies like Toy Story 2, The Sixth Sense, and The Phantom Menace, though that last one is for entirely different reasons). The Matrix immediately caught the attention of freshman philosophers all over the nation. There were people who argued that it was just a retelling of Plato’s Republic, which it sort of was. Others said it was Descartes’ Meditations distilled, which is less true than the first. But the point remains: people were talking about this film. More importantly, we were asking questions.

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Morpheus doesn’t ask Neo a question: he presents him two options. It’s a backhanded way of asking a question, though: Neo is forced to ask himself what he will do, and audiences everywhere wanted to know how deep that rabbit hole went. We all know which way Neo went (and if you don’t, I’m terribly sorry, this movie is 14 years old). We wanted to follow the rabbit hole into the deeper reality it offered, regardless of what that actually looked like.

We even think we know that reality. But if the answer in the film is that the rabbit hole goes as deep as Zion and its corresponding life, the latter films suggest that reality is even deeper than that: the Architect informs Neo that he’s just in the most recent iteration of civilization. Perhaps we don’t actually know if we’re in reality.

Skeptics have been asking these questions for years. If The Matrix is Plato’s cave analogy, the latter films push a deeper skepticism; no longer are we concerned with education and liberation, but with great deceivers and possibly solipsism.

If anyone has a corner on questions proper, it’s skeptics. The position is, after all, centered around and based on questioning everything. But if we stop with questions, I think we’ve missed the point. Let’s learn to question well, and then move on to answers.

So a few answers, down and dirty. How deep does the rabbit hole go? If the rabbit hole is reality or existence, it leads directly to the Source–in the Matrix series, this is the leader of the machines, an artificial intelligence of sorts. For us, the source of all reality is God himself. That’s fairly straightforward, I think. But almost nobody actually liked the sequels. Why?

Maybe it is indicative of a culture that eschews answers in favor of questions. Maybe the movies were just poorly made. Maybe we don’t have the attention span, as a culture, to follow deeper philosophical sci-fi over the course of three films (there are a lot of counterexamples to this latter point, at least). Or maybe we can only handle Keanu Reeves’ expression for so long.

This is an answer I don’t have. Maybe sometimes questions are enough.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).