Opinion: How “The Matrix Resurrections” evolved from an old folk tale


To jog your memory, the “Matrix” movies are set in an artificial reality, where cool stuff happens like “bullet-hour” slow-motion shootings and gravity-defying kung fu. But that is not the subject of the films – “The Matrix”, followed in 2003 by “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” -. The story goes that the artificial intelligence machines of the future become self-aware, turn against their masters and subdue humanity, and humanity’s fight to regain dominance.

“The Matrix” drew on many influences including cyberpunk, neo-noir, anime, wuxia, oriental and existentialist philosophies, comics, computer games, early hacker culture, “Alice in Wonderland “and more. The Wachowskis, the author siblings who wrote and directed it, said they “were determined to put as many ideas as possible into the film.”

Yet one source that has hardly been mentioned – surprisingly, given how much of an ancestor this is – is folklore. Specifically, the legend of the Prague golem.

Like most folk tales, there are several versions, but the most famous concerns the 16th century Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, aka “the Maharal”, renowned in his day for his scholarship and wisdom. His many philosophical and legal writings had a lasting impact on Jewish thought.
Prague, now the capital of the Czech Republic, was then in Bohemia, part of the Holy Roman Empire. According to history, the Jews of Prague, already confined in the ghetto, were to be expelled or killed on the orders of Emperor Rudolf II.

To defend his people, Rabbi Loew used the clay from the banks of the Vltava River to form a human form and quickened it using Kabbalistic mysticism, creating a golem. The indestructible and inhumanly strong creature, usually depicted as a towering, heavy figure, became the protector of the Jews, fighting their persecutors.

Things go astray then. The golem became destructive, either by rising up on its maker, killing others, continuing to grow uncontrollably, or simply setting out to desecrate the Sabbath, and the rabbi was forced to destroy it. .

The word “golem” originates from Psalm 139: 16, meaning in Hebrew a shapeless and imperfect substance. It is a reference to the creation of Adam in the book of Genesis 2: 7, where “God formed man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life; and man became a living being ”- a golem.
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Animated clay creatures are prevalent in Jewish folklore, dating back to 500 CE in writing and even earlier in oral tradition, but the story of the Prague golem is by far the most famous and culturally significant. .
The tale itself is probably from Germany or Poland. The oldest written document is a letter from 1674 from the German astronomer Christoph Arnold and the first published document dates from 1808, written by Jakob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm.
A decade later, in 1818, Mary Shelley published her groundbreaking novel “Frankenstein; Gold, The Modern Prometheus”. Given its many similarities to the legend of the golem, it is believed (although it is also disputed) to have been inspired by it.

The preface to the book describes how it was inspired by “certain German ghost stories, which have fallen into our hands”. Grimm’s tale was most likely among them, and as a member of the scholars of the day, Shelley probably would have read it anyway. (As the book’s subtitle suggests, the myth of Prometheus is also inspiring. But while the golem is also a caveat, the theme of pride before the fall is not one of them. .)

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The success of “Frankenstein” helped popularize the legend of the golem, but it also supplanted it in the public imagination as the source of the theme. When “The Matrix” came out, several articles compared it to “Frankenstein”, but none mentioned the golem.

Yet folk tales have remained a part of European culture, entering and leaving the air. Between 1913 and 1914, the German author Gustav Meyrink turned it into a hugely successful serial novel, simply titled “The Golem”. In 1915, the writer and director duo Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen adapted it into a silent horror film (“The Monster of Fate” in the United States), which proved to be equally popular. It was followed in 1917 by “The Golem and the Dancer” and in 1920 by “The Golem: How He Came Into the World” even more successful (“The Golem” in the United States).

In 1921, more than three centuries after Rabbi Loew, fellow Prague-born Karel Čapek gave the thread its own twist, turning it into the first science fiction play, “RUR” (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”), about people artificial used as workers who gain sensibility and revolt, leading to the extinction of humanity.

The revolutionary piece coined the word “robot” (in Czech for “worker”) and was widely hailed as a masterpiece. By 1923 it was performed in 30 languages ​​across the globe, with the 1922 Broadway production featuring a young, rookie actor named Spencer Tracy. Čapek was then nominated seven times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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Despite its fame, whether “RUR” is a retelling of golem history remains largely unknown. This despite Čapek acknowledging that it is a “rendering of the Golem legend in modern form. … the Robot is the Golem made flesh by mass production”.

German writer Thea von Harbou’s acclaimed 1925 novel “Metropolis” borrowed heavily from “RUR”, something which was noted by critics. In 1927 it was made into a film of the same name, co-written by von Harbou and her husband, director Fritz Lang. One of the most important films ever made, it influenced everything from “Star Wars” to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” music video and was the first film to be inducted into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Another famous film, Universal Studios’ ‘Frankenstein’ from 1931 starring Boris Karloff, was so heavily inspired by golem films, thematically and aesthetically, that it is based as much on the legend of the golem as it is on Shelley’s novel. . Almost a century later, he in turn continues to inspire many variations and derivatives – one being “Doc Frankenstein,” a 2004 comic book series by the Wachowski. His iconic monster, more the golem than the intelligent, long-haired, mother-of-pearl creature of Shelley, is recognizable around the world.

Today, the theme of an unnatural creation, whether created out of altruism or selfishness, becoming autonomous and rising above its human creators, is found in countless seminal works, including “Me, Robot”, “Westworld”, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Blade Runner”, “Terminator” and, of course, “The Matrix”.

The hero of the Matrix films, Neo, is somewhat of a golem himself, a shapeless man awakened in the real world by the truth – in the most popular version of the folk tale golem, the creature comes to life when the Hebrew word ” emet “, meaning the truth, is written on his forehead.

The final film, “The Matrix Revolutions,” ended with Neo saving the machines from the renegade Agent Smith program – a golem of the golem – and negotiating peace between creation and creator. The plot details of “Resurrections” are kept close to the vest, but it’s a safe bet that somehow the golem will resurrect.


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