Neo’s Divination v.s. Odysseus’ Cave Battle
Odysseus and his buddies, out and about, kicking around in boats on the sea (from Homer’s Iliad) come across an island. On it are great big sheep, green lustrous grazing, and cyclopes. The Greeks land their ships and disembark on the island, happening across a cyclonic herder man that lives in a cave. They get there before him, eating of his food, and waiting for him to come back. These Greeks, they’ve already been through the storm, tough, tried, and true men each, warriors to the bone. When the Cyclops gets back, he slides a great rock in front of the door, locking them all in, and eats two of Odysseus’ buddies. Not a good time, needless to say. This happens a few times, and eventually Odysseus gets the Cyclops drunk then blinds him, attaches himself and remaining friends to the underside of the sheep, and rides (hangs?) them out of the cave when the Cyclops lets the rams out to graze. The Greeks even took the sheep away with them. Yay the day is saved!
But what does any of this have to do with a skinny guy that learns kung-fu from a brain injection of technical data? Everything, because that skinny hacker is Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, and his character in The Matrix is considered by many to be just as much as hero as old Odysseus.
We’ll not get into a debate here about who’s the bigger hero, which text has more literary or cultural merit, or who’s got more talent. Let’s just say that each hero is a structure of his society. Odysseus and Neo are both what the people of their times want to be, wished to be, hope to be. Collectively, these hero myths are built out of a subconscious human desire to be something more than what we are. How that ‘more’ is embodied depends on the pace, time, and people doing the building. Consider that “at the start of the film, Anderson (Neo) had an ordinary life, in an ordinary apartment, working at an ordinary job from his bland cubical…”(21) Heck, I work for the state, in a cubicle, with headphones on all day, responding to student loan disputes. Do I get to be the next hero of the world? Probably not because, well, I don’t have the stuff. See, Neo goes through a bunch of trials (Campell’s tests) all the while gaining knowledge of the ‘real world’ and how to interact within the Matrix from the other rebels, both being like Campell’s helpers: actual physical people providing help and the new knowledge is a boon. Then he comes back a being more than ordinary, something above and separate (thus divine, again Campell) from us common day unknowing, battery type folks. It’s very unlikely that I will ever eat a magic pill that strips me of everything I think is reality and drops me into a post-apocalyptic nightmare of robots and weird head outlets.
But what this does show, though, is that different kind of people, different cultures, in different times, will make different kinds of heroes. The ancient Greeks took a strong warrior and smart leader, helped him out with a little divinity, and named him hero. Off he went on quests, surrounded by an army of loyal to the death compatriots. In more modern times, say 1999 (how appropriate) people were looking at the world a little differently. What was going to happen with all of our electronics at the stroke of midnight? Were the lights going to stay on? People were using the internet, yes, and there was also already people sneaking in through electronic backdoors to make life miserable with viruses and other bad guy hacker stuff that still bugs us today. A hero from a time on the edge like that, would feel both good and bad to eh audience and be suffering with those emotions himself. There was also a great deal of social separation in the mid to late 90’s (I’m allowed to say that cause I was there.) A whole of people felt like they were on the outside looking in, so of course a hero who stands apart, just a regular Joe who becomes extraordinary, would be attractive to a majority of teen to late 20 somethings with eth extra cash to go to the movies.
Our attraction to Neo at the turn of the century has to be similar to the way the earlier cultures felt about Odysseus (otherwise we wouldn’t still be hearing about him.) Both characters were men that embodied what the people wanted to be, felt like they should be, and believed they never could be.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Powell, Barry B. World Myth. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2014. Print. 14 July 2015. *paraphrsed Myth:Odysseus in the Cave of Polyphemus, 173-185
Stroud, Scott R. “Technological and Myth Narrative: The Matrix as a Technological Hero Quest.” Western Journal of Communication (2001): 416-441. Web. 10 Aug 2015.