We believe that a new world can be created by our passion and our idealism. Or as Rubem Alves has stated: "Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. . . . Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope." The main characters in The Matrix trilogy understand this kind of thinking.

This is the second Matrix film directed by the Wachowski Brothers; The Matrix was released in 1999; The Matrix: Revolutions will come out in November 2003. In the first film, already considered a sci-fi classic, Neo (Keanu Reeves) was designated as "the One" who, according to a prophecy, will end the 100-year war that pits a remnant population of humans against the superior might and numbers of advanced machines. Most of humanity is being used by the machines as a source of energy, but they think they are leading normal lives due to a virtual reality computer program known as the Matrix.

Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) wants to free the people from their enslavement to this lie, and he is convinced that they must put their hope in Neo. He has indeed turned out to be an extraordinary young man with some incredible powers, including a superman ability to escape danger by leaping up into the sky and flying away as fast as a speeding bullet. But does he have the inner fortitude and resolve to assume his mission? As The Matrix: Reloaded opens, we and Neo are wondering what he can really do, and this installment of the adventure gives him plenty of opportunities to find himself. This is a dazzling quest movie filled with an appealing mix of spectacular special effects sequences and philosophical and religious conversations about the meaning of human choice, love, faith, hope, purpose, and reason.

One of the signs of Neo's humanity is his inability to sleep well. Bad dreams bother him, especially a vivid one about the death of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who is now his lover and closest ally. He vows that nothing will ever come between them. Every hero has to have a formidable enemy, and Neo's is Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who thought he'd killed him in The Matrix and saw him come back to life. Now it's Smith's turn to keep coming back; like a computer virus, he has found a way to invade any human or machine form and make it fight for him. All these multiplying Smiths pose a continuing problem for Neo. And, of course, upgraded Agents — super-intelligent and powerful machines — are still after him. He has to stay in peak shape to handle physical combat with all of them.

The Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus's ship, returns to Zion, the underground city which is the last outpost of humans not enslaved to the Matrix. There Neo is greeted as a savior, petitioned by the common people for blessings and healings. Morpheus, meanwhile, is reprimanded by Lock (Harry Lennix), the commander of the city's military, for not obeying orders and for expecting too much from Neo. The machines are digging toward Zion, and Lock wants every fighter available to him when 250,000 sentinels attack. These two men both love the same woman, Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith).

That evening Morpheus gives a rousing speech to the citizens of Zion about fulfilling their destiny. It's a theme appreciated by Link (Harold Perrineau), the navigator for the Nebuchadnezzar, who discusses his feeling of purpose with his wife, but she remains upset about his long absences from home. Neo and Trinity leave the crowd to make love. Later, unable to sleep again, he meets the Counselor (Anthony Zerbe), a government leader. Visiting the level where the electrical, water purification, and other systems are located, this wise elder notes Zion's paradoxical relationship to technology. While various machines are keeping the residents alive, other machines are coming to kill them.

In one of the linchpin scenes in the film, Neo again meets with the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), who tells him that everyone must do what he or she has to do. Which means — he must assume his mission. The only way to end the war is to find the door to the Source of the Matrix program and that involves first locating the Key Maker (Randall Duk Kim), who is being held hostage by the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a power-hungry dandy. Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo get nowhere with this crafty and greedy fellow, but his wife is another story. She agrees to lead them to the Key Maker if Neo will kiss her like he kisses Trinity. She wants to remember what it is to feel. This moment is both clever and cogent, showing how much is lost when the ingredient of passionate desire is missing in interactions between men and women.

The rescue of the Key Maker leads to a far-too-long chase sequence on the freeway where Morpheus and Trinity do battle with Merovingian's guards, shape-shifting Twins, and some determined Agents. The closing sequence takes place in a skyscraper as the hopes of Zion rest on Neo's entry into the Source and his handing of the mysteries and the messages espoused by the Architect (Helmut Bakaitiis). A final test of the love between Neo and Trinity is also set up.

A clever person once defined philosophy as a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that does not exist. Many of the condundrums in The Matrix: Reloaded are similar to that. If nothing else, this series of sci-fi extravaganzas has brought philosophy and dollops of spirituality back into the consciousness of movie-goers. Star Trek set the pattern for this phenomenon but the Wachowski Brothers have taken it to another level. Certainly given the interaction between humans and machines taking place today, and the increased reliance on technology on the horizon, it is helpful to think about how these developments may change forever the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

Neo's quest to understand his mission is one that we can all identify with as we repeatedly ask ourselves about our purpose on Earth and the choices that we must make to draw out the best that is within us. Most of the characters in Matrix Reloaded periodically wonder what they are here for and what their assignment is.

Finally, this film encourages us to consider the spiritual firepower of hope. The Chinese have a saying that if you keep a green bough in your heart, a singing bird will come. The Matrix: Reloaded challenges us to take a long and hard look at our own faculty of hope and whether it is a hindrance or a catalyst to meaning and transformation in our lives. How much are we willing to put on the line right now in order to bring into being a brighter and better future for all? And what happens to the tender green bough in our hearts when hope is battered and shattered by events that bring us down and leave us whirling around in confusion and doubt? Important matters to think about until the next installment in The Matrix trilogy.

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