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by Alex M. Dunne
Half-way through The Matrix Reloaded, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus follow the Oracle's orders and visit a 'dangerous program' called the Merovingian. This French-speaking underworld figure holds captive the Keymaker, and it is the Keymaker the heroes need to enter the Matrix mainframe.
Set in a fine restaurant crawling with henchmen, the scene hinges around the Merovingian's seminar on causality and purpose. He illustrates his points using a slice of aphrodisiac cake and a full bladder; "I drank too much, therefore I hev to peass.". But who is this elegant, swearing, well-dressed character? Why is he French? Why, as we learn in The Matrix Revolutions, does he control the flow of programs and information, in and out of the Matrix? Why does he lecture the heroes instead of fight them? And, in an otherwise action-packed film, what's the point of this dialogue-heavy scene?
The very deliberate Wachowski brothers drew this character's name from the Merovingian Dynasty of kings who, from 447 to 751 AD, united and ruled the region of Europe that today spans France and Germany. The Merovingian Kings, according to some sources, claimed direct descent from Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. Others hold that the origin of the Merovingian Dynasty's power lies in the buried city of Atlantis, from which all culture, religion and language springs. The Merovingian himself claims "I have tried all the languages," before settling on French because he enjoys swearing in it.
The dynasty remains today as the Merovingian Order of the Holy Grail-1787, a rainbow coalition of esoteric religious sects. Key among them is the Order of the Holy Grail, first founded by Joseph of Arimethea in 54 AD at Rheddae (what is now Rennes le Chateau, in France). According to Grail legend, the Neutral Angels, who were sent to monitor man on earth, told the secrets of man's origin and purpose to Joseph who recorded it all in The Book of the Holy Grail. He also recorded the clues required to find the cup of life, the Grail itself. The primary purpose of the Order of the Holy Grail, and by extension the Merovingians, is to protect this book (also known as the Merovingian Bible) and the information within it.
Grafting the myth of the Holy Grail on to the Matrix is easy. The Grail Neo seeks is the mainframe source code. The Merovingian, protector of the file system, controls the flow of information and programs into and out of the Matrix. And, by holding the Keymaker, he also controls access to the mainframe. Like a Sphinx, the Merovingian knows all about Neo and his quest, more so than even Neo. He braggingly dangles his martini glass, a literal Grail, in front of the heroes, toying seductively with the olives in it. Confident that he can hold on to the Keymaker, he freely divulges the core meaning of existence: "All that matters is feeling. Beneath our poised appearance, we are completely out of control.... Causality: we are forever slaves to it."
Given his place in the Matrix myth, therefore, all Neos, past, present, and future must confront the Merovingian in their quest for the mainframe. But while the meeting itself is indispensable to the story, the scene barely propels the plot forward at all. Our heroes arrive, ask the Merovingian to hand over the Keymaker, he refuses, and they leave. But during his discourse on causality, the heroes find an ally in the Merovingian's girlfriend, Persephone. And it is through this alliance, in subsequent scenes, that the plot moves forward. After some bathroom shenanigans (a scene required only to strengthen our understanding of Persephone's motivation for helping them), the heroes free the Keymaker from a mountain castle that looks very much like Rennes le Chateau in France.
Also, unlike all other adversaries who fight Neo, Morpheus and Trinity directly, the Merovingian hides behind his henchman who do so. In Grail myth, the devout Merovingians who 'guarded' The Book of the Holy Grail actually relied upon the fanatical (or 'fundamentalist') Knights Templar to do the dirty work. The role of the Knights Templar as the ready-to-die enforcers of Grail security was also used in the Steven Spielberg's film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and Umberto Eco's novel "Foucault's Pendulum."
Finally, according to the Doctrine of the Holy Grail, as followed by the Merovingians, "If those [Neutral Angels] who sided with Adamas (Lucifer) hid the Grail from those who would Quest for it, life in the Terrestrial Realm, would be short and hard with many difficulties, and would end tragically, yet all would return to the Celestial Realm (without the knowledge of Balance) to Perfection. And the cycle would have to repeat itself again." Sounds like a mythological reboot, doesn't it?
Whether you believe in the Merovingian Order of the Holy Grail-1787, The Book of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, or not, it's clear the Wachowksi's have condensed a lot of historical allusion into this one scene. While it moves the story forward only a little, it roots their cyberpunk vision of the future deep into the myths of the past. And by doing so, they've woven a rich post-modern tapestry of a tale: one with enough plot and character to stand alone, while also holding enough references and allegory to allow the viewer hours of joyful interpretation.
Definition of Merovingian:
The Merovingian Mythos: Its Symbolic Significance and its Roots in the Ancient Kingdom of Atlantis
by Tracy R. Twyman:
Merovingian Order of the Holy Grail-1787:
The Frankish Kings: Merovingians, Carolingians and more:
Did You Know?
Neo's opening scene in The Matrix shows the computer displaying 'Wake up Neo'. This echoes HAL's opening line in '2001: A Space Odyssey'.