This is just a list of all the possible symbolism in the movie i've heard about. These are mostly my own ideas, from discusions with my sister and her fiancee, or from discussions on slashdot. If anyone else has anything else they noticed i'd love to hear about it.
And like i said, i keep getting the sneaking suspicion there's something i've forgotten about.
No really! I mean it! Lots and lots of spoilers!
The sign in the train station Neo started out in said "Mobil Ave," which anagrams to "Limbo Ave." This makes sense with the idea of it being between the Matrix and the Machine world, but like so much of the symbolism it doesn't mesh with other symbolism about the same thing. The more standard mythological Limbo is similar to but slightly different from Purgatory. Porgatory is where people with relatively minor sins which they haven't been forgiven for end up when they die. While there they "work out" their sins until they're "pure enough" to get into heaven. Limbo on the other hand is where good and/or innocent people end up who aren't fit to enter heaven for technical reasons (usually unbaptized or born before christ) but haven't done anything to merit going to hell.
As such, purgatory, as a place of transition, is a much better metaphor for the tunnels, although admitedly finding a good anagram for "Purgatory" would be difficult. Limbo also runs akimbo of the view of the tunnels as the river Lethe, and the Trainman as Charon who ferries the souls across to the underworld.
This of course ties into the Merovingian, who is also full of conflicted symbolism. The Merovingian is clearly the ruler of the underworld. His wife (or whatever) is Persephone, who in greek mythology was the consort of Hades. His forces are also at least partially made up of ghosts and werewolves. This symbolism is emphasized more in Revolutions when the place they go to confront him is titled "Hell Club." When they get into the elevator to go the club they press the red emergency button, which looks like it has the word "Help" on it, and my sister's fiancee thinks the p may have been crossed out and/or replaced with an L. This of course begs the question, what exactly does the underworld consist of? Just areas under Merovingian's direct control? Or all of the Matrix?
Now, to confuse the issue, the name "Merovingian," comes from a line of French, or rather at that point, Frankish kings who either claimed or were attributed with descent from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. One theory is that the Merovingian line was thereby holy, which doesn't fit in with the Merovingian of the Matrix too well, and that the Roman church conspired to bring about the dynasty's downfall so as to cement their power as the "spiritual" successor of christ as opposed to the holy blood ("Sangreal") connection. Another related theory that ties in a bit better with the Matrix is that the Merovingians survived as one of the leading families of the Illuminati. What exactly any or all of this means in relation to the Matrix and how it relates to the Merovingian's symbolism as the head of the underworld is anybody's guess.
One symbolism that i'm not sure if it was entirely intended was when Neo was blinded. After he was blinded and Smith refered to him as a mesiah figure, i immediatly thought of Paul Atredis from Done. And as Neo was stumling around blindly i thought, "Neo might die, but this is way to early in the movie for it to happen, so he's going to have to find a way to see despite being blind." I was waiting for the big "suprise" to both Smith and the audience, and sure enough, Neo suddenly reveals the ability to see Smith in the most dramatic way possible.
I've seen a lot of other people comment about the Neo/Paul link, so i'm not the only one to have noticed the similarity. Both messiah figures in riligous themed science fiction works, both had their eyes burned out be enemy action, both adapted their powers to be able to see without eyes.
So did the authors get this symbolism from Dune? Or is there some earlier work that both Dune and the Matrix are referencing? Nobody i've asked has been able to remember christ ever going blind in the bible, or anything similar.
Time for a brief ranty diversion.
On Slashdot at least there is a certain class of people who are very proud and self-congratulatory that they "get" the Matrix. Those of us who felt there were plot holes or that things weren't explained well enough "clearly" didn't "get" it (they actually used the quotes around "get" when talking about it) and did we notice the subtle hints scatered about the movie, like the cross superimposed on Neo during the final scene?
YES! We NOTICED the fucking cross! It was about as subtle as a BRICK TO THE HEAD! Neo has been pretty clearly portrayed as a christ figure since the first movie, so the only suprising thing was how fucking _blatant_ they decided to be about the whole issue. At least a few people were understandably distracted by the whole overwhelming crucifix imagery that they didn't notice the angel wing imagery on first viewing, but that was only subtly in comparison to the brick pounding against your temple.
Okay, now that that's out of my system, the christ symbolism was further enhanced (throwing a few extra logs on the forrest fire) with the Oracle's comment about how "i expect we may see him again someday" or something similar at the end. The rising sun at that point may well be symbolic of something that i'm not familiar with, since the sun is often associated with powerful patriarchal dieties. Unfortunatly the only similar symbolism i can remember is the rainbow after the flood thing.
So now that we've covered Neo, the Machine (capital Machine in my mind meaning the big face Neo faces at the end) is clearly meant to represent god in some way. That of course would make machine world heaven. In some sense the matrix could then be considered hell, it's linked to heaven by Limbo/Purgatory, the Merovingian is there, the Agents, or at least Smith, felt it was a punishment to be there, and in the opinion of the people in Zion it's not exactly a great place for humans to be either.
Obviously with the Machine as god, all the lesser programs are angels or demons.
For some reason the Oracle suggests to me Lucifer. She was in esence a program (angel) leading a rebelion against the Machine (god.) And although one translation of Lucifer is Morning Star, an older translation is Light Bringer. In my mind this has always linked the concept of Lucifer to that of Prometheus. (To be fair, i'm not sure if i made this connection before or after it was made in various other science fiction/fantasy stories) And like Prometheus the Oracle brought knowledge to humanity. Of course she was partially the creator of the Matrix, which would fit the imagery of the matrix as hell and her as Lucifer, but how would the Architect work into that interpretation?
I've been told that the Matrix was strongly influenced by the gnostic traditions of christianity, moreso than the catholic traditions. One of those traditions is apparently that the god of the old testament was a different god from that of the new testament. One interpretation of that is that there is a "greater" insubstantial god who is good, and there is a lesser more physical god who may or may not have been responsible for the creation of the world and who is evil, or at least not purely good. This of course is an attempt to explain why A: the old testament god was such an ass compared to the new testament god, and B: how god can be perfectly good yet the world can be filled with evil.
One mapping i've seen of this is that the Architect is the lesser, evil god who created the world (the Matrix) The Machine is the greater, good god. The Oracle is a messenger from the greater god to the physical world. I think at this point i will quote an AC on slashdot who at least puts on a good front of knowing more about the subject than i:
"But here's where it gets gnostic. The gnostic Christians invert the traditional Jewish traditions in multiple ways. The strict, angry, jealous "God" of the old testiment is actually revealed to be evil. This "God" is a very powerful being that believes himself to be God and be in control, but he is not. He is closer to Satan. This is the architect.
This "God" has a "sister". I think the name of this sister is sometimes "Logos" or "Sophia", depending on your source, but the basic idea is a being related to thought, reason, wisdom, but contrary to order. This is the being, often thought in Catholicism to be Satan, that gives Adam and Eve the apple, but in this belief system she is good. The "God" says she's evil for disrupting order, but in truth she is bringing the "God's" creation closer to the will of the *real* God, and therefore is making creation more perfect, by bringing intelligence, purpose, will, and wisdom to man. This is obviously the Oracle.""
It's interesting to note that one of the ships in Revolutions is named "Logos" i believe.
Smith is sometimes interpreted as the anti-christ, which makes a more "literal" symbolic sense in that he is the opposte of Neo, the christ figure. However what seems to be a better symbolic interpretation to me is that he is Death. Of course as usual he might be both in a confused hodge-podge.
Someone theorized that Neo dying to free everyone from Smith was like christ dying to free everyone from death, in that after that they had the possiblity of eternal life after death in heaven. However i'd always understood it as being christ died for humanity's sins, not to grant them eternal life.
Does Trinity represent anyone or anything in particular? The only possibility i can thing of is Mary Magdalene(sp) in the manner of the "new" theory that everyone has been talking about since "The DaVinci Code" was published.
Morpheus obviously symbolizes, duh, Morpheus, greek god of sleep and dreams. He goes around waking people, including Neo, from the dream of the matrix. He also has the dream that one day the One will defeat the machines and free humanity. Of course that turns out to be mostly just that, a dream.
Any other symbolism for the human characters that i'm missing out on?