An End To Fertility
Persephone and the Matrix
The previous article in this series takes a closer look at the possible origins for the character of the Merovingian in The Matrix trilogy, and seeks to uncover his true motivations. They say that behind every great man there stands a great woman. But what about behind every terrible man?
The Merovingian presents a curious inverse in the relationship between love and choice. He seems determined (or perhaps predetermined) to abhor love while professing a complete faith in causality. He even compares the path of love unfavorably to the path of insanity. The Merovingian’s relationship with his lover, Persephone, then, can be seen as one where love once existed and is now gone, or where it never did. The answer lies in the question of who or what Persephone is.
In Greek mythology, Persephone was the goddess of the underworld because she was kidnapped by Hades. Her absence from earth caused the ground to cease to be fertile, and her name can be translated as “she who destroys the light.” Although that is a rather biased and simple telling of the myth, it is applicable to The Matrix trilogy. Persephone is either a program older than the Merovingian who seduced him and destroyed his light (purpose), or she is a program that was once a human like Trinity, Neo's true love.
If Persephone was human, and the Merovingian loved (or thought he loved) her then, he had her reconstituted as a program along with himself to remain alive within the Matrix after her human body died. This interpretation presents both characters as ghosts, and their importance to Neo is as a warning for a path to be avoided. When Trinity dies in the real world, Neo does not try to recreate her in the Matrix, which would be a selfish and ignoble action. Assuming the Merovingian was the fifth integral anomaly that represented a reboot in the Matrix, it is suggested that he never actually loved Persephone, since the Architect tells Neo that Neo himself is the first “One” to express his attachment for humanity specifically through love. This only reinforces the theory that the Merovingian never truly loved Persephone, and was more concerned with maintaining her presence as a way to reinforce his own power.
Song and She
Literary Antecedents for Persephone
As a character defined by appearances, Persephone shares some similarities with Song of M. Butterfly, in that she exists mostly as an artificial invention. Song: “Only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.” As a computer program or as a human who became an exiled program, Persephone was created either by the Merovingian or the Architect, and so her actions often take the form of male-defined roles for women. Her programming makes it so that she is supposedly concerned with finding true love, but her actions toward this goal are no more than sampling the potential of others who are in love, which takes the form of demanding a kiss from Neo. In a way, she is a ghost sampling the potential of those who are still living.
As a Western imprint on the oriental (objectified and foreign) nation of the Matrix, Persephone also represents the worst female representation of Eastern culture, with a general snakelike quality and Dragon Lady edge to her charms. She could also be seen as an analog to Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s She, in that she represents a failure of boundaries in her seductive advances toward Neo. Her age, too, is a mystery.
The Merovingian and Persephone stand in for examples of bad consumption, in that they are seen to be both animalistic and fetishistic. In giving complete faith to causality, the Merovingian purports to act without conscious decision or discrimination in his decisions. This is most evidenced by his actions toward the woman who eats the cake in the restaurant. He reacts to her on impulse, pursuing her in the bathroom despite the presence of Persephone. Persephone, though, is also culpable in her similar illicit actions. And the two are also fetishistic in that they seek to draw parallels between themselves and roles that they either once held or never held. This is demonstrated by the equal amount of cups in the restaurant that are placed in front of Persephone and Trinity (three), as well as in front of the Merovingian and Neo (five). In the case of the Merovingian and Neo, Neo exists as an integer greater than five, while Persephone exists as less than the true three of Trinity.
In trying to present themselves as equals to Neo and Trinity, the Merovingian and Persephone also betray their intentions to alter the destiny of the two humans. In close parallel, a line from M. Butterfly is applicable, when Song says, “Arrogance. It takes arrogance, really, to believe you can will, with your eyes and your lips, the destiny of another.” This is literally what Persephone tries to do in kissing Neo and then staring directly at Trinity.
The Matrix, as it pertains to the Merovingian and Persephone, is most certainly Hades, or Hel, as their nightclub is called. They are specters of a previous age who no longer live with choice. The strength of The Matrix trilogy, however, is that this is not the only way to perceive the Matrix, and this reading actually serves in interpreting its other meanings. Assuming that the Merovingian imprinted himself on the matrix as a program, he, too, is an outsider from the empire of signs, and does not understand the culture inherently. The Matrix, while changed by his arrival, has existed before him. This is similar to Western culture invading and reshaping Eastern culture without consideration of the consequences.
Again, the Matrix works as a metaphor for Asia, with either China or Japan as a specific focus. To a Western mind, both the Matrix and Eastern culture would be considered “other,” and both existed prior to current Western regimes. When Helga in M. Butterfly says, “The fact that ‘old’ may be synonymous with ‘senile’ does not occur to them,” she is supporting a Western desire for domination of what is seen as a culture that can no longer support itself. The Merovingian at one point saw the same thing and tried to remake a portion of the Matrix in his image.
However, the Merovingian is not the only character in The Matrix trilogy who seeks to remake the Matrix, as this is the goal of Agent Smith in the latter two films. How exactly Smith goes about attempting this transformation of a "senile regime" is the subject of the next article in this series of critical readings of The Matrix trilogy.