Buddhism, the study of Buddha’s principles, has influenced everything in our lives from our beliefs and customs to our music, TV, and pop culture in general. With such widespread influence, it’s easy to understand why two of the most popular movies of today are a parallel of the core beliefs of Buddhists. Both “Fight Club” and “The Matrix” are representations of Buddhism in our modern world. “Fight Club” reflects the Buddhist principles on a self-based level. It features beliefs such as death of self, avoidance of sensual pleasures, and minimalism.
Death of Self is easily the overbearing theme in “Fight Club”. Quotes such as “Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart…” detail the philosophy echoed by Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa, “The attainment of Nirvana (enlightenment) from the ego’s standpoint is extreme death, the death of self, the death of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ the death of the watcher. It is the ultimate and final disappointment.”
Another philosophy detailed in “Fight Club” is that of being misled by sensual pleasures. Ed Norton says.
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else… You are not your bank account. You are not the clothes the wear. You are not the contents of your wallet…”
Jacobus agrees with this sentiment, writing.
“…watch out for these enemies which cause so much evil, and you should always control them, i.e., your seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.”
Finally, “Fight Club” and Buddhism parallel in the belief that materialism is a bond which must be broken for enlightenment to be achieved. “Fight Club” emphasizes this by saying, “You have to give up. You have to realize that someday you will die. Until you know this, you are useless.” Jacobus, quite frank, writes, “…do not hanker after the glittering objects of this world!” It is clear to see that “Fight Club” was written to bring the beliefs of Buddhism into western homes.
“The Matrix” has the tagline “Free Your Mind”. This is the Buddhist spiritual philosophy. While “Fight Club” discusses the self, “The Matrix” discusses spirituality. Perhaps the most stunningly obvious revelation of this is the plaque in the Oracle’s house; a Latin phrase translated “Know Thyself”. Jacobus agrees that the only way to achieve nirvana is this, as he details by saying, “You are further asked to apply mindfulness to your sitting, walking, standing, looking, speaking, and so on, and to remain fully conscious in all your activities.”
The Buddhist belief of nirvana and samsara also details the fact that the world surrounding us is not the real world, but only a “veil pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth” (The Matrix). Finally, Buddhism mirrors “The Matrix in spiritual beliefs with their belief in samsara, the rebirth of a person after death. In “The Matrix: Reloaded,” we are shown that our hero, Neo, has had not only one life, but 7 others, and they all ended up at the same crossroads in each of their lives.
In the scene where the Architect meets Neo for the first time, videos surround them featuring Neo’s reactions to the same questions asked by the Architect in each of his past lives. When Neo chooses the door on his right as opposed to the door on his left, as he has in the past lives, the door symbolizes the nirvana of which he has become worthy. By making the choice to go back and save humanity instead of allowing everyone to be destroyed and born again, he has overcome the vicious cycle of rebirth, samsara, and allowed the humans to live in peace. “The Matrix” is a view of the spiritual realm of Buddhism, and is more difficult to see as a direct parallel of the core beliefs. With careful introspection, however, one may unmask the Wachowski Brothers’ subtlety.
As shown, both “Fight Club” and “The Matrix” explain Buddhist beliefs to the masses. It’s obvious the most preached themes of Buddhism are death of self and minimalism, as both movies focus heavily on them.