I freely admit that much about the Matrix series confuses me, so while I’ve seen the films I haven’t become so much a fan as an interested observer. Nonetheless, as with literature like Finnegans Wake or Ezra Pound’s Cantos, I find elements that compel me to try harder, to strive toward answering the question, “What the hell are they trying to tell me?” One such element is the Merovingian, whom the Oracle says is “one of the oldest of us,” “us” being those who dwell in the Matrix. Why am I so interested in this one character and willing to surf the Internet in search of clarification about him? What follows is a summary of what I’ve learned and how it answers my question.
First, his name resonates historically. The Merovingian dynasty ruled the Franks from the 5th to the 8th centuries, and that dynasty was noted for large instabilities due in large part to partible inheritance practices, meaning that heirs received a portion of lands and estates. This, of course, led to much civil upheaval, and when their time ended they acted merely as figureheads. The Merovingian page on the Matrix Wiki tells us more:
The Merovingian was presumably named after the Merovingian dynasty because it is a power from a distant period in French history, just as the Merovingian himself is a power from a distant period in the Matrix’s history who has adopted a French persona. Additionally, the Merovingians ruled what is now France during the Early Middle Ages, a period commonly known as the Dark Ages and popularly held to be a period of barbarism, superstition, and feudalism, and it may be that this name is intended to associate the Merovingian (with his personal army of supernatural beings) with these qualities.
Prior to his current less exalted role as an information trader and, the Merovingian was as an operating system for an earlier Matrix. Once, he was a leader, but now he’s a relic of the past, replaced and exiled to the Underworld by “updated” systems such as the Oracle. Indeed, the name of his wife, Persephone, highlights this Underworld imagery, since the original Persephone was the wife of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, of course. There’s even an encounter in Club Hel at one point. I love how the blend of historical reference, mythology, and metaphor illustrates the nature of this fascinating character.
Second, the Merovingian believes in causality over choice, claiming, “Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.” Here then the filmmakers exploit an opportunity to explore free will vs. determinism, since the Oracle, whom the Merovingian derides as a “fortune teller,” views into the future based on choices. As with the move from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance to the Enlightenment as a move from religious-based determinism to free will, the Matrix has moved from the Merovingian to the Oracle. Or does the progression move that cleanly? Certainly the debate isn’t over, however, since the Merovingian seeks ways to supplant what has replaced him. Although he’s deemed obsolete, he still holds power through his leadership of the Exile Programs and his information trafficking. Remnants of the past rarely fade quickly, whether one dwells in the Matrix or in reality itself. Again, wonderful imagery highlights characterization, plot, and theme.
Third, yes, I searched the Internet for discussions on Grail legends related to the Merovingian and the Matrix series, and, boy, do many populate the landscape. For brevity’s sake, I’ll mention only two essays, one by Brian Takle and the other by Alex M. Dunne. Takle, if you’re feeling bravely up for a big read with much convoluted theory and interpretation, offers perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of all things Matrix at http://wylfing.net/essays/matrix_revolutions.html#hel. About the Merovingian and the Holy Grail he notes that the Merovingian is the protector of the Grail. He also sees the Merovingian as the Devil, since, as mentioned before he’s married to Persephone, and he hangs around in Club Hel. We have all that imagery again. Alex Dunne approaches the issue more clearly, stating that the Grail is the mainframe source code that Neo seeks. The Merovingian is holding captive a character called the Keymaker through which Neo can access the mainframe source code, the Grail. Dunne expands his analysis through a comparison of the historical Merovingian Dynasty and its habit of confronting battles through Knights Templar, much as how the Merovingian of this story confronts Neo and Trinity with his henchmen and not directly. Dunne’s essay is here: http://thematrix101.com/contrib/explainer.php.
Finally, how has learning about all these allusions and references helped me to understand why the Merovingian intrigues me? He’s pitiable, a remnant of past glory existing in exile, a reviled figure in the contemporary order of the Matrix. Once upon a time, like Satan, he was the shining boy, the favored one, but so long to that. Like the Merovingian kings, he’s no long heir to Christ. We’ve moved way beyond DOS now. His only real power is not only in possessing the Keymaster but in illustrating to Neo and to us the viewers that we too can fall into exile when new versions of the world move into play. More than one commentator opines that the Merovingian may have been the One, but now it seems Neo’s the man of the hour. We all run the risk of such reversals in fortune. As Frankie sings, “Riding high in April; shot down in May.” The Merovingian shows us possibilities of personal corruption and degradation from past glories. That, I finally understand, is what has captured my attention. Someone once quipped, “Be a Skywalker, not a Porkins.” Similarly, we should always shoot for Neo and avoid the Merovingian. Lesson learned.