The Matrix: Resurrections Knows You Didn’t Listen the First Time

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Not even half an hour into The Matrix: Resurrections, we learn it was Warner Brothers that demanded a sequel to the trilogy—and that they’re so dead set on it, they’ll do it with or without its creator.

Yes, this is something that is voiced aloud within the film itself. It’s delicious and horrifying. It is exactly what we need to hear, which is pretty much the state of affairs for the next two hours. And all because Lana Wachowski assembled a team to wrest her art back from others; from the corporate overlords demanding profit over substance; from twenty years of debate and cultural saturation and parody; from “red pill” fanatics who warped the original film’s meaning into a vote in favor of conspiracy and isolationism and bigotry.

All because, given the state of the world, it’s clear that plenty of people didn’t get the message the first time around.

[Some spoilers for The Matrix: Resurrections.]

With a snappy action sequence that introduces us to Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and the new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), it seems as though we’re on familiar ground when Resurrections starts, all business as usual. Before anyone has time to get comfortable, though, the pace grinds to a halt as we discover one Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), not as we knew him; he’s the creator of a video game called The Matrix, one that defined a generation and is expected to define it once again in the form of a sequel. The opening act of the film is a dizzyingly sharp meta deconstruction of precisely why anyone would need to revisit any Matrix story—particularly one that seems to echo its predecessor in such meticulous detail.

Or so you’ve been led to believe.

Because the truth is that the original Matrix trilogy left off in an unsatisfying place, before the real work could begin: Neo and Trinity died and humanity and machine-kind were left to decide what sort of world they would build together out of those crunchy, battered ashes. If you stop to consider that gargantuan task for one moment, you know it won’t be easy—it might not even work.

Resurrections finally tells us the story of what comes after the aftermath, and it does so with a frighteningly accurate measure of our weaknesses, both practically and existentially. How many people would actually take that red pill, if given the opportunity? How easy are we to manipulate, to coerce, to con into complacency even in the presence of facts? And why, despite all of that, do so many of us know that something is terribly wrong with the current state of things? These are just a few of the questions that the film poses to its audience, but that only scratches the surface of what it’s really getting at. That’s only one stop on this trip through Wonderland.

If you’ve kept tabs on the Wachowski oeuvre since the completion of the first Matrix trilogy, it’s easy to spot the ways in which Lana Wachowski has built toward this particular story in this moment. There’s the fact that it was co-written with David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, which the Wachowskis adapted to film in 2012; there’s the presence of roughly half the cast of the Sense8 television series; there’s the action sequences in that “signature style” after creating the likes of V for Vendetta and Speed Racer and that first Matrix trilogy; there are themes that span the entire filmography, from how consciousness forms reality to the need to accept connection in the face of overwhelming apathy and cruelty. And, of course, there’s the unmistakable feminine urge to look on the Wachowski backlist and find those telltale moments of transgender allegory and affirmation. It’s something I’ve done with a fair bit of regularity myself, in fact.

So when I say that Resurrections is better poised to tackle trans affirmation than any Wachowski film before it, I want to be clear that this is just the latest in a powerfully long line. (And that I say “film” and not “work” because Sense8 is the obvious crowning jewel of the creative arc thus far.) These affirmations are peppered throughout the script and entrenched in the story through and through, inextricable from its core. Where the first trilogy gave us Neo on a journey of self-actualization and transformation, Resurrections chooses to give Neo and Trinity together all the markers of a trans couple, a truth that is celebrated and fiercely protected from a narrative standpoint. Their relationship is a familiar one by now, but more importantly, it is a necessity and a force to betray at your own peril.

This is also a story about binaries and what they’re good for. (Absolutely nothing.) But more than that, it’s about how binaries have fused our thinking to the point of atrophy, how they’ve strong-armed us onto a despairing path. And the film works so hard to steer us away from that path: At one point, a familiar face tells Neo that humans once tried to solve their problems with machine-kind by believing their solution to be “us or them” without realizing that the answer was “us and them.” At another point, someone gives Neo two options going forward, and asks him which he prefers. Before I could stop myself, I shouted “neither” at the screen, as though I could will him to hear me. And he didn’t, but he still found another choice in the end. (So perhaps he did.)

While every new cast member is a delightful addition to this universe and a credit to the story being told—the recasts in particular are a triumph, and oh so clever—it is impossible not to linger on the return of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who bring Neo and Trinity back to us with stunning clarity. In many ways, it feels as though these were the versions of the characters we were always meant to have, wearier and yet warmer, more real for the passage of time. It brings out characteristics in each that sit better in the foreground, Trinity’s strength and fizzing anger alongside Neo’s compassionate stillness. For a romance that was often rendered too destiny-laden to be interesting or meaningful, we now have something comfortable and careworn. The ease between them, whether action-oriented or simply taking up each other’s space, is visually and emotionally arresting every time.

And we need them to shore us up, because this story is one that lets us know (however gently) that we’re failing: just as the world that Neo and Trinity fought for is both different and somehow achingly the same, we are also in the process of repeating our mistakes on grander and grander scales. We’ve got folks like Elon Musk advocating the red pill as though he aligns with what it symbolizes to prove that. And as with every Wachowski plot, the answer to this failure and impending darkness sounds simple, and is anything but—love, yes, always love. But also, please, think. (And maybe have a great chase scene and dodge bullets and wear expertly tailored clothes.)

Lana Wachowski stated that the creation of this story came about from the death of her parents, that the ability to resurrect beloved characters was a comfort in a moment when everything was abruptly outside of her control. It’s also true that when the pandemic halted their production, Wachowski considered folding the entire project and letting it go the way of famous “unseen” movies, but her cast insisted on completing what they started. It’s beautiful, and naturally ironic, that a film that spends so much time deconstructing how art effects consciousness, how we shape one another through our actions, how love and grief alter perception, almost never came to be: How it had to be catalyzed by grief and completed out of love.

It’s ironic also that Neo is told, in no uncertain terms, that he will have to fight for a right to his life this time around. And that he truthfully does have to fight—but not in the way that anyone is expecting. It’s a state of affairs that roughly mirrors where most of us are at in this point in time, if we’re the sort of people who acknowledge that we exist under circumstances that are unsustainable.

Whether or not there is more story to tell from here is irrelevant. Like the first Matrix film, Resurrections is perfectly encapsulated: a leaping off point, or a finished thought depending on the angle you’re viewing it from. What’s incredible is that, regardless of your vantage point, it delves so much deeper than the story that proceeded it. Unlike so many of the reboots audiences have thrust upon them, The Matrix still has so much more to say.

[Please note that comments will be temporarily closed over the holiday break, but will be open for discussion on Monday, January 3rd.]

Emmet Asher-Perrin is going to be having a lot of feelings about Trinity for the rest of forever, and really, that’s just as it should be. Neo agrees. You can bug them on Twitter, and read more of their work here and elsewhere.

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