By Anna Swanson · Published January 20, 2022
This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Stay tuned as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances and more from this very strange year. In this post, Anna Swanson explores our choice for Film of the Year – The Matrix Resurrections.
Ask anyone who even as much as has passed a movie theater recently and they can tell you that reboot is the topic of the day. Restarts, remakes, sequels and spinoffs are everywhere. This, of course, is not in itself a bad thing. But it lends itself to some form of cynicism. It is actually tempting to feel that originality has been lost in favor of recognizable and nostalgic renditions of other beloved films.
But this is not the whole story, and it is not entirely fair to stick your head in the sand and mourn the current state of the cinema. At least not without thinking that originality can be found inside worlds we already know. Reunion with stories we are familiar with can be an opportunity to deepen narratives and deconstruct mythologies. It can open up storytelling and offer creators a recycling of their own work. And in this regard, The Matrix Resurrection rules at the top.
The film is at once a reboot and a sequel that comes 18 years after directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski completed the original Matrix trilogy. With Lana Wachowski back at the helm The Matrix ResurrectionsExpectations and speculation ran rampant in the months leading up to the release. But to really understand the impact of the film in 2021, we need to go much further back than when the first trailer fell.
Since The Matrix was released in 1999, the film and the concepts in it have become a lightning rod of critical theory, the ubiquitous and metaphorical pontifications of pop culture. This is mostly not surprising. After all, a film series is about people who break free from a life lived inside a simulation, destined for our relationship with the Internet. From the concept of the “Red Pill” being granted of those with infant media knowledge of the well-thought-out and robust assessments of the franchise’s transallegories, The Matrix has got his own life.
The last of these examples is, of course, the more fruitful. And the one that will be most beneficial in understanding The Matrix Resurrections. The new film takes up years after the events of the third Matrix function and finds Neo (Keanu Reeves) lives again as Thomas Anderson in the matrix simulation. This time, he is a video game developer who unknowingly used memories of the events of the trilogy to build the video game that made him famous. His co-developer and company have encouraged him to make another sequel to the game (you can see how this gets pretty meta), and this coincides with Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a real-world human who tracks down Neo in an attempt to free him again.
As Neo discovers, the events of the trilogy took place 60 years earlier. After he and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) sacrificed themselves, they were rebuilt by The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who wanted to monitor them, and who manifests himself in the matrix as Neo’s therapist to keep him docile. With Neo released, the focus turns to whether Trinity – who believes she is a woman named Tiffany with a husband and children – will be willing to acknowledge the truth and participate in the fight.
The answer leads to some of the most triumphant and touching moments in any film this year, but the journey we take to get there is one that is inevitably divisive and infinitely ingenious. The trick here is that many of the ideas in The Matrix Resurrections are not original, at least insofar as they have been present since the original Matrix. But they are vitally recycled and often doubled, pulling out some of the franchise’s most integrated ideas.
The choice to make “The Matrix” a video game in the matrix is both a tool for some on-the-nose meta-jokes (the game development company’s parent company, Warner Brothers, has insisted that the original creators return for a fourth iteration – haha ). But it also gives the idea that the audience’s consumption of The Matrix (the movies) has been an active process where viewers may be more involved, or at least feel more involved, than with the average movie.
In fact, a lot has been written about The Matrix as a trans allegory, and some of the best writing on the film comes from transcribers who found that the films articulated their own emotions. It goes without saying that the importance of The Matrix for transgender people and the value of the Wachowskis working in the film industry as trans women is immeasurable. But the franchise’s perspective on self-discovery that transcends the divisions of the world, especially as expressed in The Matrix Resurrections, goes far beyond any individual.
The core idea here is about breaking down boundaries and binary relationships, with a wealth of examples illustrating this idea. The simulation is a world of divisions: zeros and ones; Neo and Smith (first played by Hugo Weaving and now know Jonathan Groff). IN The Matrix Resurrections, Agent Smith has become Smith, Thomas Anderson’s co – developer, but his role is still to keep order in everything. As Neo and Trinity are rebuilt by The Analyst, he keeps them separate enough to be separate, but close enough to instinctively recognize their separation. Each is defined as being separate from the other. Even the idea of the One – the hero who will bring salvation and freedom, which the original trilogy exhibits as being Neo – is a concept built on division. There is the One and then there are the others, those who help him in his quest.
Although there are many interpretations of the film that could all hold water, even when in conflict with each other, one of the more successful arguments is that The Matrix Resurrections distinguishes the concept The One. Instead of a person offering salvation, The One is the power created by Neo and Trinity together. Their love, the driving force that brings them together once they have been wiped out of memory, is what offers true freedom. When Trinity makes his choice and she and Neo ascend to the roof of a skyscraper, they assume that Neo’s power has returned and he is able to fly again. Instead, it is she who carries him through the heavens.
At the top of the building, Trinity begins to see the code for the simulation, just as Neo did in the original film, but she does so while also taking the beauty of the sunset around them. In the end, it is Trinity who awakens to the horror and wonder that exist at the same time in the matrix, and it is she who has the ability to master the conflicting binary elements of the system and transcend them. The power of the film comes from Trinity and Neo uniting and making up for their separations to become something more than any of them are as individuals.
What has been interesting to see unfold since the film’s release is setbacks to supposed “changes” in The Matrix Resurrections these are actually aspects that have always been there. The Matrix has always been a trance text, and it has always been unapologetically serious.
After years of watching concepts from the film being taken in bad faith and appropriated, Wachowski’s return to the franchise with a message of love and union is as much a recycling as it is a sequel. The Matrix Resurrections confirms what The Matrix has always been about and where its true power has always been. It is a rude film about transness, both as it relates to gender and identity and as it relates to a broader, universal freedom from a forced system.
The revelation that Neo and Trinity’s love is a force stronger than the codes that dictate their lives, and the systems that control everything around them, has always been a vital part of this story. It has saved them both before, in the original Matrix and in The matrix reloaded – is it strange that love is what will bring them back after all this time?
It is a cliché to say that affirmative and positive narratives are what we need after enduring a rather grim and unpredictable year, so I will not say that The Matrix Resurrections is the movie we need. But maybe it’s a movie that Wachowski deserved to make. It is a film that will offer a deeply resonant allegory to the viewers, and it is a film that captures a beautiful story of salvation and self-confidence that is priceless. We do not need it, but we can still be grateful for it.
Related topics: 2021 Rewind, Film of the Year
Anna Swanson is a senior contributor who comes from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma movie.