This Wednesday marks the release of The Matrix Resurrections and—like many of my cyberpunk-loving trans friends—I am absolutely thrilled. Much of Resurrection’s marketing has focused on invoking imagery and plot points from the original film, and it’s no surprise: The Matrix created the modern Science Fiction blockbuster, spawned a decade of film clones and created a metaphor so simple and potent that it has been adopted by wildly different groups all across the political spectrum. The Matrix is just one of those films that everyone knows the plot of, even if they have not seen it themselves. There is no shortage of examples to point to as explanations for the film’s success, much of them focused on tight pacing, mono-mythical plot, and the generality of its themes.
Even reading the film as a metaphor for coming out as trans has become passe. It’s liable to get you an eye roll from the older transfemmes not because it isn’t a strong argument, but because they’ve heard it cited by god knows how many baby trans girls who think they’ve stumbled onto something revolutionary and new. The Matrix is a rare, nearly perfect film. The sequels, however, have not received the same praise. While initially dismissed as overly philosophical and dense, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions have been getting reassessed, for good reason. If the original Matrix shows what it is like to break away from your oppressors, then the sequels answer the far more interesting question of how that said system attempts to reassert its power, and the compromises we must make with them in order to survive.
The Matrix created the modern Science Fiction blockbuster, spawned a decade of film clones and created a metaphor so simple and potent that it has been adopted by wildly different groups all across the political spectrum.
Part of the reason why the sequels may not have been as well received by a mainstream audience is because they stand as mediations on a particularly queer phenomenon: recognizing that coming out does not actually solve all your problems. In Reloaded, Neo can warp many of the rules of the matrix to his will, but in the real world colony of Zion, he is just another survivor, reckoning with his actions and feeling deeply uncomfortable with the worship he receives as “the one.” Among these worshipers is Kid, a young man who looks up to Neo in the same way many baby queers think of anyone who’s come out before them. Reloaded is dominated by Neo’s lack of answers and his quest to find them. As the Oracle states: “You’ve already made the choice. Now you have to understand why.”
In the sequels, Neo remains both an individual and a symbol for the collective. The only thing that’s changed is the scope of the existential crisis. It’s no longer about overcoming a singular enemy, but making peace among a whole bevy of humans, machines, and programs. In a particularly resonant scene, one of Zion’s councilmen shows Neo the aquifers of the city remarking on the irony that: “These machines are keeping us alive while other machines are coming to kill us.” The struggle is about co-existence rather than defining what should be considered life, because both the organic and synthetic are subject to rules and controls.
Even something as seemingly unique as being “the one” is revealed as being a form of controlled opposition, letting anomalies coalesce merely so that they can be corralled and destroyed. The real world analog being, sadly, the numerous trans people who are allowed to come out and transition only so that their deaths can be used as a warning for those who would follow their path, or worse, those held up as being the “bad queer people.” The most dangerous threat to the humans aren’t just the sentinels; they are humans who escape the matrix only to turn around and try to crawl their way back in shame, often endangering those around them in a failed attempt to seek acceptance and respect from the machines. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than with how Agent Smith’s character is altered in Reloaded and Revolutions.
In the sequels, Agent Smith becomes a virus of conformity, no longer just a representation for the direct violence authority enacts against those who resist, but an argument about how dangerous self-loathing and assimilation are. Existing in the real world through the character of Bane, he is disgusted at existing in a “meat sack” and only tolerates it for the sake of expanding his own power. Assimilation is the ultimate nightmare of The Matrix franchise, looking the same and acting the same as everyone else, caught in an ocean of sameness, optimized fully but to no end.
The solution, as with any Wachowski project, is love. Love is the only purpose that matters. One scene that sums up the sequels best comes near the beginning of Reloaded. In a celebration of humanity’s survival, Morpheus speaks before Zion, gathered together in a warm dank cave, which proceeds to turn into a rave/celebration/orgy. As human bodies sweat and writh against each other, the film intercuts shots of Neo and Trinity in bed together, in an earthen alcove surrounded by wires and candles. Each of their bodies is marked by ports from their origins inside the Matrix. Individual and collective love become one.
This sequence demonstrates that human energy doesn’t have to be used for evil, or in service of production. It can be expended simply for the sake of human enjoyment. Resistance isn’t merely a spiritual and mental struggle fought in the digital realm, (i.e. discourse on Twitter). It’s a physical struggle, and what better insult to those who wish to reduce you to mere biopower than ‘wasting’ it in service to human and Queer joy. Taking the red pill isn’t enough. You have to choose a reason to keep on living in a world as difficult as this one, and what better reason is there than love?♦