The Irony of The Matrix Resurrections
There’s a meme you may have seen in passing. It’s the box art for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game photoshoped into a Kafkaesque portrait of a man. Tony Hawk’s aged, modern face us glaring at the viewer. The box art is filled with tweets Tony hawk frequently makes about the bizarre things said to him. The one tweet that sums them all up is, “a woman asked me, ‘are you Tony Hawk?’ I said ‘yes.’ She just asked ‘why?’ I have no idea how to respond to that.” The title on this fake game’s box art: Tony Hawk’s Existential Nightmare. This is The Matrix Resurrections to a T.
Over two decades ago, Lana and Lilly Wachowski made their magnum opus. It was a deeply derivative, action thriller that would loom over them for the rest of their careers. Nothing they did would ever match the success and acclaim The Matrix had. Not even its sequels. Their later works have aged rather poorly. V For Vendetta is more meme than movie, now permanently marred by 4chan’s Anonymous of the 2000s. Cloud Atlas gained scorn for racial insensitivity. Speed Racer is entirely forgotten by the masses. Sense8 is a nonsense cliché anthology that reeks of tired tropes, plots and dialogue. Jupiter Ascending is perhaps one of the greatest examples of “so bad it’s good.” And the Matrix sequels are legendarily bad. So much so that they became memes for years after.
So where to go when all roads have lead you down? Lilly went on to quit mainstream movies and showrun a queer comedy called Work in Progress. The show is standard fare, nothing to write home about. This leaves Lana to her own devices.
The sisters are notoriously camera shy. They rarely give interviews and their private lives are closely guarded. Yet we can still discern some major stylistic differences. If a dull queer comedy is Lilly’s cup of tea, then what did Lana bring to their collaborative efforts? The test would be put to them two fold. The first was the tragic death of their parents. Lilly wanted to move on with her life and not look back. Lana looked back fondly on her early works; with nostalgia and wanted to hold them close to her once again. The second test was Warner Brother’s demands for a sequel. Lilly wanted nothing to do with it. Lana did. So what did Lana want with it? Well, to burn it to the fucking ground. If Lana couldn’t have The Matrix, nobody could. She would scorch it so thoroughly that neither right wingers no fans would ever want anything to do with it again.
What Is The Matrix Resurrections?
Within the first 10 minutes we are treated to a cluster fuck of 4th wall breaking and self parody. We see a revisionist version of the opening scene playing out, while Bugs (who named herself after Bugs Bunny) watches and comments. We than see “Agent Smith” show up, except this “Smith” is none other than Morpheus. Virtual Trinity proceeds to get her ass handed to her by Morph-Smith. This is proceeded by a comedy sketch in which Bugs and Morph-Smith first fight, than embrace, and then Morpheus gets high on the Red Pill. I am not joking. We are in for a wild fucking ride. The gauntlet is cast down. This movie has given its thesis: fuck The Matrix.
We then see Neo as a game dev surrounded by Matrix toys. His desk is littered with the junk products of the franchise. He is called into Smith 2.0’s office where the 4th wall, and the series, are broken forever. In no uncertain terms, Smith says the Warner Brothers is demanding a sequel and they’re going to do it with or without Lana’s involvement. What happens for this section is Lana’s never ending nightmare of having made The Matrix. Sycophants sucking up to “Neo,” marketing teams discussing branding in the verbal equivalent to a lobotomy, and the day to day monotony of it all. The themes of The Matrix are thrown around in the dumbest way possible in these meetings. The message is clear and shouted to us through a megaphone, Lana thinks The Matrix is a joke.
Then we break free in one of the greatest parodies I have ever seen in film history. It is the story of the first few films but turned into a farce. The game dev studio gets SWAT’ed and Neo walks into a bathroom to see a comedic rendition of Morpheus, who takes nothing seriously. Morpheus is wearing a fucking mustard colored suit. And it gets better and better. I’m afraid I should stop here, lest I spoil the rest of the movie for those who have yet to see it.
“There’s a lot of me in him,… maybe too much.” says Neo in our trademark coffee shop romance scene. Neo is Lana throughout this entire film. From the montage of creating the 4th “game,” to despising the idea of going back, to finally enjoying herself revisiting this old creation. Neo’s journey is Lana’s journey. From wondering what it would be like to reinvent the Matrix, what she would have done differently if she could do it over again, to sulking over being dragged back to it, to rewriting the settings to make them more lively, to finally admiring her own creation and legacy. It’s as much her own personal journey as Neo’s.
Trinity, along with many other characters, are mostly allegories for trans people. Each one waking up to their true selves, as the cliché goes. Perhaps the most defining moment is when Trinity, still brainwashed by the new Matrix, tells Neo about how she saw herself in virtual Trinity (from the in universe game). She tells how she showed her coworker a picture of the character, said “what do you think?” The coworker didn’t get it. She said “doesn’t she look like me” or something to that affect. She follows up with “He laughed. And then I laughed. He thought it was a joke. I wanted to kick his jaw off.” A common theme among trans women is the “transition goals” fictional character. A virtual stand in for the desired body. Because of its fictional nature, that character’s being out of reach is just in the nature of fiction and not because it would be physically impossible to match. Trinity is the closeted trans woman in allegory. Her journey mirror’s Lana’s own transition in many ways. But most of all, she exists because she has to. It’s a Matrix movie after all.
Now onto the star of the first third of the film, Morpheus. Morpheus is perhaps the biggest “fuck you” to the old movies. The original Morpheus was a caricature. Mentor, prophet, and self serious monologue dispenser. He is the embodiment of the old series, of what Lana wants to leave behind. The new Morpheus is doing his best Hannibal Buress impression. He openly mocks and scoffs at the old lines from the first film. They were corny after all. Lana views them as corny. A dull as dishwater, pseudo intellectual mishmash of 90s tropes. So what is the answer to retcon that awful dialogue? Have the same character laugh at himself.
As for the rest of the cast, the new Agent Smith, now just Smith, is a techbro. A Bay Area rich kid who dresses like a douchebag. What more need be said about him? Niobe is cynical, jaded, and long since moved passed the idiocy of “the one.” Everyone’s moved past it. It was a stupid plot pointer, to give people motivation where there was none. The Annalist is both a tenderqueer stereotype who controls people through “validating their feelings,” and a stand in for the studio itself. Someone who views people as delusional sheeple, for whom only emotions count. Every new blockbuster doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs you to shovel popcorn in your gob hole, subscribe to the service, and buy merch. Bugs and the rest of the idiot crew are non-characters. They exist because the plot needs more than a handful of people.
Subtlety is for idiots. The last time the Wachowskis tried to be subtle, even in their hamfisted way, we got “the red pill.” You’ve seen right wingers dance to Rage Against the Machine on social media. So fuck that, time to make this poison. The cries of “woke” Matrix echo throughout the internet, from the same people never got the message to begin with. People sharing photos of Lana to mock her being trans, as if a simple picture could unfucked The Matrix. Woke©™ social media warriors pretend this trans shaming was to decry her having dreadlocks but this is a transparent dog whistle. Only people with right mentalities and morality mock people for their appearance. In the end, everyone was triggered. Nicely done.
Another lesson Lana learned is that self seriousness is a fantastic way to make a film dated and corny. Who could watch The Matrix in 2022 and not laugh at something in it? The Matrix sequels became memes in an instant. The Architect’s boring speech is one of the most parodied parts of The Matrix series. Every last ounce of self righteous and self serious dialogue was memeified the second it hit pop-culture. Now try making a meme out of The Matrix Resurrections when the whole damn movie is a meme? A meme who’s only context is in the other Matrix movies. Self serious, pseudo intellectual mindfucks are so 1990s. Satire is forever.
Yet another lesson is that your own creations can always be reclaimed. Lana snatched The Matrix back from pop culture like a overprotective mother ripping their infant out of the hands of a weird relative. The Red Pill was a right wing metaphor for brainwashing yourself into becoming a antisemitic incel. The machines were a dull, less interesting take on AI and artificial reality. The whole first movie was dripping in 90s speculation about a future that would never come. It was a cluster fuck of action and dull speeches. Now it’s a comedy. Now it’s meta. The Matrix was on the cusp of being another IP akin to Marvel. Then Lana put her foot down. Today, The Matrix is Lana’s once more. Her story, her world, her vision, her franchise, her movie.
Perhaps the final lesson is the bitterest pill to swallow. Lana and Lilly shouldn’t work together. I can only speculate on why but in having a sister myself, I do have some insight into sisterly dynamics. I think the Wachowskis form an echo chamber when they collaborate. They are their own people, yes, but very similar in taste, ideas, and near identical upraising. If Lana has a bad idea, who is Lilly to spot it and give critique? If Lilly has a bad idea, it might play into Lana’s own blind spots. Together they amplify stupid, like feedback on a mic placed next to a speaker. Now Lana has new people to work with. People who have newer ideas. People who can give critical feedback. Armed with this, The Matrix Resurrections feels fresh, funny, and altogether a different beast from all her previous works. Jupiter Ascending is what happens when two like minds fail to see their own flaws. The Matrix Resurrections is what happens when new people bring bits of themselves to the table.
I don’t think anyone can picture a new Matrix. I doubt Lana has another one in her. The studio is reeling from Resurrection’s bad reception. The plot is once again wrapped up in a nice little bow. The only place for Lana to go is up, supposing her sister stays out of her creative process.
The Matrix itself was done and over long ago. A final send off to the cheesiest cyberpunk elements of the 90s. The 90s is done and over at 30 plus years. Sure, we still listen to Nirvana, watch 90s movies, and reminiscence about the early revolution of 3D video games. Yet the 90s are not the 80s by any stretch of the imagination. We live in the 1980’s shadow because it was the decade that defined the modern age. A line in the sand between the past and the present. It was the decade computers came home, pop stars became the ultimate celebrities, video games took their place as the top form of child entertainment, Japan surpassed the US as an economic and cultural giant, it was the end of many things and the beginnings of a new world. One of those beginnings was the birth of cyberpunk. The 90s by contrast was an awkward teenage phase. That pimply, gross, and unhygienic puberty into our current dystopia. We’ve moved past it. Cyberpunk’s moved past it. Lana’s moved past it. The Matrix is our teenage doodles of angsty revenge fantasies and adolescent narcissism. The Matrix Resurrections is picking up those old drawings and having a good laugh at them. But now it’s time to put The Matrix back in the memory box and go back to our adult lives. Much like the first Matrix film, many people missed the point of this one. But this time around I got the message loud and clear. The Matrix is dead, long live The Matrix.