This article contains spoilers for the film The Matrix Resurrections.
The Matrix Resurrections is the best film of 2021.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you might be surprised that I would give such unqualified high praise, given that it’s currently being review-bombed by a seemingly coordinated group of haters, all of whom seem to be using the same language to describe it (“woke”, “garbage”, “rehash” etc).
But this is not a reflection on the quality of the movie itself. Resurrections is not a stale or by-the-numbers reboot created solely for a cash grab by a soulless studio or a vanity-project by a hubristic director drunk with power and fame.
Instead, it is a remarkably complex and layered film, full of visually stunning sequences that combine philosophical themes and social commentary with a compelling story about the resurgence of love and idealism against the perpetually morphing forces of social control. It is more reminiscent of the Wachowskis’ Cloud Atlas in structure than the first Matrix movie (which makes sense given David Mitchell, author of the book “Cloud Atlas” helped write the script).
““They took your story that meant so much to people like me, and turned it into something trivial.”
Resurrections is a meta-story — a story within a story within a story within “real life” (that becomes part of the story). On one level, Neo is trapped inside a new simulation — he is Thomas A. Anderson, the decorated game developer for the award-winning Matrix game trilogy. In this simulation, the Matrix has taken Neo’s memories from the first 3 movies, and made him believe they are fictional, part of a successful story that “entertained some kids” and made a lot of money.
In a way, Neo is trapped by the very things that liberated him in the first 3 movies. This sets up the core question of the movie — if the forces of social control can pervert and twist even ideas of liberation, how can real liberation ever be achieved?
“It weaponizes every idea. Every dream. Everything that’s important to us.”
In this part of the story, Neo clearly stands for Lana Wachowski herself, exploring her feelings about making a fourth Matrix movie, as Thomas Anderson is pressured by studio executives to make a fourth Matrix game, one that has to hit all the focus-group approved notes. “Original, fresh, messes with your head, lots of guns, bullet time”.
Will Matrix 4 be a form of control, exerted by the Matrix-like forces of Warner Bros and the capitalist machine over Lana as an artist, as the Matrix attempts to exert control over Neo? Or can it be a tool used against these forces?
“Where better to bury truth than inside something as trivial as a videogame?”
In the new 21st century simulation, Lana comments on the way the original Matrix series and their message of liberation were co-opted by various forces of social control, in particular capitalism and political ideology. The endless studio meetings repeat themselves, like deja vu. Hinting to Neo (and Lana) that this is a type of program. The patterns of life — waking up, going to work, exercising at the gym, visiting the coffee shop — the same conversations, spiralling around and around.
In one scene it’s revealed that in this simulation Trinity (now named Tiffany) is married to a rich man named Chad, thus preventing Neo from pursuing a romance with her. This is a sly wink to the incel movement, who used “red pill” language to refer to their theory of hypergamy — “Chads taking 80% of all women”. Except in Resurrections, “Chad” is a bot, part of the Matrix’s attempt to keep Trinity and Neo apart. Incel ideology therefore, is not the truth, but another lie of the Matrix, as it attempts to maintain control.
Trinity herself is trapped by social obligation and duty. She asks — “how do I know if I really wanted to have kids? Or did I just follow what was expected of me — marriage and children?”
Neo can feel that something is wrong. Memories keep resurfacing, flashbacks and visual distortions. Only for the “Analyst” to explain it all away using the language of mental illness, causing him to doubt his own judgement.
You seem very triggered right now.
But how is Neo alive at all, let alone Trinity? Didn’t they both die at the end of Matrix Revolutions?
How the titular “resurrections” work is where we see the synthesis of ideas from Cloud Atlas and Sense8 combine with those from the first Matrix trilogy. In Cloud Atlas, a person’s consciousness is imprinted on those around them, through the actions they took in their life, and the art they left behind. By living similar stories, and experiencing similar experiences, feeling similar things, people can “reincarnate”, even without the same memories they had before. Likewise through empathy in Sense8, people can share consciousnesses and become merged.
Since Neo and Trinity were both in the Matrix for much of their life, their identity was able to be transcribed into code. So were their bodies and DNA, and their subjective experiences. As explained in The Matrix Reloaded Neo became “The One” through being activated and selected by the Matrix’s “Prime Program”. He activated his powers by following the “Path of the One”, a program actually designed by the Matrix as a form of control, by containing the urge of freedom (anomalies) within the personification of anomalies, the One. Originally the purpose of the One was to reset the Matrix, as well as Zion. Ensuring the cycle of Machine control over humanity would continue, and the resistance would always be managed and controlled.
However Neo managed to break out of the restrictions of the Prime Program . Instead of resetting the Matrix as previous “Ones” before him had, he manages to broker a peace between the Machines and humans, to the point that by the end of Revolutions the Machines agree to let anyone who wants to leave the Matrix go free.
In Resurrections the mystery of what made Neo special compared to other iterations of “The One” was of great interest to the Machines, and the Analyst program wanted to understand Neo’s “source code” by bringing him back to life (likely as a means to prevent future anomalies from finding ways to exit the Matrix, as each person who left the Matrix caused energy depletion and so the Machines were motivated to find a new simulation and a new program that will ensure no one wants to leave the Matrix again). As such, the machines rebuilt Neo’s body, and tested various programs based on his memories and the Prime Program to see if they could replicate him as he was at the ending of Revolutions and in the process understand what was special about him.
But each time they tried to bring back Neo by himself, they failed.
“Did you know that hope and despair are almost identical in code?”
The only way to really bring back Neo, would be to bring back Trinity at the same time. And so, they rebuilt her body as well, using genetic information stored from Trinity’s time in the Matrix.
The fact that Trinity and Neo had to be brought back together, or not at all, hints that the two of them had imprinted on each other, so that vital parts of each’s consciousnesses were stored inside the other’s mind. Only able to be awoken, if they were together.
“I never believed I was the One. But she did. She believed in me. It’s my turn to believe in her.” — Neo
That which made Neo different from other iterations of The One, was inside Trinity all along. It was only through their love for each other, that Neo was able to become the One who broke out of the Prime Program, choosing to save Trinity over the rest of humanity in Reloaded.
The power of love is something that has always been of supreme importance to Lana Wachowski — not only in the Matrix movies, but in Cloud Atlas and Sense8 as well. To jaded and cynical viewers, this may be seen as a cliché. But I think that Lana is very interested in how love works and why it can be a superpower. In Cloud Atlas and Sense8, love is a means of transmission between minds, passing the spark of resistance against the forces of control, like a candle lighting others from itself. In Cloud Atlas this is the mechanism by which the imprinting works that enables reincarnation, as well as the means by which a person’s karmic path can change direction. In Sense8 it’s how a cluster-parent births sensates, groups of eight people who are psychically linked.
“Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity and principals of uncertainty. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives.” — Cloud Atlas
“Love is not something we wind up, something we set or control. Love is just like art: a force that comes into our lives without any rules, expectations or limitations. Love like art, must always be free.” — Sense8
In Resurrections love is the means by which an individual’s belief and power against the Matrix is preserved. By sharing power, by decentralising it from the individual — as Neo did through Trinity, and as happened in Sense8, it becomes impossible to “purge”. Even if the One is killed, the flame of belief and power is preserved and carried on, and spread further, through the interactions between other people who love and are loved.
That is why the Matrix tried to keep Neo and Trinity apart, tried to disguise them from themselves and from anyone who might want to rescue them. Together, they have power. They can wake each other up. But apart and pining for each other? Their frustrated energy is siphoned off and used by the Matrix.
It’s so easy to forget how much noise the Matrix pumps into your head until you unplug. Something else makes the same kind of noise, takes over everything just like the Matrix. War.
Resurrections does a lot to expand the idea of the Matrix beyond just the metaphor of the computer simulation.
In the second layer of the story, which Neo wakes up to after taking the red pill a second time, he is taken the combined human-AI civilisation that had risen after his sacrifice in Revolutions, Io, which is overseen by “The General” Niobe, now 60 years older than when she was last seen in Revolutions. In this peaceful seeming-utopia, humans and “sentients” work together to create gardens of fruit and vegetables, under a gently glowing sky.
All this was only possible due to the peace that Neo brokered between the humans and Machines. Despite the resurgence of the Matrix and the updated simulation, some real progress had been achieved.
That’s what you changed, that none of us could have ever predicted. The meaning of “our side”.
However, even in this utopian enclave, recognisable themes from the Matrix are taking shape. Niobe attempts to lock Neo up out of fear he will try to rescue Trinity and thus anger the Machine faction that destroyed the old Zion. She asserts her authority, demanding she be called “General” and berating Bugs for freeing Neo without her permission.
Despite the fact they are free from the computer simulation, the “Matrix” is growing within them, in the form of hostility and control — manifestations of growing fear.
This is one of the most profound aspects of the movie, in my view, as it speaks to how these patterns of control as exemplified by the Matrix recur again and again unless consciously and repeatedly transcended. This is why revolutions in real life don’t lead to utopia, but usually reassert oppression in a different form. Although better than Zion, Io stagnated, through a fear of losing that which it had gained.
“You care more about gardening than freeing minds!”
Fear is the main opposition to love in Resurrections — the emotion that is easiest to control people through, and the engine through which conflict and control find their power.
Fear is what the Analyst uses to keep Neo from waking up — fear of his own death and madness. When Neo wakes up regardless, fear of losing Trinity is what the Analyst leverages to try and manipulate him into coming back.
Trinity: Part of me wants to believe that I am who you think I am. That part of me asks what took you so long?
Neo: I don’t have an easy answer. Perhaps I was afraid. Afraid of this.
Neo’s fear of rejection was what prevented him from approaching Trinity before he woke up. And his fear of the consequences of remembering that he was the One — that in Revolutions ended in Trinity’s death.
Waking up, asserting power over the Matrix, would have meant fully acknowledging the depth of his feelings for Trinity, and would have made it all the more agonising to lose her again.
This same fear, Lana Wachowski is saying, holds us all back from our power. Only through facing fear, rather than avoiding it, can you become empowered. Only through opening yourself up to the possibility of loss and the pain that will cause, can you experience the fullness of love.
Only through a leap of faith, can you find out if you can fly.
“You know the difference between us Tom? Anyone could be you, whereas I’ve always been everyone” — Agent Smith
And so, bravely, Lana Wachowski made her idealistic movie. Opening herself up to the possibility of hatred and derision (which did happen in the wake of this movie).
Tiffany (Trinity): Can I ask you something? Did you base your main character off of yourself?
Thomas Anderson (Neo): I do put myself in my characters. Perhaps a little too much.
This is the final layer of Resurrections. The layer we live in right now. The final message of the movie, passed from one mind to another, through love. Just as Neo passes his powers to Trinity, so that she can fly and reshape the Matrix, Lana Wachowski passes the spark of belief into the viewer.
We can all be Neo. We can all reshape the world. We can create a future beyond binaries, beyond “us and them”, beyond conflict.
The Matrix will always try to absorb these ideas into itself. There is never going to be a final defeat of the forces of control and conflict, since fear will always be a part of our psyche.
But by cultivating love, by trusting in others, by opening ourselves up to failure, through hope — we can turn the tool of the Matrix against itself, as Lana did through this sequel.
“Art is love made public” — Sense8
This movie is an act of love and belief from Lana Wachowski (and all the other artists involved in the movie) in us, the viewers.
It doesn’t catch in all minds. As the Analyst says to Trinity and Neo at the end of the movie, “most people don’t want this sentimentality”. Most people wanted the story they expected in a Matrix sequel. They wanted Neo and Trinity to be the same as they were in the first movie, not to grow or change.
But that’s OK.
“Not all wish to control, just as not all wish to be free”.