The Matrix has you / cannot tell you who you are.

~ essay on what The Matrix saga means to me.

I think The Matrix (1999) is a perfect film. The sci-fi action picture was created by Lana and Lily Wachowski and stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne-Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving {legends across the board}.

The series continues with The Animatrix (2003), Reloaded (2003), Revolutions (2003), various video games, and now The Matrix Resurrections (2021). The franchise broke ground in cyberpunk and A.I. concepting, American kung x gun fu action cinematics, and a range of sociopolitical and technological throughlines concerning the core storyline.

Undoubtedly, The Matrix — with its story of the reality that we recognize as a computer-generated dream world being used to totally captivate and imprison humanity’s minds while a small rebel force of freedom fighters battle back against the hegemony of machines in the near-apocalyptic far future — means a lot of things to a lot of different people:

It’s a warning about Artificial Intelligence. It depicts a picture perfect Hero’s Journey / escape from Plato’s cave. It’s about kicking ass and looking hella sexy. It’s an allegory for the journey of a trans person. It’s destiny as cinema. It’s a metaphor for political awakening, with the red pill being the truth and the blue pill being the ignorant lie — being “red pilled” is to wield the *correct* worldview, while being blue pilled means to be asleep in a fantasy, and potentially an enemy to the truth…

The Matrix is the realization that you have been born into a world that you can never fully understand — surrounded by the dominating phantoms of greed, prejudice, corruption, control — with the possibility of something like companionship, solidarity, love as a distant, yet attainable, dream that can only be earned through some strange combination of luck and work.

The Matrix is the happenings around us, far and wide, the world of schools, jobs, kids, the world of consumerism and war / the “real world” is the spectrum of reality we may dare to see by “freeing our mind,” commensurate with the degree of our care and consciousness we place into our surroundings and the people there. The Matrix is the world beyond our control; reality is the world we have some agency over.

The truth is: We aren’t actually in red goop pods, in vertical farms being overseen by tentacle machines where our organic biopower, via naturally-occurring electromagnetism, is being harvested {probably…}  

But we are in a world with many layers and perspectives and realities, seen and unseen.

All this is what the Matrix means to us.

All those things are true and part of the cultural canon that the film(s) generated. But to me, perhaps more than anything else, The Matrix is a story about alienation in the modern world.

I mean alienation in the classic sense and the Marxist way; to be alienated from the world is to not only be devalued, depressed — but to come to doubt its veracity. To believe this world is a false one, to be mired in the philosophy of a demiurge, to want to escape from your existence and raise your consciousness, mind x body x soul into a separate reality — this is what it means to be truly alienated.

This is Thomas Anderson / Neo’s journey from the beginning of the first film. To some degree, we are all Neo: we want to escape from the tedium of modernity and be a part of something real, go on a meaningful journey with worthy companions, {be able to fight and fuck well, look really cool, meet Trinity / Carrie Anne-Moss…}

We all want to find a way to quit our dead-end job and get off the computer.

The Matrix: Neo meets Trinity

At the turn of the millennium, corporate, computer-dominated, sedentary desk jobs were just then ramping to the forefront of middle class labor activity. Technology was beginning to seep into everyday life; social media was an exciting dream drawing nearer to our awareness, actualizing along the lines of games, forums, chatrooms, blogs, pixelated online realms.

Past the wonder of discovery, serious disconnection was coming too. Computers made some things much more efficient and entertaining, while they also changed the way we communicated, invested, searched, laughed, cried, *knew* each other. Alienation tailed all this digital innovation, without ever curtailing it — the development of our ‘Matrix’ is ongoing.

What’s so great about The Matrix (among many things) is how seamlessly the filmmakers crafted a tale that centered these themes of alienation and weighty, relevant technological concepts with high-flying action fantasies featuring some of the most attractive people you will ever see doing some of the best fight scenes ever put to film.

The Matrix: Neo vs. Morpheus
The Matrix Reloaded: Highway chase
The Matrix Revolutions: Neo vs. Agent Smith

I rewatched all of the films (including the brilliant Animatrix) in preparation for going to see Resurrections on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t sat down and seen the films in well over a decade, with only the first remaining engraved into my heart; I enjoyed them all, with Reloaded and Revolutions degrading in both quality and rewatchability, but with each featuring some shining bright spots (Neo vs. Agent Smith(s), the highway scene, the siege of Zion).

What struck me most about the saga upon my rewatch was just how much the core of the story is really a love story. Between Neo and Trinity.

I remembered the romance, but not its centrality — and definitely not its presence as THE prime motivating factor for Neo’s heroism. Before and after Neo’s realization as “The One,” he is never drawn into the fight out of a hope or desire to ‘save the world.’

Neo comes across as anything but a prototypical hero — he is unsure of himself {ala Nietzche’s Last Man}, he does not believe in “fate” or in his own victory in any given fight, he cares so much less about the world in abstract than he does about his local comrades, his found family in the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, namely Trinity and Morpheus.

Neo’s heroics in the first film are delivered out of a responsibility he feels toward Morpheus; in the sequels, it’s always out of love for Trinity. Moreover, he fights out of a vision of ending the fighting — via peace or victory — and being able to live with Trinity.

And so, it is fitting that the latest installment (finale?) of the saga is all about Neo and Trinity and their love story. {*spoilers ahead*}

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) has the latest Matrix returning in the form of a mecha-genjutsu specially-designed to keep Neo and Trinity in check. As a fated pair of immeasurable human power — in or out of the Matrix — it is their respective alienation, silent desperation, dual *yearnings* that builds this latest iteration of the machine’s dream world for their electromagnetic cattle {and former oppressors} in humanity.

It is Neo and Trinity’s love, longingly polarized in shadow and wholly unconsummated, that’s strong enough to deliver a whole digital world to stability {and carry on a franchise well past its seeming expiration}.

Meta-commentaries on the hardships of franchise filmmaking, the creator’s level of responsibility over their own creation, and the capitalist exploitation of art are all on full display, and well delivered, in the mind-bending first act of the film. Lana winks at the audience with the circumstances of a studio-demanded M4trix sequel and the dialogue of the young devs trying to brainstorm their way into a good idea for it — based on what they think the original was really about.

Through the first third, we see the digi-hell that Neo resides in. Thomas Anderson’s 2020s alienation is remixed but no less dire than his 1990s verse; now it comes more studied and long-form with hapless yes-men colleagues, constant therapy, few connections, no love, and of course, madness-inducing incursions from beyond the veil of the layers of his dream world. Reintroduction into his true reality is gifted from a goofy new Morpheus and a blue-haired badass Matrix fangirl named Bugs {as in, Bunny}.

Neo’s baffling awakening {and much of the kung fu action} is less satisfying than the first time around. Yet the picture is no less enjoyable, in my honest opinion. Neil Patrick Harris’ “The Analyst” is the sentient program and master propagandist behind this newfangled Matrix. In his modernized method of control, it is less 1984 fascism/sadism (the old Agent way) and more Brave New World neoliberal capitalism/hedonism. Not “humanity needs to be controlled through force” — but “humanity wants to be controlled with treats.”

The new Matrix is supremely effective for the machines. Not just for keeping Neo and Trinity in check, but for the whole human population of tech x media-addicted End of History’ed “Last Men” (think about how much the world has changed over these last 20 years, from 1999-era internet to 2021).

The film goes from there, with the “Resurrections” clearly for Neo and Trinity and their empowering love story.

I enjoyed it, it’s a worthy epitaph to the saga in my eyes. Concepts introduced and played with in the previous films play a major role in the story: the existence of many less-than-perfect iterations to the Matrix / Man’s coexistence with the machines / sentient machines that cooperate with humanity / the Matrix as a preferred alternative for some / the machine vs. man conflict — and the Matrix itself — as a necessary component of human existence on Earth for the foreseeable future.

Saliently, in the film’s ending, the Matrix is still not destroyed. Humanity is not free. A peaceful coexistence with the machines and their sentient programs is in progress. But it’s only possible from the lovely power that Neo and Trinity, reunited, wield together. They are destined to defend and reshape humanity’s role {and their subjugation} within the Matrix from there.

The Matrix may not be destroyed — but Neo and Trinity are together, in love, and are given a second chance at a life together, including some agency over how the Matrix is designed… How can you not love that ending for them? For the saga ❤️

“I remember this… I remember us.”


One last word, my epilogue, on what the Matrix may mean.

A pair of scenes from the original 1999 film, paired with the meaning of the ending of 2021’s Resurrections has me in a contemplation.

When Trinity first contacts Neo via cryptic green and black chat on his monitor, she tells him:

“The Matrix has you.

On some deep, primordial level, he knows the faceless text is correct. Neo is currently living in a reality that is less than real.

Later, when Neo is back in the Matrix for the first time since his harrowing escape and physical recovery from its hellish biomechanical hold upon him, they are on their way to see The Oracle. With his stylishly dressed companions, his ‘normal’ hair returned while passing by the normalcy of his old city streets, the layered unreality of his position lands anew.

Neo gazes out the window in silent amazement, soon points out a noodle shop he would go to. With a somber tone, he says, “God… I used to eat there. Really good noodles… I have these memories from my life. None of them happened. What does that mean?”

Trinity responds instantly, confidently, “The Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

If the Matrix {broadly, technology}, is here to stay {and it is}, and it *has* some of us {it most definitely does}, then we must take solace in that simple fact which bears repeating:

The Matrix cannot tell you who you are.

Circumstances, our past, the role that we sometimes must play in this reality — they cannot tell us who we are. Only we, and those we love, can do that. ~

“He is … The One.”
They are The Two.