The Matrix Resurrections analysis: More trans than ever, this bold and messy dysphoric nightmare will thrill and unnerve (part 2)

< Continued from Part 1.

Assigned roles and binaries fracture easily and often.

These conversations and moments of dysphoric self-recognition and trans self-actualization are repeatedly shown as tipping-point epiphanies that can happen at the speed of an egg cracking. Bugs, the absolute breakout captain of Resurrections, redpills a programmed Morpheus out of his assigned role as Agent Smith in under three minutes simply by sharing and comparing their experiences of the matrix, before directly asking him: “Who are you? What do you have to do?”

Neo’s boss, a sharply dressed young businessman who loves standing at the window of their skyscraper and reciting Smith’s lines, stumbles into a set and setting that resonate with something deep within him: Neo trying to escape from an office flooded by sprinklers, Morpheus gunning down police, the signature Desert Eagle laying at his feet. He steps into the vivid bright red light, and has an intensely physical and transformational experience of embodiment and emergence, slowly throwing his head back as if in imitation of Agents possessing bluepills, while resembling nothing more than the prom scene in “Carrie”. In seconds, he is right back in his element, screaming “Mister Anderson!” and opening fire at Neo.

Much like Neo’s experience with Smith in the first Matrix, Trinity being repeatedly, obnoxiously deadnamed is the last straw for her: she realizes she cannot live a fake life defined by someone else who’s holding her hostage, and she knows she has to rebel against this and live as herself no matter the cost. She announces herself as Trinity, and proceeds to pursue this life immediately and with beautifully rewarding violence.

While the bold lines of dysphoric processes are at the heart of the characters and their story, the world in which this takes place is also completely saturated with transgender metaphors and images that are not subtle at all. If the Matrix trilogy had a trans subtext, Resurrections is the reality of transgender life made text. Public bathrooms are a recurring setting of danger and violence: the gender-neutral restroom at Neo’s workplace is raided by militarized police because a redpill was using it; Neo is smuggled into a bathroom on a train as his allies blast away at a mob pursuing him; Smith throws him against a row of toilet stalls and declares that “the form, the nature of things” is binary, then tackles him through a wall of urinals. But contrary to his assertion that “Anderson and Smith” will always be in opposition, with one destined to destroy the other, the two find themselves briefly turning against a common enemy, the Analyst.

Other binaries take their turn and are interrogated, complicated, and often rejected entirely. Neo is working on a followup to his “Matrix” that is literally named Binary, a bloated and unfinished game that everyone cares about except for him – he would rather spend his time within the world of the Matrix or watching videos of trans women (this appears to be Lana Wachowski, who has previously spoken about her discomfort with a “binary gender narrative”). The line between humans and programs, which became increasingly unclear throughout the trilogy, is finally completely porous: just as humans can take form inside the matrix, programs can now physically manifest alongside human bodies as exomorphs of their humanoid form. This film’s Morpheus has transitioned from a naïve Agent program going through the motions without meaningful reflection or awareness, to an unusually perceptive Agent program who has begun to see what the matrix is, to a self-aware program based on the human resistance leader, all the way back to physical presence as Morpheus in the real world. He doesn’t even have a binary.

Artificial intelligences now have any number of possible embodiments to choose from, whether as programs, synthients (the new name chosen by the former “machines”), or exomorphs, and all are accepted as equal crew members and even captains. Rather than existing in a state of perpetual total war between humans and machines to exploit and enslave one another, the city of IO is a collaborative endeavor by all for the benefit of all, recognizing and integrating the unique value of everyone’s differences – human, program, synthient, and exomorph. At least half of Bugs’ hovercraft, the Mnemosyne, is built using synthient technology, which in turn has a design seemingly inspired by organic animal life. One synthient on the Mnemosyne, Cybebe, is closest in name to the goddess Cybele whose ancient cult of trans women would ritually castrate themselves; Cybebe appears to wear a largely cosmetic cat-ears faceplate and gives Neo a forehead-bump greeting. Even the difference between an individual and a group is blurred as Bugs is bridged with Trinity via Sati’s brain bypass, experienced in the matrix as Trinity-Bugs mapped into one body yet occupied by both at once. And the pivotal choice between red pill and blue? Trinity doesn’t take any – she’s just ready.

This Matrix has a new visual language of depersonalization.

Faced with the task of expressing something subtly wrong and uncomfortable about the world without giving away the true nature of reality just yet, the first Matrix used distinct visual effects for scenes happening in unreality, such as green-tinted desaturation and placing characters in a deep and flattened field. This time, everyone knows exactly what it means to be in the matrix, and depersonalization-derealization imagery in Resurrections largely takes a backseat to much more overt depictions of traumatic dissociation. As promised by the filmmakers before its release, this is primarily a story of love and intense emotion. If anything, Neo takes control of the coping mechanism of self-displacement and numbness in dissociation that the Analyst had used to manipulate him, and turns this protective field outward from himself to project it as a defensive weapon that shields himself and others.

Imagery evoking experiences of depersonalization-derealization appears in Resurrections, but sprinkled in as playful visual features rather than something core to communicating this state of being. Instead of a digital artifice of green, the new version of the matrix is almost inappropriately colorful and bright with a Thomas Kinkade energy, particularly apparent in an external shot of the Analyst’s office that looks like something out of the Sims.

In his pre-Smith form, Neo’s boss looks out upon the city and unnervingly tells him it’s “so perfect it’s gotta be fake”. Bugs and Morpheus do sense that there’s something wrong with the world and that it must not be real, but only after unexpectedly witnessing actual rendering glitches in mirrors, windows, and during Neo’s apparent suicide attempt. Neo most notably experiences the collapse of his sense of self, autonomy, and reality into layer after layer of depersonalization symptoms when Bugs takes him through the moving portal. He emerges into a set on a stage surrounded by characters who are intentionally enacting specific defined roles, and realizes he has stepped through a torn movie screen on which his life in The Matrix is projected.

Morpheus invites Neo to cut through the haze of doubt and unreality: “This is the moment for you to show us what is real.” Knowing what he has to do, he takes the red pill just as before, and they flee back into the torn screen of The Matrix on their way to pull him out of the matrix. Previously a “trace program” with no apparent effects, this red pill is now an intense hallucinogen, and Neo begins to see the world as thin shells of flat panels coming apart at the seams and revealing the dark gulf of matrix unreality underneath. Forced to escape literally through a small and foggy looking glass, their operator instructs them to wield a perceptual distortion to bend reality in their favor: by flattening away the depth in the world, moving closer to the mirror makes it become much larger from their perspective. It does, and Neo pushes through that dark glass out of the matrix and directly into the real world, finally piercing through the membrane of his pod. Interestingly, there is an actual condition in which body image and visual perception are altered and objects appear larger or smaller – it’s called Alice in Wonderland syndrome. It can be caused by drug use, migraines, seizures, or head trauma, and is often accompanied by symptoms of depersonalization and derealization.

Lana Wachowski’s experience of her own transition is embedded within the dramatic changes between the trilogy and Resurrections in her approach to filmmaking and the resulting look and feel. Jonathan Groff recalls Wachowski’s explanation of the difference between their tightly controlled storyboarding of scenes in the trilogy, and her insistence on “genuine in-the-moment human interaction” when filming Resurrections:

“Lana’s style of filmmaking has changed with mirroring her transition,” Groff says. (Lana came out as a trans woman and completed her transition after 2008’s Speed Racer. Lilly also came out as trans in March 2016.) “She was explaining to us how, in her earlier work, she would storyboard things like they were comic books almost, and create exact frames of what she wanted as her way of literally controlling her narrative, because there was so much out of control inside of her. Then when she embraced her identity, this articulated itself in her work and opened her up to the idea of capturing the things that can’t be controlled.”

Groff also describes her “extreme commitment to spontaneity”, noting: “Lana was really interested in us surprising ourselves in the moment.” The scenes of the trilogy spliced into Resurrections illustrate the intensity of the contrast:

On the freeway in Reloaded, Trinity is seen in a symmetrical shot so dead-on it feels flat, her face and makeup flawless, eyes hidden away.

In Resurrections, self-actualized Trinity on her bike is framed dynamically as the camera moves around her, and her face is captured as so much more warmly human – she looks like a person actively having a real, intense experience in a real, messy world. These radical changes in feeling and perspective, conveyed by a masterful filmmaker over the course of her transition and accompanying personal growth and development, give us the opportunity to witness a fascinating experience that is singular, yet familiar to many of us.

The dream can end here.

This movie concludes beautifully without a need to cause any further dramatic events within the world of the Matrix going forward. Wachowski makes it abundantly clear throughout the movie how disinterested she is in revisiting an incredible story that was then misappropriated by everyone from shallow action fans to actual fascists, and it’s since been revealed that she only came back to prevent the franchise from being handed off to another filmmaker. Between its underwhelming performance at the box office and the announcement by Wachowski and her producer that no further films are planned, we likely won’t have to worry about anything happening to Trinity and Neo (and Bugs and Lexy) any time soon.

I loved how it felt to experience this movie. It depicted uncannily familiar feelings in an utterly arresting way, I felt completely seen as a trans person by another trans person’s miraculous major motion picture, and I’m amazed at the sheer density of meaning contained within it that continues to emerge. Of course I’ll always want to experience more of the world of the Matrix – and what Resurrections gives us is more than enough.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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