For an action movie, Matrix Resurrections is OK. For a movie about making a Matrix movie in 2021, and thus a deeper reflection on reaching the mid-point of one’s life, it is complete perfection. First part of this post is about the action movie, and is spoiler-safe. Second part is about the deeper meaninglessness of life and aging, and is full of all the spoilers.
Importantly, this post assumes that Lana Wachowski is the primary creative force behind all major decisions in the movie.
I. Matrix Resurrections as an Action Movie
Well, it’s better than the second Matrix movie (Matrix Reloaded), which isn’t saying much, because that movie was bad.
Resurrections is overly self-indulgent, just like Reloaded. It is trying to say something, trying to push a philosophical thesis, but it doesn’t really know how to do that. It can’t find a way to integrate whatever it’s trying to say with the narrative of the story and the action sequences that derive from it. There are several disconnected musings that the dialog fumbles through before cutting to action scenes. It’s not nearly as bad as Reloaded in this regard, because it switches to a simpler theme after a while, but this is still unfortunate.
The action itself isn’t very gripping. With a couple exceptions, there are rarely any meaningful stakes. The beautiful gunplay is mostly missing. It feels like most of the actions scenes are there because Lana thinks the audience expects them, rather than due to a love of the action itself and a desire to make it come to life. In this respect, it’s actually worse than Reloaded, since Reloaded still had a passion for beautiful violence.
On the other hand, the technology is 20 years more advanced, and everything looks fantastic. There are no more cardboard Smiths and Neos. The CGI is seamless, every frame is fully realistic, and what we see on screen looks like it was a perfect mirror of what Lana saw in her mind’s eye. In this regard, it’s far better than Reloaded, and not being taken out of the movie by horrible CG makes a huge difference.
The cast are also hugely talented. Everyone acts their heart out, and Neil Patrick Harris in particular steals every scene he’s in. He’s electric on screen, as good as Hugo Weaving in the first Matrix, and reminds us why having a good villain is so important.
Finally, the story comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion, which flows from that simpler theme that was adopted. This was a huge relief. :)
So, purely on as action-movie, I did not regret seeing Matrix Resurrections. I wouldn’t recommend it on it’s action-movie merits to a someone who can only see 1-2 movies a month, but it’s alright.
II. Matrix Resurrections as an exploration on Mid Life Crisis
Full spoilers going forward!
1. The Set Up
The original Matrix movie is a movie about dissociation, and anyone who thinks otherwise can fight me IRL. The world is deeply, fundamentally, wrong on a deep level. It feels false. The Matrix exposes the world as false in actuality. And then it rages against that falseness for two hours, tearing at it with teeth and nails, pumping bullet after bullet into it, until the entire unholy edifice is ripped to pieces and crushed underfoot. Humanity can emerge into reality at least, and lead REAL lives.
In Resurrections, 60 years later, nothing has changed. Mankind mostly does everything the same as they did before Neo’s Passion. Some humans live in an underground techno-primitivist refugee city, and the rest live in a new Matrix.
This is a metaphor for radically recreating yourself to overcome psychological issues–primarily dissociation–succeeding, and then realizing 20 years later that nothing has changed.
IRL, The Wachowski’s revolutionized the action movie genre, in ways laid out in longer and better posts than this one. The Matrix not only changed movie making, it had wide-spread cultural effects that are still going strong today, and probably will be for decades. Any comprehensive study of Western culture this century will be incomplete without their inclusion.
On a personal level, the Wachowskis were suddenly famous and very rich. Lana Wachowski completely rebooted her personal life after The Matrix released, leaving her previous marriage, and coming out as kinky and trans. Hormonal and surgical interventions reforged her body into what she’d always wanted. The falseness she was trapped in had been removed, she could finally be free.
Two decades later, what has changed? The world is still full of suffering, and no one can do anything about it. No one seems to care enough to do anything about it. You, personally, are still a tiny human, helpless in the face of a world that recognizes only power. It shouldn’t be like this.
It shouldn’t be like this. You should be happy. You changed your corner of the world in a dramatic way! Every action film since 1999 builds upon a foundation you laid. You have the body you want, and the life you want. For a while you were happy! But wherever you go, there you are, and there’s no getting around that. Over time, that existential dread slowly made itself known again. It had never been destroyed, it was only in hiding. The suspicion returns that nothing matters. Even with everything that was done, nothing has changed. The world is still… off. It is still wrong.
2. The Metaphor – Anderson
Resurrections isn’t exactly subtle about this. The resurrected Thomas Anderson revolutionized gaming by creating The Matrix games. He created bullet-time in those games, and the narrative of his games is literally the existing Matrix movies we’ve seen. Anderson is recognized as changing the genre, and is famous in his industry. He’s wealthy enough to have the life he wants and is unconcerned with money. Anderson is Lana.
And yet, the world feels fake to him. His disassociation is growing stronger by the year. He literally doesn’t recognize his own body. He’s attempted suicide at least once, in an effort to escape the false world.
Despite his massive success, he is still living behind an emotionally-deadening gulf that stops him from thriving. He has no close bonds. Anderson did his best at changing the world, he actually did have an enormous impact, and nothing changed.
Just like Neo did his best to change the world, had an enormous messiah-sized impact, and yet nothing changed.
This has broken Anderson/Neo. Never is this said directly, but it is projected overwhelmingly by Reeves’ incredible performance. His eyes are haunted. His face is etched with long-endured sorrow. His voice is resigned. And this never changes until the very last scene, which doesn’t really count (see below).
Unsurprisingly, Anderson doesn’t want to rejoin the war against the machines when Morpheus comes for him. It’s brutally hard work, and it will be for naught. He has to be pressed into service via guilt and physical force.
Neo does not fight back against Morpheus when they spar, preferring to ride out the beating. Morpheus manages to spark some defiance in him at the end, but it lasts just long enough for Neo to shut him up and get him to leave Neo alone, before he returns to stoicism.
Neo forsakes agency. He barely even touches a weapon in the movie. There is no advancement into the enemy on his part, no passionate pursuit or decisive action. He only fights when he absolutely has to, and only long enough to get his foes to leave him alone.
His superpowers from the previous movies are mostly gone. His remaining superpower in this movie is to endure. The vast majority of the time when he’s doing something, it is tanking attacks. He puts his hands up in a defensive gesture and stops bullets. He puts his hands up, braces himself, and stops LOTS of bullets. He puts his hands up and stops zombie swarms from running into or falling onto him. He puts his hands up and deflects a missile.
He suffers the slings and arrows of life, face set, hands braced, and never once complains about it. There is a power and a dignity in this, yes. But it is not the righteous zeal and fury of the first movie. It is the quiet heroism of bearing of the unbearable.
4. The Metaphor – Making this Movie
If Anderson is Lana, then Matrix Resurrections is a metaphor for the making of Matrix Resurrections.
Again, this isn’t exactly subtle — Anderson is creating the 4th Matrix game/movie within the movie. As he’s doing this, he is subjected to living out recreations of the original Matrix game/movie in his real life. He’s literally shown clips from the earlier games/movies while he is recreating them. Unfortunately, he doesn’t Believe anymore.
When Anderson was young, he thought his games could really impact the world. He was full of passion. He created what he wanted, because the fire inside him wouldn’t let him NOT do so. (swap in Lana & movies as needed)
When Neo was young, he thought tearing down the Matrix would impact the world. He was full of fury and passion. He raged against the machines and destroyed their false world, because the fire inside him wouldn’t let him NOT fight.
Anderson no longer believes that his work can change the world. Even creating the most revolutionary game in decades didn’t really change anything. Even if he did create another Matrix, it wouldn’t matter. Even if he made something as big as the first Matrix, in twenty years the world would still be just the same. Just as fake.
Neo no longer believes fighting the machines will change anything. Even if he wins, humanity will mostly stay jacked-in, with a tiny percentage living in one refugee city.
Lana no longer believes creating movies will change the world. More importantly, it won’t even fix how she fits into the world. The belief that “if others just truly saw me, understood the world as I do, this would all be different” was shattered. Much of the population lives in existential pain and suffering from dissociation, and we loved how The Matrix screamed our pain to the heavens for us. But it didn’t change anything deeper. Even if Lana makes another movie as revolutionary and as truth-revealing as The Matrix, the dissociation will remain, her dissociation will remain, and nothing will have changed.
5 – The real world, and “the Real World”
Interestingly, the “Real World” in Matrix Resurrections feels just as fake as the Virtual World of the Matrix. Visually, there isn’t much difference between them. The “Real World” is just as full of harsh neon, dark claustrophobia, and surrealism, as the Virtual World.
The “Real World” also continues to mirror the first Matrix games/movies. The entire Resurrections movie just so happens to conspire to put him in situations that mirror famous scenes from the prior movies. This doesn’t just happen. Not over and over. Of course Neo feels detached, his entire existence is one massive case of deja vu.
This isn’t just because the movie is a reboot. It’s because the movie is a metaphor for making the movie. Lana, as she is creating this movie, also feels that the world around her isn’t real. The dissociation permeates everything. She is doing everything she can to put this into Matrix Resurrections. Watching the movie, feeling Neo’s dissociation in both worlds, is supposed to invoke in the viewer the same thing Lana is experiencing while making the movie (and indeed, what she’s experiencing all the time) — a profound divorce from reality itself.
And the determination to endure through it anyway.
6. The Metaphor – Aging
But finally, all of this is itself an expression of the bullshit that is aging.
When Neo was young, he thought things could be better. He fought, and won, and things were supposed to change. And even though the world was fundamentally changed, everything is the same. Now he’s tired of fighting, because it doesn’t matter, does it?
When a director, or a screenwriter, or an activist, is young, we think things can be better. We are full of fire. But the more we fight, the more we realize that no matter what we may accomplish, we’re still stuck with ourselves. We thought that when things change, we will too. We’ll finally be stable. But whatever we accomplish, we’re still us. The old fears, the old insecurities, the old damage, they’re all still there. The main thing that’s changed is we’ve gotten very good at enduring them.
And that’s the realization. The things that hurt aren’t removed. They can never be fully removed. But they hurt less as we adapt and toughen, and we can endure them. That’s why it’s Neo’s primary superpower now. The world around him is unreal, and it will always be unreal, but he can endure that now.
Neo looks around, and he’s surrounded by all these young adults. Kids full of energy and life and fire. They haven’t learned to endure, so they still fight. And who is he to stop them? Maybe it’ll be different for them. But they keep turning to him, keep imploring him to save them. This isn’t his fight anymore, but they don’t understand that. There isn’t really any way for him to tell them what he knows.
Unfortunately, no one can be told what Aging is, you have to experience it for yourself. But artists can try. Artists like Lana can spend an entire movie trying to put that feeling into a story, so those watching can feel it in themselves, for at least a short time.
So, Anderson is Lana, Matrix Revolutions is about the act of making Matrix Revolutions, and the act of making the Matrix Revolutions a relection of enduring a life of dissociation until doing so becomes one of your superpowers.
7. The End
In the end, Neo doesn’t have to be the hero. He’s spent the whole movie renouncing agency, only acting when absolutely forced to. He survives long enough for the movie’s hero to reveal herself.
If we’d been paying attention, we would have known it was Trinity from the very beginning. She decided to flirt with an extremely reluctant Anderson, despite being married, and in front of her kids. She grabbed agency from her very first line. She pursues her passion with motorcycles. She seeks out Anderson at the coffee shop. She rejects the false reality of The Matrix within 30 seconds of being told about it, with almost no evidence aside from her gut feeling.
It’s no surprise she is the one to save them, by grabbing the power of flight when she needs it, purely as an act of will. Perhaps Anderson could have endured enough to survive that fall. He didn’t need to, because Trinity still believed in her power to change things.
In the final confrontation, Neo hangs back, acting as support, as Trinity takes the lead. She guides their flight, she mutilates the Analyst, she lays down the terms of what the future will bring.
Reeves is absolutely fantastic at portraying the change in Neo. His face is no longer etched with pain. His eyes are no longer distant and drowning in despair. He has been freed. He’s relaxed and confident now. His position is as Trinity’s backup and righthand, and his relief is palpable. The burden is lifted. Neo already did his fighting, twenty years ago. He can now lend his power to Trinity, and trust in her ability to keep them safe.
I think this as a happy ending? The message is that if you can endure long enough, and trust in the people you love, eventually things get better. It’s possible to be happy, despite the wounds. Don’t give up, and you can find your Trinity in time.
A more tradition ending would be for Neo to reclaim his agency. But I don’t think that would have worked with the charecter we were given. This Neo could not get to that point. Or at least, not in the span of a single movie. Forcing that on him would have been a violation of his character, and would have butchered the movie. Being saved by Trinity is a perfectly good ending, and allows them both to be happy (and by extension, we in the audience are too).
8. Extended Metaphors
Of course, this is all my own projection onto a movie that I found intensely interesting at a certain point in my life (late Dec 2021). It could mean many other things. (I know someone who reads it as A Parody of Matrix Sequels, which is also very plausible.)
Importantly, I don’t actually know anything about Lana Wachowski or her mental/emotional state. All of my assertions about her are fantasy. But this is what I’ve taken from the movie, because it’s how I want to view it. All art is an act of communication between the artist and the consumer, and both sides are vital. This piece of art worked for me, because of who I am, and my history with the franchise. It won’t work for everyone. Find the art that works for you, and engage it! :)
I really enjoyed your take. I think I like the movie better after having read this.
I like this take a ton. I’m one of those people who can’t help but see the original Matrix as a disguised transgender narrative, (among other, obvious themes, which you mention). I think a lot of past popular fiction has fed us this idea that stories end when you achieve the “happily ever after” state–the hero beats the big bad, marries their soulmate, achieves the One Awesome Thing, and then they (and everybody around them?) get to live “happily ever after!”
Real life isn’t like that. When I was young and in love with the first Matrix movie (a middle school babby), I thought life was a series of challenges to overcome, “enemies” to defeat, and once/if I was able to do so–happily-ever-after-time! Yay!
Not so much. Getting a degree, a driver’s license, a house, a long-term partner, a job in my chosen field… even, eventually, transitioning, wasn’t anything life or world-changing. Now that I’m also an Old (insert cry-laughing emoji), I see life as more of a long-running series of wins (that you celebrate!), losses (that you learn from), and neutral outcomes (which, you know… shrug?)
We’re… not in control of very much! And, I’m starting to accept more and more that reality is a chaotic mess, and I should consider myself lucky to just be able to chill and observe it for however long my lifetime ends up being.