Sunday, January 2, 2022


On Monday 27th December 2021, I watched “The Matrix Resurrections” at my local cinema, eighteen years after going there to see “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”, and over twenty years since buying “The Matrix” on VHS cassette. Not only was “Resurrections” the film we deserved in this particular moment, but it symbolised why I have named this new year “Twenty Twenty 2: This Time It’s Personal”, before the “My Brother, My Brother and Me” podcast names it officially. 

On the surface, “Resurrections” can be viewed as a cynical sequel and reboot exercise by Warner Bros. to exploit their dormant intellectual property and catch the nostalgia of its audience, much as they did with “Space Jam: A New Legacy”, a film in which “Matrix” characters also appeared [link]. The “Matrix” of the original trilogy is portrayed as a video game, developed by Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) based on memories of himself as Neo, that Warner Bros. is also to be rebooted, either with or without the involvement of its original creator, a situation that mirrored real life before “Resurrections” entered production. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is Tiffany, a married mother with no connection to Anderson, but was unknowingly the basis for the character. 


At this point, we are meant to believe this is the “real world” outside of the “story”, such as stories can be real. “Resurrections” begins with an on-screen “modal error”, referencing both the “modal” Anderson is using to test an element of a game he is programming, but also the philosophical concept of a “modal error”. Anderson’s explanation for his newly recurrent flashbacks to the events of “The Matrix” is because he is in it, but the world he is in is one where that proposition is the least attractive – it is one where the actual answer is to keep taking the blue pill, to keep him where he is. We can see where the error is, but the subject is kept in a place where they can only be wrong. It’s the kind of world where conspiracy theories work most easily, and people can spout about the system being “rigged”, because it is in their interest that the best explanation for why a proposition is possible or necessary must always have the opposite power.


I read a bizarre review of “Resurrections” in “The Times” newspaper on Christmas Eve 2021, describing the action as being “frequently muddy and dull,” “littering” the film with flashbacks “as if [director Lana Wachowski] has no faith in the film’s narrative power,” with a screenplay that “mistakes self-referentiality for sophistication.” What was new in the original “Matrix” trilogy has become the standard in any blockbuster film that wishes to add any level of thoughtfulness to its relentless action, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the works of Christopher Nolan. To miss the psychological and philosophical arguments over consciousness and representation of the original trilogy, then dismiss the same being done in “Resurrections” as “oddly preachy and [warning] audiences not to be ‘programmed’ by society”, is maddening, as it also skips over how audiences, with time, have become more used to more complex concepts being explored in mainstream cinema. To make a new “Matrix” film is to comment on what has happened to our representation of the world in the last eighteen years, because that is the only acceptable way to do it.


What begins as Neo and Trinity being recaptured in the Matrix, despite the end of “The Matrix Revolutions”, becomes crystal clear by the film’s end. Despite the peace between humanity and the machines, the Matrix was rebuilt, producing more power than ever if humans are kept running high emotionally - the fact that Facebook opened for business in 2004, the year after “Revolutions” was released, was not lost on me. Neo and Trinity were resurrected by the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) for study, finding they allow the Matrix to work most efficiently when they are kept close, but without their memories. 


I then remembered a certain incident on Twitter in May 2020. Elon Musk said, “take the red pill”, a major “Matrix” motif misappropriated by alt-right fascists. Ivanka Trump pipes in with, “Taken!” Lilly Wachowski, her work having been misread, replied, “Fuck both of you.” “The Matrix Resurrections” feels like a remake of that Tweet on a budget of $190 million. Its plot came from a dream Lana Wachowski had in response to the death of both her parents and a friend. Lilly Wachowski also revealed in August 2020 that the films were an allegory for being transgender, amid the sisters’ own personal journey: "I'm glad that it has gotten out... That was the original intention but the world wasn't quite ready.” I wish it had been. They may not own the intellectual property of “The Matrix”, but to make a “Matrix” film without either of its creators would be unacceptable.


“The Times” gave “The Matrix Resurrections” one star out of five. I will just recommend that you see it, because you will leave the cinema wanting to delete all your social media accounts to take back control – whether you follow through on that is another question.


I had already co-opted the tagline from “Jaws: The Revenge,” titling the new year as a sequel, “Twenty Twenty 2: This Time It’s Personal”, because it came from an anxiety that, culturally, the 2020s have not yet begun, and I need to get the decade underway for myself, so it feels like we are making progress of any sort.


“Cultural decades” never started on time: the 1950s only got started with rock ‘n’ roll in 1954, while Beatlemania and the Kennedy assassination began the 1960s in 1963-64. Civil unrest and the Beatles’ breakup start the 1970s pretty much at 1969-70, while the New Romantics and the rise of home computing, the fall of the Iron Curtain and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the World Trade Center attack, the Arab Spring and quality for LGBT+ people caused successive decades to begin culturally around a year or so after the calendar marked it.


Right now, it feels like we cannot move forward culturally, kept in a holding pattern by events that need to be resolved: the COVID-19 pandemic, the culture wars, and political deadlock. These will eventually pass, particularly when the end of the pandemic makes meeting people in person, and not through the mediation of the online realm, less of a strange experience. I have no idea what the cultural moment that properly begins the 2020s will be, but it won’t be found through social media, or through a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call. As much as you can create in isolation, or recycle what has been proved to work, that human connection will show you where to go next, and I’ve always preferred talking to someone in person.


Until then, it feels like we are in our own Matrix, and we are fine with it - but it all feels a bit too 2010s for me.

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