As I said in the Strapped post, one of my goals for Pride Month was to review The Matrix trilogy. Sure, it’s about a white cisgender guy who falls in love with a white cisgender girl, but the creators are trans women! Well, they are now; Mrs. Lana and Lily Wachowski didn’t write and direct The Matrix under those names, but we try not to deadname here, especially during Pride Month. So get ready for a week of trans philosophy! Or really one day of trans philosophy and two of “I think the overall message got a bit muddied as time and sequels went on.”
Do I really need to summarize The Matrix? Hasn’t everyone seen it already? It sure seemed like every DVD player in the early 2000’s came with a free copy of the film, but that’s probably not right. If you haven’t seen it by this point, there’s not really going to be anything I can say to change your mind (a position I also have for Donnie Darko and films like that). It’s become more meme than film, although the fast pace on the internet means I haven’t heard anyone say “I know kung fu” or “there is no spoon” in… well, a while. But just to cover my bases, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is The One who can fight the machines in control of the Matrix, keeping humanity in a dreamlike state, unaware of the real world. Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss), Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn), Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), and all that.
Are you ready for a discussion on the philosophy of The Matrix so lengthy that if I put it up on YouTube, it’d be the length of a movie? Because I’m not! Philosophy was never a strong focus for me. The general concept of “you’re one of the few who really knows what’s going on” has been politicized on both sides, but the political leanings of the directors can be more or less gleaned by who they tell to fuck off. I probably had heard of Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation”–a book the Wachowskis had the cast read–but I definitely haven’t read it. I’m pretty sure that René Descartes actually existed despite never having seen any concrete evidence with my own eyes. I can point out that life in the Matrix is similar to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where people who have spent their entire life in a cave watching shadows would probably have no real concept that what they’re seeing isn’t the “true reality.” I know that some believe there is a strong chance that we are all living in a highly advanced simulation of reality (hello again, Elon Musk) even though there is no proof of that, one way or the other. And I know that most movies say that artificial intelligence will kill us all, although I don’t think most of those films have us nuking the planet out of spite.
No, what I want to talk about is the underlying trans feel of the film. Thomas Anderson became who he was always meant to be when he adopted the persona of Neo, even telling Agent Smith not to deadname him, more or less. “My name is Neo,” and he is a changed person, but transformed into the person he always was deep inside. Hell, it’s generally accepted that the minor character of Switch (Belinda McClory) was supposed to be a woman in the Matrix but played by a man in the real world. But was all this intentional? Was The Matrix always about trans identity?
The answer is… sort of? The Wachowskis have stated that it was not their overt intention to include that into the film, but as years went on and both siblings came out as trans women, the parallels were too obvious to ignore. So it most likely wasn’t a consciously decision, but, well… something the sisters always were deep inside. I am not trans, and I do not want to make a blanket statement for all trans people, but I do know several trans people who look back on their years before acknowledging their identity and say, “Oh, yeah, a lot of that makes sense now.” Tangentially, as a gay man I can say that there were definite signs of me not being fully straight well before I consciously realized it. And so it is with The Matrix, a movie that can be viewed as a trans allegory, making it a queer film.
The sequels, though… I think that message sort of fell by the wayside, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Next: The Matrix: Reloaded
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