I honestly considered not reviewing The Matrix sequels during Pride Month. The original film is now widely accepted as a trans allegory–no doubt helped by the creators, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, coming out as trans women in the years since. But my goal was to at least try to watch them with a queer eye, so Pride Month is as good a time as any. Did I find overt queerness in The Matrix Reloaded? Well… not really. Drat.
Some months after the first film, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus meet up at Zion–the last remaining human stronghold outside the Matrix–and are faced with the impending threat of killing machines heading their way. Morpheus, ever a believer in the One, trusts that Neo can save the day, but Neo’s not so sure. Doesn’t help that he keeps dreaming of Trinity’s death. And on top of all that, Agent Smith is still alive but no longer bound by the restraints of his programing. He can now infect others, creating copies–ironically like a virus, harkening to his monologue to Morpheus in the first movie. To get what they need in the Matrix, the Neo and the gang has to meet with a scumbag named the Merovingian, a holdover from a previous iteration of the Matrix where monsters of legends were real–hence the twin ghosts in his employ (although it’s a fucking crime that he had werewolves and we never see them transform). From there they meet the Keymaker, who leads Neo to the Architect. Turns out the One is a part of the Matrix, a manifestation of the flaw humans supposedly bring to the “perfect” program. The Oracle is also a part of this system, finding the One and pushing them towards their destiny, which has been thus far to effectively surrender to the machines and start the vicious cycle all over again. Neo is given a choice: either work with the machines to create the next version of the Matrix and let Trinity die, or try to save her, leading to the machines destroying Zion all the humans in the Matrix. Full of hope and love, Neo rushes to Trinity, bringing her back to live in a way similar to how she brought him back the last time. But Neo–displaying some superpowers in reality–falls into a coma, putting him right next to Bane. Oh, right, Agent Smith transformed a dude named Bane–no relation to The Dark Knight Rises–and is now in control of that body, ready to kill Neo in reality.
I truly did try to go into The Matrix Reloaded looking for queerness, but it just didn’t reveal itself to me. I’ve read and watched arguments that the sequels have more of a vibe of WLW (women-loving-women) queerness, but I just didn’t feel it. I’m sorry, but I just wouldn’t feel right adding the “queer coded” tag to this film. And I’m not anticipating The Matrix: Revolutions to have anything more overt, so at least we have two more entries next month to make up for the cis hetero romance rounding out this week.
In addition to being an utter sleazebag, the Merovingian is the character that most blatantly drops philosophy into the audience’s lap. Poorly, but still. He believes in causality–sometimes called casual determinism–the idea that free will is an illusion. It’s more involved than that, but I took one (1) philosophy class in community college, so I’m dumbing it down to my level. The argument is basically that external factors dictate what actions we take, negating free will. His example of this is having a drugged desert delivered to a woman who, upon eating it, has a very sexual reaction leading to the Merovingian getting blown by her in a bathroom (offscreen). I felt like this was a shitty argument for determinism–if I poison someone and they rush to the bathroom to puke, saying they never had a choice in the matter is not really the point. It’s especially notable since we got a better example in the first film: when Neo meets with the Oracle, she tells him not to worry about the vase. Confused, he turns and inadvertently knocks said vase to the ground. Would he have knocked the vase over if she never mentioned it?
But the movies are not trying to advance the idea of determinism, obviously. Those who live by it–the Merovingian, the Architect, and to a degree, the Oracle–are programs of the Matrix who have done this dance several times before. They have seen the computations, and believe they know how people will act. To put things in their favor, the choices they present are unbalanced. The Merovingian drugs a woman to get her to blow him. The Architect tells Neo that he can either work with the machines and create the 7th Matrix, or every human will die. But that’s not really a choice, right? The machines are gaming the system, presenting two uneven options knowing that the logical answer would be to not be responsible for the death of every human. So that’s why Neo’s decision to save Trinity and attempts to find another way breaks the cycle, but this comes up more in The Matrix: Revolutions.
Also, real side note, but the Merovingian says that while he has sampled every language, he loved French the most, resulting in his very French aesthetic. There exists an X-Man ally who has a very similar mindset: Fantomex, a super sentinel designed to kill mutants but decided to do his own thing and sometimes helps the X-Men (if the price is right). In New X-Men #144 (2003)–4 months after The Matrix: Reloaded came out–Fantomex reveals to Cyclops that he’s not actually French, he just likes the accent. I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence, beyond the character’s inspiration being the fictional French criminal mastermind Fantômas. Just a little fun fact, since my brain is always finding comic book connections.
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