The Matrix is a spellbinding enmesh of challenging ideas about the world, its end, and humanity, asking more of the audience than mainstream science fiction ever bothered to before.
Revisiting it sets your brain off on strands of philosophical thought, based in a sensational premise; untrammeled artificial intelligence (AI) has led to a sentient and malign super-army of robots battling against humans for vital energy resources. It is equal parts fantastical and unsettling, a trend that looks set to continue following the release of a trailer for the highly anticipated fourth film in the franchise.
On the one hand The Matrix presents a supreme work of imagination; an unreal dystopian world in which humanity is enslaved, the lights have gone out, and a brutal war with ‘The Machines’ is relentless and unending. Yet on the other hand, with sincere debate on the limitations of humanity’s continuation, an already happening climate catastrophe, and the existential threat of AI being borne out by great minds like the late Steven Hawking, the ideas that The Matrix series present us with can strike a little too close to home.
Re-watching The Matrix today, this explicit connection between human crises in the real world and in the films leap out at you. You first have Neo’s life in the Matrix as an overworked and undervalued computer programmer, driven to depression in an almost comically dark world of corporatism and soullessness. Drawing comparisons to our current relationship with work, our autonomy or lack thereof over our labour, and our relationship with bosses, it is a striking critique of the normalisation of misery and a feeling of existential pointlessness at work under neoliberalism. Early in the original you also have the chasing down of Trinity by a police force in cahoots with Mr. Smith, a programme ingrained into the Matrix to suppress rebellion. You cannot help buy make comparisons with contemporary police brutality against political movements like Black Lives Matter and climate protestors.
The original trilogy ends on a hopeful note. Neo’s impossible choice between resetting the Matrix or risking the deaths of all humanity is overcome by his love for Trinity. Unable to understand and comprehend this into the Matrix, Neo breaks this doomed choice, negotiating with the machines to return into the Matrix and destroy the rogue Agent Smith, killing them both in the process. The Matrix is reset, with the human rebellion surviving, humans given the choice to leave or remain, and a degree of peace between the machines and humanity settled.
While the mystical, contradictory and often downright confusing internal lore of the Matrix series is highly interesting, what sort of social and political story will feature in The Matrix Resurrections is even more interesting. A lot has happened in the eighteen years since the two sequels and the end of the original trilogy; the financial crash, the war on terror, the rise of Trump, fresh debates on AI and automation, and the environment. What ideas will Lana Wachowski’s creative vision conjure? It’s imperative that Resurrections tells a fresh and igniting story for a new age, resisting the nostalgic urges to simply rehash Neo’s journey down the rabbit hole from twenty-two years ago.
In terms of what is known about the film so far, the information is somewhat limited. The first trailer was released in early September, showing a dazed and confused ‘Mr Anderson,’ seemingly living in the Matrix, taking regular doses of blue pills to stunt his memory of the real world and his heroic role in bringing peace to Earth in the original trilogy. There are hints and nudges towards the earlier films, as the trailer peppers us with snapshots of Trinity, Morpheus, and Sati, a mysterious character whose ambiguous origins seem set to be explored.
Callbacks to scenes and sequences of the iconic original are also present. The Kung-fu duel between Morpheus and Neo is re-imagined, while the dark horrors of Machine City and the images of human slaves are revisited vis-à-vis the scene in the original film when Neo is initially unplugged from the Matrix. The trailer was released alongside a website, offering you the choice of clicking on either the red or blue pill, each option playing you a separate mini trailer. The former speaks of wanting you to find the truth, the latter that you should ignore your imagination. This all suggests that Resurrections will embrace both a blend of fresh creativity and callbacks to the original lore, merging themes, characters and ideas to create a new vision, while staying true to the complex philosophical twists and turns of the originals.
Director Lana Wachowski is going this alone, separate from her sister Lilly who co-directed the first three, returning to a complex world with a mass fan community and big commercial expectations. A healthy mix of Y2K-infused nostalgia, old ideas around power structures and escaping them, and beautiful magic-realist fighting seem set to be embraced, interspersed with fresh plot head-scratchers and new comparisons to problems in the world today. If done well, this is a feature that has the potential to be ground-breaking in a wholly more insecure world than that of over two decades ago, bringing fresh ideas, questions and themes that can help redefine the genre all over again. No one is saying that recapturing the sheer wonder of iconic moments like Neo’s bullet time scene that we all mimicked on the playground is easy, but the world the Wachowskis have created demands work that stretches itself to be different. Without this, we will be dwelling on one not quite so philosophical question: Why?
Words by George Walker
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.