The Matrix Resurrections: More trans than ever, this bold and messy dysphoric nightmare will thrill and unnerve

Spoilers/prerequisites: All of The Matrix Resurrections.

Up front, I really liked The Matrix Resurrections and I think you should watch it, but whether the movie was good or bad isn’t my focus here. Even if you don’t enjoy it, I still consider it to be a significant work and worthwhile to study and discuss as a text. These are notes and observations on my experiences as a trans woman watching the first new Matrix sequel by an out trans woman, and what I saw as possible meanings and interpretations of it.

This movie made me uncomfortable, and it succeeded in expressing something meaningful through that discomfort. Shortly before the release of Resurrections, I went over several points of comparison between the events and style of the original trilogy and the dissociative experience of depersonalization-derealization disorder. This disconcerting sense that the world or oneself feels essentially “unreal” often begins in early childhood or at puberty, is unusually common among trans people, and often goes away after transitioning. Neo’s experience in The Matrix has long been understood as a metaphor for transness. Part of that transness could be the all-encompassing faded green of a false-seeming reality with no depth, the flat backdrop to your meaningless and empty self simply going through the motions of life, constantly tormented by the inescapable and unbearable “splinter in your mind” feeling of “something wrong with the world”.

Resurrections does not seem to be primarily about feeling one’s way through an uncomfortable sense of unreality. If the trilogy was about having gender dysphoria and depersonalization-derealization, Resurrections is about even more severe expressions of dissociation such as extreme absorption and amnesia, including apparent episodes of actual loss of contact with reality, hallucinatory flashbacks, and having no memory of periods of time. Whereas depersonalization disorder is notably associated with experiencing emotional neglect from one’s parents or family, this extreme dissociation is the result of the prolonged severe trauma of physical, emotional, or sexual violence and abuse, typically during childhood.

As trans writer Emily VanDerWerff notes at Vox, this is a film about trauma. Neo has frequent and intrusive memories of his life with Trinity and her violent death, and is not even given the validation of knowing that these memories are real. Instead, his Analyst insists that he use grounding exercises to convince himself that his real experiences, in which he is slowly becoming aware of his true self and seeing the nature of the matrix, are in fact hallucinations or psychosis — those episodes of dislocation and missing time, it turns out, are being directly manipulated by the Analyst. That same Analyst, successor to the Architect as the ruler of the matrix after a war between machine factions over dwindling human energy, is responsible for Neo and Trinity’s physical rebuild and resurrection after their deaths in Revolutions.

This sequel feels different.

This movie was a reminder that the Wachowskis really can depict body horror quite effectively, whether it’s your mouth disappearing from your face, your navel becoming an unexpected orifice for use by mechanical insects, or being covered in metal ports so a large communications spike can be inserted through the center of your brain. Resurrections is perhaps more graphically violent and disturbing than the trilogy. The One’s role of returning his program to the source, as explained in vague terms by the Architect in Reloaded, is depicted here in all its awful details: awake and in excruciating pain, Neo’s chest cavity is held wide open as insectoid machines scurry in and out to inspect its contents, and tiny bugs creep along the surface of his fully exposed brain. Next to him, Trinity screams as a massive glowing beetle crawls out of her throat. They are tortured at length as subjects of indefinite human experimentation.

Within the latest matrix, the system’s swarm mode can commandeer all bodies in an area to attack using whatever weapons are at hand, and instead of taking the form of Agents that can cleanly phase around bullets, these unfortunate bluepill bystanders can’t and don’t even try. As a result, it often becomes necessary for our characters to commit what looks like a full-auto mass shooting of everyone in the vicinity, and this movie doesn’t shy away from showing the expected mess. Resistance fighters being brutalized in the matrix also have more blood pour from their actual nose and mouth than previously seen, while inside the matrix a program’s jaw is fully wrenched off, and their exquisite decapitation makes it clear that they’re also made of meat.

There are numerous depictions of suicide, forced suicide and attempted suicide, including innumerable swarms of bots hurling themselves out of buildings with their bodies visibly exploding in blood all along the streets, and how you feel about that may depend on whether you’re old enough to remember 9/11. Suicide attempts are discussed repeatedly as a potentially life-changing catalyst of personal development. Our heroes’ infiltration to rescue Trinity’s body and mind from the new matrix requires shutting down a human shredder. A repellent misogynist (and gushing Matrix fan) shamelessly objectifies Trinity to Neo’s face; one of her children makes a jarringly sexual comment about her and Neo. The plot may even appear to be superficially anti-family on first read. Make no mistake, this is a fucked up movie that knows it. Though Lana Wachowski clearly expresses the futility of trying to duplicate the singular moment of the first Matrix and once again pull off something just as visually revolutionary and culturally influential, something about this movie still feels much like the dank, visceral and grimy virtual-reality sci-fi and horror films that we might have passed around as kids in the ‘90s.

As dangerous and violent as this new matrix is, it’s just as emotionally gutting and continuously traumatic to Neo and Trinity. Rather than the system using individual bodies as fungible units of heat, Resurrections fuses this with the discarded idea from the first Matrix of humans serving as a massive parallel processing network for the machines. Here, the Analyst has resurrected Neo and Trinity to use them as a unique source of power. By ensuring they will always remain alienated and can never be together, he draws energy from their misery at their separation and lack of fulfillment. Trapping them in this “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” technological hell where death can’t save them and life can’t unite them, the Analyst shuffles, stitches, and overwrites their memories and realities with abandon to cultivate and enhance their pain. Neo eventually finds these disorienting episodes and intrusive memories of his past life so unbearable, he drunkenly steps off the edge of a building, hoping to exit this life one way or another.

The villain is dysphoria.

This distressing gulf, between where one is and where one needs to be, is a representation of gender dysphoria throughout the film, and the evolving relationship between Neo and Trinity is a detailed depiction of this unendurable state. Their second conversation at the café is a beat-for-beat exploration of the kinds of deeply personal conversations that trans and gender-questioning people have always had with one another as a way of comparing notes, feeling out who and what we are and why this question compels our attention. Such a discussion in a Matrix movie is worth examining closely.

Trinity, still under her Analyst-assigned name “Tiffany”, comes to Neo (“Thomas”) having looked into his background and his work extensively, but only slowly and reluctantly opens up about just how extensive her interest is. She openly admits that in her role as a wife and a mother, she is not sure if she is living the life she actually wants or only filling a role because she was told that this was expected of her. She even wishes to pursue therapy further but is kept in a state of constant exhaustion by the needs of her family. She sees something in someone else, the character of Trinity as depicted in Neo’s “video game”, that resonates so strongly for her that she feels it reflects an essential part of who she is: this is what she looks like and what her life must look like. For her, the question of “or do I want to be her?” is answered unambiguously. Trinity identifies with this self-image so intensely that she opens up to her husband about how much she looks like Neo’s character, only to be misunderstood and laughed off by him as if she’s self-evidently ridiculous for believing this.

The score takes an eerie turn; she knows that her role to play in the order of things is to go along and agree and laugh at these feelings as impossible absurdities, and she experiences complicity in this expected self-ridicule as a moral wound and betrayal of herself. This rejection and withdrawal back into the closet upsets her so profoundly that she has an unusually strong urge to hurt her husband. She’s trying to understand why she hates so much the way her husband sees her, and she’s surprisingly comfortable talking about this almost immediately with a new acquaintance — she senses that they have something in common that is very important to their lives, and that her feelings will be shared and understood. Both awkwardly realize that the conversation has taken a deeply personal turn to the kind of thoughts they usually don’t share with anyone else, but they both come away from it changed.

This matrix, we soon find, is also more literally haunted by dysphoria ghosts. For just a moment Neo glimpses her reflection in the tabletop, a pale woman seen through dark glass who is not Trinity at all.

This “Dark Tiffany” (Sarah McTeigue) is actually all that her husband can see when he looks at her, while Neo easily sees that she looks exactly like Trinity. Only later do we find out that this discrepancy is the work of the Semblance system, which has superimposed a false body image that does not show who they are inside; when Neo is shown this outward image, he’s visibly shaken by his appearance as an old and balding man (this reaction to the vision of himself as old and bald holds a familiarity that makes it very obvious this was the work of a trans woman). The next time they meet, Neo immediately addresses her as Trinity.

Assigned roles and binaries fracture easily and often.

These conversations and moments of dysphoric self-recognition and trans self-actualization are repeatedly shown as tipping-point epiphanies that can happen at the speed of an egg cracking. Bugs, the absolute breakout captain of Resurrections, redpills a programmed Morpheus out of his assigned role as Agent Smith in under three minutes simply by sharing and comparing their experiences of the matrix, before directly asking him: “Who are you? What do you have to do?”

Neo’s boss, a sharply dressed young businessman who loves standing at the window of their skyscraper and reciting Smith’s lines, stumbles into a set and setting that resonate with something deep within him: Neo trying to escape from an office flooded by sprinklers, Morpheus gunning down police, the signature Desert Eagle laying at his feet. He steps into the vivid bright red light, and has an intensely physical and transformational experience of embodiment and emergence, slowly throwing his head back as if in imitation of Agents possessing bluepills, while resembling nothing more than the prom scene in “Carrie”. In seconds, he is right back in his element, screaming “Mister Anderson!” and opening fire at Neo.

Much like Neo’s experience with Smith in the first Matrix, Trinity being repeatedly, obnoxiously deadnamed is the last straw for her: she realizes she cannot live a fake life defined by someone else who’s holding her hostage, and she knows she has to rebel against this and live as herself no matter the cost. She announces herself as Trinity, and proceeds to pursue this life immediately and with beautifully rewarding violence.

While the bold lines of dysphoric processes are at the heart of the characters and their story, the world in which this takes place is also completely saturated with transgender metaphors and images that are not subtle at all. If the Matrix trilogy had a trans subtext, Resurrections is the reality of transgender life made text. Public bathrooms are a recurring setting of danger and violence: the gender-neutral restroom at Neo’s workplace is raided by militarized police because a redpill was using it; Neo is smuggled into a bathroom on a train as his allies blast away at a mob pursuing him; Smith throws him against a row of toilet stalls and declares that “the form, the nature of things” is binary, then tackles him through a wall of urinals. But contrary to his assertion that “Anderson and Smith” will always be in opposition, with one destined to destroy the other, the two find themselves briefly turning against a common enemy, the Analyst.

Other binaries take their turn and are interrogated, complicated, and often rejected entirely. Neo is working on a followup to his “Matrix” that is literally named Binary, a bloated and unfinished game that everyone cares about except for him — he would rather spend his time within the world of the Matrix or watching videos of trans women (this appears to be Lana Wachowski, who has previously spoken about her discomfort with a “binary gender narrative”). The line between humans and programs, which became increasingly unclear throughout the trilogy, is finally completely porous: just as humans can take form inside the matrix, programs can now physically manifest alongside human bodies as exomorphs of their humanoid form. This film’s Morpheus has transitioned from a naïve Agent program going through the motions without meaningful reflection or awareness, to an unusually perceptive Agent program who has begun to see what the matrix is, to a self-aware program based on the human resistance leader, all the way back to physical presence as Morpheus in the real world. He doesn’t even have a binary.

Artificial intelligences now have any number of possible embodiments to choose from, whether as programs, synthients (the new name chosen by the former “machines”), or exomorphs, and all are accepted as equal crew members and even captains. Rather than existing in a state of perpetual total war between humans and machines to exploit and enslave one another, the city of IO is a collaborative endeavor by all for the benefit of all, recognizing and integrating the unique value of everyone’s differences — human, program, synthient, and exomorph. At least half of Bugs’ hovercraft, the Mnemosyne, is built using synthient technology, which in turn has a design seemingly inspired by organic animal life. One synthient on the Mnemosyne, Cybebe, is closest in name to the goddess Cybele whose ancient cult of trans women would ritually castrate themselves; Cybebe appears to wear a largely cosmetic cat-ears faceplate and gives Neo a forehead-bump greeting. Even the difference between an individual and a group is blurred as Bugs is bridged with Trinity via Sati’s brain bypass, experienced in the matrix as Trinity-Bugs mapped into one body yet occupied by both at once. And the pivotal choice between red pill and blue? Trinity doesn’t take any — she’s just ready.

This Matrix has a new visual language of depersonalization.

Faced with the task of expressing something subtly wrong and uncomfortable about the world without giving away the true nature of reality just yet, the first Matrix used distinct visual effects for scenes happening in unreality, such as green-tinted desaturation and placing characters in a deep and flattened field. This time, everyone knows exactly what it means to be in the matrix, and depersonalization-derealization imagery in Resurrections largely takes a backseat to much more overt depictions of traumatic dissociation. As promised by the filmmakers before its release, this is primarily a story of love and intense emotion. If anything, Neo takes control of the coping mechanism of self-displacement and numbness in dissociation that the Analyst had used to manipulate him, and turns this protective field outward from himself to project it as a defensive weapon that shields himself and others.

Imagery evoking experiences of depersonalization-derealization appears in Resurrections, but sprinkled in as playful visual features rather than something core to communicating this state of being. Instead of a digital artifice of green, the new version of the matrix is almost inappropriately colorful and bright with a Thomas Kinkade energy, particularly apparent in an external shot of the Analyst’s office that looks like something out of the Sims.

In his pre-Smith form, Neo’s boss looks out upon the city and unnervingly tells him it’s “so perfect it’s gotta be fake”. Bugs and Morpheus do sense that there’s something wrong with the world and that it must not be real, but only after unexpectedly witnessing actual rendering glitches in mirrors, windows, and during Neo’s apparent suicide attempt. Neo most notably experiences the collapse of his sense of self, autonomy, and reality into layer after layer of depersonalization symptoms when Bugs takes him through the moving portal. He emerges into a set on a stage surrounded by characters who are intentionally enacting specific defined roles, and realizes he has stepped through a torn movie screen on which his life in The Matrix is projected.

Morpheus invites Neo to cut through the haze of doubt and unreality: “This is the moment for you to show us what is real.” Knowing what he has to do, he takes the red pill just as before, and they flee back into the torn screen of The Matrix on their way to pull him out of the matrix. Previously a “trace program” with no apparent effects, this red pill is now an intense hallucinogen, and Neo begins to see the world as thin shells of flat panels coming apart at the seams and revealing the dark gulf of matrix unreality underneath. Forced to escape literally through a small and foggy looking glass, their operator instructs them to wield a perceptual distortion to bend reality in their favor: by flattening away the depth in the world, moving closer to the mirror makes it become much larger from their perspective. It does, and Neo pushes through that dark glass out of the matrix and directly into the real world, finally piercing through the membrane of his pod. Interestingly, there is an actual condition in which body image and visual perception are altered and objects appear larger or smaller — it’s called Alice in Wonderland syndrome. It can be caused by drug use, migraines, seizures, or head trauma, and is often accompanied by symptoms of depersonalization and derealization.

Lana Wachowski’s experience of her own transition is embedded within the dramatic changes between the trilogy and Resurrections in her approach to filmmaking and the resulting look and feel. Jonathan Groff recalls Wachowski’s explanation of the difference between their tightly controlled storyboarding of scenes in the trilogy, and her insistence on “genuine in-the-moment human interaction” when filming Resurrections:

“Lana’s style of filmmaking has changed with mirroring her transition,” Groff says. (Lana came out as a trans woman and completed her transition after 2008’s Speed Racer. Lilly also came out as trans in March 2016.) “She was explaining to us how, in her earlier work, she would storyboard things like they were comic books almost, and create exact frames of what she wanted as her way of literally controlling her narrative, because there was so much out of control inside of her. Then when she embraced her identity, this articulated itself in her work and opened her up to the idea of capturing the things that can’t be controlled.”

Groff also describes her “extreme commitment to spontaneity”, noting: “Lana was really interested in us surprising ourselves in the moment.” The scenes of the trilogy spliced into Resurrections illustrate the intensity of the contrast:

On the freeway in Reloaded, Trinity is seen in a symmetrical shot so dead-on it feels flat, her face and makeup flawless, eyes hidden away.

In Resurrections, self-actualized Trinity on her bike is framed dynamically as the camera moves around her, and her face is captured as so much more warmly human — she looks like a person actively having a real, intense experience in a real, messy world. These radical changes in feeling and perspective, conveyed by a masterful filmmaker over the course of her transition and accompanying personal growth and development, give us the opportunity to witness a fascinating experience that is singular, yet familiar to many of us.

The dream can end here.

This movie concludes beautifully without a need to cause any further dramatic events within the world of the Matrix going forward. Wachowski makes it abundantly clear throughout the movie how disinterested she is in revisiting an incredible story that was then misappropriated by everyone from shallow action fans to actual fascists, and it’s since been revealed that she only came back to prevent the franchise from being handed off to another filmmaker. Between its underwhelming performance at the box office and the announcement by Wachowski and her producer that no further films are planned, we likely won’t have to worry about anything happening to Trinity and Neo (and Bugs and Lexy) any time soon.

I loved how it felt to experience this movie. It depicted uncannily familiar feelings in an utterly arresting way, I felt completely seen as a trans person by another trans person’s miraculous major motion picture, and I’m amazed at the sheer density of meaning contained within it that continues to emerge. Of course I’ll always want to experience more of the world of the Matrix — and what Resurrections gives us is more than enough.

--

--

--

Trans feminist writer, researcher, and activist. Creator of Gender Analysis. Florida. She/her. https://patreon.com/zinniajones

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

“Watch Dune (1984) Full Movie Download HD Quality Dune (1984) Dune (1984) ⇨[One click to play] »➫…

Watch-“Full” ▬ M O V I E ▬ Dune [1984] English Version

STREAM !! FULL MOVIE !! Toy Story 4 (2019) MOVIE [watch movies free]

“Mean Girls” — what changed in 16 years?

Trauma and Masculinity on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or, The Season of Copouts

[Download|Online] :: I Care a Lot 2021 | HD ONLINE

The Shortest Path From Andy Warhol and The Burger King Whopper to Eddy Merckx and The Paris-Roubaix

40 Movies that Mean Something to Me (Part 1 of 2)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Zinnia Jones

Zinnia Jones

Trans feminist writer, researcher, and activist. Creator of Gender Analysis. Florida. She/her. https://patreon.com/zinniajones

More from Medium

Office of Transgender Initiatives Year in Review: 2021

The Toxic Masculinity of Late-Transitioning Transgender Women

What Should You Do if a Friend Comes Out as Trans or Nonbinary?

Why you need to watch Euphoria’s exploration of queerness