By Sudish Kamath
The Matrix trilogy is often viewed as a stark underscoring of the man-vs-machine conflict of our technology-laden world. Perhaps it's time to revisit the newly-transformed Wachowski Sisters' cult classic and explore it at a more personal level?
“There is no spoon,” the Wachowski Brothers — Larry and Andy — famously observed in The Matrix (1999), a film I called “the single-most definitive film of our times” in my film Good Night Good Morning (2010) mostly because I read only the more obvious conflict of man versus machine.
Larry went on to transition into Lana Wachowski in 2012 and earlier this March, the younger sibling Andy too came out as Lilly Wachowski.
As someone who has always seen The Matrix as a feminist action film, I felt the need to revisit The Matrix trilogy as a film made by the Wachowski Sisters, especially after Lilly expressly encouraged critics to revisit the films while picking up an award from Sense 8 at the GLAAD Media Awards last month:
“There’s a critical eye being cast back on Lana and I’s work through the lens of our transness. This is a cool thing because it’s an excellent reminder that art is never static. And while the ideas of identity and transformation are critical components in our work, the bedrock that all ideas rest upon is love.”
I had always had great respect for the Wachowskis for capturing the man-versus-technology-in-controlled-system conflict of our times and for making Trinity a woman. Be it Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christanity or Creator, Preserver, Destroyer in Hindu mythology, the idea of God as Trinity has conventionally celebrated the male.
The first clue about Trinity in The Matrixbeing a divine entity is the opening line:
“I’m watching him.”
And then we see the human, plugged to computers and headphones, fast asleep. The computer in front of him has a message for him. “Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you. Follow the white rabbit.”
Of course, the white rabbit is a girl, too. And Neo is Alice. The gender roles have been reversed. “Jesus,” says Neo when he finally meets Trinity. “I thought you were a guy.”
“Most guys do,” she replies.
And Morpheus (named after the God of Dreams) tells him: “It’s the question that drives us Neo. What is the Matrix?” The subconscious was trying to wake up a sleeping man and help him see the system for what it is. A projection.
Morpheus asks Neo to make a choice. One will take him back to being Mr. Anderson, the guy the world thinks he is. And the other will help him find the truth about the real him — Neo. The one who can hack the world, the man-made system.
“There’s something wrong with the world, driving you mad like a splinter in your mind,” says Morpheus as he describes the Matrix as “the world that has been pulled over your eyes.”
“You are a slave born into a prison for your mind,” the subconscious tells him and Neo decides to take the red pill to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. By signing up for the truth, Neo is born again in the real world, freed from wires and tubes, cleansed and given a fresh lease of life where he’s introduced to “the construct” of the system that’s only a “mental projection of your digital self”.
We could say this for any of us on the internet and our digital identities. What is real, then? Just an “electrical signal interpreted by your brain”? “A singular consciousness that spawned a race of machines,” says Morpheus, continuing to orient Neo towards truth.
“Free your mind.”
“Matrix is a system. The system is our enemy.”
“Anyone not unplugged is potentially an agent… They are the gatekeepers.”
“Every single man or woman who has stood their ground, everyone who has fought an agent has died.”
Parallelly, Agent Smith was brainwashing one of their own, Cypher, who is sick and tired of dealing with the truth because “Ignorance is bliss.” Cypher was a manifestation of denial. If Neo was the ONE, Cypher was… you know, what completes the binary. Now, this was a great time for the Wachowski’s to bring in a trans character called Switch who, in a brief role, calls out a character called Mouse, “a digital pimp” for trying to make Neo fall for “the woman in the red dress” he had designed.
The simulator, Mouse, in another throwaway line, reacts: “To deny our impulses is to deny the things that make us human.” More angst. Soon, the rabbit-hole to self-discovery takes Neo to the all-knowing Oracle, once again played by a woman.
As he waits to meet her, he learns from a child: “There is no spoon… It’s not the spoon that bends. It’s only yourself.” You see what you want to see. The Latin sign above the door Morpheus told him about (“I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.”) says: Know Thyself.
“Being the One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones,” the Oracle tells Neo. The film couldn’t have been more clear. Being The One with God, or Trinity, in this case. In love with Her.
The only way Neo can know who he really is if he can save Morpheus, his subconscious. It’s a suicidal mission metaphorically. (“I want Morpheus back too, but what you are talking about is suicide.”) Lana had opened up about people in the transgender community feeling suicidal in their fight against the system.
Neo had to protect the one person who believed in who he really was — Morpheus — after one of their own, Cypher, tired of the war, had betrayed them all. For every person trying to accept the truth, another was giving up on it, preferring denial and letting someone else hold their subconscious hostage. Cypher was responsible for transgender Switch’s death. Neo almost dies trying to save Morpheus. But God, Trinity saves Neo’s life. She kisses life into him. It’s a miracle that makes Agent Smith wonder: How?
Because God loves you when you decide to Know Thyself.
But this was just the first step in a longer journey of the fight against the all-powerful system...
(To be concluded next week with a probe into Reloaded and Revolutions)