How The Matrix’s Queer Subtext Is Plain Text In Resurrections

As it is with many themes, The Matrix Resurrections is gleefully oversimplified about its queer allegories. Image: Warner Bros.

Until Resurrections, the Matrix series has not directly recognized LGBTQ people at all. Switch is written as trans in the original Matrix screenplay, but the character was changed for the finished movie, as studio managers were confused. Of course, that didn’t stop the work’s queer readings, which intensified after directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski came out as trans women.

Even Lilly Wachowski encouraged these readings in the 2020 documentary Disclosure: “The Matrix was all about the desire for transformation, but it all came from a hidden point of view.” The Matrix Resurrections is the first film in the series to be made since the Wachowskis both came out. Queer and trans issues are not interchangeable, but the latest sequel provided an opportunity to acknowledge those readings. Lana Wachowski (directed without Lilly, wie has deviated from science fiction in favor of more realistic queer stories) and the crew took it.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

In the latest installment of the saga, Neo (surprise) is alive and trapped in a new Matrix, alive as video game developer Thomas Anderson. While he’s working on an ambitious new project called Binary (very subtle…), his boss Smith forces him to develop a sequel to his blockbuster video game series The Matrix, which is similar to the movie trilogy we’ve all seen. and that Neo can’t remember actually surviving.

This meta-first act allows Resurrections to comment directly on the allegorical interpretations of The Matrix. At a meeting where Anderson’s development team discusses what The Matrix games were about, a developer says the original story was about “transpolitics,” the first direct LGBTQ reference in the series. This exchange is ironic, but it is also not a complete rejection of this reading. The series clearly contains a lot of the things these developers are bringing out – “bullet-time!” “WTF!” — and the scene slightly ridicules those who say The Matrix is ​​about one thing.

Most of the queer content in Resurrections follows the same allegorical lines as the original, repeating old scenarios of the awakened Neo and Trinity rejecting their “dead names” and adding copious new references to “binaries” that have inevitably been read as a commentary on gender binaries. While there are still no direct queer characters, Resurrections makes LGBTQ headline canons a lot easier than the previous films, allowing Niobe and Freya like Bugs and Lexic enough displays of affection on screen to read them as couples.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The Matrix Resurrections’ strange subtext has to do with the villains. Queer Coded Villains have a long and troubled history in Hollywood, but despite or even because of this history, they are often a source of fascination for queer artists and audiences. So when Lana Wachowski decided to cast two openly gay actors, Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, in the roles of Resurrections’ two main opponents, Agent Smith and the Analyst, I’m pretty sure she knew exactly what they were doing. used to be.

Agent Smith is the richer character regarding queer subtext, as some amount of subtext was already part of Hugo Weaving’s interpretation of his character in the original trilogy. In strange readings of The Matrix, Smith has been compared to: homophobic incarcerated preachers, trans women who force themselves to live like men, and advocates of ‘conversion therapy’. When Smith says to Morpheus in the first movie, “I hate this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it”, his self-loathing comes through loud and clear.

If Weaving’s Smith is in the closet, Groff’s Smith has actually come out. Not as trans (Lana already made it clear that The Matrix is ​​not a one-on-one allegory for transness), but as gay. The queer coding on the rebooted Smith is so heavy it almost goes beyond coding; it’s as obvious as it could possibly be without becoming an offensive stereotype or explicit enough to warrant the kind of censorship common to LGBTQ+ material in blockbuster movies around the world. While Groff hasn’t talked about playing Smith as gay, he has described the film as a whole as “more strange”, and it’s easy to read this bleeding into his performance.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

His posture alone makes it clear that Groff’s Smith is more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin than Weaving’s Smith. When Smith calls on Neo at around an hour and 22 minutes in Resurrections, it becomes apparent that he is also much more comfortable expressing affection for his legendary opponent. “There are so many theories about those two,” Berg, the crew’s resident Neo scholar, quipped, timidly, perhaps referring to Smith/Neo shippers. Smith tells Neo, “You never appreciated our relationship,” saying the analyst used their “band” and turned it into a “chain.” Smith asks Neo for his opinion on his “piercing blue eyes”, taking lots of breaks to make flirty faces. It’s total shipper bait.

When they finally start fighting, Smith says that “Anderson and Smith” are one of the “binaries that make up the nature of things”. Given the gender subtext of Resurrections’ critique of binaries, feel free to make a joke about “the two genders” here. With how heavy BDSM imagery is in the Matrix series, it’s also not hard to see some sadomasochistic eroticism in Smith’s impassioned desire to fight both Neo and the Analyst, who he suggestively claims has “put his belt around my neck.” ” had. Later in the film, when Smith finally saves Neo and Trinity from the Analyst, he says that when Neo got out of the Matrix and woke him up, “I was free to be myself.” (Also, Smith and Morpheus technically have a child together in the form of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s new Morpheus program character.)

Aside from Smith’s sadomasochistic comments and Harris’s casting, The Analyst isn’t as heavily coded as Smith. He is coded more as one of those “alt right” Matrix fans who have appropriated the images of the original than anything else, monologues about “alternative facts” and look down on others as “sheeple”. While most viewers know that Harris is a gay man, they also know that his most iconic characters, from Barney Stinson to his own caricature in the Harold & Kumar films, were extremely heterosexual.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

But even when he played a character so vastly different from himself on the page, Harris says he played the character as a “version of myself.” Given the analyst’s awkward relationship with truth and the hyper-stylized nature of the original Matrix trilogy, it was easy for him to lean into a similar stylization, but Lana Wachowski’s style has evolved in a more naturalistic direction, allowing Harris is somewhat confused about how “true” his performance should be. The analyst is clearly not the “real” Neil Patrick Harris, yet anyone who knows the actor will bring their knowledge of his public identity to the analyst. Coupled with Smith’s heavy queer coding, it creates a strange phenomenon where the two main agents of a system are often read as a metaphor for conformity and anti-LGBTQ suppression at least giving off some gay vibes.

In 1999, being openly queer automatically made you an enemy of the system. This will not necessarily be the case in 2021. Rights such as marriage and protection against discrimination in the workplace are at least enshrined in law, and enough has changed that some (usually cis, mostly white, mostly male) queer people are able to maintain power within the system. However, the fact that our governments and corporations are more gay-friendly than before doesn’t necessarily make them friendlier in general. “rainbow capitalism” is often performative at best toward the needs of the LGBTQ community, and “wash pinkuses nominal progressivity on queer issues to distract from harmful actions in other areas.

One of the main themes of The Matrix Resurrections is that power systems usurp and assimilate with forces that originally conflicted with said systems. This is most evident in how Neo’s story of rebellion against the Matrix has turned into a video game franchise within the Matrix itself. Subversion is reduced to a business product where most target groups don’t even understand the intended message. As Bugs says, “They took your story, something that meant so much to people like me, and turned it into something trivial.” When the analyst uses bullet time, The Matrix’s most iconic image, as a weapon to freeze Neo and Trinity in place, it’s perfectly symbolic of how the aesthetics of revolution become distorted against their original meaning.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Resurrections’ queer-coded villains are yet another example of this assimilation into the system, while giving two very different responses to it. The Analyst embraces his power within this system, while Smith is ultimately able to redeem himself by breaking away from it. There have always been heated debates about whether the goals of the LGBTQ movement should be to show the cishet world that queer people can be “just like everyone else,” or whether it’s better to have normalcy and respectability politics. reject. Lana Wachowski might object to anyone saying what The Matrix Resurrections is “about,” but it’s fair to say that at least some of it is an anti-assimilationist message: not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.

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