‘The Matrix’ Was Always About the Trans Experience, Confirms Lilly Wachowski
It’s been more than two decades since The Matrix came out, and it is arguably the most influential piece of mainstream pop culture ever created by a trans artist. But that’s not it: fans of the The Matrix have believed for a long time that the movie embodied the experience of a closeted trans person finally realizing their true self, in the journey of protagonist Neo (played by Keanu Reaves) — a theory Lilly Wachowski has finally confirmed in an interview with Netflix Film Club.
“I’m glad that it has gotten out that that was the original intention,” Wachowski said of the fan theories. “The world wasn’t quite ready for it. The corporate world wasn’t ready for it,” she added, speaking to the lack of overt queer tropes in the Matrix franchise, and how she and her sister — both of whom were not out at the time of the film’s release — had to work to allegorize transness in the film.
To jog people’s memory — the Matrix franchise follows Neo, a shy computer hacker (whose IRL name is Thomas Anderson, but he uses an alias online and outrightly rejects his given name) who spends most of his time on the Internet, isolated. Fan theories have long compared Neo’s isolation and rejection of his name to many trans people’s experiences, who often find themselves isolated, misunderstood, and denigrated, only finding like-minded communities online. In the film, Neo is obsessed with finding out what the ‘Matrix’ is, so much so that we see him unable to sleep or focus on anything else. Many have compared Neo’s state to the gender dysphoria many trans people feel, and the distress they experience with the process of having to come out, with having to figure out their identity.
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Throughout the film, the Wachowskis invoke themes of using the Internet to find one’s true self, of living double lives, of being misunderstood and put down, of being unconditionally accepted, of undergoing a complete overhaul of one’s identity, like a rebirth. The Matrix reinforces the idea of the limitations of physical bodies, and foregrounds the capabilities of the mind, which has largely been perceived as a cementing allegory for transness.
“I don’t know how present my transness was in the background of my brain as we were writing it,” Wachowski said. “We were always living in a world of imagination. That’s why I gravitated toward sci-fi and fantasy and played Dungeons and Dragons. It was all about creating worlds. It freed us up as filmmakers because we were able to imagine stuff at that time that you didn’t necessarily see onscreen.”
Twenty one years later, we’re living in a completely different world, where both the Wachowski sisters — now out as trans women — have gone on to publicly speak about their transness and overtly inculcate their lived experiences in their art, such as in Netflix series Sense 8. A fourth Matrix film, directed by Lana Wachowski, is also on its way in 2022. Whether or not she backs up her sister’s words in the latest instalment — only time will tell.
Because as we all know, “no one can be told what The Matrix is. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”