What even is The Matrix? Lana Wachowski and her stars address decades of theories
Ever since The Matrix first dazzled crowds in March 1999, audiences, critics, and even doctoral candidates have interpreted the meaning of the film in wildly differing ways. Trans people responded to the movie's allegory about coming to terms with one's true identity through a gendered lens — a reading that Lilly Wachowski, who came out as trans in 2016, said was always the intent.
"There was an early draft of the script where the Matrix avatar would be a different sex than the Zion reality," Keanu Reeves recalls during a sit-down interview with his costar Carrie-Anne Moss and EW for The Matrix Resurrections. "I think the studio wasn't ready for that version."
Meanwhile, conservatives co-opted the iconic red-pill-vs.-blue-pill scene as a metaphor for political truth. Republican talking head Candace Owens had a Red Pill Black YouTube channel, while a Fox News op-ed on Kanye West's endorsement of Donald Trump asked: "What happens when a hip-hop icon takes the red pill and dares to challenge liberals?" For the record, Lilly famously said "f--- you both" to Ivanka Trump and Elon Musk after referencing it on Twitter last year.
Still others dove into the film as an existential treatise on selfhood and over-reliance on technology. "There have been some pretty funny moments over the past 20 years with people telling me or Lilly what The Matrix is really all about," says Resurrections director Lana Wachowski. "I tried to make light of these experiences in an early sequence in [Resurrections]. For some it is a very rigid almost ideological interpretation; they do not see the humor in the fact that their perspective is a more controlled system than the Matrix itself."
However, she remains firm in her original goal: "I'm not interested in controlling people's experiences or interpretations. I'm grateful that people have taken the work seriously enough to engage in philosophical dialogue with the film and each other."
For Resurrections actress Jessica Henwick, it's always been about choice. "We're in a place where every single news outlet is going to fall [onto] one side of the political spectrum. You are actively making a choice when you go to that site. Nothing is impartial anymore."
"I think the contextualization of the film has offered us a tool to question our systems of control through [questions like], what is real? What is reality? Where are we? Who are we? what are the forces that are acting on us? and where is love? what do we hold dear? What's important to us?" says Reeves.
The actor behind Neo adds that Resurrections is "up to date" in that regard. "It's a nice launchpad, a way for us to maybe think about where we're going in this next cycle of life."
Moss says her experience on The Matrix made her examine the very concept of reality. "If I look at how I was questioning reality 20 years ago versus how I'm questioning reality today, I've definitely grown a lot in that," she says. "I love peeling back the layers. I'm curious about that conversation with people, how much do we have a perception of ourselves that isn't maybe even necessarily true? Who are we, if we're not all the labels that we put on ourselves at a soul level?"
As Neo would say: "Whoa."
The Matrix Resurrections opens in theaters and on HBO Max Dec. 22. Watch Reeves and Moss explore the question of "what is the Matrix?" in the video above.
For more on The Matrix Resurrections, order the January issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands beginning Dec. 17. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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