People of a certain age have strong feelings about The Matrix. And with good reason. In 1999, angsty teens everywhere got their first introduction to metaphysical philosophy books that they only heard were cool, combined with a nice dose of ’80s William Gibson books and anime films like Ghost In The Shell, which, were, then, hard to find on VHS. The soundtrack for the first film unironically contained cuts from Rage Against the Machine, Rob Zombie, and Propellerheads. It’s possibly Keanu Reeves’ best movie, and we all know the performances from Carrie-Ann Moss and Laurence Fishburne are sublime. But the new Matrix sequel — The Matrix Resurrections — is shocking because it’s not only the most surprisingly romantic movie of 2021 but also because it’s not even trying to be cool anymore. Here’s why it’s great, and why can’t sleep on it before it leaves HBO Max in three weeks. No major spoilers ahead.
Within the real-world matrix of the great entertainment industry nostalgia machine, it’s hard to pin down the true legacy of The Matrix trilogy. The first film and its two sequels changed cinema, certainly. And yet, it’s difficult to point out a bunch of movies that are like the original Matrix trilogy that are any good. In 1999 it felt like the new Star Wars, but unlike Star Wars, nobody can agree if the two sequels in the trilogy are just fine or outright terrible.
The Matrix was both ahead of its time, and of its time simultaneously. But, it wasn’t timeless.
This is what makes the new film — The Matrix Resserections — truly wonderful. It’s a movie that attacks the mixed nostalgia for the old movies with shocking frankness. Smartly, filmmaker (and OG Matrix co-creator) Lana Wachowski knows the source material isn’t timeless. She knows the concept of the movie, and what she and her sibling, Lily was trying to say with the films have been utterly taken away from both of them. The idea of The Matrix exists in the zeitgeist for whatever people want to make of it. And so, instead of correcting everyone about what The Matrix was “really” about, Lana Wachowski did something much braver with The Matrix Resserections. She made a movie about romance. The film is about many things, but the one thing that matters the most is that it dares to hang the audience’s entire emotional investment on a love story between two people in their 50s.
Imagine if the plot of The Force Awakens had focused on Han Solo and Princess Leia, in their 60s and 70s, reconnecting, and figuring out how to love each other again despite how hard things had gotten. It’s impossible to imagine. Star Wars would have never been brave enough to put two “old” people front and center, and as it stands, in that film, Han and Leia hug once and that’s it.
The Matrix Resurrections is the opposite. It’s a movie that manages to say something quite simple: People over the age of 40 can be in love, too. Lana herself is 56, Keanu Reeves is 57, and Carrie-Ann Moss is 54. Despite the presence of the utterly charming young “Bugs” (Jessica Henwick, who is 29), Resurrections is a movie about two people in middle-age. And the romance between these two people is what defines the entire plot of the movie.
Remember how complicated the climax was in The Matrix Reloaded? Forget it. Resurrections has (mostly) one major plot point driving the whole story: How can Trinity and Neo get back together?
Underneath all the cyberpunk action and somewhat familiar philosophizing, the intention of The Matrix Resurrections is clearly focused on a love story between two people who are no longer young and sexy, and, in their respective “blue pill” worlds, have perhaps given up on the dream of having the life they want. For anyone who grew up with The Matrix as the ultimate escapist power fantasy, Resurrections is an amazingly somber counterpoint about how hard it is to fight for romance as you get older. If The Matrix is like a 1960s John Lennon song, like say, “I Am the Walrus,” then Resurrections is the solo period, closer to “Just Like Starting Over” or “Woman.” Fighting for love is hard, especially when you get older.
The best part about all of this is that a middle-aged romance reading of The Matrix Resurrections isn’t something I just made up to make myself feel better because I turned 40 this year, and barely recognize the 18-year-old who saw The Matrix in the theater in 1999. Turns out, Lana Wachowski partially wrote the film as a tribute to her deceased parents. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in September 2021, she said: “I couldn’t have my mom and dad… yet suddenly I had Neo and Trinity, arguably the two most important characters in my life.”
Wachowski’s love for her parents was literally the spark that made this movie possible. Of all the Matrices this is the one that wears its heart on its sleeve the most obviously. It’s a tender adventure romp that leads with its feelings more than its philosophy. And, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a perfect film for date night at home with your partner. In 1999, The Matrix taught us to question the world we live in, to think for ourselves. In 2021, The Matrix is back, with a different message: Hold on to what you have for as long as you can. Because when the world ends, or the matrix tries to take your identity, love is really all you need.
The Matrix Resurrections is out in theaters, and streaming on HBO Max until January 22, 2022.