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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The New ‘Matrix Resurrections’ Trailer Reclaims the Red Pill Narrative

The choice has always been, relatively speaking, simple: red pill or blue pill. Swallow the red and it’s like eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil—suddenly all the universe’s dark secrets are revealed. Take the blue, remain in blissful ignorance. In 1999, Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus presented this option to Keanu Reeves’ Neo, who gulped down the red one with only the slightest trepidation. His narrative arc was changed, and a meme was born. 

In the two decades since, the sociopolitical meaning of red pill vs. blue pill has evolved quite a bit. Most recently, the idea of “red-pilling” has become a metaphor for a certain kind of political awakening, an adoption of far-right, and often misogynistic, views. The phrase perhaps reached its nadir last year when Elon Musk sent a tweet encouraging his followers to “take the red pill,” to which then-presidential adviser Ivanka Trump responded “Taken!” Not one to let her work be misconstrued, Lilly Wachowski—who, along with her sister Lana, created the Matrix franchise—quickly responded “fuck both of you.” It was one of the first, if not the first, times the movie’s creators expressed discontent at the way their creation had been co-opted by the darker corners of the internet.

Or at least it was until Tuesday, when a mysterious new landing page emerged on WhatIsTheMatrix.com, teasing the trailer that dropped this morning. There they were, right on the landing page: a red pill and a blue one. Click the red, and the voice of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (who is playing an as-yet-unnamed character, but seems to be filling the Morpheus role this time around) recites the time of day before saying “that couldn’t be further from the truth.” Click the blue, and it’s the voice of Neil Patrick Harris saying “you’ve lost your capacity to discern reality from fiction.” Harris, it seems, is Neo’s therapist, delivering a never-ending stream of blue pills.

In both the website and the new trailer, the pill-popping choice remains prevalent. It’s easy to imagine that in a different time and place, the creators of a franchise would prefer to distance themselves from a creation that has been politicized and turned polarizing. Lana Wachowski, who is helming the upcoming Matrix Resurrections solo, clearly has no interest in that. Instead, she’s presenting the world of the red-pilled as the place where reality is accepted and, seemingly, a group of women and people of color are fighting for a world made in their image.

And what an image it is. For those worried the aesthetic of the franchise would’ve eroded in the years since 2003’s Matrix Revolutions, fear not. The cascading bits of green code are still here, the all-black sartorial choices remain, and—perhaps most importantly—there are lots of motorcycle and car chases and bullet-stopping. (TL;DR: It’s pretty sick.) 

The new trailer also features the reunion of Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), both of whom seemingly have been living a blue-pill existence, unaware of their previous revolutionary lives until they meet again at a café. It’s telling that it happens this way. At the beginning of the trailer, Neo is once again Thomas Anderson, and now lives and works in the heart of the San Francisco tech scene. He’s still a battery powering the machine. The gag is that in the metaverse of Resurrections, Mr. Anderson could easily have worked on the social media app that spread all those red-pill memes in the first place.

When the original Matrix premiered in 1999, it was the tail-end of Bill Clinton's presidency. The economy was strong and capitalism was the counterculture’s main enemy. By the time the original trilogy wrapped in 2003, 9/11 had happened and George W. Bush was in office. It was harder to see then, but a cultural shift was beginning, one that would change the political landscape forever and ultimately help usher in the era of Donald Trump. 

It was during those years that the Wachowskis’ central metaphor was co-opted by forces antithetical to their vision—a shift that gives this new Matrix even higher stakes. It must speak to long-time fans and also answer some of their extrapolations from the source material. In the years since 2003, both of the series' creators have come out as trans women, and Lilly Wachowski has noted that the franchise is an allegory for trans identity. Filmmakers don’t often get much of a say in how their work is adopted and interpreted, but with Matrix Resurrections, Lana Wachowski has a chance—after more than 20 years of fans interpreting them in their own ways—to stipulate how she wants her movies to be viewed. Whether they choose to see her vision is up to them.

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