By Marcus Cervantes
The year was 1999. I was but a mere six years old then, but I remember vividly the release of such monumental films as Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”, Paul Thomas Anderson’s behemoth masterpiece, “Magnolia”, and the first return of “Star Wars” in nearly 20 years, “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”. Amongst the litany of great films that year, another had come along, rich with unique tension and flavor, destined to change the very fabric of action films and blockbusters forever.
A computerized love letter to Hong Kong action films and Japanese anime, this film presented philosophical ideologies about what it means to be human in a rapidly changing technological age. Not only that, but “The Matrix” also asks what it means to be loved. To be unique. And, perhaps most importantly, to be free.
Twenty years later, despite a plethora of technological, graphic, and optical advancements to the realm of cyberpunk science fiction, “The Matrix” still sets the bar for what this genre is capable of instilling in the audience’s minds. However, there’s another reason why this film shines amongst the littered landscape of blockbuster filmmaking:
It’s female directors.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski are one of the few openly transgender women working in the film industry today. At the time of filming, however, both sisters were closeted, suggesting that their hit film carried with it an underlying cast of doubt, a means to escape the body that one is given. To the public eye, the film was an epic sci-fi about a man realizing that he is humanity’s savior and will lead the revolution from the formidable machines that enslave humankind. In recent years, though, Lilly Wachowski has encouraged viewers to go back and view the film from “the lens of their transness.”
Let’s start off with what is arguably one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, shall we? After Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) shocks Neo (Keanu Reeves) with the information that the world he is living in is a facade, a green, computerized wasteland that glitches cats in and out of frame, Morpheus gives Neo a valuable choice: he may take a (now iconic) blue pill and remain in the comfort of his own world, or he may take a red pill and realize his full potential as a revolutionary badass with a knack for physical combat.
“The Matrix” supports this ideology that we can become who we were always meant to be. Through a cyberpunk lens, this film reveals that, even if an oppressive society forces you to be someone, the real you will always be there.”
This choice mirrors the lived experience of trans women like Lilly and Lana, as estrogen/hormone pills are typically red and have life-changing effects on the woman taking them; the woman’s body changes, her life view changes, and she can finally become the woman she was born to be. Likewise, once Neo takes the red pill, a world of possibilities opens up to him.
Living in the Matrix becomes a dysphoric in its own right, a diss-ease within the body, followed by the subsequent desire to remove the soul from that body and implant it elsewhere. Lilly and Lana Wachowski imbue their own personal struggle with gender dysphoria, the need to feel and look entirely something else, into what their audience thought was merely a 90’s sci-fi with a clever green wash over scenes in the matrix and stellar acting from the entire cast.
Like the dysphoric trans person, however, once you’re inside the matrix, you are unaware of the outside world, only aware of what is directly in front of you: a desk, a pen, and paper, a path. Neo breaks from that prison into a world that he can more readily and more enthusiastically understand, just like the trans woman fully breaks into her womanhood and untaps a world of potential.
“In recent years, though, Lilly Wachowski has encouraged viewers to go back and view the film from “the lens of their transness”
“The Matrix” supports this ideology that we can become who we were always meant to be. Through a cyberpunk lens, this film reveals that, even if an oppressive society forces you to be someone, the real you will always be there. The fact that two transwomen directed this massive film that we can still analyze in so many different ways 20 years later is a testament to their skill and craft. With the recent news that Lana Wachowski is returning to the franchise with a planned installment, I’m excited to see what she comes up within today’s landscape.