The Matrix Resurrections Explores What ‘True Freedom’ Is
“We can’t see it, but we’re all trapped in these strange, repeating loops,” Morpheus says in The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth movie in The Matrix franchise.
The movie was released in theaters in 2021 and started streaming on HBO GO in February 2022, the second year of the pandemic when everyone was still questioning the very reality of a changing world.
At the height of the pandemic, we were also trapped in a strange loop of emptiness and lack of control that seemed to have no end. But like Neo and Trinity, we are now back in the real world. Or is it? Who’s to say that travel, family, friends, going to parks, and eating out is not just collective dreaming?
During the global lockdowns, streaming platforms reached their peak audiences, as did news and entertainment websites. Without the option to go out and see friends, digital immigrants sat alongside digital natives to find ways to entertain themselves at home, keep up with the news, and find information online. A fast WiFi connection at home suddenly became crucial.
Fortunately, for PLDT Home Fiber subscribers and movie buffs, PLDT partnered with HBO GO to provide unlimited access to the streaming service. A discounted price of P149 for an all-month HBO GO subscription wasn’t so bad in place of a cinema experience that had gone as much as P600 just for one movie.
As for me, it was actually Zack Snyder’s Justice League (and the monotony of being locked down) that got me on HBO GO. The Matrix movies, and their deeply philosophical questions on the human condition and existence, are another reason that keeps me streaming.
The fabric of reality in The Matrix
The Wachowskis (directors Lana and Lily, formerly known as Larry and Andy Wachowski, respectively) created a story that changed filmmaking and special effects technology. Since the original movie was released in 1999, the idea of the Matrix (or a matrix) has been so ingrained in our culture and language that its famous blue pill-red pill scene has become a metaphor for hard choices, dilemmas that have the potential to change our lives.
The Matrix has us questioning our dependence on machines, destiny, and free will. If the previous generation of moviegoers had Skynet (Terminator) that wages war on humankind, the present and future generations have the Matrix to induce nightmares of a dystopian future where we are all somnambulists being used as batteries.
Both movie franchises explore humans’ dependence on technology and the resulting war with machines. Technology is here to make our lives easier, but have we let them take over our lives and everyday choices?
A survey on debate.org says 83 percent of people think we depend on technology too much while 17 percent say we don’t. In a study by Penn State University, people were asked the same question, and 77 percent said people relied too much on technology to succeed.
There is also the rise of nomophobia or the fear of being without a cellphone or being out of cellphone signal range. According to Trendhunter, 66 percent suffer from nomophobia — the fear of being detached from their mobile phones; and 70 percent of women have cellphone separation anxiety compared to 61 percent of men.
Twenty-two years after the original Matrix film, these themes are still being explored. The Matrix Resurrections (directed solely by Lana Wachowski) has Keanu Reeves — looking even more like ‘The One’ at 57 — reprising his role as Thomas Anderson/Neo, this time as a video game developer. Carrie-Ann Moss is also back as Trinity (Tiffany in Resurrections), while the rest of the main characters are recast — Yahhah Abdul-Mateen II takes over Laurence Fisburne’s Morpheus and Jonathan Groff plays Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith.
Neo’s previous life of breaking out of the Matrix and leading the war against the machines are but faint memories that he used as the story for his wildly successful video games. And now, a fourth one is being demanded by his employer Warner Brothers, a meta nod to the success of the movies. Neo’s faint memories manifest as dreams and his struggle in drawing the line between reality and dreams is suppressed by the blue pills that his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) prescribes.
Neo has been running a simulation to develop game characters when Bugs (Jessica Henwick) learns that the program is running old code in a loop — particularly that moment when Trinity first found him in the Matrix. Bugs also frees Morpheus from the Matrix before the program is erased by Smith.
At a local coffee shop, Neo meets Trinity, now known as Tiffany, a married woman with kids. They keep crossing paths until they finally sit down together. She asks Neo if he based his game’s character on himself and tells him that she thinks the female character looks like her, but that her husband laughs at the suggestion.
Neo is finally freed from the Matrix and awakens in a pod while Trinity is still “asleep” in hers. At the human bastion called Io, he reunites with Niobe (Jada Pinket Smith), who tells him that 60 years have passed since the Machine War and that some machines have defected to join human society.
Against Niobe’s orders, Bugs and her crew help Neo free Trinity. Neo defeats Agent Smith as his abilities return. His therapist immobilizes him by manipulating time or “bullet time,” that special effect in The Matrix that changed the game in special effects. The therapist is actually the Analyst, who resurrected Neo and Trinity after their deaths to study them.
“The choice is an illusion. You already know what you have to do,” Bugs tells Morpheus at the beginning of the film.
The concept of free will is still up for debate. Some philosophers, beginning in the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, believe that free will does not exist. (Free will’s most common definition is that if our choices are predetermined, then we don’t have free will; if they’re not predetermined, then we do.)
An article in The Atlantic by Stephen Cave is boldly titled “There’s no such thing as free will. But we’re better off believing in it anyway.” Cave cites American physiologist Benjamin Libet's demonstration in the 1980s to support this argument. “It was already known that electrical activity builds up in a person’s brain before she, for example, moves her hand; Libet showed that this buildup occurs before the person consciously makes a decision to move. The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.” But he also cites philosopher Immanuel Kant linking freedom and goodness. “If we are not free to choose,” he argued, “then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.”
The question in The Matrix Resurrections is, does Trinity want to be unplugged from the Matrix? It is not Neo’s decision or the rebels to make, there is no blue or red pill for her to take. She tells Neo that when she played his video game, she felt that she was reliving memories.
She does make that choice. Her “reality” as Tiffany pushes her to choose awakening and a life of war against the Matrix. In the end, Trinity finds the ability to fly and control the Matrix. She and Neo confront the Analyst and thank him for a fresh start — to continue the fight and remake the Matrix.
So, is it free will or destiny or duty that makes the decisions for us? At a time in our nation’s history when we are faced with choices that will determine our future — rewatching The Matrix movies is a great start to ponder things that make us human. — Tanya Lara