Science fiction, in its most perfect form, operates like a Möbius strip. It critiques the present by speculating about the future. Then, years later, early adherents look back and analyze its predictions, knowing full well that sci-fi set the blueprint for the world they’re living in. Utopic or dystopic, the future always folds back on itself. Rarely, though, do the creators of sci-fi get to revisit the worlds they built after the events they anticipated are set in motion. In this, Lana and Lilly Wachowski are all but singular.
When The Matrix came out in 1999, it was a beautifully realized cyberpunk fable. It took the hopeful energy of the early internet years and envisioned what might happen if humanity’s reliance on connectivity and thinking machines led to its near-demise. It was a grim prediction, but one in a long line of sci-fi stories that foretold the near-future. Brave New World presaged antidepressants. Philip K. Dick warned readers about androids, and now fears of AI revolts creep up when we dream of electric sheep (or at least watch a Boston Dynamics robot dance). Everyone who makes surveillance tech surely knows the year 1984. Would virtual and augmented realities even exist if it weren’t for William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the USS Enterprise’s holodecks?
What the Wachowskis predicted in The Matrix—a world where artificial intelligence turns people into batteries and runs a simulation to keep them docile—hasn’t entirely come to pass, but hints of it are everywhere. No one lives in a simulation, but Silicon Valley can’t get enough of the metaverse, which often feels just a few clicks West. Scientists are working on brain-computer interfaces that could, many years from now, send virtual experiences to our brains. AI doesn’t generate our reality (probably), but it does live in our cars and TVs and toothbrushes. You don’t need a red pill to experience the real world, but the conspiracy-laden, right-wing internet has co-opted “red-pilling” to mean waking up to the many ways liberalism is poisoning America. (Or something.)
Tech geniuses who currently run the world grew up with The Matrix, and now they’re gunning to make the simulation real. Only many seem to have forgotten the dangers that came with it, missing the point the Wachowskis were trying to make. “Readers often assume that authors are happy when they ‘predict’ future events ‘correctly,’” writer Madeline Ashby noted in WIRED’s Future of Reality issue, “but rarely are we asked about the queasy feeling of watching one’s worst vision come to pass.”
(Spoiler alert: Plot points for The Matrix Resurrections follow.)
It’s this queasy feeling that permeates The Matrix Resurrections. It’s almost as if Lana Wachowski has seen the worst of her own ideas start to take form and wants to ring the alarm. Set in San Francisco, the movie takes place some 60 years after the events in The Matrix Revolutions, the final in the original trilogy. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) have been reinserted into the Matrix, duped into forgetting their days as saviors. Thomas Anderson is now a successful video game designer at a studio called Deus Ex Machina (LOL). He’s responsible for a trilogy of games known as The Matrix, which eerily resemble the events of the Wachowskis’ first three films. He’s now working on a new game called Binary—presumably a reference to coding language, but also a not subtle nod to red pill vs. blue pill, real vs. fake, free will vs. destiny, and, perhaps, the fact that gender is not either/or.