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The Matrix 4 Is An Opportunity to Reclaim the Series From Its Worst Fans

Even if the first Matrix was the only great movie in the original trilogy, the news that Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and director Lana Wachowski will be returning for a fourth Matrix movie two decades later is enough to pique curiosity. Two disappointing sequels aside, the legacy of The Matrix casts such a large shadow over pop culture that returning to that universe offers a lot of potential... especially if this new sequel is able to push back against those fans who've perverted the series' legacy for the worst.

The Matrix's influence has been either undeniably positive (introducing countless viewers to complex philosophical ideas, paving the way for the Keanuissance) or simply silly, memetic or neutral (how every movie had to include a "bullet time" parody for a few years after the first movie). However, one of the central concepts of the series, the idea of Red Pill versus the Blue Pill, took on a darker connotation as the terminology became used by Men's Rights Activists and incels. In the Matrix movies, taking the Red Pill awakens you to the real world and breaks you out of the illusions of The Matrix. According to MRAs and incels, the illusion you need to be "Red Pilled" out of is feminism.

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The idea of The Matrix, a film in which a diverse, egalitarian crew of heroes fight together for the liberation of humanity, being a favorite of people who think women are to blame for society's problems is a confusing one on the face of it. On some level, you really can't predict how people are going to misinterpret art when you have people using My Little Pony and Steven Universe of all things as excuses to be hateful jerks (and in the Wachowskis' own filmography, the response to V For Vendetta shows even taking explicit political stances doesn't necessarily stop the other side from appropriating your symbolism).

Matrix scene from "Feminazis Stole My Ice Cream"

However, you could argue the dangers of people misinterpreting metaphors increase when those metaphors are left vague. The first Matrix is a fantasy about a "chosen one" for whom might is able to make right, and in which people who haven't been awakened from the Matrix are seen as acceptable casualties in the war against the Matrix itself. The downside of making the Matrix such an open-ended metaphor is that the fantasy becomes equally appealing to those who only believe that they're oppressed as it is for those who actually are.

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The irony is that since The Matrix's release, both of the Wachowskis have come out as transgender women. It seems unlikely the first movie would have appealed to MRAs had they been out when the movie came out. The Matrix 4 is already at an advantage when it comes to avoiding being misappropriated by MRAs because those MRAs now have to deal with the fact it's a movie directed by a transgender woman.

It's become a common critical interpretation since Lana and Lilly Wachowski came out that The Matrix works as a metaphor for the trans experience and escaping from the illusions of the gender binary. At least some parts of this reading were clearly intentional, and the Wachowskis' original screenplay went even further in making this explicit: The character of Switch (played by Belinda McClory in the final film) was written to be played by a man in the real world and a woman in the Matrix. This was cut because the producers deemed it too "confusing" back in the '90s. Turning such queer subtext into more explicit text should be doable in the 2020s, and a perfect way to both enhance the series' themes and turn away bigoted "fans."

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It's also clear that Lana Wachowski has long been interested in complicating the more simplistic and potentially problematic reads of The Matrix. The "Second Renaissance" shorts in The Animatrix altered the simple "humans good, machines bad" narrative by transforming the conflict into a story of cyclical oppression. Bob Chipman argued in his "Really That Good: The Matrix" video that The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, as flawed as they are in execution, were well-meaning attempts to deconstruct the first movie's "chosen one" narrative and provide a non-violent resolution to the central conflict.

Coming to The Matrix 4 after working on the likes of Cloud Atlas and Sense8, increasingly experimental narratives that were queer, political and engaged with questions of when revolutionary violence is heroic versus troubling, it seems like Lana Wachowski is going to further complicate the narrative. Bringing in authors David Mitchell (of the original Cloud Atlas novel) and Aleksandar Hemon (Nowhere Man, The Lazarus Project) as co-writers would seem to indicate continued intellectual ambitions. We hope this new Matrix movie blows all of our minds... and especially makes the series' worst fans' heads explode.

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