The road into the oceanside town where my father lives is long, rural. Sun beaten paddocks run to the left, while the hill slopes down and away to the east, collapsing into a swollen creek. A man and boy fish from the tray of a pickup truck. An ancient house with generations of detritus in the front yard sleeps beyond the rushing water.
My brother pushes his hatchback into fifth, feeling the limits of its top gear, hoping to beat the storm which has been at our heels the whole journey. The weather is overtaking us as beads of rain pepper the windshield and we slow into town. The combined bakery, fish and chip shop and gas station has survived another year, but joined now by a Dominos - the pizza chain’s neon sign is new, untouched by the corrosive sea breeze. The glass panels of its characterless shopfront glares at the roundboat. A grey haired man sits outside, watches us from under the brim of an akubra.
Even gentrification is slow out here. It reclines in the park by the stainless steel swing set, it warms itself on the retaining wall of the refurbished inlet, strolls along the repainted boardwalk, one plank at a time, in no sort of hurry at all. Because it knows it’ll win eventually, even as the neighborhood teens gather firecrackers in their bedrooms for midnight and steal six packs of peroni from behind the grocery store.
And so here we are on our annual pilgrimage. Just like we’ve done for seven years. Only things have changed. My father’s sister, which we now know he has, has moved close by, and she will be there for dinner. I’ve changed, too. A xerox of a xerox of the person who sat in the same passenger seat on this same road only a year ago. I’ve been texting a girl the whole drive down - a girl who’s more than a friend, but not quite a partner. Things only grow more complex as time goes on it seems. And yet here we are, back in the little house two blocks over from the ocean.
The Matrix Resurrections is the long-fated sequel to The Matrix trilogy directed by Lana Wachowski, co-penned by Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. The film is a reflection of the original story, struggling under the weight of the necessity of to be made at all, and the question of what to do with a Matrix film when modernity is stranger than fiction. We follow Thomas Anderson, reintegrated into a new iteration of The Matrix. Anderson suffers from dissociative episodes, having channeled his experiences as Neo into a series of successful video games called The Matrix, he consults his therapist regularly. After bumping into Tiffany, a woman with striking resemblance to Trinity from his games, Anderson stops taking his medication - the blue pills.
Smith is back too, taking the form of Anderson’s business partner. Smith is a slick, younger version of himself, possessed with all of the corporate douchery of every video game CEO.
Unsure why he’s doing it, Anderson runs a closed simulation in the Matrix game of the first time he met Trinity, over and over. Bugs, a freed soul, discovers the modal has developed a program version of Morpheous, who she frees from the Matrix before Smith can delete the modal.
Smith and the company’s corporate overlords, Warner Brothers, insist that a sequel to the Matrix game is made. Anderson doesn’t want to revisit his old work, but the threat is made, clear and simple: it’s getting made with or without you. The joke is light-hearted but outlines the fiction’s own hesitation at continuing the story. And this reticence is sublimated into every aspect of Anderson and the film: old faces are replaced by new versions, similar but not the same. The story is the same, kind of, but also different. Warner Brothers were going to make this new film, rehash these old ideas, regardless of the Wachowski’s involvement, ha-ha, everybody laugh.
My father has redecorated. It’s the first thing I notice. A blue leather sofa to replace the recliner from my childhood. The dining room has been rearranged too - conducive to visitors now with a back board for wine and glasses and beer steins. The kitchen bench has been resurfaced, light wooden tops run the length of one side, bouncing light across the whole space. A new flatscreen fills the space above the TV cabinet. The room feels fresh, reshaped.
Dinner is incredible. Well balanced roast beef, smoked ham, vegetables. The broccoli, in particular, stands out: braised in butter and pepper, tossed in oil, baked on high heat. Conversation is odd, pedestrian. My father’s sister does most of the talking, interjected by a friend she’s brought along. I sink a tall can of beer, and another glass of champagne during dinner. It’s just enough to trip my extroversion and help carry the conversation.
My father’s sister and her friend leave right after dinner. The four of us remain, and settle in to watch the new Matrix film on the new TV on the new sofas. The Matrix, and science fiction as a genre, runs deep in the recollections I have of my father’s home. Alongside memories of nintendo on the old TV in the rec room and hours of Grand Theft Auto III on a desktop computer that would freeze every few hours are a decade of summers in front of a black metal box fan, watching the same series of DVD’s over and over. The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The X-Files, Star Trek. Malcolm Gladwell talks about access as a huge component of mastery in Outliers, and he’s right. The freedom to read whatever I wanted at Mum’s and a library of science fiction classics at my Father’s deserve the credit for my entry into writing fiction.
Though it’s the limited selection at my Father’s that really did it. The collection is almost the same to this day, to the left of the new blue leather sofa. The X-Files are still there. Star Trek too, and The Matrix. I watched them over and over and over, dissecting and breaking out each in detail without realising. And here we find ourselves, all these years later, stepping back into that world.
We pour more drinks, and I can tell my father is a little drunk. My brother too. And me as well, but in a distant sort of way, buried behind my anxiety.
Anderson, now no longer taking the blue pill, considers jumping off a building to prove to himself he can fly, that he is in the Matrix. This conviction is thin, barely there. Anderson knows something is wrong with reality but he can’t decide if it’s within himself or without - the world at large. Morpheus has somehow entered Anderson’s life from the modal. His memories of Trinity are stronger than ever. All that seems certain is the endless loop he’s trapped in, over and over. Get up, exercise. Buy coffee. Work. Therapy. Home. Rinse, repeat, all coupled with a sense of reticence to change.
Even after an attack on his office by Smith and The Analyst’s agents, Anderson convinces himself it never happened. He rejects the call to adventure, the call to truth. The most compelling conversation occurs just after Anderson returns to his therapist’s office. The therapist comments that there’s nothing wrong with artists taking inspiration from the world to create their work, but when it becomes a danger to others, that’s when things go south.
Which is true, yes, but it’s also complete bullshit and exactly what they want artists to think. Of course the powers that be tell Anderson that his art is fine so long as it doesn’t go too far. So long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
It’s fitting then, that before Anderson can become Neo again, before he can transverse his reality and rejoin the story of the Matrix, that Bugs and Morpheus take him to a theatre. A movie theatre. With a projector, playing scenes from the first Matrix films.
We pause multiple times during the film. Bathroom breaks and more food mostly. In these breaks my brother and I exchange theories, confirm our reading of the film as we go. It’s clear that my step-mother is already feeling the strain of the fiction: the opening act doesn’t seem to have grabbed her.
My father disappears into the kitchen and breaks a glass. Aside from this moment and a brief apology, he sits in content silence, absorbing the film as it presents itself. And it's in these moments I’m reminded of our similarities. Of my own tendency toward observation over interaction. Of a distance I enjoy between me and the rest of reality. I suppose I had to get it from somewhere.
What follows is the story of Neo and Bugs’ crew going in to save Trinity. They head into the Matrix for a fight with some old faces. The action in the brawl is depersonal. Hard to follow. Until we get to the Neo versus Smith fight. This fight is fleeting and electric.
Neo and Smith bounce off each other with a new dynamic: more somber, perhaps, because both are older, though largely its the new context: its kind of make or break for both of them, no second outing after this. And Smith feels dangerous at this moment. Their character drama drives the combat, creating texture. All the fights up until this moment existed to drive plot: the gang fights a bunch of faceless goblins on the train to escape, Neo fights Morpheus because story symmetry. And here, at last, we see two old foes beating the absolute crap out of each other in a filthy bathroom.
Even among a confusing muddle of plot and rehashing, this fight feels fresh while a compelling callback and mirror of its ancestor. There is no jaw dropping single beat of melee like the mid-air gun wrestle in their original fight. Rather, each punch and kick communicate the emotional struggle. These two know each other’s tricks, and so it’s about how far each has come. What they’ve learned. How they’ve changed, how they haven’t, and what this means for their relationship.
It ends with Smith opining about the binary nature of their relationship, of narrative reality, of storytelling, of choice. Anderson and Smith are locked in their own diad, doomed to drive each other forward in violence. The perpetual sense that things are fated to go on, that no story can ever really end anymore, not really.
The story goes on to a decent enough climax between the Analysts forces, and Neo and Trinity. The action is muddled and a little confusing, culminating in a motorbike chase that feels like it’s from a different film entirely: Neo and Trinity are chased by faceless SWAT dudes with guns through disinterested streets. Neo’s new powers are cool, I guess. Trinity can fly, I guess.
The climatic action feels deeply agnostic - generously, it smacks of commentary: hey, modern action flicks sure do end in big dumb explosions running from faceless gobblins, don’t they? The film ends with Trinity and Neo confronting The Analyst, explaining they are in control of the Matrix now.
Overwhelmingly the return to the Matrix feels depersonalized. The conflict between Neo and The Analyst is so fundamentally different to Neo and Smith that it ends up lacking texture by comparison. Rather than stylised agents in suits that all affect a similar, bent-necked 90’s corporate villain, we have bots: faceless gobblins who, while a cool idea, don’t seem to have any flavour of their own. Proper nouns swoop in and do all the heavy lifting.
And that’s kind of the story's biggest problem. It has a ton of great ideas but it never really feels like anything… tactile. The leg work to earn its concepts stumbles so often that nothing ever quite feels realised.
And maybe that’s sort of the point. We spend so much of life chasing the next thing again and again, retaking some imagined old glory. This new job will finally be the one that gets me where I’ve always wanted to be. This new relationship will be the one where I finally feel it all right like I’m supposed to. This new car. This new house. This new trend or this new app or this new suit. And on and on without really ever asking what we’re trying to take back. What imagined perfection makes us such adamant reclaimers.
It all starts with that simple, poisonous phrase: if only.
If only this changes…
If only I just…
This is rendered with perfect clarity as Neo is dying of withdrawal from the Matrix, from the fantasy. Morpheus decides that the best solution is to take Neo back to the dojo: to help him reclaim his past glory, to take back what was. And in the end Neo can’t quite get there.
His powers are different because this Matrix is different. He can’t fly because he’s different, changed. Even his relationship with Trinity is irreversibly mutated. There is no going back, only going different. Going forward. Everything evolves. That’s what makes it meaningful.
We end with Trinity thanking The Analyst for a second chance, another go-round. Only this time things are different.
As we leave my father’s the next morning, I chew over this line. She’s right, in a way. I text the girl who’s more than a friend and remind myself that things aren’t the same as they were. She’s unique. And I’ve changed too. So even though going back can be hard, especially to the big stuff, the formative stuff. Even though reviving an old idea never lives up to our memory, we have to keep trying to take it as it comes, enjoy what we can, and keep moving. One awkward step in the right direction at a time.