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Watching ‘The Matrix’ Through a Trans Lens

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BY August 15, 2020
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There are plenty of different ways that we can watch movies. Some folks take things literally and refuse to dig for deeper meanings. If that’s what you find enjoyable, then go for it! However, others find deeper meaning in films, analyzing even the smallest of details to see what hidden motives they can uncover. A popular film to dissect has been the 1999 science fiction film The Matrix. It has been studied through a trans lens for years. Fortunately, Netflix recently made a Twitter thread looking at how The Matrix can be considered a trans film. Let’s dig into it!

The Matrix As a Trans Film – Looking Through a New Lens

Before we move forward, I’d like to take a moment to define a few important terms that we’ll use throughout this article. For an in-depth guide, take a look at the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.

First off, let’s define what trans means. The term is a short way of saying transgender. This umbrella term is used for people whose gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth (often male or female.) Some folks prefer using the shortened term, as it removes gender from the word (while others may just prefer a shorter, quicker word!) However, others stick with the longer version.

Dysphoria, or gender dysphoria, is a feeling of discomfort (which can range from mild discomfort to extreme distress) individuals may feel when their assigned sex doesn’t feel right. With love, support, and help, people are able to confront these feelings and find solutions that work best for them. Exploring your gender and understanding what identity feels right can take a long time to understand or you may know from a young age!

The Matrix 4 Script News Image via Warner Bros. Pictures.

Netflix Gets Real About Trans Films

The Matrix is a complex story about a computer hacker who has to relearn what reality really means. Neo (Keanu Reeves) ends up on an intense search for the truth behind the simulated reality that humanity has gotten trapped inside. It is a tale filled with action, mystery, and a desperate quest for learning what’s real and what’s not. The Wachowskis, Lana and Lilly, are film directors with plenty of experience in the industry and creators of amazing, vivid new worlds. They are also both trans women, yet they were “closeted” at the time they made this film.

Because the Wachowski sisters are both trans, many fans have looked at their work through a trans lens. Some are trans individuals themselves, searching for themes to identity with. Vulture published an in-depth article about the ways that The Matrix can teach us about gender. This article echoes the sentiments of many trans viewers who have identified with pieces of The Matrix over the years.

How The Matrix Looks At Trans Experiences Through Symbolism

Thomas Anderson leads a double life. By day he is Thomas, a programmer for Meta Cortex. By night he is Neo, a hacker with plenty of illegal activities to his name. Some have interpreted this as the “hidden life” that many trans people lead before (and sometimes after) they come out as trans. Due to the way that trans folk are treated, it’s understandable to see why many fear coming out. We look at Thomas Anderson in the film and see Neo, just as we look at trans people and see them for who they really are – the gender that they identify as. For Lilly and Lana, this is as women.

Another intriguing piece of symbolism is the “splinter in your mind” that Morpheus identifies for Neo. This splinter is Neo feeling, deep in his mind, that something is wrong. Morpheus also says that it’s been there for his entire life. Looking at this part of The Matrix through the trans lens helps us connect that the “splinter” is dysphoria – Neo knows that something isn’t as it should be, just as trans folk know that something isn’t right about the relationship between their sex and gender, which typically presents as dysphoria.

Netflix’s tweet explains the “splinter” as “the experience of being socialized as a gender that doesn’t align with their true gender identity.” When Neo “wakes up”, he finally begins the transition he takes into who he truly is, going from Thomas to Neo.

A piece of symbolism that has such a directly obvious explanation is the red pill. This pill gives Neo the ability to see the world as it really is. People have considered this to be a metaphorical example of hormone therapy, which can help many trans people feel more in tune with their gender identity. In fact, for a time, estrogen hormone therapy came prescribed to patients as a red pill.

You can read through the entire Netflix twitter thread for a complete analysis of seeing The Matrix through a trans lens.

Lilly Wachowski Speaks Out

So, what encouraged Netflix to speak out about how The Matrix deserves to be seen through a trans lens? Lilly Wachowski recently took to explaining it herself! She begins by expressing how happy she is that the film is seen as meaningful by trans people, adding that many folks have told her that the films have saved their life. She also adds that it was the “original intention” of the film, but that the (corporate) world wasn’t quite ready yet. Well, we’re pretty damn glad that the world is ready to see the films in this light!

The Matrix came out more than two decades ago. Though, to Lilly (and to us), this doesn’t mean that we should stop talking about what the film means and looking at it through different points of view. Lilly appreciates how storytelling doesn’t have to be linear, and that filmmaking is an art form. We can always look at things with different perspectives, as the perception of art can change over time. Art can mean different things to different people, and great stories like The Matrix touch all of us in some way.

Check out Lilly’s explanation of how The Matrix is a trans allegory below!

The Importance of Creators Speaking Out

By Lilly Wachowski speaking out, she is confirming the beliefs that many trans people have had for years. While a director or writer confirming or denying a viewpoint may not change the perception of a single viewer, it can still be incredibly affirming! After the … interesting recent controversies of JK Rowling speaking up about transgender experiences, we’re happy to see one content creator taking advantage of her voice. While Rowling may have alienated some fans, Lilly embraces hers.

So, Why Now? The Matrix Has Always Been a Trans Allegory

Matrix trans story Image via Warner Bros.

Movies hold special meaning for so many people. Have you ever seen a film that you connected with on such a deep level that you walked out of the theatre feeling seen and heard? For some, this kind of identification can be incredibly meaningful. There are few proper trans stories out there. To many trans folk, The Matrix is that story that helps them feel seen.

Thankfully, trans issues are getting the spotlight that they desperately deserve. Many countries are expanding transgender rights and promoting equality for people who identify with any gender identity, regardless of their assigned sex at birth. We still have a long way to go, especially as some health protections have been reversed in the recent past. So, even when it seems like we’ve come a long way, we need to remember that there is still advocacy to be done!

Now that we’ve read and understood more about how we can look at The Matrix through a trans lens, it’ll be interesting to see how this symbolism expands in The Matrix 4.

Have you ever considered the trans allegories in The Matrix before? We want to hear your thoughts. Share them in the comments below!

Are you interested in supporting the fight for equality? Check out the National Center for Transgender Equality to access resources and find out ways that you can help.

Featured image via Warner Bros Pictures.

MoviesKeanu ReevesLana WachowskiLGBTQlilly wachowskiThe Matrixthe matrix 4transtrans experiencetrans lenstransgender

Meghan Hale is a graduate student living right outside of Toronto, Canada. She has always been the go-to gal for talking about anything film related and has a frustratingly long list of movie trivia up her sleeve. She is currently working on her first screenplay, as well as a horror novel, with the goal of publishing it while Stephen King is still around to read it.

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