The impact that The Matrix had on cinematic storytelling can still be felt today. Its innovations in fight scenes with the invention of "bullet time" and its ambitious and unforgettable visual effects helped set the precedent for action films as we know them today. It's safe to say that the genre as a whole wouldn't be what it is today without The Matrix. But according to the directors, the film holds a deeper meaning for their eventual transgender journey.
Released in 1999, The Matrix follows Neo (Keanu Reeves), a programmer who awakens to a horrible truth: Reality as he knows it is a simulation generated by a machine empire that rules over humanity. He then joins the Resistance, a group of humans, including leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and fellow crew member Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), to help free humanity from a literal iron grip.
The success of The Matrix spawned several sequels and spin-offs, including The Matrix Resurrections in 2021. While the film has been analyzed for years for its ambitious cinematography and storytelling, the creators of the Matrix franchise have gone on record saying that the film is all about being trans.
Here's how 'The Matrix' is an allegory of the transgender experience.
The Matrix was created by Lilly and Lana Wachowski, who have also worked on films and shows like Cloud Atlas, Sense8, and a live-action adaptation of Speed Racer that was released in 2008. The duo is known for their creative sci-fi narratives and ambitious visual effects. The Matrix remains one of their most popular and enduring works, and the first film has been subjected to several introspective analyses for its philosophical and religious themes and allegories.
But in the years since its premiere, both Wachowskis have come out as trans women. Since then, many fans have reexamined the film with themes of the transgender experience in mind.
In a 2019 article for Vulture, writer Andrea Long Chu posited that trans people have reclaimed the action movie as an allegory of gender transition.
"The symbolism is easy to find," Andrea writes. "Thomas Anderson's double life, his chosen name, his vague but maddening sense that something is off about the world. ... Neo has dysphoria. The Matrix is the gender binary. The agents are transphobia."
No trans journey is exactly like another, but the parallels between Neo's experience and a person's gender questioning are certainly apparent. After all, Neo has to unlearn several toxic ideas programmed into him in order to live as himself.
The film was meant to have more apparent trans themes. The character of Switch (Belinda McClory) was meant to be portrayed as a woman in the Matrix and a man in the real world, but this was dropped mid-production.
And if there's still any room for doubt, Lilly herself cleared the air on how the trilogy as a whole has always spoken to the experience of the transgender community.
"I'm glad that it has gotten out that that was the original intention," Lilly told Netflix Film Club. "The corporate world wasn't ready for it."
She went on to say that the discussion of art, especially a work as influential as The Matrix, is always evolving. Even if people didn't always see the Matrix films as an allegory for trans people, the discussion surrounding the film's progressive themes is valid and illustrates how the film has impacted various communities.
The Matrix Resurrections premieres in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously on Dec. 22.