Many of us already feel like we're living in a simulation. What can a fourth 'Matrix' teach us today?
20 years after the world was first introduced to Neo and his black sunglasses, the Matrix franchise is returning for a fourth installment.
It's easy to imagine that the film will flop, just like Matrix 2 and 3 did. Those films were widely panned, and their titles are synonymous with disappointing sequels.
On the other hand, in many ways, there's never been a better time to return to the questions that burned at the core of the original Matrix. The possible existence of an alternate, parallel universe formed through technology, artificial intelligence, and social media has become more and more apparent in the past two decades, and talk of simulation glitches has been rampant, especially since 2016. Shows like Black Mirror and The OA have taken the blueprint that The Matrix laid out to new heights, turning reality inside out and leaping quickly from dimension to dimension.
In short, we're living in a post-Matrix universe. The wisdom that the original film imparted is now common knowledge, and most people know that reality is not as it seems. Yet no franchise or story has ever been able to determine what that might mean.
We have little time left to speculate. On and offscreen, we're all witnessing a total overhaul of reality and identity. Our futures may depend on a collective awakening and reshaping that will require mass mobilization and new ideologies. Particularly, once you become aware of the apocalyptic threat posed by climate change and the systems that created it, it can feel like you and everyone else around you are blindly walking inside a veritable matrix, being used as pawns in a large, hungry system driven by looming corporations.
This is partly why, if Matrix 4 simply tries to build on and retell the story it told back in 1999, it will be a failure. If it merely tries to make us question reality once again, if it's mostly a montage of gun violence, stunts, and spaceships, then it'll wind up bottom-dwelling where the sequels reside.
But if it builds on those old revelations—if it riffs on current events and connects to intersectional issues and 21st century philosophy—it has the potential to be as revolutionary as the first.
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In some ways, this feels unlikely, like too much to ask from a single film. Fortunately, Lana Wachowski has signed on, which is a good sign.
But most importantly, the Matrix franchise has always had a not-so-secret weapon: Keanu Reeves.
The real-world Reeves' sudden popularity has been extensively analyzed. Some have argued it's because he represents an alternative to the Hollywood bad-guy archetype in the #MeToo era. Some have proposed that it's because he seems to know something that the rest of us are just trying to figure out. Reeves is humble, private, poised, and most of all, kind. As Neo and as himself, he exists outside our glitchy, simulated world, outside of the media's clutches, outside of illusion, blind humanism, and the bottomless greed that is at the heart of American exceptionalism and colonial violence, which will also be our doom if there isn't a massive paradigm shift sooner rather than later.
This may sound overdramatic, but—blank slate that he is—Reeves has always been the ideal greenscreen upon which to project different, radical ideas about worlds beyond the ones we accept as real or possible. Now, as Neo, he needs to show the rest of us how to get there.
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