How the Matrix became a rallying cry for Gen X and beyond
1999 â it was a year buzzing with excitement, as well as fears. The timeline shifted as if it had something to prove: President Bill Clinton was acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial, The Sopranos started airing on HBO and Michael Jordan retired from the NBA for the second time. It was a year when the youngest of Gen X was twenty, just at the start of his journey to adulthood. A new century was rushing towards us at a rate for which we had not quite been prepared, and we have become a generation of anguish. Thus, we immersed ourselves in what had allowed many of us to connect with the world at large from childhood: entertainment.
When The matrix premiered in March 1999, it was one of many defining films for the generation to debut that year. The story is simple: a small hacker, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), is recruited into a resistance against a system where those in power keep everyone asleep in a shell, slowly draining their life force, all in the service of the machine. The rebel group led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) gives Anderson a choice. âThe matrix is ââeverywhere. It’s all around us, âhe explains to our protagonist. âThis is the world that was pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth, that you are a slave, born into bondage, in a prison that you cannot touch. Unfortunately, no one can know what you are. is the matrix. You have to see it for yourself. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you what point the story is deep. “
The film, as a whole, is a time capsule of how Gen X was feeling at the time. A little like The matrix continues to live today (a fourth film, Matrix resurrections, will be released in December), our Gen X wounds and ideals are resurfacing. As we grew older, we entered a world created by rich white men who saw everything in black and white, without nuance or awareness (and certainly no sympathy) of the struggles of marginalized people. Our identities and feelings, we were told, were of no value because we were “just children.” If we dared to speak out, the powers that be, be it the government, the media or even our parents, immediately pushed us back into the closets they created for us. Binary, reductive and provincial was the systemic modus operandi of the time. The rhetoric of tolerance that was so often preached back then came with an expensive condition: keeping everything that makes you unique out of sight. Who knows this fate better than the trans community?
The trans community has long maintained that The matrix is an allegory of the trans experience. Co-director Lilly Wachowski confirmed the theory was true just over a year ago. “The matrix was all about the desire for transformation, âshe said in a video posted to Netflix’s Twitter account. “But it was all coming from a closed point of view.” As the Netflix thread points out, trans writers have been looking at this topic in essays and books since the film premiered over 20 years ago. Sadly, much like the trans community it hoped to portray, the film was not spared from systemic scrutiny that held back its true intentions.
Wachowski revealed that in the original script, the Switch character was to be played by a man in the “real” world and a woman in The Matrix to better represent the transformative identity issues at the heart of the film. However, the studio decided against the idea. Hollywood loves to pretend it’s progressive, but it rarely stands behind progressive ideas.
In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres appeared on her prime-time TV show. She made the cover of TIME with a headline that simply said “Yes, I’m gay.” More than 42 million households watched the coming-out episode, a number rarely reached by networks. Yet barely a year later, the network canceled the show citing “low ratings.” DeGeneres’ quest to be authentic herself has become a warning instead of a celebration. Yes, the 90s were a more progressive time than before, but how much progress was made when the buzzword of the time was tolerance instead of acceptance? The message for anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender, white, straight person was simple: put everything that makes you unique in a closet, or you too will be shunned.
The Wachowski sisters are themselves members of Generation X and have come of age at a time when tolerance and inaction have wrecked the emerging communities they were meant to protect. The war on drugs has become a war against black and brown communities. The country witnessed law enforcement beating a black man, Rodney King, on videotape, never suffering any consequences from the violent and racist attack. Generation X women scrutinized the way government and society have treated Anita Hill, a brave woman who spoke out against the still-seated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment. Yet the message was clear: this was the machine we were supposed to power, and she would never let go of us on purpose.
Generation X was never the lazy generation; we are the Neos of the world, a little jaded, a little depressed and a little slow in realizing our power. There’s a reason so many of us are tied to Matrix resurrections The trailer reveals that Neo is now in therapy – we see so much from our own journeys in this character. You see, Gen X took the red pill a long time ago. We’ve struggled and slowed our way through things, and passed our ideas on to the âoneâ generation we were born that continues to save us all: Generation Z. And they seem like we’re unplugged.