One day in 1999, when novelist David Mitchell was teaching English in Hiroshima, Japan, three of his students walked in wearing full-length leather coats. “I said, ‘Why are you all wearing the same coat?’ He remembers. “This is how I learned The matrix. “
Almost two decades later, Mitchell found himself at a hotel near his home in southern Ireland, co-writing the screenplay for Matrix resurrections – the fourth film in the series that gave the world not only black cyberpunk fashion, but also bullet time ballet action, and what Mitchell describes as “the photon torpedo idea that reality is virtual reality ”. With him were the novelist Aleksandar Hemon and Matrix co-creator and director Lana Wachowski: two authors and one author. “Why would she choose us?” Mitchell wonders aloud. “Heaven only knows! “Hemon adds,” I ask myself this question every day!
Modesty aside, these are soul mates with references. Hemon, who grew up in Bosnia and has long lived in the Wachowski’s hometown of Chicago, holds a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Fellowship” for his formally inventive fiction. After reading his post-September 11 novel The Lazarus project, Lana and her sister (and co-creator of The Matrix) Lilly Wachowski hired him to collaborate on a still unrealized film about the Iraq war. Mitchell has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice, including for the Cloud Atlas (2004) – adapted, in 2012, by Lana, Lilly and co-director Tom Tykwer (Course Lola Course), as one of the most ambitious (and expensive) independent films ever made. In 2017, Lana, Mitchell, and Hemon wrote the two-hour finale of the Wachowski Netflix series, Sens8.
On Zoom from a quiet back stairwell in Lana’s house the day before Matrix resurrectionsAt the gala premiere, Hemon and Mitchell describe the trio’s continued collaboration in terms of intellectual effervescence and deep friendship. It takes place in a conceptual space that Hemon has dubbed “the pit,” where ideas bounce without being judgmental. Writing this film, he says, was an “investment in a space of love that could generate the story” that would be dedicated to Lana’s parents.
The two sisters had long resisted following the original trilogy (which includes The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix revolutions, both in 2003). Instead, they had passed on the rest of the story – in which the everyday world is a virtual construct designed by malignant machines to keep humans compliant while secretly harvesting their energy – to others, including including the creators and players of the game. The online matrix. One night in 2018, however, during a tumultuous time when the Wachowskis’ parents both fell ill and passed away, Lana woke up with a story in mind, featuring Matrix hero and heroine Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss).
“She imagined the whole opening scene in her dream,” Hemon says, “so we had that premise, and also the horizon – where it would end – but there was a lot of space to cover.” Lilly dropped the project, citing exhaustion and grief, and Lana turned to Mitchell and Hemon. Both have written works where the characters reappear from other stories, but no traditional sequelae. “None of us wanted the movie to be one more reboot,” Mitchell says. “Lana was more interested in a ‘fractal’ – accommodation in a fourth film, containing the trilogy.”
In the first film, Trinity brings Thomas Anderson, Neo’s Matrix-based alter-ego, to discover the existence of the real world; in Resurrections, both characters are older, but they’re stuck in The Matrix with no memory of an outside world – or their romantic relationship. Anderson is a single and dissatisfied game designer, and Trinity is “Tiff,” a motorcycle builder who wonders if she got married to a guy called Chad and had a family because her middle class upbringing has her. “programmed” to do so. Anderson looks at her wistfully every time she walks into a cafe of her choice, called Simulette.
The writers realized that if The Matrix is a virtual construct based on the life we currently live in, given the influence the trilogy has on contemporary culture, the construct should, on some level, include The matrix himself. In Resurrections, Anderson designed the Matrix game series, which tells the story of the movies, with their hero Neo, based on himself.
It all begins to fall apart when Anderson is in a rush to make a fourth video game, and as the self-referential jokes accelerate, questions abound: Are Anderson’s games about the memories he buried, or who were somehow buried for him? Why does he feel like he keeps sliding into another plane of existence, despite the blue pills he swallows to keep what appear to be illusions at bay? Are his sessions with his analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) useful in explaining his capricious perception? Or could it be that the “reality” he is experiencing is in fact some kind of deep-fake?
Mitchell becomes a philosopher. “The reality is overwhelming for the human mind. We deconstruct it into small components and put them together into stories. Lana, Sasha and I also do it professionally. Why not use it as a theme and bring it to the heart of the film? “
Hemon unwinds the thought, “Nothing is ‘real’ until it is imagined as real – as long as it is not narrativized as reality.” It has to be sequenced somehow to make sense. We are all in crisis right now because the narratives of reality that we considered to be eternal, absolute, and self-generated have collapsed. “We’ll just let the people be people, and they’ll just choose democracy.” Somewhere it’s not working. The story collapses before our eyes.
Aspects of The matrix have been used for nefarious purposes – most notably the concept of the red pill. In the films, it indicates a choice to discover the “real” reality; for right-wing provocateurs, it is a means of promoting conspiracy theories.
In the original script, Hemon says, “There was a sentence referring to this; we took it out. With our full consent, Lana decided that entering into a direct dialogue with the fascists in this regard would legitimize their position. “
And even, Matrix resurrections remains a moving anti-fascist film, which focuses on how emotion and interpersonal connection make sense of our lives. “Lana’s work is about the real world,” Hemon says. “The matrix was still pointing [to] things that are – for now – unimaginable. I hope this film provides us with some tools to think about things that haven’t happened yet.
Globe and Mail Special
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