Love 2.0 in ‘The Matrix Resurrections’

Warner Bros. Pictures

It had to be at a coffee shop. A place where you don’t notice anyone, or you just might notice the one. The café grind is often routine, machine-like. People come in for their daily espresso, their pastries that won’t make it to the car, then they’re out the door. Stop and swipe. Grab and go.

Man sees woman at the Simulatte. For him, it’s stop and stare. He sees her all the time. She has a husband, kids in tow. He’s long past his shelf-life. It’ll never happen at their age, the ship long since sailed. But the yearning is always there.

They meet seemingly by chance. They revolve around the same circles yet always seem to miss each other by the same set of circumstances pulling them away on their phones. They shake hands as if for the first time, and it is the most alive either have felt in ages. The charge between them elicits a harmless question, the thing you say when you recognize a kindred spirit: “Have we met?” Man shakes his head, though his eyes wish it were true. Maybe in another life.

What Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) don’t realize is that they have indeed met before. They’ve fallen in love before and died in each other’s arms before. In a previous life, they raged against the machines side by side. They had flown to the Machine City in The Matrix Revolutions and did the impossible – they ended the war and brought peace between humanity and machine. Trinity died in the crash, and Neo sacrificed himself in the climactic standoff against Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).

In The Matrix Resurrections, they’ve been brought back for a second life, their minds wiped and bodies re-engineered specifically to power a new matrix simulation. And they are not Neo and Trinity anymore. He is Thomas Anderson, a terrible loner and world-renowned video game designer. She is Tiffany, lover of motorcycles, fellow latte connoisseur, and a mother of three with never enough time on her hands. 

Neo’s literal journey as “The One” takes the form of a landmark video game trilogy — an overactive imagination turned into audacious art, art then turned into commerce and shipped off to the masses for rabid consumption. Neo doesn’t know that the fictional world he created and the recurring dreams of Trinity are his actual memories. After their meet-cute at the coffee shop, Trinity starts to sense semblances of a past life too.

Where they were once fated to meet, in this new matrix concocted by The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) they are fated to never be. Because the last time they did, their coupling saved humanity from annihilation and left the machines scrambling for a power source. Neo might’ve been the One, but he didn’t do this alone.

“It was never just you,” the Analyst says to Neo. It’s not a retcon of Neo’s journey; it’s the story of Neo and Trinity summed up in a monologue. If it truly was just Neo, he would’ve done as he was programmed to do by The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) – creator of the original matrix simulation. Five “Ones” came before Neo and the matrix had been rebooted five times. It was supposed to reboot a sixth time, further subjugating humanity as an energy farm for the machines. Until Neo met Trinity.

“Being the one is just like being in love,” the Oracle (Gloria Foster) had once laid out for Neo. In The Matrix, the Oracle did not lecture him on things like moral duty or the greater good. What the Oracle instead revealed was a crush: “I can see why she likes you.” The arc of the entire trilogy hinged on this conversation. And, perhaps by her own omniscience, the Oracle slyly planted the seeds for The Matrix Resurrections: “It looks like you’re waiting for something. Your next life, maybe.”

Neo and Trinity’s coupling was revolutionary. Their love broke the rules, defied the boundaries and algorithms, and changed the world. The Architect’s successor, the Analyst, now aims to keep Neo and Trinity within arm’s reach. Their destinies have been reconfigured where Neo will always notice Trinity from afar. Neo will then spend a lifetime working up the nerve to approach her, and the two of them will flirt with the fantasy of being together, but no further — just as their resurrection pods in the real world are forever on the precipice of meeting but never reaching. Neo and Trinity’s yearning is the world engine.

On the one hand, it’s nefarious how the Analyst has found a way to weaponize human desire as a resource. On the other hand, the Analyst’s very design has given Neo and Trinity the rare chance to fall in love again. It is as Smith (Jonathan Groff) would say, “inevitable.”

Though the Analyst has altered their appearance in the simulation, Neo and Trinity see each other for who they really are. They feel the spark between them intrinsically, subconsciously, unutterably. But desire at their middle-age makes these feelings easier to dismiss, or easier to control by the machines. Trinity is married, so of course it’s not going to happen. And Neo is an aging dork, so it’s definitely not going to happen. These notions of running off into the sunset together will remain a forever dream of “what if?” In the off-chance they get too close, their experience can be rewound by the Analyst and reset back to the coffee shop where they’ll restart their yearning all over again.

When Neo is unplugged from the matrix and woken up to the real world again, it’s not quite freedom. Reality and resurrection mean nothing without the connection that made him whole. Even when he was burdened with the weight of the world, he had Trinity. There’s no point in doing this again without her. Tasked with being the hero once more, Neo is no longer a guns-blazing kung fu fighter; he’s a lover.

It might seem reductive or regressive to assert the series as a love story. The Matrix Resurrections’ meta-heavy first act alone frequently reduces the franchise’s philosophical meanings and interpretations to dry punchlines. But director and co-creator Lana Wachowski isn’t eviscerating the franchise so much as she’s rebuilding, or rekindling. She zeroes in on the earnest emotion that’s been the life force of these movies all along. 

When Neo dies in The Matrix, he’s brought back to life by a kiss as sparks ignite in the background. When Trinity dies in The Matrix Reloaded, Neo literally reaches for her heart and revives her in stark defiance of death. In The Matrix Revolutions, their story ends with the same bookended kiss. We might’ve been engrossed in a groundbreaking sci-fi action trilogy, but we’ve also been watching an epic love story unfold. Wachowski redistributes the meaning of the saga to a single powerful gesture. She uses old code to make something new.

It took courage for Neo to become the One — to stand up to Agent Smith, to fend off Sentinels, to sacrifice himself for the human race. Now, it takes everything in him to ask Trinity out on a coffee date. Because loving again means double the risk where Trinity’s life will be put in danger yet again. The Analyst’s ultimatum for Neo is hardly a choice to consider: relive Trinity’s death, or submit to the matrix.

The film culminates at the Simulatte where all the coffee and desire in the world can’t replace a life cycle without the other. Tiffany walks in, but it’s Trinity that says, “There’s a part of me that feels like I have been waiting my whole life for you.” Neo and Trinity’s roles have effectively been reversed. Trinity, after all, was sent by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to find Neo, and was told by the Oracle that she’d fall in love with the One. Now Neo’s trying to get her out, and it’s up to Trinity to take the leap.

Where once the fate of the world rested on their coupling, there are forces actively working to keep them apart. The fight this time isn’t to save humanity, but to be together in spite of fate’s new design.

In the end, the most romantic gesture between two separated beings isn’t a kiss. It’s their hands meeting, finally, in the real world — the yearning realized like a dream come true. Their sincere love story has been given the reboot it deserves. The Matrix Resurrections frees Neo from being the sole savior of the world by ascending Trinity to the same extraordinary heights as her counterpart. Together, Neo and Trinity are the one for each other.

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