Staring at Neo in an office building overlooking a simulation of downtown San Francisco, Agent Smith gets meta.
“I know you said the story is over for you, but that’s the thing about stories, they never really end, do they? We’re still telling the same stories we’ve always told, just with different names, different faces,” says the computer program, now played by actor Jonathan Groff following Hugo Weaving’s performance in the original trilogy.
With a nod to the “beloved parent company Warner Brothers,” Smith’s monologue pokes at Hollywood’s endless packaging of sequels, reboots, and remakes.
“This cannot be another reboot,” says one of the film’s characters producing the movie within a movie.
“Why not? Reboots sell,” responds her counterpart.
Endless remakes go beyond Hollywood into the direction, or lack thereof, of a global monopoly system of perpetual simulation. When the Wachowskis’ made the original ‘Matrix’ film, the directors gave crew members copies of Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulations”—the philosophical treatise published in 1979 arguing that signs had overtaken the subject, creating a simulation of the natural world that destroyed all meaning; “Meaning is mortal,” wrote the philosopher in Simulations. Although Baudrillard rejected the Wachowskis’ interpretation of his work (Disneyland was the purest model of his theories), and allegedly an offer to write the earlier Matrix sequels, his philosophy towers over the newest installment, perhaps deliberately, perhaps because everything he theorized became reality, perhaps because humanity has arrived at a moment wherein stories no longer have meaning.
“A theoretical question here materialized in the objective conditions of a journey which is no longer a journey and therefore carries with it a fundamental rule: Aim for the point of no return,” wrote Baudrillard in his 1986 book of essays, America. “This is the key. And the crucial moment is that brutal instant which reveals the journey has no end, that there is no longer any reason for it to come to an end. Beyond a certain point, it is movement itself that changes… Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.”
“That’s the thing about stories, they never really end, do they?”
The simulation goes beyond an abstract superstructure—depicted by the Wachowskis as social realism when they released the original Matrix film—into a breakdown of movement and time, wherein The Matrix is further absorbed into the conditions which produced it, beyond a product of capitalist realism, into the only realization left… that no new realizations remain. If the journey never ends, does conflict even exist?
The very nature of franchise remakes reflects this totality. While the original Matrix followed Neo to enlightenment, the hero’s journey still involved overcoming an existential threat: the machine army. In Resurrections, machines collaborate with humans as civil wars break out between both parties; there is no longer a point to war, yet it rages on, functioning as background aesthetic to an inward journey with no destination. When Neo is sent back into the Matrix as Thomas Anderson and forced to repeat the original hero’s journey scene-for-scene in Resurrections, Keanu Reeves’ confusion mirrors our own: Do we really have to go through this again? Is there really nothing original left except an acknowledgement of the totality of present conditions?
To the Wachowskis, the novelty is who takes the journey to nowhere. The film concludes with Trinity realizing she can also bend the rules of the system as Neo. Gender is a paradox: It is both a social construct imposed by the Matrix to control Trinity, wherein she is trapped in a dominating relationship to a literal Chad, and also a frontier for liberation. Gender roles echo across Resurrections as “Binary,” the movie within a movie, reflecting the foundation of the Matrix simulation’s super-structure as put forth by Baudrillard.
“The Matrix remains binary,” wrote Baudrillard in Simulations. “It will never again be a matter of a duel or open competitive struggle, but of couples of simultaneous opposition. From the smallest disjunctive unity (question/answer particle), up to the great alternative systems that control the economy, politics, world coexistence, the Matrix does not change: It is always the 0/1, the binary scansion that is affirmed as metastable or homeostatic form of the current systems.”
The French philosopher’s central thesis was that simulation had overtaken reality. Although this warning from Baudrillard dominates the first Matrix, there still existed a Matrix simulation and “real world” Zion, just as there was a hero’s journey and existential danger. Resurrections destroys any such separation, revealing only simulation. Upon visiting the human sanctuary city of Io—as interchangeable to Zion as Jakku is to Tatooine in Star Wars—Neo encounters fruit in the “real world” produced by studying its Matrix counterpart. Both the Matrix and the real world are indistinguishable, creating a perpetual play of mirrors, wherein only simulacrum remains.
“Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum,” wrote Baudrillard in Simulations. “Such would be the successive phases of the image:
it is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever;
it is its own pure simulacrum.”
All Matrix films operate within Baudrillard’s frameworks—in the original film, Neo even keeps his hard drives in a hallowed out copy of Simulations. While the original Matrix has aged as social realism, evidenced every day by the creation of new terrains in hyperreality like the Metaverse, Resurrections is haunted by Baudrillard. Having shifted mainstream culture in line with his understanding of spectacle and the production process gone inward, the theorist’s trap for history is again sprung: That history itself is simulated and that journeys have lost all meaning.
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