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Matrix director confirms the film is a transgender allegory

Lilly Wachowski, co-director of the Matrix films, says the film originally intended to reflect transgender experiences more explicitly – but the ‘world wasn’t ready for it’.  

The Matrix was considered a sci-fi classic almost instantaneously when it was released in 1999.

Neo’s journey from average office worker to all-seeing oracle within a simulated reality was considered ground-breaking for its visual designs, cyberpunk aesthetic, and wildly imaginative narrative. If you weren’t around to witness its original cinema run, I beg you to watch it. It is a masterpiece.

Fans of the film and its sequels have long speculated that they’re secretly allegories for the transgender experience. The Matrix is all about transformation, escapism, rebirth, and identity, and now we’ve finally got confirmation from one of its co-directors that it was indeed always intended to reflect gender fluidity and transitioning.

Speaking to Netflix, Lilly Wachowski said that the ‘corporate world wasn’t ready’ for the heavily progressive themes of the script, which included the character Switch being able to freely shift genders as they travelled between reality and the simulated world. That idea was scrapped by executives, though the integral theme of reinvention remains in the final product.

Both co-directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski have publicly transitioned since the film’s release. Speaking to the New Yorker in 2012, Lana said she struggled with gender identity during the filming of the two Matrix sequels. ‘When I began to admit it to myself, I knew I would have to tell my parents. It would inject terror into me’. Lily meanwhile came out as transgender in 2016, and refers to herself as one of the ‘lucky ones who has the support of family’.

If you’re wondering about specifics within the film, this analysis from 2017 by Adam Pilfold-Bagwell takes a great deep dive into the characters and imagery that represent the experiences of a transgender woman throughout. The ‘red pill’ scene could be interpreted as a reference to spironolactone, for example, the most common testosterone suppressant in America that also happens to be red.

Neo’s struggle with fitting into masculine ideals at his office and his later change into ‘the one’ can also be seen as a reflection of transgender experiences. There’s a lot to unpack, but this short documentary from Now You See It explores these and other details in a surprisingly succinct manner.

We’ve still a long way to go eradicating the taboo surrounding transgender creatives and characters but the conversation has improved considerably since the mid to late nineties. A fourth film is currently in production and is slated for a 2022 release, though there has been some disruption due to the pandemic. We might see more clear-cut exploration with gender fluidity in this next film and now that we have outright confirmation that the original did indeed act as a metaphor for transgender narratives, perhaps this will be taken further next time around.

Roll on 2022. Or whenever it does actually release, depending on how this pandemic thing turns out. For now we’ll have to go back to the original and re-watch it from a new perspective, which I’ve no doubt will be an eye-opening enough experience as it is.