The Subversive Playfulness of the ‘The Matrix’


The funny thing about big metaphysical questions—I mean the real ground-floor Philosophy 101 stuff, the “what is reality” stuff, the “can we trust the evidence of our senses” stuff, the questions the Matrix film franchise has always loved to chew on—the funny thing about these questions is the way they manage to be utterly essential and absolutely superfluous at the same time.

Do we really exist? Who knows! You’d think a sentient species would put the Wednesday to-do list on hold until it got to the bottom of that quandary, but humanity tumbles along, buying socks and playing the xylophone, despite having made almost no discernible progress beyond “opinions vary.” It’s a good bit: Reality may not be real, but here we are, still doing laundry. I can’t prove I’m not a butterfly dreaming I’m Brian Phillips, but I still try to avoid parking tickets; the universe may be a delusion, but I feed my dogs every day. Life doesn’t care, for the most part, whether it’s on sound epistemological footing. This is one of the many funny things about life.

It’s also one of the funny things about the subset of life that is the Matrix franchise. I should say here: The Matrix movies are funny. I mean deliberately, knowingly funny. They’re not often talked about that way; they have a reputation for self-serious dorm-room philosophizing, and it’s, uh, not wholly unearned. But apart from the dour Matrix Revolutions, they’re also slyly and exuberantly comic. “Mr. Anderson”—that’s funny. The Lewis Carroll references are funny. The over-the-top ’80s-cyberpunk Neuromancer fits are a little funny, especially in a franchise that’s so determined to push its genres forward everywhere else. And the ways in which the films are funny are important—in some ways, they point toward the big themes of the films even more directly than the metaphysical exposition. The newest film, The Matrix Resurrections—which is both the first new franchise entry in 18 years and the first to be directed by Lana Wachowski without her sister Lilly—may be the funniest yet.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Alice-out-of-Wonderland opening act, featuring Keanu Reeves’s…

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