“I feel like I’ve framed my entire womanhood around men. When in reality I’m no longer interested in men. Like, philosophically.”
That’s the beginning of a sputtering conversation between Jules and her therapist in the second special episode of Euphoria. Jules is a trans girl moving into womanhood, played by a trans actress, in an episode co-written by said actress. It’s one of many half-formed ideas the character is letting bounce out of her head, and the conversation unfolds to reveal the self-doubt that lingers in many people that, in an effort to be yourself, you’ve become an image constructed by others.
Therapist: “You really feel like your entire existence, physically and emotionally, is that reactive?”
Jules: “What do you mean?”
Therapist: “That I’m not looking or talking to Jules. I’m looking at an avatar she created in reaction to the world?”
Jules: “Yeah. Yeah, I’m here” points to chest “You know. But you’re looking at like a million layers of other people that I’ve grabbed and clung to throughout my entire life. And that’s, like, that’s terrifying.”
If you really start breaking down gender, you’ll find an endless quagmire. Oh, you’re a man? Well what does that mean? Well that’s not how this other man defines his manhood. Or how this other man who’s fought equally as much to make himself into a man defines it. Are you sure you’re a man? Are you sure you’re not confusing your gender expression for your gender? Well tell me, then, what IS your gender?
These aren’t just questions skeptics ask but questions you ask yourself if you ever seriously break it down. They can be debilitating because, at least in my head, there simply aren’t words to describe it yet. You know in here *points to chest like Jules did*, but to make someone else understand in conversation? Not going to happen.
But you can define it in mediums that transcend words, like a big budget, science fiction film about breaking free from a computer simulation.
The trans allegory in the three preceding Matrix movies have been thoroughly picked apart by now, but being stories from 20 years ago, their language is pretty basic. I mean, yeah, call him Neo. Have some respect. But Resurrections picks up that thread, along with the narrative focus of the first film, and realizes it in all its complex glory. It’s a movie from a filmmaker who’s sat with herself for much longer, sorted some things out, and is working in a culture that’s just beginning to catch up to her.
I mean, sure, Lana Wachowski doesn’t express her ideas subtly. The amount of time the word “binary” is thrown around in Resurrections is almost laughable, but it’s kind of her style to state her themes. The fourth entry is about undoing and updating so much of what plagued the original trilogy, and if someone was going to make a fourth movie, as the film states early on, it might as well be her making sure the ideas go in the right direction.
People will latch on to these meta references because they’re there and they’re funny, but they’re far from the point of Resurrections, which it pretty much screams into your face. The first three films offered you two pills, red or blue. Resurrections says there’s no such thing, that either/or questions are facile, that deep down you already know the answer is both and you just have to embrace that understanding. Does it fundamentally blow up the mythos of the original trilogy? Yes, because that mythos was based on a lie. Grow up. Learn some things. Keep changing, hopefully for the better.
Resurrections is the most obvious trans allegory we’ve gotten in mainstream American cinema and its most complex. Those were low bars, but Lana has lifted them so high that I wonder how long it will take for them to be raised again. The lifting of Trinity out of the dutiful girlfriend and into an actual character with mythological stakes is the one you can’t miss, but the rest of the film is rife with more nuanced gender truths. The binary choice of the original trilogy is false because gender isn’t binary. Seeing others embody this truth awakens that knowledge in others. But most importantly, it’s about not letting the cultural rules about gender define your own.
Okay, the latter is a mythological and allegorical holdover from the original trilogy, but how starkly different it is envisioned! The original Matrix trilogy is about war. Resurrections is about peace.
Again, it’s stated pretty directly. Jada Pinkett Smith returns as a much older Niobe, and she speaks of the silence in the world outside of the Matrix. What a succinct way to express how loudly cultural rules are screamed at us and how peaceful it is to find yourself in their absence. Normally you have to find a way to block those out. The pandemic, for all its horrors, did give us an extended period of time away from them, and many have found their gender easier to identify and embrace in the silence (as with many other truths about ourselves that were no longer drowned out).
It’s these ideas that brought the Jules episode of Euphoria to my mind. In the silence we know who we are *points to chest*. A lot of strife comes from trying to hear and hold onto that in the roar of a culture (i.e., the Matrix) that doesn’t yet understand and demands you explain yourself. You can’t, though. Or at least you can’t in ways that won’t confuse or anger people. But if you can hear and hold onto it, just for yourself, and then it’s no longer a battle. It’s peace.
Release: now available in theaters and on HBO Max
Director: Lana Wachowski
Writers: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris