Mitchell & Hemon help bring Neo & Trinity back online

January 16, 2022 Jeff Goldsmith

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Current Cinema

The Matrix Resurrections: The Writers

Writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon join Lana Wachowski to bring Neo and Trinity back online

By Jeff Goldsmith and David Somerset

Even with enormous pressure from Warner Bros. to continue expanding the world of The Matrix beyond the original trilogy, the Animatrix short-film spinoff and a few immersive videogames, sibling creators Lana and Lilly Wachowski had never expressed a desire to revisit their most famous conception. Yet in 2018, following the death of their parents just five weeks apart, Lana made the choice to leap back in, while Lilly chose not to. The former recruited two friends and collaborators from their Sense8 TV series, Aleksandar Hemon and David Mitchell, to co-write the new script. This meant the pair were faced with the considerable task of bringing back Keanu Reeves’ Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity and populating the world of the Matrix with a host of characters old, new and, in some cases, completely reworked—not to mention hitting the standard of a trilogy that had long since become a pop-culture behemoth (particularly the original film).

At least Hemon and Mitchell—the latter of whom wrote the complex, time-spanning novel Cloud Atlas, which the Wachowskis adapted in 2012—had one of the Matrix co-creators to act as their guide. And so it began, with the three convening for two main writing sessions. “We got together in a hotel in Ireland,” says Mitchell of their process. “I think we were around a table for about three weeks. First week, it was pure discussion. When one of us had a strong idea we wanted to retain, we put it on a card, and so we had a big table in the middle of the writers’ room with an ever-expanding field of cards on it. We started writing in about week two—fairly quickly, once we got going. As with Sense8, the rule of thumb was if you felt like you wanted to have a go at a scene, then you would. And probably by the end of week two, we had a big, loose, all-inclusive draft. And then the third week it was a matter of honing that down, looking at each other’s scenes, making suggestions to how it could be made shorter and tighter and stronger.” Early in 2019, they reconvened in San Francisco for around 10 days to get the draft down to a more manageable size, and from there they honed the version of the screenplay that got the thumbs up from Warner Bros.

The Matrix Resurrections picks up the story of Neo and Trinity decades later and attempts to weave in critical concepts, including the original trilogy, the various messages of the movies and the notion and difficulty of sequels in the cinematic world. In this new take, a lot has changed since we first saw Neo and Trinity perish in their attempts to take down the machines that have been imprisoning humankind and turn them into living batteries. After Neo’s final sacrifice, a lengthy detente has seen the creation of a new human city, IO, where free people and sympathetic synthetics work together to create a better underground world. The Matrix itself is still very much in existence, though, with the latest permutation run by the scheming Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who has figured out that the best way to keep humans happy within the system is not with data but by manipulating their feelings. Partly to that end, he has re-created Neo and Trinity and keeps them nearby yet separated and unaware of each other, lest their incredible connection bring about another collapse. In a very meta fashion Neo was reinserted as his original identity, Thomas Anderson, now a videogamer who has become famous for creating the Matrix trilogy as a game series. Still, he’s haunted by flashes of his old life and feels a connection to Tiffany (Moss), a fellow customer at his local coffeehouse who, like Neo, is now starting to question her own existence.

The self-referential aspect of the screenplay is one that gave all three writers pause, though it plays a big part in the early stages of the film, in which characters chew over a potential sequel to the Matrix videogames with caution and throw out all manner of theories as to what the originals’ message and themes were—and if a sequel is even possible. It’s a key scene of debate that winks at the audience, and the writers knew they had to nail it, even if the final form owes just as much to editing as scripting. “We had to work out the scene, and Lana did some recutting of that section to make it stronger,” says Hemon. “The tricky part was people come in expecting The Matrix, the continuation of the whole universe and the millions of tropes and memes that are from the movies, right?” But Resurrections lays out its ideas from the start, replicating Trinity’s iconic initial clash with the agents from the 1999 movie. “The first scene is this movie universe where one of the characters says, ‘This looks familiar.’ It was a way to show that this is not just something that could be simply tacked onto the trilogy and sort of milking the same set of ideas. And so rather than avoid confronting the history of the Matrix trilogy and its cultural value, we decided to engage with it.” At its core, he points out, was the idea of two people whose love story transcends all else: “Lana’s idea from the get-go was that the center was the relationship between Neo and Trinity. And so our work was to focus on them and their struggle to be together again…driven by love that transcends the Matrix integration, that it’s so strong it can override the construction of the reality unto itself. Structurally, the script is organized around their trying to get together—love and obstacle.”

The Analyst is the main blockade for our heroes here, and Wachowski and her collaborators knew they wanted to change up the idea of the core antagonist from the stuffy, Freudian Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) we met in Revolutions. Agent Smith (played so memorably by Hugo Weaving in the original trilogy and here by Broadway veteran Jonathan Groff) is also revamped and still lurking with his own agenda since he effectively went rogue in the previous series. But it’s Harris’ character who is the architect (pun intended) of the limbo status of our heroes and that of some of our villains. “We didn’t want a rerun with the Architect, we wanted to show that the world of the machines has moved on, just as our world in reality has moved on,” Mitchell says. “For much of the script’s life while it was still in development and for just the three of us, the Analyst was in fact a psychiatrist. But toward the end, we slightly balked at that and thought it’s not so great to have to associate villainhood with someone that can hold the keys to or help people with mental health, so we named him the Analyst, because it works for danger analysis as well. He’s a different villain. It shows that the world of the machines also is a sequence of empires that rise and fall.”

As those who have seen the movie know, this latest empire also falls, with Neo and Trinity rediscovering themselves and Trinity in particular embracing some upgraded abilities. One climactic scene finds the pair chased to edge of a San Francisco skyscraper by swarms of corrupted humans within the Matrix. They take a literal leap of faith, and it’s Trinity who ends up supporting them both, now able to fly as Neo once did. It was as much of a leap for the cast as for the film. “It was symbolically relevant because they do in fact jump,” Hemon says. “That really is Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. It was a stunt, and they did jump off the building in San Francisco. Lana started shooting in San Francisco, and when that part was finished, they jumped off the building. To get prepared, it required a lot of rehearsals and overcoming discomfort with it and so on. The training for that jump in itself was a means to create solidarity in the project, because after Keanu and Carrie-Anne did that, they were set for the rest of the movie.”

The swarm is one of the big new ideas for Resurrections, an upgrade from the original idea of agents being able to leap into human minds within the Matrix. Here, the Analyst has any number of “bots”––humans he can essentially turn into suicidal fighters––dotted around the system, and in a big final action scene many are commanded to, in zombie-like fashion, throw themselves from windows onto the street below as Neo and Trinity try to escape their commander’s clutches. “We wanted to up the qualifications of the machines’ seriousness,” Mitchell says, “[as well as] what the Analyst is prepared to do to maintain the status quo, and this goes all the way to weaponizing human beings. Without a moment of a quibble of conscience, he’ll turn human beings, who, as far as they’re concerned have rich emotional lives, into weapons. He doesn’t give a damn about any of them. He will weaponize them into this kind of swarm zombie liquid and flood the streets with it purely to get what he wants. It was an idea that fulfills the double role of creating some formidable jeopardy for Trinity and Neo and also showing that this isn’t the Architect, this isn’t a cuddly chat with a benign godlike being. Someone really needs to call the police on this Analyst guy, but the problem is he is the police!”

While those pivotal scenes obviously made the final cut, several others did not. There were initially way more of the various real-world warriors—including Jessica Henwick’s ship’s captain Bugs and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s new iteration of Morpheus—trying to make their way to the human city. “There was more of a quest element in getting to IO,” Mitchell says. “And then when the band of renegades escapes IO with the stolen ship—that was a more involved mission. I think there were [also] one or two more near-death encounters with the squids [the robotic sentinels that patrol the underground tunnels] as well. The early stages of a film are working out what exactly it is, and you have to write quite a few scenes to work out the underlying pattern of the film.” Though Resurrections has not matched previous box-office numbers of its predecessors due both to its pandemic-era release—delayed till mid 2022 from its initial May 2021 slot and then moved back up to Christmas week 2021—after its eventual day-and-date debut on HBO Max, fans enjoyed the film overall. The studio has already expressed interest in another go-round for Neo and Trinity, but there’s no telling where the story might go next. And as the world waits to see if the matrix will continue to expand, Hemon wouldn’t hesitate to hit the keys again. “If it happens, everyone will find out soon enough,” he says cryptically. “And I will do anything with Lana and David.”

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