The Matrix: Resurrections, the recent fourth entry in the series, contains a really radical element that got kind of overshadowed by all of the other discourse surrounding the film: Trinity, in order to leave the Matrix again, has to abandon her three children. So what does Trinity’s choice, and the fact that she was trapped with this choice, to begin with, tell us about what it means to be a woman in society? And can the children ever be freed? Here’s our Take.
Sure, Trinity’s choice might feel less radical if you take The Matrix in a purely literal way, as just an illusion where leaving the kids doesn’t really end up making them any worse off. But if the Matrix is being read as any kind of symbolic reflection of our society (as it so often is,) then what this story is saying is that — to live as a free woman, helping to free the minds of her fellow people — Trinity has to walk out on her kids. She has to make this choice knowing that she’s going to be looked at as a neglectful, absent mother – no doubt judged very harshly. And she has to consider what her kids are going to think about this – and are they just left to rot in the system, or does she have some plan for going back to save them?
It’s this conundrum about her children that makes it so difficult for Trinity to decide whether or not she can or should leave the Matrix. This time it’s not just herself she has to worry about. But as she comes to realize the nefarious way her children have been used to trap her, she decides to free herself. This is a truly radical, and controversial, feminist statement at the heart of the film. Yet… it wasn’t really the main thing people debated after the release, and the actual movie deals with all this pretty quickly, essentially waving it all away with one line near the end. Obviously, the film had a lot to cover and only so much time, but even with what little we do get in regards to this plot, there’s still so much to unpack.
The Children Of The Matrix
The Matrix as a whole has an interesting relationship with children: we’re told that they’re the main ones able to free their minds and break out from constraints on the Matrix, but barring a few exceptions we mainly get these stories from grownups – and it’s through the perspective of these grown-ups that we experience the world of the Matrix. Aside from the Potentials that live with the Oracle, and Sati the young program, we only really get glimpses of children in the Matrix – like the flashes of Neo’s younger years we see on screen during his meeting with the Architect or the baby pod that’s briefly shown when Morpheus is explaining the world to Neo. Kids clearly exist within the Matrix to some capacity, but the films were never really interested in exploring that very deeply – at least, not until Resurrections.
The Matrix has always been in direct conversation with our own modern-day capitalist, image-focused society, interrogating how it traps us all as cogs within this immense machine. We see over and over that the system is literally sucking the energy and lifeblood out of all of the humans trapped within it. A parallel throughline is the idea that many – most, even – of the people trapped within the Matrix are actually so brainwashed that they don’t even want to break free. They can’t even fathom a world beyond the one they’re stuck in, and the Matrix does its best to make sure they stay distracted so that they’re never quite able to put two and two together and start looking for answers. And Resurrections begins unpacking how this indoctrination starts at a young age, and what it really means that this system works so hard to make sure that kids get hooked into service of the larger machine.
In Resurrections, we meet young adults who grew up in the Matrix but were inspired by the myths of Trinity, Neo, and Morpheus to attempt to free themselves. Even though the Matrix throws everything it can think of at them to keep them trapped within the machine, just like the rebels before them, they know that there’s more to this world than meets the eye – and that another way is possible. But, on the other end of the spectrum, through Trinity’s children, we see what happens when children are fully hooked by the Matrix, to the point that they’re used to do its bidding. And this deep, seemingly unyielding connection to the system from birth mirrors the way children in our own world are indoctrinated by capitalism essentially from the moment they’re born. From expensive toys to being raised by videos playing on an iPad to every part of their lives being shaped in the hope of turning them into productive workers, it can often feel like the odds are stacked against the idea of children growing up to be anything but cogs in the larger machine. But this doesn’t only trap the kids, but their mothers as well – because someone has to be the one worrying about all of this, putting it together, trying to get everything right, and that burden most often falls onto the shoulders of the mother. This creates a very hard-to-break cycle in which the societal pressures of motherhood keep women almost afraid of stepping out of line, and honestly, often too tired to even try. Brandon, Donnie, and Callie (who we never see on screen but is referenced in a phone call) keep Trinity tethered to the Matrix, with the pressures of being a good mother essentially working as mind control to keep her trapped. Given that their entire purpose seems so intertwined with the system itself from such a young age, it seems hard to imagine that the kids themselves could ever break free. If we dig a little deeper, however, there’s actually a surprising but logical reason that Trinity’s kids might still have a chance to free their minds, and we’ll lay all of that out in just a moment. But first, we need to unpack more about Trinity and the larger Abandoning Mother trope.
Trinity & The Abandoning Mother Figure
While Trinity does at first turn down the chance to leave the Matrix again, she comes to realize that it’s the best, or even only, way forward. The fact that The Matrix chooses to say Yes, and have Trinity need to leave behind her kids in order to do the right thing, is actually a pretty radical statement. The mother who abandons her children, regardless of her reasoning, is usually painted as a selfish monster. Take 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer: Meryl Streep’s Joanna felt suffocated by motherhood, and overwhelmed by the concern that she might be a terrible mother. She’d never really found her own sense of self, and motherhood had only intensified her questions about her own identity even further. So she makes the decision to leave her son behind with his father. Joanna is framed as the unfeeling antagonist – Dustin Hoffman’s Ted just now becoming an active father when he’s left with no other choice is framed as a positive thing, and the years Joanna spent as the primary caregiver with no support from him and no ability to focus on herself are essentially ignored. She’s framed as selfish and uncaring, her desire to have a fulfilled self impossible to square away with traditional motherhood.
Even ambivalence about motherhood is seen as controversial. In 2021’s The Lost Daughter, based on Ella Ferrante’s 2006 novel, deals with two women at different stages of motherhood. Leda, we come to find, had abandoned her children for three years – she does still feel guilty but also admits that it felt wonderful to be free. Nina has become frustrated with being a parent and is to some degree tempted to follow in Leda’s footsteps in escaping for a while. This film is clear about how the societal pressures of being a mom are compounded when she has to be the central caregiver while also holding down a job, having to give all of herself without getting any support, can lead to a mother’s desire to escape. And even though Nina fervently rejects Leda’s path in the end, the film still garnered some controversy for allegedly “glorifying” absent mothers, showing that this is still a very big taboo.
But the way Resurrections is sympathetic to Trinity’s plight and in fact frames her final choice to free herself as being correct isn’t without precedent. Trinity’s story of becoming trapped as Tiffany, stifled by the societal expectations of womanhood and being a ‘good mother’, in many ways parallels the story of Nora of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House from all the way back in 1879. Nora essentially lives the life of a “doll,” playing a childish persona and revolving her entire life around her husband and three children. Over the course of the play, she comes to realize that her husband isn’t really the kind of man she thought he was, and that this claustrophobic existence is inauthentic and impossible. Although Nora freeing herself involves her walking out on her husband and children in the end, the play is written in a way to make us support her and desire for her to break out of her stifled, often very silly, stunted existence. In fact, Ibsen was once forced to write a different ending in which Nora was implied to have stayed and he hated it, calling that alternate ending a “barbaric outrage.” The entire point of the play is exposing how in Nora’s society, the patriarchal marriage structure is forcing women into a way of being that simply isn’t sustainable or good for anybody – so essentially she doesn’t have any choice (or any other right choice) but to leave. And we see this with Trinity as well – leaving with Neo isn’t presented as morally ambiguous but as clearly the right choice.
There’s a certain level of truth for most women who are mothers today that they’re making sacrifices and not supported by our Matrix-like system, trapping them in a way similar to Trinity and Nora – but, of course, that doesn’t mean that most women feel the solution is to abandon their families. So the fact that the movie is making such a radical stand raises an interesting question of whether in The Matrix’s mindset, it’s essentially impossible to be a mom raising kids in our collective “Matrix” and become a fully realized individual in pursuit of one’s goals of finding your own sense of self and improving and liberating our society. Could Trinity have possibly found the power to break free from her Tiffany prison and save the world if she hadn’t been willing to walk away from everything? The film seems to posit that the only way to free yourself from this impossible situation is to indeed leave society behind completely and build something new. But if we zoom out and look at the series’ message as a whole, that isn’t really that surprising – the entire point has always been that the only way forward is to free your mind and break out of the Matrix, whatever it takes. But just because Trinity had to leave her kids behind to free herself doesn’t mean that has to be the end of their story.
Can The Children Be Freed?
Morpheus once said that young people are actually the best ones to attempt to free from the Matrix because they’re not yet totally trapped by its brainwashing and are by their nature more open to questioning things – it’s even noted that Neo was liberated quite late in life. So this opens the interesting possibility that Trinity’s children are actually at the perfect age to be broken out of the Matrix themselves. We only meet the children briefly, and while they don’t seem particularly suspicious of the Matrix, a dramatic event like, oh let’s say, their mother being attacked by a flood of programs and then disappearing might clue them into the fact that something is up with the world they thought they knew. It’s possible that, if there were another sequel, we could see the series begin to reckon with all of this. Would they be open to accepting that reality isn’t anything like they thought, and following in Trinity’s footsteps and freeing themselves? Or would they just see her as someone that abandoned them to be with her lover and nothing more? It would be interesting to see the story explore this question of how, and even if, you can free children and their developing minds from being brainwashed by the worst parts of society and becoming forever trapped in the Matrix. Just because she left for now doesn’t mean she has to be gone forever – as we’ve heard from every flight safety announcement, you have to get yourself safe before you can effectively help others. Maybe the only way for the children to get free is for Trinity to first learn to free herself so that she may teach them to do the same.
We live in a society where (even if you try really hard not to engage in certain parts) it’s nearly impossible to escape the capitalist grid and not just become yet another cog in the machine. The movie seems to be highlighting the hard truth that it will take drastic, even taboo measures to have any hope of truly unplugging ourselves from the Matrix for good. Though The Matrix has always had this message of breaking away from the status quo, to turn “perfect” Trinity into the culturally reviled figure of the absent mother to drive home the point does feel radical in its own way. And, of course, in the same way that the original film wasn’t literally positing that we need to learn how to become code itself and stop time, this film isn’t saying that the only solution is to abandon all of our kids. But it is making the point that, if we really want to escape the system and create a better world for everyone, we will have to make sacrifices and some of the most difficult choices imaginable. The film leaves us with the hope that, now that Trinity has done the hard work to find herself again, she will be able to lead the charge to make the world a better place for everyone.
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