The trailer for The Matrix Resurrections is here. Though I will not miss this film for anything in the world, I also know it will not mesmerize me in the way the first film in this series, The Matrix, did. The reason for this is not found in the original's brilliant meshing of Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema, nor in its triphop-era Herrmannian score, but rather in its concept, which reflected (or even diffracted, if I'm to use a metaphor preferred by Karen Barad) the economic sequence of its time, the late-1990s.

Indeed, the former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, once described The Matrix as a documentary of capitalism. But Varoufakis, who clearly subscribes to the Marxist theory of surplus value and its source (labor), needed to say more than this. The film is also (and more so) a documentary about a particular stage in the development of capitalism. In his very long 2019 book, Capital and Ideology, the French economist Thomas Piketty described this stage as “neo-proprietarian." There was, in short, no way the 1970s could have made The Matrix, nor the 1980s, and that's for one simple reason: capitalism was not triumphant during those decades. It was still in its post-World War II slump.

This meant that, in order to maintain power and check labor militancy, capitalism could not let go of institutions and policies it viscerally hated: welfare systems, wages that enjoyed an escalator clause, college costs that did not drown students in debt. Those were the days.

Support The Stranger

Let us review the economic narratives at play in the major science fiction films leading up to The Matrix. What do we find in Star Wars (1976)? A proletariat caught in a galactic war with Empire. And in Alien (1979)? Labor is bickering about pay and bonuses. And in Aliens (1986) and Robocop (1987)? Corporations are still the bad guys. But at the start of the last decade of the 20th century, the struggle between labor and capital effectively met its end. By appearance (and I want my readers to know that I place a lot of weight on the word appearance) capital won. Labor, in the form of socialist rivals for global dominance, lost. The Berlin Wall was down, and the American Hegelian Francis Fukuyama famously declared the end of history, which, in this context, precisely had as its motor the struggle between labor and capital. 1990 marked the beginning of capitalism's triumphant stage. It had no challenges. It dissolved the social institutions of the three glorious decades and reestablished the full power of property (neo-proprietarianism).

By the time we get to The Matix, labor is silent and corporations are benign. Some hacking is going on here and there, but it is mostly harmless. Neo (Keanu Reeves) works for a tech firm that is nowhere near the monster Tyrell Corporation. It does boring stuff for consumers who are equally as boring. The bosses of Neo's tech company just want their workers to show a little more enthusiasm. And so, The Matrix is about a slumbering proletariat. It will not wake up in a way that alarms the mainstream until the crash of 2008, the end of capitalist triumphalism.

We are not sleeping in the way we did in the 1990s, when there was TINA (There Is No Alternative); but we are not fully awake. We actually have Bernie Sanderses and AOCs, figures who would have been easily marginalized back in the 1990s. And we also have the excessive reaction to the reemergence of anti-proprietarianism (the Trumps and MTGs). Both developments were, for sure, made visible and viable by the ideological (rather than actual) collapse of neo-proprietarianism, which is also called neoliberalism. This is the world that The Matrix Resurrections enters in the Christmas season of 2021. Can we expect it to be a documentary of the current sequence of capitalism? This I very much doubt, and so my best guess is that I will watch the reboot as a sheer spectacle.

Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.