Credit: Warner Bros.
by Noel Oakshot Essays Feature Articles Featured Film

The Medium Must Be the Message: The Matrix and the Future of Cinema

April 2, 2022

In 1962, the great Scottish-Canadian film theorist John Grierson gave a talk at the University of North Carolina on his seminal period in 1920s USA, an era during which he coined the term “documentary” in a review of Nanook of the North and subsequently began a collaboration with its director, Robert J. Flaherty. In the talk, Grierson identifies the remarkable aspects of America as a nation in the arts, and in particular, film:

“… while you may consider Russia as the great homeland of political revolutionaries in our time, you may well consider America as the great homeland of aesthetic revolutionaries in our time. And it’s an odd thing: you may not breed all the revolutionaries yourselves, but a lot of them, wherever they come from, tend to finish up under your protection.”

And after relating his own experiences as a foreigner in the home of the brave:

“…the desperate effort to become American had its own crude influence on the approach to the arts. I am thinking of the mental habit which developed, of thinking old things bad, and new things necessarily good. In the circle I knew best, the word ‘modern’ had a sanctity which it never had in the Europe I had left. ‘What’s new?’ They cried.”

Grierson continues in the speech to isolate the components and effects of this American modernity, identifying the fundamental quality of American cinema that allowed it to achieve the profound ubiquity it once possessed as a visual tradition engaged with globally: its emphasis on the contemporary, on striving to innovate new forms to confront the times. Whatever cultural pathologies might be diagnosed at the root of these cultural impulses, their profound contribution to the cinema and the arts generally cannot be disputed. It begat an era in which cinema subjugated all the other arts. The most celebrated artists of the early- to mid-20th century — this applies globally, but particularly in the USA — the most celebrated writers, painters, musicians all worshiped the screen. F. Scott Fitzgerald often wrote for the screen, and The Great Gatsby was reportedly inspired by the lavish parties hosted by Allan Dwan when he was at the peak of his powers as a king of Hollywood. John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, and Tennesee Williams all worked as screenwriters, alongside virtually every acclaimed writer of the time. An astounding proportion of the seminal visual artists of the day that had arisen from other traditions also ventured into moving pictures: Pablo Picasso collaborated on a feature with Henri-Georges Clouzot; Marcel Duchamp directed the landmark avant-garde short Anemic cinema; Salvador Dali had his own well-known history with cinema; and I’d be remiss to neglect Andy Warhol, whose output in the cinema is at once an essential part of his broader oeuvre and an essential body of work in its own right. 

In King Vidor’s final cinematic outing The Metaphor, he converses with Andrew Wyeth, who credits the director’s 1926 film The Big Parade with inspiring much of his best work. The public shared their infatuations — moving pictures were so widely impactful that they created celebrity as we now conceive of it, through a string of screen icons argued to have been the most famous people in the world in their time: Lilian Gish, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and so on. Major innovations in sound technology largely arose from the sphere of cinema rather than that of recorded music. Films were shown in opulent picture palaces to packed rooms of hundreds or even thousands. So great was the dominance of the screen that in 1928 Michael Curtiz, the kind of artist who “finished up under America’s protection,” could, for the sake of his art, willfully flood the set of his film Noah’s Ark without informing the crowds of extras populating it (killing 3 of them), and remain totally immune from consequence. 1962 was the year Curtiz died, and also the year roughly situated as an estimate for the close of American dominance of global cinema, particularly when looked at through the lens that Grierson was applying. In 2022, we are now as far removed from the moment of this talk as Grierson was from Edwin S. Porter while delivering it, and sentiment has shifted quite a bit. The grand picture palaces of the past are a distant memory, and the modern multiplexes that have succeeded in their lineage are empty. Even home video (from VHS to 4K Blu-ray) has come and gone. 

That foundation laid, let’s step out of the past and into the present. The film of the moment, or of a recent moment, is Matrix 4, for which the cultural capital of its predecessors is not only its raison d’etre, it is also its subject. A fourth Matrix film was inevitable. In an American film ecosystem in which Citizen Kane gets a big budget spin-off, the most impactful (new) sci-fi film franchise of the last 25 years was basically guaranteed to be reanimated, to be milked for any and all worth that could be squeezed from it. The concept had been floated periodically every few years following the release of Reloaded and Revolutions in 2003, and despite the best efforts of the Wachowski siblings to keep a lid on it, commercial imperatives dictated that it would return now in whatever form necessary, with or without the artistry of its originators. What we got is The Matrix: Resurrections, a direct sequel that finds Neo again trapped in the soul-crushing mundanity of the titular Matrix, recast within the simulation as a game designer celebrated for his iconic video game trilogy… “The Matrix.” From there, we knowingly retread the narrative footprints of The Matrix (1999) to a rendezvous with Morpheus, and an escape from the Matrix itself. (Equally inevitably, this text will have to operate as something of a comparative analysis).

Credit: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Predictably, responses have been mixed. The first film has cast a uniquely long shadow on this latest film, the two preceding Matrices, and the Wachowski sisters’ 21st-century work in general. Its overwhelming success and cultural ubiquity would have been near impossible to match in a follow-up, within that universe or otherwise. It also had the unfortunate consequence of typecasting the pair as film-bro directors adjacent to Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and others; a uniquely ‘90s and early-aughts breed who were once worshiped like gods — and in some circles, still are. But the Wachowskis were a little more idiosyncratic than that, and such adulation came at the cost of an expectation that works to follow would work within the same bizarrely nonsensical critical framework (seriously, someone needs to compile a taxonomy of all the kooky shit that passed for considered thought on film in the ‘90s and 2000s) that had elevated Matrix 1. Rather, the sisters belong to a set of retrospectively distinct Hollywood artists alongside Richard Kelly, J. Michael Straczynski, Alex Proyas, etc. This class of director — united by their genre leanings downstream of ‘80s nerd culture, high concept presentation, ascent to the top of the American studio system without earning its ongoing loyalty, and icon status on mid-2000s IMDb — has been so thoroughly deconstructed and overanalyzed that discourse seems to have been shredded to ribbons. These films don’t function on an experiential level; they’re like watching a parade of empty cultural references (in both the sense of referencing other works and iconic moments that have accumulated infamy in their own right), interesting as a subject for theoretical interrogation but not as viewing material. 

The Matrix is different though. Take its distinctive aesthetics to start: the trilogy remains one of the most enduring imagings of a dystopian future. Situated exactly where nearly a decade of pre-millenium anxiety on film burst at the seams, at the frictional moment right before “the future” finally arrived, the Wachowskis’ highly stylized aestheticization of a new dystopic vision presented two worlds: a dark, post-apocalyptic one ruled by machines, fought for by a human resistance on the periphery; and a visually streamlined finetuning of a Terminator-esque future painted in purples & grays, the latest iteration of a vision incubated in the preceding two decades or more of Hollywood sci-fi pessimistically surveying the concurrent explosion in consumer electronics. More remarkable both to audiences in 1999 and in retrospect is the titular Matrix itself, a simulated reality that occupies human minds in order to keep their bodies enslaved; a hyper-conformist acceleration of the suffocating banality present in modernity constructed at every scale of society from the cumulative architecture of major cities to the quantum of individual interactions — all bathed in console green with an omnipresent textural and material plasticity lurking just beneath the surface. It was deeply new to audiences in 1999, and blitzed the popular cinema; there is a Before Matrix and an After Matrix.

But it was certainly not without precedent. From Rene Descartes’ cogito ergo sum to 20th-century thinkers like Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Guy Debord, long traditions of thought preceded the Wachowskis. The millennial anxiety/anticipation of The Matrix crested a wave that had been building in the cinema since Claude Chabrol’s Dr. M in 1990, coursing through popular countercultural cinema of the mid- to late-’90s the world over. The decade, in general, saw this counterculture take over the mainstream, from the grunge explosion and the ascent of alternative music to American independent filmmakers as diverse as Whit Stillman, Gregg Araki, and Kevin Smith. The Matrix‘s soundtrack leveraged some of the edgiest alternative rock, metal, and electronic music to reach the mainstream: Marilyn Manson, Ministry, Rob Zombie, The Prodigy, Rage Against The Machine — and what could be more of a countercultural triumph than a massively popular mainstream movie seven years after “the end of history,” one that suggests reality itself is an illusion? 

It doesn’t seem particularly subversive today, understandable given all that has transpired since (we’ll get there), and perhaps also in part because the border between counterculture and mainstream is now non-existent — or at least so porous as to be functionally non-existent. Cyberpunk cinema had gone from embryonic proto- works like World on a Wire that merely shared a common subject with the movement still in literary incubation to its parallel explosions in 1.) a genuinely avant-garde reverberation of Japanese New Wave in which underground artists like Gakuryū Ishii, Katsuhiro Otomo, Shinya Tsukamoto, Shigeru Izumiya, and Koichi Ohata were able to realize profane apocalypses of cyborgs wading through death and destruction, Bosozoku gangs as warriors on the frontiers of reality; 2.) a less internally synchronized but equally important American series of both innovative big-budget commercial films like Blade Runner, Terminator, and Tron that utilized the new marketability of sci-fi in the wake of Star Wars to advance a nihilistic future aesthetic and smaller oddities arriving at a similar place via a variety of routes, such as Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, a telefilm adapting cyberpunk literature; and 3.) a diverse plethora of comparatively atomized tangents global cinema, like the work of Canadian director Philip Jackson, films Kamikaze 1989 and Decoder from Germany, and Flash Future Kung Fu out of Hong Kong. After a decade-plus of occasional intrusions into mainstream commercial cinema, these currents began to congeal into more direct precedents of The Matrix (a bit too direct in some ways), most notably Ghost In The Shell, one of the earliest screen worlds in which digital artificiality is seen to engulf the analog of the “real.” Add to this the increasingly complex progression of Hong Kong martial arts flicks that had seeped through cultural boundaries, and with them a new intricate style of screen action with stupendously large ratios of action production time to screentime, courtesy of luminaries like John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping (who subsequently choreographed the Matrix trilogy). The Internet was still a mythic place deep in the throes of cyber-utopianism, but it had already permeated the collective consciousness.

The Matrix reflected the culmination of these various threads not intellectually or creatively, but rather in the public imagination. It impressively marries a commercially viable big-budget formula with classic existential conceptual exercises to create a versatile scaffold that has imprinted itself on how we think about the nature of reality, then adorns it with clever allegories (Alice in Wonderland, etc).  Plus, its internal narrative provides an open-ended springboard to attack a bevy of portentous topics, e.g., to what degree are each of the two worlds of the film an attempt to depict reality relative to the other? What does The Matrix say about the ethics of animal rights (openly asked in the Judas deal scene)? Reloaded and Revolutions were panned on release, but have since been re-evaluated alongside the Wachowskis’ oeuvre generally, particularly through the now-a-touch-embarrassing vulgar auteurism movement of the early-to-mid 2010s. The fallout of this period has inarguably reshaped the contemporary cinephilia landscape; if you’re in certain spaces (and you’ll know if you are), the thinking that the once-derided Wachowski bomb Speed Racer is actually an earthshaking masterpiece is more stiflingly universal than the Citizen Kane canonical consensus ever was.

In the more than two decades since its release, the terrain has shifted pretty heavily around many of the things The Matrix was reacting to, and for the most part its ideas and structure have been heavily validated. The once opaque (at least for such cis boofheads as this writer) trans subtext has been dug up in light of both the Wachowski sisters transitioning and a broader societal awakening on trans rights and LGBTQ+ issues in general. The obvious meta aspects to The Matrix line up well with culture that has been pushed through the one-way gate of irony, and the seditious anti-status quo aspects play well in our hyper-partisan, hyper-political era in which everyone on the Internet seems to be peddling their own brand of revolution that they can pinpoint somewhere on one of those ridiculous political compass diagrams. The “red pill” has been adopted as a serious political slogan, undoubtedly making The Matrix one of the most materially politically consequential English-language features of the last 30 years. The unease and dissatisfaction gnawing at those trapped in the Matrix speak to the unprecedented numbers of people today who describe themselves as depressed or suffering from mental illness. We’re edging towards the so-called “birth of AI.” Keanu Reeves has ascended to the much-deserved status of a universally beloved cultural icon. In a somewhat parallel movement in culture to Reeves’ triumphant rebound, The Matrix is also among the many boats of late-’90s-2000s art and media that have been cited in the ongoing reevaluation of an era that often found aesthetically novel art summarily dismissed as crass and tasteless. It’s not all driven by such benign forces though; it’s tough not to feel that the influencers who went all-in on the #FreeBritney movement — in which we learned that celebrities are people too, who need privacy and respect and regard for their wellbeing — were motivated by more than just a sense of altruism. The late-’90s and 2000s reevaluation functions this way in totality — the wholesale onboarding of both the wonderful and much of the pernicious of that era very much serves those at the commanding heights of culture today. 

During the 1980s, Coca-Cola was so successful, so dominant in its brand war with its only rival of relative scale, Pepsi, that market share was no longer a relevant metric to assess performance. The substitute metric devised was termed “throat share” — that is, their share of all liquids consumed globally. Even in 1999, the Internet had transcended perceptions that it was a medium analogous to written text, radio, or film, but today it has totally eclipsed them; it is an impenetrable hulking mass that looms over everything. The only metric that could capture the enormity of what the Internet has become is “reality share” — the proportion of the external world as experienced by human minds that is consumed by the online. Right now, that ratio is probably larger than any comparable experience in human history, aside from sleep. And if things continue to progress at the rate they have over the last 20 years, which is not impossible, cyberspace could own a majority share in reality. Indeed, the “real” world increasingly feels like an appendage of a radically expanding Internet, and it’s this that reflects The Matrix‘s greatest foresight present only by implication, never directly referenced or seen in any of the films. In 1999, the Internet was still ruled by the utopian libertarianism instilled by its comp-sci academia upbringing; potential reach as a communicative medium still in its infancy, online culture a newborn. Net neutrality, open-source software, scalability, privacy protections, infrastructure accessible to the average person — you could conceivably build a web page and host it yourself. 

Needless to say, things have changed. The Internet and its constituent parts have gradually counterpoised the incredible power it gives users to access and distribute information in a myriad of different ways with disturbing and invasive revenue and power accumulation measures. Internet utopianism is dead and net neutrality along with it. Inscrutable monopolistic corporations that have been exposed as dishonest have the overwhelming majority of power in cyberspace. Through their unprecedented ownership of a slice of reality, these companies are able to collect statistics and research on their users far beyond any precedent, and likely have uncovered patterns in human behavior unavailable to the public. We are presented with prospective futures of the Internet that are not mutually exclusive. The metaverse: an immersive, privately-owned world of the Internet that openly competes with reality, subjugating human experience to a degree we had only conceived of in our wildest fictions; and Web3: an extension of cryptocurrency technology that promises to force otherwise disinterested individuals who want to function in real and online spaces to participate in a volatile digital economy in which every aspect of of the world can be tokenized to become a speculative asset of fluctuating value. Both are virtual techno-feudalism, both are a death knell for online privacy, and both are likely to succeed, hand in hand with each other. Clearly, The Matrix has proved frighteningly prescient about the Internet. Of any 20th-century dystopian sci-fi film to speculate on the future in such highly fictionalized terms, it’s the one text that most accurately predicted the experience of reality in the early 2020s.

Credit: Warner Bros.

The Matrix is also venerated for its depictions of the digital. Use of CGI, and innovative photographic techniques essentially borrowing from the language of digital in an expansive way, presaged the coming digital revolution that changed the landscape of film and every other popular art form of the present. The ‘90s was the decade in which digital cinema really kicked off in earnest, with a series of Hollywood features dipping their toes into the format, and global movements in independent film (the Nollywood boom, the 6th Generation in China, etc.) making use of the expanded freedom of the format. Box office revenue for digital works reached parity with celluloid films in 2012, and the trajectories of the two mediums have since diverged, with the use of celluloid relegated to nonagenarian has-beens and adult babies who think the way to fix the film industry is a wholesale return to the modes of cinema prevalent 40 years ago. On the flip side, one facet of the films that hasn’t exactly appreciated in our cultural esteem is their handling of race. Orientalism is endemic to the trilogy, which is not surprising given how heavily it borrows from East Asian media, but it also backgrounds and disempowers the tiny fraction of Asian characters that appear in the films, and employs the magical negro trope in about as stereotypical form as you will get, through the character of the Oracle.

But any autopsy of the Matrix trilogy that truly interrogates what it was and is would be outside the purview of what will be attempted here. More relevant to the weighty inheritance outlined above, The Matrix: Resurrections was uniquely situated to address almost anything it wanted to in as grandiose or subtle of terms as its authors saw fit. Given the prescience and broad cultural currency of the franchise, an impossibly broad panoply of conceptual bases and visual ideas were available to Lana Wachowski and co. with only an extremely thin veneer of “this is the matrix, a mind-bending blockbuster” required to maintain surface tension. And whatever form it should choose to take, Resurrections was a work destined to be microcosmic of the battle for the future of the medium. So what did they do with all this possibility? They chose to first and foremost address… the decline of IP filmmaking in Hollywood.

Forgive the impression of jadedness, but it’s genuinely difficult to conceive of a more mundane iceberg to sink the fourth Matrix film on. Even within the nexus of a prospective Matrix sequel hyper-focused on the state of film (or, more generously, popular arts; there are, after all, some superficial nods to video games), there is so much more to address than the fact that many blockbusters these days are unimaginative sequels birthed out of a cynical consensus in Hollywood that flogging popular franchises to death is the only sure way to make a buck. Take, for instance, the rise of digital cinema, the mainstreaming of Asian cinema in the west, etc. Rather than that, Resurrections turns inward where its predecessors looked out; myopically obsessing over itself where the trilogy had mined and synthesized a diverse array of influences from the periphery of popular culture.

But given that this critique is raised in earnest, time should be taken to address it. It’s inarguably the case that IP filmmaking is in a horrible state. Such has been the consensus for about a decade at this point, and it’s been discussed ad nauseam in the film community. But what seems inexplicably absent from many of these conversations is that the chronic impotence of Hollywood is less catastrophic for cinema in general than it would’ve been in any other era. We live in the golden age of media availability. Any individual with Internet access and a median income can treat themselves to what in the past would’ve been an inconceivably vast range of world cinemas, through legal streaming services like Mubi or Ovid TV, self-publishing platforms like Vimeo, public access collections like the Korean Film Archive, and widely-celebrated illegal file-sharing websites such as Karagarga — an eloquent case for which can be found here

The upshot of this being that if you’re unhappy about the latest soft reboot of an aging franchise, you can take your time and money elsewhere. It could be the occasional western blockbuster that is original and idiosyncratic, like 2017’s Valerian and The City of 1000 Planets, an astounding panoply of visual worlds more expansive than the entire Wachowski filmography, and which was panned for the inane reason that a central performance was slightly off-kilter. It could be adjacent, artistically-rich commercial film scenes like those of South Korea and China, which regularly churn out original blockbusters that put Hollywood to shame, or the resurgent Japanese art film world, booming industries in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana, and the ever-evolving pillar of world cinema that is Bollywood — and these are just the starting points for what is available in the cinema of today. Beyond the contemporary, the average person today also has access to an astounding range of film history, from the majority of surviving silent cinema to historic films from around the world from every decade of the 20th century; one can easily get a first-class education in film history from YouTube, for instance. Even if you have little interest in anything other than conventionally entertaining English-language genre cinema, streaming services offer a wide plethora of wonderful productions, from old-school westerns to meathead ‘80s actioners to classic 2000s rom-coms, and everything in between. If everybody who has voiced complaints about the poor state of contemporary Hollywood decided to take their attentions elsewhere, we wouldn’t have to wait long before drastic changes in American commercial film arrived. In short, Hollywood studios are not the be-all and end-all of film in 2022. But the Wachowskis are a product of the Hollywood system and are somewhat compelled — by financial, structural, cultural imperatives — to continue to operate within that environment. They certainly have a right to be unhappy about how The Matrix has been forcibly taken for one more spin in the Hollywood centrifuge when they were artistically done with it almost 2 decades prior.

But the good news is that in general, the tide is turning on the nostalgic consensus. Increasingly, each reboot/remake/umpteenth sequel is met with groans from even the least (or perhaps most) cynical corners of the media apparatus around commercial studio releases, and half of the biggest box office bombs of 2021 were bland, inoffensive, and supposedly crowd-pleasing franchise films like Suicide Squad 2 & West Side Story 2. The perverse incentives for movie studios driving the nostalgia industry have precipitated this unreal and untenable situation where there are very few movies in cinemas that people actually want to watch, and none that people want to watch for reasons divorced from already earned cultural capital: “Why did I watch House of Gucci? Because it’s a Ridley Scott movie about Gucci with Lady Gaga in it.” This desperate clinging to rigid formulae in the hopes of guaranteeing returns in an increasingly multivalent media landscape has done at best little to slow the commercial and popular decline of the feature film, and at a more realistic worst has greatly aided its downfall; all of which indicates that things are headed toward big change, and soon.

However, all this merely illustrates that Resurrections catastrophically failed to fulfill its impossibly grand mandate to “revolutionize [movies] again,” and instead chose to preemptively concede that failure. But what is The Matrix: Resurrections in its own right?

We open with a free human, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), interrogating an irregularity in the Matrix, in which she discovers a renewed Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) resurrected in the form of a living program or “synthient” that combines aspects of Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus and Hugo Weaving’s Smith, birthed in a “modal” or coding experiment used to develop synthients. Together, Bugs and Morpheus track down Neo, once again trapped in the Matrix. Despite his memories of the events of the previous films, Neo is gaslit into believing the Matrix is reality, as he is situated as Thomas Anderson, the greatest game designer of his generation, celebrated for his seminal Matrix trilogy (an exact analogue of the films), a man plagued by mental health issues that inhibit his grasp of reality. Neo’s therapist, who irons out the incongruities in Thomas Anderson’s experience in the upgraded Matrix is actually The Analyst, the program in control of the operation of the simulated world, successor to the Architect of the previous films. Neo had created the modal that birthed Morpheus by altering some code in Matrix trilogy games, a small act of resistance conjured out of his inextinguishable doubt that “this is not the real world.” Neo is rescued by Bugs & Morpheus and returns to the post-apocalyptic reality he had called home in Reloaded and Revolutions, only 60 years later and with Zion’s successor Io ruled by an aging Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith, in questionable makeup). Realizing Trinity is still alive, Neo insists on going back into the Matrix to save her, drawing up the battle lines for a climactic confrontation with The Analyst. 

Not everything here always coheres in the way convention dictates — for instance, the code from the Matrix video games is operationally correlated to the actual Matrix system? And Neo seemingly has a genuine passion for his work as a game designer. But it does cohere emotionally. It’s uneven and messy, but it ultimately comes together in a conclusion that will satisfy Matrix heads. Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves; despite not giving a particularly great performance even though the whole thing is structured around him, he’s as likable a screen presence as ever. Carrie Anne-Moss’ new Trinity is warmer, and delivers the emotional core of Resurrections. The newcomers do a serviceable job of bringing new/updated characters to life, but they’re ultimately too peripheral to become iconic in their own right. Of the new wrinkles, the characterization that will likely be most enduring in the annals of collective memory is that of Jonathan Groff’s portrayal of an updated Agent Smith, to which he brings the exact same energy that he brings to every role he takes on.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Okay, so those are the details — but what is The Matrix: Resurrections?

Well… it’s a film tied up in knots, for a start. The first leg of the movie opens up a litany of quandaries about commercial artistry and the relationship between audiences and the Matrix through an interminable string of fourth-wall breaks that feel a bit inelegant at first, and progressively more like smashing one’s head through a series of brick walls; from opening with a series of verbatim cinematic and narrative quotations from Matrix 1, filmically dubbed with a commentary track teeming with such open-ended deepities as “Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is” and the already iconic “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Brothers decided to make a sequel to the trilogy” — a moment astutely engineered to generate its infamy. Broadly, then, Resurrections populates its meta-narrative through rhymes, echoes, and quotations of the prior films, and even of itself. It’s more Deadpool than Jean-Luc Godard, and generally the reflexively self-criticality current to all this is banal and insufferable. All of which must lead one to question: “How seriously are Lana and co. taking this?”

Quite seriously, it would seem, depending on what exactly we frame as “this.” Given the range of what Wachowski is attempting to condense into a conventional blockbuster, Resurrections does an impressive job of whittling it down to a digestible, linear narrative with an efficient temporal distribution of action and intrigue. There are precious few moments that could be called superfluous to the project; in every scene, there are significant shifts/evolutions in what is being communicated. Some have alleged that the first leg is just a mess of buzzwords or diversionary canards, but take the scene in the coffee shop. A control mechanism masquerading as a friend named Jude asks: “You tell me, Mr. Anderson, is it free will or destiny?” Trinity then immediately walks into the shop.

This is a symbolic piece of the broader jigsaw with clear and direct meaning and purpose. It operates in the same way that many pieces early in the film do, toward various ends, and to varying degrees of success (it’s pretty soon followed by a scene featuring one of several embarrassingly literal deployments of meme culture in which Neo meets Trinity’s husband, Chad). It never collapses into a soup of empty hyperlinks all only referential toward each other, but the loops are so tightly wound and frequent that it can come to feel that way pretty quickly nonetheless. But if it doesn’t all exactly cohere perfectly, and there are moments where the interface between the meta-narrative and the internal narrative derails the internal logic — why does Neo’s working copy of the Matrix trilogy allow him to alter the Matrix itself? — such quibbles are ultimately, completely immaterial. After all, Matrix 1 proposes that the mental slavery of the simulation was created so human bodies could be used as batteries because no better power source could be found (?!). There are also some moments that gesture toward the genuineness with which fans wanted to see the franchise return, particularly from Bugs: “You see, most people think that Neo is dead. But I know he’s not.” Wachowski is counterpoising her own cynicism at the franchise returning with the sentiments of her audience. It’s a nice touch.

So what continuities and discontinuities exist here with regard to the trilogy? Least surprisingly, but perhaps most disappointingly, Resurrections exerts most of its energy on extending the Matrix universe in narrative and mythological terms within pre-codified parameters. We’re once again focused on the story of characters Neo and Trinity, and their struggle for reality and each other. The Internet is once again conspicuously absent (in literal terms), and abandons the territory of commenting on the nature of reality except through the therapy/mental illness thing. In an interesting parallel departure, the vast majority takes place within the matrix, and we almost don’t see the machines, except through flashbacks and their avatars in the simulation. Resurrections, then, is internally receding to narrow fiction. The trans subtext is a lot closer to the surface, through the running invocations of “Binary” in different contexts and a small subplot about body dysmorphia. Also, from time to time things are executed with the “woah, that’s deep” solemnity that is inherited from the original, which here feels so out of place as to be a little endearing. And the replacement of generic office toil with hipster creative malaise as the new mundane, spiritually bankrupt oppression of the system is spot on.

That’s to say, in sentiment the thrust of Matrix 4 is toward humanism, under many different umbrellas. It quietly updates the reality of The Matrix from the late-’90s to the present day, internally leveraged by the justification that it is a system upgrade that keeps people brainwashed, a frightening analogue for how social change is obfuscated in reality. Everyone lives in the end for once. And one of the core threads is a covert critique of behaviorism/adjacent cynical mechanistic analyses of human psychology, traits personified by the Analyst: “The only world that matters is the one in here [*gestures towards brain*] and you people believe the craziest shit.” It’s a critique that attacks such psychological nihilism not necessarily for being inaccurate, but for being unfair. There are touches of techno-optimism, for instance when we see machine defectors aid in the reengineering of strawberries. It’s not all rainbows though: the franchise hasn’t grown out of its orientalism — the Tokyo scene is particularly egregious.

The best aspect of this tangled web of narrative and meaning is the overarching conceptual scaffold, which programmatizes the many, varied disparate threads into three contiguous narrative substructures that proceed as follows: 1.) meta-commentary on work 2.) continuation of work  3.) cathartic resolution. The first point here asks a series of open questions pertaining to the nature of the germinal work that the film could never hope to functionally contend with while retaining coherence as an action blockbuster, the terminal border of which is delineated by the head-popping conclusion to the meta-circling with Bugs proclaiming “Welcome to the real world.” The second shifts focus onto a conventional narrative continuation of the series, settling into a less direct relationship between narrative form and function. The third concludes this structure by drawing from the only font of meaning that could seal the open wounds still gaping from the first third: love. It’s explicitly taking a shortcut here, but it’s a shortcut that works because we want it to; love stories are so potent, so deeply felt, that they cut through the detritus at the periphery of being. Put another way by The Analyst: “What validates and makes your fictions real? Feelings.” (Which is, of course, a pessimistic framing. It seems fair to argue that a little fiction is worth it for true love.) The narrative is still bearing conceptual lode here, though, in continuation of the prior third, and in particular the final scene with its optimistic but ultimately somewhat uncertain rejection of behaviorism-esque analyses & systems. Putting aside the effectiveness with which it was deployed here, this schema is a strong vessel for a project of this ilk.

The screenplay, for its part, is, on balance, tight, economic, cleverly functional, and more than a little too on the nose — in short, the kind of thing that would have bowled audiences over in the ‘90s. But it’s also very 2020s in that it recognizes its own failings to confront the current moment. In totality, Resurrections is overwrought and under-imagined, a problem so chronic to contemporary Hollywood that it has essentially become a genre that the studio system specializes in.

The question then persists: what is The Matrix: Resurrections?

Well, it’s the first Matrix movie fully shot in digital. With its heavy employment of digital film language and internal focus on digital technology, it’s easy to forget that The Matrix was shot on celluloid, much like the vast majority of cinema in that era. But in the 2020s, film is as redundant and immaterial to the make of cinema as magnetic tape is to television, though not without a plethora of denouncements from conservative film traditionalists. Given all this, in tandem with the fundamental subject of The Matrix, what Resurrections does formally with the language of pixels and binary encoding is as material to its conceptual output as its narrative configuration, if not more so.

Of course, this new visual design brings changes. Most widely remarked upon is the drastic expansion to full-spectrum color, which has its flashes of beauty, but the general application of the larger chromatic range is disorganized, and at various junctures collapses into the truly awful. In reality, the more limited the color palette, the easier to paint compellingly with it. Consider the radical application of aesthetics in German Expressionism; how easily would Robert Wiene have been able to translate his forms into full-spectrum color? Wachowski bit off more than she was prepared to chew there, but the results weren’t all bad, and this all operates as part of a broader shift towards subtlety in the visual aestheticization of the worlds of The Matrix. The stark visual architecture of the Matrix in the trilogy that aggressively depicted the hollow artifice and suffocating conformity of banal metropolises through repetition and computer-generated plasticity is moderated in Resurrections into a structurally coherent depiction of that world, which nevertheless could have appeared in any other big budget action film unaltered without raising an eyebrow. It’s not exactly transcendent, but perhaps it’s not supposed to be; it’s representational, reflecting our socio-cultural moment in formal terms that parallel narrative function (and in literal terms, the Matrix would be unexceptional — that’s the whole point). 

Another major departure is the near-uniform use of handheld Steadicam to shoot Resurrections; in virtually every shot, there’s a bit of shake or motion in the camerawork. While certainly a bold choice, in practice it doesn’t work at all, imposes an awkward indeterminacy onto everything, disrupts and disempowers the already limp, scattershot editing rhythms, and further compounds general framing issues. Worst of all, it’s distinctly analog; the camerawork captures a humanness of movement that neuters any remnants of efforts to capture the simulation in a way that visually accentuates the intrinsic qualities of such a precise system, and its uniformity lacks the flexibility to pull back when necessary. The film was also reportedly directed to music prepared earlier, which is an idea that needs to be implemented more widely, to have form flow from form. The results are interesting, and there’s an evident living relationship between the score and the sequence. Elsewhere, the cinematography was initially handled by John Toll, who left mid-production and was replaced by longtime camera operator Daniele Massaccesi, and there does seem to be a variation in their work. Toll finding the best compositions in conventional stagings, where Massacessi has more flare but less finesse — but this is mere theory, as it’s impossible to be sure of their exact contributions. What is certain is that Toll & Massaccesi made much of the natural lighting that the former is known for. It’s a major departure from Bill Pope’s work on the trilogy, but it’s always there in the most striking photographic moments scattered throughout the runtime, an irreducible element of the warmer tones the film weaves in its rare but best moments.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Unfortunately, Wachowski’s formal ambitions largely haven’t evolved to match the medium. The photography is considerably weighed down by a commitment to a hard optical naturalism, a vision in which photography dictates visual structure and subjugates the application of digital language. It’s unimaginative, but it’s also squarely in the center of the filmmaking consensus that Lana Wachowski, John Toll, et al have operated within for their entire careers. This is encapsulated in the much-touted “new bullet time,” an incredible cinematographic feat in which parallel cameras shot the same sequence at different frame rates and shutter speeds, the footage then taken into the editing room, digitally corrected for the asynchrony and randomness of the Steadicam, and finally sutured together into a sequence that retains a coherent replication of the original performances of Keanu Reeves and Neil Patrick Harris while they occupy the same space but nevertheless allows them to slow down and speed up relative to one another. But while technically astounding, this new “bullet time” is functionally indistinguishable from CGI techniques utilized in 2000s Nollywood video film productions. The justification was seemingly to retain the “authenticity” of capturing the two actors performing together, but the idea that there is anything inherently worthwhile about this result is pure actor-worship magical thinking. 

All that skill, ingenuity, and expertise is employed only to avoid a ubiquitous, superior technology that can accomplish the same feat better, more cheaply, with greater precision, and with a far broader range of visual potentialities. It’s certainly fair to admire the work and innovation behind this feat, but the innovators are simply digging deeper into an empty well: we’ve understood since Newton the technical possibilities of conventional macro-scale camera optics, and what can be done with a traditional camera (i.e., one that works in the way that we typically understand a camera) in the controlled environment of a theatrical set will almost certainly be optimized and innovated and perhaps even radically improved upon well into the future, but will still be forever limited by conventional optics. Digital graphics have no such limit; in theory, they are only bound by the extent of human effort applied to the creation and use of visual tools on computers, the confines of human perception, and theorized time-enforced limits to computational power (though this last one is debatable, and only becomes relevant when dealing with visual and/or temporal scales of magnitude larger than any video or film ever meaningfully screened). Surely, we should not let our usage of this grand potential be limited to attempts to tweak the conditions of photography when we can mold the image as we please upon letting go of such notions of “authenticity.”

These formal avenues likewise do not translate well elsewhere. The action scenes are awful: muddy, low-weight, messily edited, as geometrically evocative as a smudge of paint. Tonally, it’s often flaccid, with the moments that need to speak magic often just barely managing to, and the rest realized as monotonous chaff that thinks but doesn’t feel. The cut is purely functional, but even against that baseline its use is disappointing. The editing is beset by lopsided rhythms and temporal imprecision, and does a remarkably poor job of navigating the viewer through the spaces of the film with anything outside of practical narrative function in mind; the interplay between spaces is determined only in relation to continuity. The mise-en-scène is all drawn in the same textures that grace the surfaces of every artlessly shot direct-to-streaming digital feature, and is utterly put to shame by all the clips of the original trilogy that are littered throughout, rife with visual depth and tonal acuity.

If this all makes it sound like Resurrections’ failure was inevitable, it wasn’t, at least not in the abstract. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence had a similar mandate, and is in some ways a similar work; beyond the conceptual overlaps, each is a knotted, philosophically dense maze that aesthetically differentiates itself from its predecessor(s). Though initially divisive, Innocence has come to be recognized as the superior Ghost in the Shell film. Its approach is instructive as to the choices made in Resurrections; rather than turning inward or seeking to extend the first film, Mamoru Oshii schematizes Innocence around a series of enduring pillars in the theoretical landscape, and constructs the film in the interplay between that schema and a visual, tonal, experiential mode of narrative. Innocence goes far further than GitS, deliberately excavating its structure, digging deep beneath its floors and surfacing with a more holistic set of answers for the viewer. Oshii doesn’t shy away from the possibilities of the expanded formal range opened up by access to generative animation, and instead aggressively uses it, even in the limited state that it existed in circa 2004. And all of this while retaining internal coherence and gesturing toward the narrative extension of GitS that keeps it accessible to the mass market necessary to fund such a project. It is in every regard a more successful work than Resurrections.

All the above notwithstanding, some credit still must be given to The Matrix: Resurrections. It’s an odd ouroboros of a movie, and it’s tough to recall another film of such high profile so conspicuously cannibalizing itself. It also appears to at least be a personal film reflective of genuine and firmly-held sentiments from its creators, and it’s admittedly tough to be too mad at a film bearing that much honesty and meaningfully representational aspects of the current moment. That’s to say, there’s enough here that despite the decidedly mixed reaction that has met the fourth Matrix film, it’s also likely to receive a reevaluation down the line. Its postmodernism, complex relationship with the recent past, and successful attempt at aestheticizing the current year suggest that, if the 2020s eventually has its moment of retrospective glory like the aughts has been having, M4 seems to be the kind of work emblematic of this era, and thus a vessel for whatever virtue future consensus might find in that current day.

Of course, Resurrections also has defenders in the immediate. For a while now, there’s been a strand of mainstream criticism that holds that the issue with whichever dominant cinematic franchise we wish to cast our ire toward is that such films are impersonal, focus-grouped, algorithm-optimized misallocations of the prodigious resources behind them. If only a real director took the reins of such a production and fashioned it into something more, a message movie, fitted with an auteurial fingerprint that Andrew Sarris would certify, then value would be established. For such viewers, Resurrections may be enough, but that leaves plenty of us wanting.

Take the adjacent cultural moment that was/is “elevated horror,” a movement founded on the misconception that great horror is great because it’s about something, that it has serious ideas to present, elevating it from the famously uneven landscape of the broader genre — see the subgenre’s inaugural films like Get Out (about racism), It Follows (about STDs), or The Babadook (about how annoying children can be). It didn’t pan out too well, with the term now used mostly derisively, and sentiment among horror aficionados has it that we need less finely calibrated allegories about deep-rooted social issues and personal traumas, and more off-the-chain movies about possessed lawnmowers on murderous rampages. The same goes with regard to big-budget franchise flicks. We might think we want the latest sequel/reboot to be a personal film with introspection on the nature of the franchise that spawned it, but imagine how awful it would be if we actually got that across the board. Instead, what The Matrix Resurrections best illustrates is that there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we conceive of and make cinema. The message isn’t enough; or rather, the medium must be the message.

Let’s step back from Matrix talk for a moment. In the 2014 lecture “The Cinema is Dead, Long Live The Cinema: Taming the Shrew of Chaos: Ordering the Frame & the Narrative,” provocative and divisive British filmmaker and painter Peter Greenaway outlined his vision for the future of cinema. In it, he identifies the limiting factors of the cinematic arts as currently constituted: A.) that cinema is by nature a visual art that has been bastardized into a vehicle for “illustrated text” like Jane Austen adaptations that solely aspire to carry a coherent, naturalistic articulation of the content of the novel, with further aesthetics at best an afterthought. Greenaway characterizes any film that flows from text — in its conception, in its possession of narrative, etc. — as illustrated text; after all, narrative is most primarily for children, helping them to make sense of the world; B) that the frame as currently utilized is unnecessarily restrictive; C) in general, visual literacy is absent from almost all layers of culture in a way that is deleterious to our comprehension of visual forms and a loss for the arts, culture, and society at large. To remedy this, he prescribes a radical new iteration of the cinema that uses the digital to shatter the ceiling of filmic possibility. This cinema must be: non-narrative, present tense (i.e., confronting the present), multiple-screen, environmentally integrated into the space it is shown, post-conventional rectangular frame, and which allows the ability of audience members to ambulate. As you have likely picked up, what he’s proposing is a permutation of the video installation.

It’s likely nobody alive would agree with everything that Greenaway is saying (particularly some of the most *ahem* polemical comments he makes — not transposed here), including Greenaway himself, but it’s likely most can agree it’s nonetheless a glorious future he is willing into existence with this lecture: a new mode of experiential visual art that magnifies the most significant innate qualities of the cinema and centers experience. While it might not be plausible that this could be actualized as a mass medium in the configuration Greenaway advances here, these are the kinds of dimensions that prospective evolutions of cinema could extend into. Let’s then propose one more, which to my mind may be the most important: it should seek to truly use the expanded formal range of digital cinema — for example, one could use computer animation/VFX to alter filmed space into geometric combinations described by non-Euclidean geometries: a whole world of visual potential almost entirely unexplored at present. These propositions aren’t a manifesto that should be followed religiously; they are attributes that filmmakers should be looking toward incorporating into their work. They are not exclusive, but they do give an indication toward what avenues are open to be pursued by an adventurous filmmaker.

It’s tough not to be optimistic — perhaps if irrationally justified — about the commercial and cultural appetites for such a cinema. People yearn for visual spectacle, and a fully-realized cinema in the direction gestured at here would certainly be that. Films of this kind that aspire to be structurally sophisticated works in the visual arts canon might also be able to reassert the theatrical funding model in a way adjacent to paintings; you can access copies of virtually every celebrated painting in the world for free online, but swaths of people still pay to see them in galleries. And it’s not like there haven’t been precedents: the centerpiece of the annual and massively popular Vivid festival in Sydney actually meets all of the conditions laid out by Greenaway — a work in which non-narrative cinema is projected onto the Sydney Opera House. The concept was originated by Brian Eno as a series of “light paintings” adjacent to his video work, and it has proved so successful that it has become a citywide institution, the sails of the Opera House becoming their own cinema, complete with advertisements! Take also Guy Maddin’s already legendary Seances: a film shot in theatrical stagings in art museums (very literally “exhibited theater” — but with perpetual reference to the visual syntax of the screen) and structured in its online presentation such that each viewing is completely unique, the massive banks of footage edited algorithmically, for the most part retaining coherence within micro-scenes, taking arbitrary footage sourced from Internet video and using it to shatter the illusion of its internal presentation. The experience is entrancing, much like the experience its title recalls. Due to its structure, one must view it several times to get anything of a substantial grasp of what it really is, but unlike Vivid, Seances meets none of Greenaway’s criteria, and only just meets the additional one posited in this essay. Still, it’s clearly a substantial step toward a post-cinema cinema. It’s decoupled from the rigid linear temporality that mediums which feature duration are almost universally bolted down by, and it’s experientially diverse — surely a contender for the widest range in any individual work. Seances, Vivid, Greenaway’s rules: while they by no means define the avenues new artistic endeavors must pursue, they are instructive in what is possible in mass media — small points of light illuminating the great void beyond the narrow, well-lit halls of convention. 

Credit: Vivid Sydney

Equally instructive is an extrapolation of the artistry from distinguished innovators past: video artists like Ed Emshwiller and the Vasulka brothers, who aggressively employed the new possibilities of video and still sit atop the mound of filmmakers who have successfully utilized the greatest formal range, and others like Yang Fudong who have moved from cinema to exhibited video, allowing their structure to become uninhibited, their form increasingly flowing from sources other than text. There isn’t space here to do these great artists the justice of a proper introduction, but their work is certainly work seeking out a glimpse of these future possibilities. Taking their ethos and the artistic vectors they have established, and applying them to our current moment, is another way to envision what lies outside of Plato’s cave.

An elephant that might perhaps be hiding in the room is the comparative assessment of filmic technologies. It’s been said already in this essay, but let’s just dispense with any uncertainty: digital is a fundamentally superior technology to celluloid. IMAX grade 65/70mm film, the highest resolution celluloid format ever meaningfully used in mass-scale film production, is roughly equivalent to 12K, and 12K is just an arbitrary format. 16K cinema is already in production and usage, and there are commercial digital cameras with resolutions of up to 64K. Digital also unfastens the rigid temporal limitations on celluloid resolution; framerate can be double, quadruple, or octuple convention, and possibly far beyond. Using CGI and color-grading is borrowing from the language of digital, just as much as incorporating footage shot on celluloid in a digital picture is borrowing from the language of celluloid, except that incorporating celluloid into digital largely retains the scalability advantages of the latter, while the reverse does not. Celluloid is vastly more expensive both in production and distribution. Digital film language has, at its upper limit, complete autonomy over the visual state of each constituent pixel or quanta of the image, at every moment, a formal range exceeding that of celluloid by orders of magnitude. Even if we are to grant celluloid its 70mm IMAX best self (very rarely used and, for most people in the world, impossible to watch in its native state without prohibitive lengths of travel) in this regard and limit of conception of digital to mundane 4K, which many today can shoot on their phones, the fundamental asymmetry in the technical potential of what can be done with visual language across the two mediums is terminal for celluloid in this contest. And even if you just pine for stories to be told on the silver screen from within scratchy prints earmarked by the occasional cigarette burn, things simply aren’t going back to the way they were. The scalability advantage digital has over celluloid is as profound as the same divide between early cinema and theater that lead to the ascendance of the screen, and even if a commercially viable environment for the production and distribution of celluloid films can be maintained, it will be necessarily relegated to a niche fraction of the feature film market, which is already a niche fraction of digital video — because, in a sense, we live today in the primary age of cinema. 

Indeed, what are YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms that host video but new avenues of film distribution that engender new modes of filmmaking within the Deleuzian conception of “Cinema,” or an expansion of Gene Youngblood’s “Expanded Cinema” to incorporate the wider concentric circle of Internet video? Video is watched now more than any other time in history, videos are of greater cultural, political, and generally communicative significance to the populace today than any other media form in history. “Me at the zoo,” the first video uploaded to YouTube, is the Eadweard Muybridge of Internet video, and per that analogy, we are still in the very, very early formative years of this new medium. It is bound by what Peter Watkins might call a monoform, a rigid, all-encompassing set of formal conventions that stifle it; and there is such a set of rigid conventions currently imposed on each major space that these works can exist in. It’s not that such works are not considered art by those who make them, though often they are not, but that there is little impulse to expand their ambition, to artistically and formally experiment, and certainly not in radical ways. And this isn’t entirely organic — to a large degree, it’s externally imposed by the companies in control of these platforms, to generate more attention by appealing to the cheapest of human impulses, and to keep their environments sanitized and orderly on large scales and sweeping the oddities under the rug where only those already looking will find them. But the potential is there, and the medium is certainly here to stay. Internet video is going to engulf other forms, even more completely than it already has. It is the present and future, and it can be used for art, if artists are there to utilize it for that purpose.

What is really failing you is today’s inadventurous digital orthodoxy, exemplified by both Matrix: Resurrections and the formulaic, monoformal embryonic form of Internet video that is being imposed. We need a return to what Grierson and Deleuze found in the cinema, a cinema of modernity that grapples with the present, rather than one that stumbles into it as a product of being aware of its own inadequacies, or one that is contemporary because is popular monoformal work elevated from within a new mass media environment. We need to exceed the kind of representational thinking that Lana Wachowski typifies with Resurrections. Filmmaking must be transformational. Wachowski et al., are truly the vanguard of an antiquated perception of the cinema.

Most crucially, our day and age doesn’t just facilitate the cinema argued for here, it necessitates it. In 2022, more people are alive than have ever been alive at any other point in time. The average person today is vastly more educated than the greatest intellectuals throughout much of history. Billions of us also have access to the most advanced tool for mass communication and the purveyance of information ever devised. The average person can access the attentions of multitudes far beyond the capabilities of the most influential and powerful people 150 years ago. So it isn’t exactly surprising that visual forms devised at a time when almost 10% of the adult population of America couldn’t read — and altered far less than we would like to believe since then — are struggling a bit at present. Most of our cinema today doesn’t merely fail on a profound level to address the moment, even in the representational terms that Wachowski attempts, but it fails to even have a sufficient conception of the present to address; or if it does have one, it has entirely retreated from it. What was the last film you saw that tackled developments new in society from the last ten years with an equally new methodology? Resurrections is a rare semi-example, and is almost unique in its success in the representational terms it limits itself to. What really sinks it is that it was boxed in from the outset. The considerations that shape what the film can be — conceptually, theatrically, structurally, experientially — are so limiting that when being present-tense is added to the Venn diagram the film crammed into such a tiny crevice, it’s frankly a miracle that we ended up with something that works as often as it does. But the space in which a Matrix film could exist today, make a profit, be somewhat contemporary, and fall within the narrow parameters of conventional coherence is so limiting that there is no room for artistry. Narrative film is by its nature painted into a corner, and it’s time to let go. In a disorganized postmodernity, the new modes that are outlined throughout this essay can address our moment, in representational and transformational terms. 

In response to the factors here outlined, many have turned away from the contemporary. “Cinema is dead,” they cry. Even Greenaway makes this pronouncement during his talk. So is there any merit to it? Before we can resolve that, we must first have a standardized conception of “cinema.” Greenaway is referring to cinema in the modes with which it is most widely distributed, the narrative film, the feature, but not the avant-garde, new modes of video, etc. And in that context, it’s easy to find agreement, but “dead” is more than a bit hyperbolic. Most making these kinds of statements aren’t drawing such a distinction though. Shrinking your conception of true cinema to a time when the bulk of global work was the purview of white men is a markedly worse outlook than one that apologizes for the failings of present works like Resurrections, and it doesn’t matter how much you like Mikio Naruse. Appealing to the past in exclusion of the present is empty elitism. Those prematurely ceding the struggle are the architects of the demise of cinema. We can’t let our contemporary become a new digestion of art and artistry that is fast disappearing in our rearview mirror. We now sit at a fork in the road between techno-feudalism and something better, and a corresponding fork in the course of cinema. On one path, those who want to engage with contemporary American cinema are forced to eat from the rotting corpse of the studio system or be buried alive under the monoform. On the other, a better cinema comes to be. Let’s make the world a better place.