After years of speculation, Lilly Wachowski has finally given us confirmation that The Matrix trilogy is an allegory of the transgender experience. Although it is obvious to anyone who filters popular media through the lens of woke issues that Neo’s struggle to understand and accept his identity represented the conflict every transgender person faces, to have it verified by one of the writers is a significant step forward in the fight for equality. Some might question the reason as to why it’s taken so long for Lilly, who is herself transgender, to speak up about this and why she chose to highlight it now: ‘(In 1999) …the world just wasn’t ready for it’ she explains in a video. Some have said it’s an effective way to bring The Matrix franchise back into the public sphere and promote interest for the release of The Matrix 4 which is scheduled to hit cinemas early 2022, but I dismiss this as pure TERFery.
After watching Lilly Wachowski’s brave statement I was inspired to take a look at other movies made before the year 2000 to see if they too contained any cleverly hidden symbolism relating to trans inclusion. I spent an entire week on my sofa, remote control in hand, perusing Netflix and Prime while eating chocolate with rollers in my hair because that’s what us girlies do (deal with it), and my word, I uncovered plenty! It’s astounding how many movies are actually about something other than their surface themes if you’re willing to dig deep enough. The following is an in-depth study of three of the most compelling ones I came across.
Space Jam (1996)
This part live-action, part animated sports comedy starring Michael Jordan was a big hit on its release, enjoyed by children and adults alike. But you can bet your golden ass not a single one of them understood the trans-affirmative subtext contained within its conventional narrative. Jordan plays a version of himself in this movie that is somewhat out-of-kilter to his real life persona. ‘Michael Jordan’ the ‘character’ is a watered-down family-friendly version of Michael Jordan the human being, created in order to conform to the movie’s script. For me this very much echoes the way in with trans people and gender non-conforming individuals are made to feel as if we need to adapt to the world around us rather than that world seeking to accept us. As if this initial set-up isn’t enough of a giveaway, at the beginning of the movie Jordan’s ‘character’ announces his plan to retire from basketball so that he can pursue a career in baseball. To me this scenario right off the bat (pun intended) just screams ‘gender transition’. When he tries his hand at baseball he is cruelly undermined by his opponents and patronized by his team mates, the ‘cis’ baseball players if you will, until he feels he is not ‘good enough’ to play a ‘different sport’. This struck so many chords with me it felt like a Mooney Suzuki concert (an obscure band, you wouldn’t know them) was blasting out at full volume in my brain. When he walks away from the pitch shaking his head after getting a strikeout, it’s like he’s saying, ‘why won’t people accept me as the gender non-conforming individual I know that I am?’. At this point I had seen enough, but apparently later on there’s a bunch of cartoon animals and stuff which I have no doubt will only strengthen my theory of this movie.
On the face of it, Misery is a movie about a guy who gets kidnapped by a woman who tortures him until he eventually manages to escape by smashing her in the face with a typewriter. However, if you watch this movie while in possession of at least a modicum of intelligence, you will discover it is so much more than that. James Caan’s character, Paul Sheldon, is in fact hallucinating the entire ordeal. His kidnapper, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) is actually a figment of his imagination. Wilkes represents the feelings of anger, fear and confinement Paul (a trans man) is battling with as he comes to terms with his gender identity. ‘Misery’, the name of the woman in the series of books he’s written, is in fact Paul’s female persona. Throughout the movie he desperately attempts to rid himself of ‘Misery’ (the gender he was assigned at birth), while Wilkes (his subconscious self-loathing) pressures him into keeping Misery alive. It’s a movie about conversion therapy, and the ways in which gender dysphoria can make us feel trapped and tortured in our own bodies until one day we summon the courage to erase our ‘old self’ (the scene in which Paul sets fire to his final Misery novel) and live our lives as authentically as we can (symbolized by Paul eventually escaping).
Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
Larry and Richard’s boss, Bernie Lomax, is murdered by a drug lord and they are forced into the ludicrous situation of having to pretend his corpse is actually still alive in order to maintain the status quo. Granted, the plot of this movie at first glance doesn’t lend itself to a trans-inclusive narrative, so let’s examine this scenario in a little more detail. Now, the fact that the boss character gets his name featured in the title set my trans antenna twitching. He’s DEAD. His NAME is in the title. He causes the main characters a lot of stress and panic throughout the entire movie. They feel as if they have to keep him alive in order to not be ostracized from the luxury resort they are staying at. Yes, that’s right. This is a movie about deadnaming and the horrifying impact it can have on trans people. As soon as I realized this, the movie became a different animal entirely. It went from simply being a kooky black comedy, to a sensitive and at times uncomfortably raw study of the trans experience. When the boys are forced to rig up a pulley system to look as if Bernie is waving at people, it really brought home to me the lengths trans people have to go to in order to keep the cisgender people surrounding them from rejecting us. Every jovial wave of ‘Bernie’s’ arm in that scene represents a trans person being dead-named but remaining silent in order to not rile TERFs. At the end of the movie, Bernie’s corpse is deposited on a beach where a small boy nonchalantly scoops buckets of sand over his body. This scene, representing childlike innocence and acceptance as ‘Bernie’ is finally ‘buried’, had me in tears and I stood up to applaud my television screen. I haven’t seen Weekend at Bernie’s 2 yet, but I am hoping it covers the side effects of cross-hormone treatment.
You’ve probably noticed I chose not to include the more obvious examples of trans allegorical movies (for example: Transformers, Mrs Doubtfire, Chicken Run, Mr Popper’s Penguins, Schindler’s List et cetera). This was because I felt certain plenty of in-depth studies on these films and their subsequent impact on cisneg gender-related issues will already exist somewhere. Instead, I opted to include the ones which resonated most profoundly with my own experiences of navigating a trans-hostile world. Overall I found rewatching many of these movies a wonderfully cathartic experience.