A cyborgpunk resurrection

[Note: This is not a movie review; I have watched the movie only once, I do not know how to analyze shots and cinematography. Also, there may be spoilers below. I advise caution if you care a little too much about spoilers.]

To call Resurrections a cyberpunk movie is inadequate. It is a cyborgpunk movie.

Feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway in her pathbreaking text A Cyborg Manifesto defined a “cyborg” as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction”. Lana Wachowski’s latest addition to the Matrix cineverse, The Matrix Resurrections (Resurrections in short) is a beautiful and evocative imagination of Haraway’s cyborg that challenges the very boundaries between fiction and reality that limit our existence. In taking up this challenge, not only does Resurrection question the nature of reality, but also allows us the radical possibility of producing realities as we interact with the world through our politics. In essence, Resurrections is about breaking free of limits on our consciousness and coalitions – and in the process, produce new consciousnesses and coalitions. It is Haraway’s cyborg resurrected in the future, but holds the same possibilities for imagining new (and not better) worlds.


I use the term “resurrected” in the last sentence above quite carefully. “Rebirth” and “reincarnation” – two words that come quite close, but don’t make the cut – indicate a transfer of soul/spirit/consciousness from one body to another after death. “Resurrection”, however, is in essence “coming back to life after death”. Neo and Trinity are, therefore, resurrected in Wachowski’s Resurrections (no surprise!).


There is, however, more at play here. The philosopher (and some would argue, chemist) Robert Boyle, while trying to prove that resurrection was possible in the natural world that we inhabit, met a rather difficult challenge. Since human bodies decay and are lost to nature after death, if God has to resurrect souls in the same body, God will be tasked by bringing together so many “scatter’d parts…and [reunite in] the same manner wherein they existed in a humane [sic] body”. But Boyle realized soon that even when alive, a human body is not a static system – we are constantly taking in (e.g., food) and shedding (e.g., the process of excretion) matter, and one form of matter is being constantly changed to another to sustain the human body. For Boyle, this observation was profound. All that he had to show to prove resurrection in essence was to show that one form of matter could be changed to another chemically, and the original form of matter be retrieved; Boyle went on to show that camphor dissolved in sulphuric acid loses all it properties (for e.g., characteristic odour, brittle texture, etc.), and when water is added to the mixture, the camphor can be “resurrected”. Through his experiment, Boyle announced to the world that science can be used to test and prove theological principles.


Much like Boyle’s camphor, Neo and Trinity are resurrected in Wachowski’s movie not into his “original body”, but a “rebuilt” body. However, there is a space of contention here – their new bodies were “rebuilt” on the carcasses of their “original” ones, which marks a departure from our traditional understanding of resurrection.


Neo and Trinity are cyborgs not only because their consciousnesses have been intricately tied to and interacting with “machines”, but also because they are products of machines. For Neo and Trinity, there lies an inability to distinguish parts of their bodies and consciousnesses that are, let’s say, “natural”, and parts that are “artificial”. Haraway’s cyborg lies exactly in the ambiguity between “natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed”.


Resurrections’ Morpheus is a cyborg in an even more ambiguous space. This Morpheus, a program constructed by the resurrected Neo (who has been hooked on to the Matrix again), is a consciousness encoded in lines of code. However, this Morpheus can also interact with the physical world with technological help. This Morpheus breaks boundaries between existence and nonexistence, and the physical world and the encoded world. But this Morpheus is also a construction of Neo’s subconscious, and this Morpheus is also Agent Smith; this Morpheus is a transgression of any notion of “individual” identity.


One must remember that the encoded world is not “unreal” in any sense. What is social reality? Calling the purported distinction between science fiction and social reality as an “optical illusion”, Haraway defines social reality as “lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction”. For Haraway, social reality does not exist, but is produced as a result of our political interactions with other consciousnesses – be that human, animal or machine. The image of the world that the matrix offers, therefore, is as real as any other world. To call the matrix world “fiction” is to call every consciousness that produces reality in that world fictional. If every-body/-thing is fictional, then no-body/-thing is fictional.


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As a manifesto, Haraway’s text is tasked with offering insights for the development of a larger political movement. Here, Haraway, like many postmodernists, challenges the nature of “identity” as crucial to building “coalitions”. Rather, in the manifesto, Haraway proposes affinity – which brings to the forefront choice more than any preconceived identity based on shared experiences of oppression – as a tool in building feminist solidarities. The manifesto pushes us to resist blanket totalization of experience that produces categories for identities; the manifesto is an attempt to challenge the act of producing categories in feminist politics.


In a similar vein, Resurrections’ biggest departure from the cyberpunk genre is the transgression of the war between humans and machines. As Bugs tells Neo, who is surprised that sentient machines are working alongside humans, “the definition of ‘our side’ has changed”. In fact, in Resurrections there is no “our side”, there are just coalitions built on affinities, guided by a constant need to challenge and redistribute power.


At its heart, Resurrections is a love story. bell hooks has written about how love is “profoundly political” and “the practice of freedom”. Love and freedom become one in Resurrections, where the only way to be free is to love. It is love that guides the political discourse in the movie, and it is love that liberates.


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Haraway's manifesto also pushes one to think about our identities and how they are constructed, not just by ourselves but by the spaces and discourses we inhabit. For example, Haraway talks about herself as follows:

A PhD in biology for an Irish Catholic girl was made possible by Sputnik’s impact on U.S. national science education policy. I have a body and mind as much constructed by the post-second world war arms race and cold war as by women’s movements.

Similarly, one must ask what are our bodies and minds constructed by? One must ask how these agencies of construction and the product of this construction – our bodies and minds – influence the work we do, the knowledge we produce, and very importantly, the “coalitions” we develop “affinity” towards.

I am not sure if Resurrections answers all these questions, but it certainly pushes us to raise them.


[Note: This piece wouldn't be possible without significantly long discussions with Bishal Kumar Dey and their nuances.]

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Science journalist, communicator and writer