“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
The words Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus spoke to Keanu Reeve’s Neo in The Matrix were a prologue to pulling back the digital curtain on a vast simulation that had captured humanity. Now they are the keys to understanding what we’re seeing 22 years later in the new trailer for the followup film The Matrix Resurrections.
The whole “red pill/blue pill” analogy has been seized as a metaphor for any life-altering awakening—and its use (or misuse) was famously dissed by original Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski when Elon Musk and Ivanka Trump tried to appropriate it. The concept originally came from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which the heroine experiences her own drastic perspective shift when she grows gigantic after eating a cake marked “Eat Me” and shrinks to nearly nothing by drinking a potion labeled “Drink Me.”
Two decades later, Alice references abound in trailer for The Matrix Resurrections in both overt and subtle ways. A copy of Carroll’s 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass literally appears in one shot, but the movie gets even more literal than that when Neo and his new guide use an actual mirror as a magical gateway.
The new film, directed solely by Lana Wachowski, also makes distinctive use of the color blue—a luminous azure similar to the blue pill itself. Is this color’s appearance a sign of suppressing the truth?
Also, why does Neo appear to be back in the “normal” realm of the Matrix after the events of 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, in which he [Spoiler] seemingly gave up his life to free people from their digital prisons? Were humans ever permitted to disengage, as promised by the machines? Did many of them choose to stay in the Matrix, thereby “taking the blue pill,” because the real world was an unlivable hellscape?
And why is Morpheus now in the younger form of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II? How is Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity back? Why does she no longer remember Neo, and vice versa?
Those questions won’t be answered now, obviously. But there is a trail to follow that may hint at what’s going on.
Alice Reference #1 — The Cheshire Cat
Without all the subsequent Alice nods, the black cat strutting confidently across the therapist’s desk as Neo watches might simply be a cat. But the Cheshire Cat was a key figure in Carroll’s tales, a sardonic observer who could appear and disappear at will, sometimes leaving only a levitating smile.
A “Cheshire cat” is not a breed of animal, but rather refers to a region of England once famous for dairy production. “Grinning like a Cheshire cat” is a phrase that predates Carroll’s book and often refers to someone who is deeply self-satisfied: like a feline on a farm where milk and cream are plentiful. Or, let’s say, like someone living in a simulation where all their needs are met and they are never challenged.
There’s also another clue about this shot. In Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the cat and Alice have this exchange:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
The therapist Neil Patrick Harris plays has an exchange with Neo that seems to reference that. You might say the dialogue is the mirror opposite:
Neo (a.k.a. “Thomas”): “I’ve had dreams that weren’t just dreams … Am I crazy?”
Therapist: “We don’t use that word in here.”
Alice Reference #2 — The Butterflies
Notice the bright blue of his glasses. It’s the same as the blue of pills that keep you complacent in the matrix. It’s also the same blue as the butterflies framed on the shelves in the background in both the cat shot and the shot of Harris.
Butterflies aren’t a major part of Carroll’s stories, but think about who was: the hookah-smoking caterpillar who has a looping “Who are you?” conversation with Alice in which the Caterpillar rejects her feelings about change and metamorphosis.
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar…
“Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,” said Alice; “but when you have to turn into a chrysalis—you will some day, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”
“Not a bit,” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,” said Alice; “all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.”
If Harris represents the Blue Caterpillar, those frames decorating his office would simply be allusions to his more mature relatives.
Alice Reference #3 — The Song
Is there anyone alive who hasn’t heard Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and is there anyone who doesn’t recognize immediately it’s about psychedelic drug use filtered through Alice in Wonderland? The Matrix Resurrections begins with the familiar bass line and marching thrum before Grace Slick’s vocals kick in: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small …”
Later, we see a character identified by a rabbit tattoo just as Slick sings, “And if you go chasing rabbits / And you know you’re going to fall.”
All of this is just an appetizer to, let’s say, feed your head.
Alice Reference #4 — The Duck
Neo is seen in a bath, looking miserable. Strangely, there’s a rubber duckie sitting on his head.
The Duck is not a major player in Carroll’s books, but he does turn up along with some other waterfowl when Alice cries so hard about being gigantic that she creates a flood.
She soon made out that she was in the pool of tears which she had wept when she was nine feet high. “I wish I hadn’t cried so much!” said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.”
This is obviously Neo at his lowest point. Tears actually stream down his face into the tub. But like Alice, he won’t continue to wallow.
… It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.
Alice Reference #5 — The Book
We don’t learn much about Priyanka Chopra’s unspecified character except that she wears immense glasses—and when she appears, with Neo approaching her in a cafe, the song tells us to “Go Ask Alice …” We glimpse a copy of her book: Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. The text on the open page is blurry and upside down, but a closer examination reveals it’s from Chapter II, “The Garden of Live Flowers”:
The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?” thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, “Faster! Don’t try to talk!”
Alice Reference #6 — The Rabbit
Carroll’s punctuality-obsessed White Rabbit is the one who led a curious Alice into Wonderland. Jessica Henwick’s character serves a similar purpose. Not only does she have a rabbit tattoo, but the song lyric during her first appearance is, “And if you go chasing rabbits…”
As if you needed one more reference to drive the point home, Henwick’s character is named “Bugs.”
What purpose does she serve? If Neo’s goal is to escape the Matrix, where is Bugs taking him? In Carroll’s world, the Rabbit only led Alice deeper, eventually putting her into the deadly court of The Red Queen.
Maybe escape is not actually Neo’s goal anymore. Maybe he wants to go deeper, to escape reality. To inhabit a world that is comfortable rather than terrifying. That would be a reversal of everything we expect.
Consider the look of Bugs, with her distinctive hair. It’s bright blue, like the pill that lets you “stay in Wonderland.” It’s the same as the glasses on the therapist telling Neo he’s not crazy.
Alice Reference #7 — Looking-Glasses
Bugs takes Neo through a rooftop door, and the puddle of water at their feet does the same, mirroring their actions above as they pass through into what looks like a stately hotel room through the lens of another mirror.
Neo in a mirror taking his blue prescription. Neo in an elevator, looking up at the ceiling mirror while everyone else looks down into their screens.
When Neo encounters Morpheus, his dojo is centered in a still lake that creates a mirrored image. (For what it’s worth, this iteration of Morpheus is dressed from head to toe in bright red, like the pill that awakens you.)