Lost in Transition: Mackenzie Davis and Friends, between Marketing and the Male Gaze - Part III

Image credits: ARAB ASTIGMATISM: Mackenzie Davis as Chelsea from ‘That Awkward Moment’. Check out the cute camel in the background!

By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD



“Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death and destruction.”

--- Sarah Conner, T2: Judgement Day


“A woman should soften but not weaken a man.”

--- Freud



Video Pirates

So, as I said two days ago I was scouring the internet  and was pleased to find that there’s going to be a new Matrix movie, and then found the peculiar statement made by one of the former Wachowski brothers that the original trilogy was a ‘trans’ allegory. I’ve been sceptical of the transgender status of Reno in A Country Called Home so this automatically caught my attention and the character named Switch came to mind in the original Matrix movie. I found confirmation of my suspicion concerning Switch here, but I’m afraid the remainder of Lilly Wachowski’s statements I didn’t find to be convincing at all. I think it’s a marketing ploy. This is called ‘doing a Rowling’, explaining post facto that one of her original characters was gay – she just forgot to mention it, apparently – then squeezing it in afterwards in subsequent books to pander to the market.[1] (How ironic given Rowling’s comments on trans people after that afterwards!)

Watch It Chapter Two (2019) and you will find evidence of this because there are things in it inconsistent with part one, namely one of the characters being gay and secretly in love with the one of the group that gets killed. (In the original novel the young Beverly has sex with the ‘whole’ group to galvanise them in the face of the creature, which would imply that they’re all straight. But they couldn’t film that childhood scene for obvious reasons). The opening sequence of Chapter Two, which has been commented on for its artistic problems, has a gay bashing scene which messes up the storyline and the emphasis on children as the prime victims of Pennywise.

To cite FILMENTO again critics have been wondering why all these distractions were inserted into the movie, along with having the kids reprising their roles again and again throughout. I’d say, again again, it’s a marketing ploy. They were worried about not making as much money as the first movie so they reintroduced the first movie in through the backdoor while also tapping into the new issue of the day, transexuality, or a secondary substitute with homosexuality. (Pakistan actually celebrated its first trans lawyer, plus points for sincerity).

Now take a closer look at the Matrix trilogy. The hacker character of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), for instance, is misidentified as a man by Neo at first and she comments that everybody she knows thinks she’s a man. She has a muscular, athletic frame and a boyish haircut, true enough. But, and I’ve read this repeatedly from the Wachowskis themselves, the non-sexual nature of the character is meant to highlight Neo as the Messiah saviour figure. Her relationship with him is like that of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (PBUH), also a very non-sexual character, despite what they’d done to him and his reputation in The Last Temptation of Christ. Trinity does have a very maternal quality to her and none of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar have sex in general; hence the woman in red and cybersex allusions. Tank also tells Neo that if you live long enough you might finally get to see the underground city of Zion, which implies again that none of them have access to the opposite sex, men and women alike. Remember also that Cypher was in love with Trinity and is jealous of Neo as a consequence, and the lack of sex is one of the reasons he sells out to the Agents policing the illusionary world of the matrix.

Switch (Belinda McClory) is a warrior woman, a no nonsense type when it comes to Neo, and you really feel sorry for her when she gets killed in a cowardly fashion by Cypher. Nonetheless, if she was a hint at transgender issues, it’s a minor thematic mentioned in passing and nothing more. To quote Lily again, she says she wasn’t sure “how present my transness was in the background of my brain as we were writing”.[2] Even Switch herself isn’t into sex, having a Platonic relationship with her teammate, the equally heroic and dedicated Apoc, who is also killed by Cypher. They’re the ones complaining about Mouse being the ‘digital pimp’, if I remember correctly. They’re so dedicated to the cause sex is passé for them, and I got the impression the gender angel was more about equality than anything else. This idea that Switch would have been a man in the real world a woman in the Matrix also doesn’t wash because people in the Matrix are saddled by their residual self-images. It’s not like having an avatar, amazingly enough.

Look at women in the future world of the first Terminator movie; Kyle Reese describes them as good fighters, no more and no less, which is one reason he’s so in love with the legendary mother Sarah Conner. (John Conner or JC is a clear reference to Jesus Christ, with Sarah being the Virgin Mary prototype. The same with James Cole in Twelve Monkeys; Madeleine Stowe’s character, a psychiatrist that helps him out, is very forgiving and maternal and dyes her hair blonde by the end). There’s no trans themes in Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions as far as I can tell. There’s a lesbian scene in the dance sequence in Reloaded, true enough, but that’s just a celebration of sexual freedom at the exact same time you see Neo and Trinity ‘doing’ it. (Yuk!) And Trinity hugs him in the end, again in a very comforting maternalistic way.


EFFEMINATE ALLURE: Persephone (Monica Bellucci), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo (Keanu Reeves), in order of gender impactfulness.


More important still is the conniving character of Persephone, played to voluptuous perfection by Monica Bellucci, and her groomed aristocratic hubby The Merovingian. With all of her forthrightness and warrior ethic, Trinity is humbled – if not humiliated – when Neo is forced to passionately kiss Persephone. And she’s pointing her gun at her in that confrontation scene, the classic phallic symbol, but has to put her gun down when her manly bravado is blunted by Persephone’s lugubrious feminine intrigues. (Or is that loquacious? It’s underhand in all cases, and set in a men’s room of all places). Watch the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending (2015) and you have the two equally bad guys, Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and Titus (Douglas Booth), portrayed in a very effeminate way indeed. (Eddie Redmayne is the ‘boy’ from The Danish Girl, pun intended. In this movie he almost looks like Jared Kushner). This is the decadent aristocrat motif, portraying bad men as ‘unmanly’, and while feminism is highlighted at points in the story it is muffled repeatedly. You have a funny scene where Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) uses a tampon to stop a bleeding wound in Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), something that pisses off his former mentor, the very manly Sean Bean as Stinger Apini. (Stinger also doesn’t like it when his daughter goes out to the market without him to protect her). But what else happens in the movie? Stinger is forced to betray his friend, because his carefree daughter gets kidnapped, and you have the rectal probing scene involving Jupiter, and the vampire-like Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton).

All this connects to what Peter Lehman said about so-called male castration fantasies. (Why the hell would anybody want to fantasize about that?!!) In my humble opinion the fantasy isn’t so much tied up with castration as emasculation. Remember the kids in Stand by Me (1986) and how they were afraid of being neutered by the bulldog. Checkout the Vienna Boy’s choir, castrato singing scene in The Running Man (1987). Castration more often than not is a power thing between men and other men, or something self-inflicted, according to Reay Tannahill. In the hands of philosophers and psychologists, and cinematic artists, its all just symbolism. Nietzsche being a case in point, seeing modern mass consumerist society with its fake species of individualism as feminising men. (I’m getting this from an interesting review of Fight Club, with its many explicit references to being nutless in the face of corporations and women).

Alas some men, apparently, enjoy not being manly up against a woman and being dominated by a woman, sexually and otherwise.[3] There’s a whole genre of porn about men being betrayed by their wives, and enjoying it if not insisting on it being done in front of them. Ever watch Absolute Power (1997), with the wealthy philanthropist Walter Sullivan ‘sitting in’ on his wife’s many betrayals? I’d wager that Kichizo was getting a kick out of being strangled by a woman and then castrated by that same woman, in post-war Japan, when men were no longer men because their country (in female form) was ruled by the Yankee imperialist white man.

Hence the limp dick syndrome Kichizo suffers from; the incident the story is based on happened in the 1930s but the film is done in such a way that you can’t tell when it’s happening. Serves him right, if you ask me. He probably has sex with Sada because he can pay her to put up with his lacklustre antics in bed, unlike his wife, and note that he has the unmanly profession of managing Geisha girls. Might as well be a pimp, someone who doesn’t deserve to have a pecker to begin with!


Cowgirl Blues

On the topic of peckers, this brings back Reno in A Country Called Home. I saw a video of her character online once and noticed, to my surprise, that she has a pin in her hair, at the back, to hold her hair together and give it a short boyish look. But how could she be a transgender tomboy if she’s using a pin on her hair, a very girlish thing to do? Why not just cut her hair short like an actual boy? There’s also a scene where Reno is sitting on a bench and has her cowboy hat between her open legs. A man wouldn’t do that, on account of having a packet in between his legs. Women have to cross their legs or else its’ too ‘inviting’. (This is like Huckleberry Finn in reverse). I smell a marketing ploy, or some retrospective Rowling-like decision on the part of the marketers, after the movie was already made. (I’d also wager some psychological projection on the part of the director, Anna Axster, as I ‘hinted’ at in my previous review. Did I mention that the ‘boy’ who plays Jack is the director’s husband. No wonder he never shows up, maybe never allowed to show up, in the same scene with Mackenzie!)


GUILT BY ASSOCIATION: From legwork to hair pins. Check out the telltale evidence that a marketing ploy is afoot in ‘A Country Called Home’.


Such techniques are older than we think in Hollywood. I was watching an old, old promo video about the making of Blade Runner the other day and they let slip in the documentary that this future world is drenched in ‘acid rain’. That is blatantly not true. The most Deckard ever does up against the rain is use a newspaper or stand or walk or climb in it. He’d be roasted alive. But, wouldn’t you know it, acid rain (and the environment) was one of the big ‘issues’ of the day, and it pops up in other SF movies of that era; e.g. the low budget Italian flick Hands of Steel (1986).

To finish off, finally, the male gaze is a useful tool to decode much contemporary visual art but is too tight a theoretical category to tell us what’s really going on every time a man makes a movie or sketches a picture. Every movie or painting is its own little universe and the brain is a very flexible thing that can be rewired on a periodic basis. There are just too many equivalent phrases plagued with the same set of problems – colonial gaze, whiteman’s gaze, Orientalizing gaze, objectifying gaze, etc. And in all cases, actresses like Mackenzie Davis bewitch both male actors, and directors, so much that she makes us guys want to be nicer towards womankind. And that applies to lowly film critics too. Till the next time!!!



Special thanks to Marisa, Jill, William, Angela and Said.



[1] Please see Ani Bundel, “Is Dumbledore gay? Why J.K. Rowling’s continual character revisionism is getting old”, NBC News, 24 March 2019. FILMENTO has noted this too with her latest production, Crimes of Grindelwald, which was besotted by similar lack of conviction!

[2] Please see “The Matrix is a ‘trans metaphor’, Lilly Wachowski says”, BBC, 7 August 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-53692435.

[3] I’ve heard that the younger of the Wachowskis originally had a girlfriend that was a Dominatrix, which would explain the leather outfit of Trinity in the first movie, and how it was designed at a sleazy lingerie store. There is also the S&M scene when Neo and Trinity first meet and that emasculation scene for Neo and Trinity with Persephone. Come to think of it, how can they bring back Trinity in the fourth movie is she died in the third? And she wasn’t even online at the time to leave her residual self-image. Come to think of it, the duo of Caine and Stinger are blond and close like ‘brothers’. Hmmm!!


Emad Aysha

Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
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