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Beyond Pandora

Beyond simple curiosity, this is Thinking Too Much. If you're interested in philosophy and/or wild theories, you've come to the right place.

Location: Australia

Paddling somewhere between a mad scientist and an organisational artist. Indecisive, inconsistent and often incoherent.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The fall of Trinity in the Matrix Trilogy

The character of Trinity in the film The Matrix and its sequels The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions in many ways appears to be a subversive figure, a powerful woman who challenges traditional gender stereotypes. This essay shows, through an analysis of the narrative roles she plays – as action hero, as femme fatale, and as love interest – that the subversive power Trinity displays is, however, progressively removed over the course of the trilogy. It should be noted that this essay restricts itself to the portrayal of Trinity within the live-action movies, and so does not take into account evidence from other sources involving her character, notably The Animatrix collection and the video game, Enter the Matrix.

From the opening sequence of The Matrix, Trinity’s subversive potential is clear. ‘A little girl’, unarmed and alone, she quickly and efficiently kills a team of armed, male police officers, forcing us, as Geller points out, to speculate on the status of ‘girl’ in the film [2004, 14]. This opening scene casts Trinity’s character as an action hero, specifically challenging the sociobiological idea that aggression is a masculine trait [Van Krieken 2006, 306], as well as the ‘heterosexual mythology’ that women are in need of rescue [Geller 2004, 11]. As Wolmark [cited in Gillis 2005, 80] argues, in this first movie, Trinity’s capabilities as an action hero actually tend to outshine that of the male hero, Neo. Of particular note, Trinity saves his life by killing an Agent – a feat no one has ever achieved before (yet this is never given much attention by the other characters). Trinity also shows great skill with a number of technologies usually considered to be part of the masculine realm – computers, motorbikes, cars, helicopters, and, perhaps most significantly (due to their phallic symbolism), guns. Such proficiency challenges the idea that these skills can be considered masculine. In fact, a key moment in the movie shows that the action-hero skills displayed by all human characters have been ‘downloaded’ directly into their brains, thus revealing that such skills are not gender-specific.
Trinity retains her role as action hero in the sequels, however her power as such is continually undermined. Firstly, the near-immediate presentation of her death at the start of The Matrix: Reloaded projects through the rest of the movie her imminent failure as an action hero. Secondly, Neo’s ascension to the role of superhero makes her own actions all the more tame by comparison. Lastly, during the one action scene the two have outside the Matrix, Trinity is instantly captured by Bane and held as the damsel in distress, utterly unable to save herself – a weakness that costs Neo his eyes. Trinity’s action-hero powers apparently do not extend outside the Matrix – yet Neo’s do, as, even blinded, he takes on Bane and wins. As Trinity’s most significant gender challenges arise through her role as an action hero, this undermining of the role forces a severe change in the effectiveness of those challenges. It also implies that what really defines her, as a woman, is not what she does, but the relationships she has with men.

Trinity’s second role is as the femme fatale, the ambiguous woman, seductive, desirable, but dangerous – perhaps an appropriate meeting point between action hero and lover – however, it is also a role with a power loss ‘built in’. Her sexuality and mystique is clear at the beginning of the first movie – when she first meets Neo, she dresses relatively provocatively and whispers seductively in his ear about the mysteries of the Matrix. As the embodiment of the enigma of the Matrix itself, she represents that which Neo desperately wants, but cannot yet understand. In a similar vein, she later hints at the secret she keeps regarding a prophecy made to her by the Oracle. The mystique of the femme fatale is certainly a source of power, however as a narrative device she must inevitably be demystified, hence disempowered, by the hero [Alcoff, cited in Gillis 2005, 82]. Once Neo is removed from the Matrix and realises what it is, Trinity effectively loses all significance until the second half of the movie, when she re-establishes her mystique by hinting at the Oracle’s prophecy. Once this, in turn, is revealed, she is transformed into the “stereotypical selfless woman” [Haslam 2005, 106] for the duration of the trilogy. In addition, by withholding from Neo her fate as his lover, Trinity falls neatly into the gender stereotype provided by the sociobiological theory of women as ‘coy’, hiding their interest in order to find a quality mate [Van Krieken 2006, 306]. This is a prediction particularly relevant to Trinity as it has been prophesised that her ‘mate’ will be ‘The One’ - a man beyond the capabilities of other men. Likewise, her sexuality is also a source of power, yet this merely serves to reinforce gendered, heterosexual assumptions as it is only displayed in relation to Neo (and, to some extent, Cypher), thus defining her through her relationships with men. In the latter movies, Trinity’s particular kind of love for Neo tends to render this power moot, for while Neo would likely do anything for her, she never asks him to. Doane [cited in Gillis 2005, 79] explains these apparent contradictions in the position of power of the femme fatale by the idea that “[The femme fatale] is an ambivalent figure because she is not the subject of power, but its carrier.” Trinity, therefore, is the centre of power, the catalyst for action, yet she herself has none. This is never clearer than at the end of The Matrix: Reloaded, when Trinity, unable to save herself, falling to her death, is shown by the Architect to be the very thing that empowers/defines Neo, setting him apart from previous incarnations of the One. Finally, the taming or death of the femme fatale is no surprise, for as Doane [cited in Gillis 2005, 82] argues, “The power accorded to the femme fatale is a function of fears linked to the notions of uncontrollable drives, the fading of subjectivity and the loss of conscious agency… Her textual eradication involves a desperate reassertion of control on the part of the threatened male subject. She is not the subject of feminism but a symptom of male fears about feminism.” If the only appropriate progress of such a woman is her taming, then it is implied that the only appropriate role for a woman to play is one of subservience to her man.

Trinity’s final role in the trilogy is her relationship to Neo as lover. While her love and devotion to him is unquestionably returned, it is through this role that she can be seen to lose any sense of autonomy. In the first movie, Trinity’s developing relationship with Neo is not characterised by a loss of independence – in fact, she makes it clear that Neo is subservient to her when he attempts to keep her from his plans to rescue Morpheus:

NEO: What are you doing?
TRINITY: I’m coming with you.
NEO: No you're not.
TRINITY: No? Let me tell you what I believe. I believe Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe if you are serious about saving him then you are going to need my help and since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don't like it then I believe that you can go to hell, because you aren't going anywhere else. [Wachowski and Wachowski 1998, 102]

This aspect of their relationship is completely reversed in The Matrix: Reloaded when Neo asks Trinity to stay out of a complicated plan to go to the Source (where he meets the Architect). She accepts, even though she clearly doesn’t understand why, and only changes her mind because Neo’s life becomes threatened. In a very real way, Trinity has become completely devoted to Neo, and he to her – however, while Neo must also struggle with the fate of humanity and his role as the One, Trinity’s singular narrative purpose is to support Neo. She takes no action in either of the sequels other than to do as he wishes, or to rescue him from his situation. In contrast to the various men in the film, she takes no position in matters of religion, warfare or politics, reinforcing the idea that such issues of high culture are not for women, who are best suited to the domestic sphere [Van Krieken 2006, 314]. Trinity’s loss of self due to her love for Neo can even be pinpointed in the movies as an almost physical transfer of power – after she kisses Neo at the end of The Matrix, her power and autonomy greatly diminish, while he moves from a death-state to superhero. When Neo kisses her at the end of the final movie, she dies.

Through the limited options provided by her narrative roles, Trinity clearly falls victim to some of the extremes of gender stereotyping – she is coy, subservient, helpless despite herself, lacks autonomy, confines herself to her domestic role and dies in the service of her lover. Her transformation from the first film to the third is dramatic and stark, following an apparently logical progression from action hero to damsel in distress; from an ambiguous threat to men, to a woman dependent upon them; and from an autonomous lover of a man, to a martyr for his cause. While this stereotypical sexism-run-rampant with regard to Trinity is not necessarily a reflection of the movies as a whole, her fall from gender challenge to gender stereotype is a strong argument in support of Haslam’s suggestion: that the story of the Matrix trilogy merely masquerades as an emancipation plot, while ultimately serving to reinforce the position of the dominant class [2005, 106].


Geller, T. L. 2004. Queering Hollywood's Tough Chick. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 25 (3): 8-34. (accessed June 6, 2007, from Project Muse database).

Gillis, S. 2005. Cyber Noir: Cyberspace, (Post)feminism and the Femme Fatale. In The Matrix Trilogy: Cyberpunk Reloaded, ed. S. Gillis, 74-85. London: Wallflower Press.

Haslam, J. 2005. Coded Discourse: Romancing the (Electronic) Shadow in The Matrix. College Literature, 32 (3): 92-115. (accessed June 6, 2007, from Project Muse database).

Van Krieken, R., D. Habibis, P. Smith, B. Hutchins, M. Haralambos, M. Holborn. eds. 2006. Gender and Sexuality. In Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. 3rd ed, 301-345. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

Wachowski, A. and L. Wachowski. 1998. The Matrix: Shooting Script. http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/the_matrix.pdf (accessed June 6, 2007)


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