Every artist has their favorite motifs they apply to the bulk of their work: political or social struggles they perceive to be ongoing, or perhaps emotions they believe are at the root of all scenarios. Native Chicago filmmaking siblings Andy & Lana Wachowski are no exception to this tendency to reuse themes. Virtually every Wachowski production uses reincarnation to effectuate a revolution against oppression. Additionally, Lana & Andy have employed several variations of the reincarnation theory throughout their filmography, to exhibit thorough knowledge of a diverse notion. The relations are sometimes very obvious in their presentation and sometimes not, so let us analyze them independently to connect certain philosophies to specific Wachowski films.
The Matrix trilogy
For this epic multiplatform universe, the Wachowskis cultivated philosophical and religious values from around the globe, but leaned heavily on Hinduism for their theme of reincarnation. Hindus believe a soul is formed when it separates from an undifferentiated source, and it will transmigrate during physical death from one body to another, endeavoring to achieve a state of disembodied perfection and exit the cycle of life as we understand it. This process takes many lifetimes and depends on the Karma one obtains during each life cycle. How does any of that relate to a science fiction movie? Neo eventually learns he hosts the sixth reemergence of a code the Machines input to rebalance entropy in the Matrix, by drawing out potential threats to its stability. Neo’s predecessors all chose to go along with the program and surrendered their code to be reinserted into the Matrix for a new cycle; what appears to be a noble sacrifice to sustain all life, but truthfully condemns humanity to perpetual subjugation. Neo however, now conscious of the plot, rebels and alters his path, which climaxes with a revolution that ends the conflict between Machines and Humans. Learning from and improving upon evident past decisions, The One finds the path of out its cycle.
True, the Wachowskis did not direct V For Vendetta, they only adapted the screenplay. But, their fingerprints are all over it. Here the siblings fashioned the reincarnation theme to fit a Buddhist view. In this movie England sits passively displeased under the thumb of a dictator, who strips away their rights one by one. V, a victim turned vaudevillian vigilante designs a yearlong revolution to influence a citizen uprising, finding his own inspiration from the 17th century “Gunpowder Treason” and its most famous conspirator, Guy Fawkes. Though the political climate differed substantially between Fawkes and V, the two shared intolerance for tyranny and the decision to take action. The Buddhist position on reincarnation is an impersonal one, whereas no single soul/person is brought back, but their consciousness contributes to an aggregation which new life can be privy to. V was not the literal rebirth of Guy Fawkes, but did claim his ideals. Let’s take it one step further. V befriends Evey Hammond, a timid young woman living in fear. Employing deceitful and cruel methodology, V reforms Evey into a brave soul by delivering her his own experiences and viewpoints. So brave in fact that she challenges V on his motives for his revolution. V takes her words to heart and passes the route of the revolution to her, choosing instead to sacrifice himself as a relic of the corruption he has been at odds with. In the end, Evey identifies with V’s morals and initiates the final step: blowing up Parliament, just as Guy Fawkes aimed to hundreds of years prior. Through a collective experience and despite the misfortunes that had befallen her, Evey claimed V and Fawkes’ ideals for herself. In a closing monologue, Evey declares V represented various people throughout history who all shared the pursuit of justice.
Even the delightfully flashy, psychedelic action flick Speed Racer touches on reincarnation to solve a revolution. Although, The Wachowskis took a more superficial approach in this movie, using personal reinvention as a sort of diorama to the concept. Rex Racer was a race car driver, riding under his family’s independent ticket. Courted by the conglomerate Royalton Industries to be their representative on the track, Rex refused due to concerns that corporations like such were controlling automobile racing to turn profit. Fearing reprisals against his family when he decides to rebel, Rex Racer faked his own death and reinvented himself as Racer X, a mysterious lone motorist who inexplicably aides Rex’s younger brother, Speed Racer, in the effort to expose Royalton Industries and bring the racing business back to an honest state. Rex Racer killed off a persona with too much to lose and adopted a new one free of ties to anything, to affect the next generation of race car drivers towards the demolition of corporate interference.
Gilgul is a Kabbalistic outlook on reincarnation that is shared by certain branches of Judaism. It suggests that every soul brought into this physical world is tasked with certain commandments, called Mitzvot, which must be understood and fulfilled before that soul can ascend to the next realm of existence. Once a body has died the soul is assessed, and if there are still Mitzvot to perfect, the soul is recycled into a new body; which body depends on what Mitzvot are still required. In Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis masterfully impart this philosophy by showing ten characters recycle through time, each exhibiting different degrees of enlightenment. Some grow and advance their understanding, others devolve into pure essence of hostility, and a few stalemate with never learning anything at all. Each of the ten reused actors of Cloud Atlas represents different journeys through Gilgul. The revolutions addressed here vary as wide as their cast of characters, but always revolve around oppression of a seemingly arbitrary subculture.
Reincarnation does not presume belief in divinity. Some Atheists theorize a scientific method of the concept. Following death, bodies decompose to subatomic particles. With no physical barrier to contain them, particles become what is called “free radical” and float around seeking new particles to be attracted to. Over the course of time, these free radicals could pull together to form a new person. Over an even larger timeframe, one that consists of innumerable cycles of particle convalescence to deterioration to convalescence, there stands a minuscule possibility those atoms will reunite into previous persons. On that note, the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending is, scientifically speaking, their most apt depiction of reincarnation. Jupiter Jones, an insignificant house cleaner, discovers she is the genetic reconstruction of an intergalactic royal matriarch, who was a powerhouse of stellar industry. Murdered after undergoing a revelation concerning business ethics, her exact atoms reformed in the exact order thousands upon thousands of years later; only at the bottom of the totem pole. Though here, she assimilates genuine sympathy for the lower-class. Jupiter continues where she left off, and rises back in command to redefine herself and dilute her industrial drive.
What we can expect from Andy & Lana Wachowski in the future is undoubtedly more tales that fit their personal trend and movies that inspire forward-thinking. But what, in the end, is the revolution they are striving for themselves?
Gari Hart is a Chicago based writer, sometimes musician, partial artist, and infrequent actor. He is currently working on a collection of short stories. Follow Gari Hart’s Twitter @ twitter.com/garihart