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Why Neo's Name Change In The Matrix Means More Than You Think

When it comes to game-changing blockbusters, few turned out to be as influential and enduring in pop culture as The Matrix. Released on March 31, 1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski's dystopian science fiction thriller immediately set a new standard in Hollywood, in more ways than one. Between its revolutionary visual effects, multiple philosophical quandaries, and thrilling story, The Matrix established itself as a cut above the rest, and few other films in the history of cinema have measured up to its lasting legacy. The film also solidified the big-screen icon — and overall beloved human being — Keanu Reeves as an acting juggernaut, through his portrayal of the main character, Neo.

Before blossoming into the savior of humanity, and leading the charge in their uprising against their machine overlords, it's important to remember that Neo wasn't always the "One" of legend. As audiences find him at the beginning of The Matrix, he was a hacker under the identity of Thomas A. Anderson, living inside the titular simulation. Devoid of any greater knowledge or purpose than the average person, it took the likes of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his band of human freedom fighters to enlighten him about reality. As a result, he came to realize his true potential. 

Anderson's decision to change his name to Neo, as well, means so much more on a subtextual level.

Neo's name change represents a milestone in the gender transition process

It's no secret that The Matrix is jam-packed with rich allegories and metaphors for viewers to explore, but Neo's transformation is arguably the biggest of them all. His road to going from Mr. Anderson to "The One" is heavily rooted in the transgender experience, as pointed out by the NetflixFilm Twitter account. Their multi-tweet analysis from August 2020 made some very eye-opening discoveries regarding his arc and its similarities to the gender transition process.

First and foremost, they cite writer Andrea Long Chu, who laid out the bare bones of this interpretation plainly: "Neo has dysphoria. The Matrix is the gender binary. The agents are transphobia. You get it." (via Vulture) This excerpt from her book, Females: A Concern, also discusses the significance of the red pill, which Neo takes to escape the Matrix. She says that it represents hormone therapy, as prescription estrogen was colored red back in the 1990s, hence how it helped him break free of the symbolic gender binary.

In a subsequent tweet, NetflixFilm also noted an excellent point that Rowan University Professor Eleanor Lockhart Ph.D made about the agents themselves, and their verbal interactions with Neo. "Agent Smith only refers to Neo as his deadname, Mr. Anderson, with a persistent emphasis on the 'mister,'" they wrote, adding further significance to Neo's shedding of his old identity in favor of his real one, rejecting the Matrix's desire for him to adhere to their norms.

In August of 2020, Lilly Wachowski added further credence to these claims, telling Newsweek, "The Matrix stuff was all about the desire for transformation, but it was all coming from a closeted point of view." Both of the Matrix creators, it's worth noting, are transgender women. Lana Wachowski publicly came out as trans around 2010, via Vox, while Lilly did the same some years later, in 2016.

With that in mind, the injection of this subtext into The Matrix makes a lot of sense, making Neo's growth into his true self mean so more than just a simple name change.