Harris’ performance as an analyst on The Matrix Resurrections is one of the few innovations in a film that goes back to the original far too often.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections, now in theaters and on HBO Max.
The first hour of The matrix resurrections plays out in a way eerily similar to the first one matrix Movie. Thomas Anderson, formerly Neo, finds himself in the Matrix and leads a life that seems uncomfortable and surreal. He questions his own reality and is freed from a free human city by a group of intrepid rebels. He meets Morpheus and Agent Smith, each with a new actor to portray them. It really seems like nothing has changed since 1999, and the film goes so far as to underline this by noting that “we are still telling the same stories that we have always told, just with different names and different Faces “.
The stark exception to this iteration is the Analyst, a character played by Neil Patrick Harris who was kept out of the spotlight in trailers. And for the first act of the film, he really does seem like nothing more than Neo’s therapist, a handler put in his way by the Matrix to make sure he doesn’t break away again. He convinces Neo that the events of the first three films were products of Thomas Anderson’s work as a game designer and that any deviations from reality he is now experiencing are products of “strong imaginations”. It is a different approach than Neo was originally locked in the matrix and speaks to different social norms.
Neo isn’t suppressed by the boring drudgery of ’90s corporate culture or government lawsuits. Instead, he is faced with manipulative gas lighting and the exploitative nature of modern capitalism’s habit of looking back rather than forward. And at the center of it all sits the analyst, harmless and benevolent. He even disappears from the movie until Neo returns to the Matrix to save Trinity. The aged protagonist takes on Agent Smith and a diverse group of exiles, but the real danger arises when the analyst returns, politely stepping between Neo and Trinity, almost completely changing his character.
Gone is the meek, polite doctor of yore, and in his place is Harris in all of his fluffy villain fame. It’s not a role that the actor is unfamiliar with Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog serves as a prime example of the exaggerated dramatic flair that Harris brings to his performance. He even gives a self-gratifying monologue, explaining to Neo that he and Trinity were resurrected because their closeness and captivity similarly keep the rest of the Matrix clueless. In contrast to his predecessor, the architect, the analyst defines himself through the study of human emotions.
There is an infamous chorus on the internet that may not be correct but is certainly ubiquitous: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The derogatory phrase is meant to demean the role of subjectivity and empathy in modern discourse, but it is exactly the same dichotomy that the analyst resorts to when explaining his modus operandi. He advocates the idea that people don’t care about facts; they care about their own feelings. He’s not trying to make things perfectly convincing. Instead, he puts what people want out of their reach so that they can strive for it while desperately clinging to what they have. And to illustrate his particularly harmful philosophy, he gives Neo an ultimatum. Either he can return to the Matrix or the analyst will kill Trinity. Neo must willingly subject himself to agony, otherwise the only thing he loves will be thrown against the rocks.
There is also the power that makes the analyst monologue so effortlessly possible without having to worry about a fist in the face: bullet time. He moves around and rattles his wicked plan “faster than” [Neo] can blink. “It’s a force that makes perfect sense to a digital enemy, and gives them an ironic kind of danger that the film directly highlights. While other Matrix antagonists like Smith or a machine army might come face-to-face with Neo, The analyst relies more on deception and diversion and uses Neo’s strengths, be it bullet time or his love for Trinity, and uses them against him.
Casting Jonathan Groff as Smith’s new agent was a wise decision. The actor does an excellent job of portraying the same unobtrusive malevolence as Smith, but also gives the character something entirely their own. But leaving him as the only villain wouldn’t have worked, and that’s why the film needs the analyst. It already feels like a makeover of the first film with a similar premise and plot structure. Context may have changed, but that’s not enough to warrant an entire separate film. It is Harris as the analyst who makes it seem like another story, embodying how the world has changed since Neo’s first appearance. He is the voice of the flimsy, manipulative and self-gratifying evil that people today face in their daily lives. And it is his ultimate downfall that shows that it is still worth fighting for the ideals of the neo-champions.
To see the analyst steal the show, The Matrix Resurrections is now in theaters and is streamed on HBO Max.
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