While The Matrix (at least in its first cinematic instalment) proved one of the success stories of Hollywood cinema of the late 1990s, another matrix enjoyed a similar career in critical and cultural theory: Judith Butler’s “heterosexual matrix” as the concept of an almost universal hegemonic ordering mechanism of Western culture. The parallelism is striking: both matrices rest on simulation, yet acquire totalitarian power and significance. This makes it all the more interesting that in the Matrix films, it seems, neither gender nor sexuality play any overt role. This raises the question, if one of the prominent uses of the socalled cyber-reality already available to us in the shape of the Internet is sexuality (and the number of porn sites by far exceeds that of all others), why does sexuality feature so little in a film which problematises virtual reality so drastically? Why does the film at the same time declare bodies a simulation and insist on their fetishistic adornment, training and transformation into androgynous fighting machines, but also penetration, mutilation, and random multiplication?
This essay provides a double critical reading: it reads the Matrix films through Butler’s and other theories of gender and sexuality to determine to what extent they uncritically follow or, on the contrary, subvert the “heterosexual matrix.” On the other hand, the essay also uses the films as a critical angle on theories such as Butler’s to explore the question concerning the extent to which a commodified Hollywood product might be able to illustrate and perhaps even “criticise the critic(s).”