Reflections on Sense8 15.10.17
The Wachowskis have made art with messages before. The Matrix asked questions of reality, while bringing cyberpunk style into Western fashion – Neo, Trinity and Morpheus became our vulnerable superheroes for the computer age. Who hasn't thought about which pill they'd take, the red one or the blue one? For that matter, who doesn't recognize the mask in V for Vendetta? It's a recalibration of 1984, but in an era when successive Presidents – including Obama – sought the powers to spy on every single person, a film about people rising against totalitarian omniscience is a worthwhile reminder.
Yet what I loved most about The Matrix trilogy in particular was the aesthetic, from the grungy industrial gothic-rock music to the threadbare jumpers and black boots and 3am gazes of Where The Fuck Am I? Morpheus, Neo, Trinity, I would have taken the red pill and joined you down the rabbit hole.
I would follow Nomi Marks of Sense8 too – Nomi one of the eight sensate characters, and to my knowledge the first mainstream trans action hero. Unlike The Matrix, however, the 2-season series Sense8 is as much about the message as the style. Within it are eight reluctant, decent people wrestling with a new reality, that they're no longer homo sapiens anymore (if they ever were?), they're homo sensoriums, a breed of humanity connected to each other wherever they are in the world. Each of the characters is likeable enough, if perhaps a little bland in places – arguably a necessary plot device to allow them to connect. The star for me – and the most intricately developed – is Nomi. I've never seen a trans character like hers before: Jeffrey Tambor in the Amazon Prime show Transparent is brilliant as the transwoman entering late middle-age, but it's Nomi who makes me feel like being sexy and kick-ass and clutzy all at the same time is something imaginable. Her lover Amanita is the kind of love story you can dream of, while Nomi's conflict with her parents is the kind I can understand. It doesn't hurt that her story line's set in San Francisco, my fantasy Mecca, and I would venture a guess that Lana Wachowski – as the writer in both seasons – has poured a lot of her soul into the character, via the hostilities confronted and the high of being around the people who accept you.
At this point I think it's worth reminding ourselves of the past representations of trans female characters on the mainstream screen: Eddie Redmayne's simpering, deteriorating caricature, dying as an invalid in The Danish Girl (2015), or the oh-so-humorous depictions of ugly trans characters in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016). And let's not get started on all the psychopathic cross-dressing murderers from twentieth-century representations. With Nomi Marks, we get what feels like a new evolution, a trans character who loves and is loved and is loveable, she's attractive and kind and purposeful; she's not some isolated shadow but a figure with networks of friends and allies who grows and is strong, without being invincible.Thank you once again, Lana Wachowski – your televised speech in 2012 meant a lot to me, while The Matrix trilogy is maybe my favourite (and I say that as a Star Wars child and a fan of Lord of the Rings). Now with Sense8, you've introduced a trans character who makes being transgender something glorious and sexy and empowering. Long live Nomi Marks and Sense8.