Red pills, white pills, taller, small, or blue. The Matrix Resurrections trailer offers so many choices, possibilities, and questions that our head is already hurting again. Is Thomas Anderson, aka Neo (Keanu Reeves), stuck in the same old machine, or is this a new Neo wearing John Wick’s beard? Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is in her own wonderland. We can’t trust the psychiatrist that Neil Patrick Harris is playing. The Matrix 4 trailer sends us chasing a “White Rabbit.” When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead, you have to ask Alice.
You can watch the trailer here:
Lana Wachowski’s follow-up to the original Matrix trilogy promises to reawaken the freedom fighters from their virtual prisons in a new generation. One of the most satisfying things about the teaser, of course, is that even after several minutes of mouthwatering footage, we still don’t understand what is going on. Is this another version of Neo reincarnated as with previous Matrix cycles, or did the Neo we followed 20 years ago get literally resurrected? And if so, why is he once again imprisoned by the Machines’ digital opioid?
So many questions, yet one thing we can answer clearly is why the music in the trailer is so haunting.
Written by Grace Slick, “White Rabbit,” has been wresting reality from surrealistic pillows since it first came out. Dropped like a tab of acid during 1967’s Summer of Love, the song closed Jefferson Airplane’s set at Woodstock in 1969. Slick wrote it in late 1965 or early 1966, reportedly after listening to Miles Davis’ 1960 album, Sketches of Spain, for 24 hours straight during an acid trip. This inspired the Spanish march feel of Ravel’s “Bolero,” which propels the music.
“White Rabbit” song was on most copies of Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. The album got its name from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who gets a credit as “musical and spiritual advisor.” It was released as a single and peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the group’s second hit single, along with “Somebody to Love,” which Slick had brought from her former band.
“White Rabbit” was initially released while she was still in the San Francisco raga-folk band the Great Society. Slick joined Jefferson Airplane to replace Signe Toly Anderson, who left the band after the birth of her child One of Grace.
“We are the people our parents warned us about,” Grace Slick promised audiences during shows. She wasn’t singing a children’s lullaby. “I always felt like a good-looking schoolteacher singing ‘White Rabbit,’” Slick said in the 2016 book Anatomy of a Song. “I’d sing the words slowly and precisely, so the people who needed to hear them wouldn’t miss the point. But they did. To this day, I don’t think most people realize the song was aimed at parents who drank and told their kids not to do drugs.”
“White Rabbit” is one of the defining songs of the counterculture. It celebrates the great divide. When Charlie Sheen’s Chris Taylor takes his first hit of pot in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, “White Rabbit” brings him out of the battle zone. It is the song Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) wants to die in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It evokes stranger things in the first episode of Stranger Things, playing as Eleven flees a diner.
The Matrix 4 trailer flashes on the cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There’s gonna be a lot of Alice in this movie. Just like the song, which features hookah smoking caterpillars, Red Queens, White Knights, and some kind of mushroom. The first chapter of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel is called “Down the Rabbit-Hole.” The White Rabbit appears on page one, just as he cameoed as a woman’s tattoo in the original The Matrix in 1999. It’s good to see that tattoo got a reboot too here, literally on the lyric “white rabbit.”
Opening in a dark and uncertain F-sharp minor, Slick takes the listener Through the Looking-Glass like she’s one of the “men on the chessboard” who “get up and tell you where to go.” Alice isn’t the stereotypical damsel in distress, but if you go chasing rabbits, you know you’re going to fall.
“White Rabbit” was one of the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio, but it wasn’t always successful, getting banned from many playlists. Slick wasn’t only espousing chemical enhancements to perception, but also the importance of education. If you remember what the dormouse said, “Feed your head” is for hungry brains. Morpheus couldn’t have put it better.
The Matrix Resurrections premieres on Dec. 22 in theaters and on HBO Max.