For those of you that don’t know, Trinity is the leading lady in the game-changing Matrix trilogy. Set in a world where machines have taken over the planet and enslaved humanity in what looks like snot-bubbles, the plot of all three movies centres around a small group of humans trying to bring them down. Trinity is one of these humans, who fights alongside The One in an attempt to free mankind from their weird gooey alien pods. The first film was a smash hit, providing a fresh and original storyline as well as some truly ground-breaking action scenes, and the second and third films just sort of staggered along in its wake. As for Trinity herself, she has become an iconic, instantly recognisable character, and the namesake of the famous trope, Trinity Syndrome.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
The way Trinity relates to her wider destiny is a bit complicated. It’s very well established that in order for most people to leave the Matrix, somebody else has to pull them out. We know that this is exactly what happened to Trinity: the film clearly states that before she left the Matrix, she was a hacker whose skills brought her to Morpheus’s attention. Like everyone else on the Nebuchadnezzar, when she took the red pill Morpheus rescued her from the machines. This presents us with an interesting conundrum. Trinity only decided to escape the Matrix when Morpheus offered her the red pill – and, if Neo’s scene was anything to go by, Morpheus’s vague explanation might not have made her realise exactly what she was getting herself into.
What this means for her character is that the most drastic change that Trinity has ever been through was all kick-started by another character. We have no way of knowing exactly what Trinity’s thoughts and emotions were when she left the Matrix as this takes place long before the first film started, but it throws the rest of her decisions into a whole new light. She goes into the Matrix to recruit new people and fight off the Agents, but she does so on Morpheus’s orders. She accompanies Neo on his various missions, but she’s not the one who decides where they go or what they do.
Trinity is occasionally allowed to act out on her own, but much like Black Widow, most of the time she’s following orders. However, whereas Black Widow’s personal agenda is often crucial to her development as a character, when Trinity strikes out on her own it’s because the plot calls for it. In The Matrix, she brings Neo back to life with the power of snogging – but this is because she’s the only one who can do so because of some prophecy. In Matrix Reloaded, she sneaks back into the Matrix against Neo’s orders – all this does is put her in danger and create an interesting moral dilemma for Neo. In Matrix Revolutions, she saves Neo from Bane and takes him into the Machine City to fight the bad guys – but this is because Neo has been blinded, and could no longer go on his own. Whichever way you look at it, Trinity’s character is always following orders – whether that’s from Morpheus or just meeting the demands of the plot.
SCORE SO FAR: 0
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
We don’t really see a lot of Trinity’s hobbies. We know she was originally recruited because of her hacking abilities, but it’s not clear exactly how these skills developed. They may have started as a hobby, now maintaining these skills is key to Trinity’s survival – as I’ve already discussed, this essentially means they don’t really count as a hobby any more.
However, Trinity’s goals are much more clearly defined. She wants to survive outside the Matrix and help Neo bring the machines down. She’s committed to helping humanity survive and spends most of the movies pursuing this goal. This also relates to her beliefs: she is utterly convinced that Neo is The One – the destined messiah-figure who can save mankind from its weird gooey alien pods – and holds firmly to this belief all throughout the movies. In fact, this belief motivates her so much that she becomes convinced Neo can save mankind even before he does – and ultimately, it’s her belief in him that helps him succeed. This comes with its own issues, which I will discuss in question nine, but for now I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Trinity’s skills are very patchy. In her very first scene of the trilogy, she’s introduced as a total bad-ass, kicking the crap out of Agents, back-flipping off stuff, and jumping off tall buildings and landing without a hair out of place. She’s also shown to be an excellent hacker, an agile fighter and a capable pilot. However, all these skills falter when the plot needs them to. If the script calls for Trinity to be rescued by Neo, all the force will be leeched right out of her just in time for Keanu Reeves to step in. She’s a competent and able character until the plot needs to make Neo look good – then, she will crumble like a cookie so that the men can get on with it.
And as for her personality – brace yourselves, kids.
Trinity doesn’t really have a personality. We never find out about her likes or dislikes, her strengths or weaknesses, her sense of humour (or lack thereof) or what she does in her spare time. We never find out what her favourite food is, whether she regrets leaving the Matrix, or even if she left anyone behind. We know almost nothing about Trinity’s past, her family, or even her age. We don’t even know her real name.
Now, it’s very easy to chalk all of this up to her inherent ‘mystery’ as a character. You could argue quite easily that we aren’t meant to know about Trinity in that much detail because her journey as a character is not focused around her background, but around her goals, and keeping her past a secret only adds to her appeal. However, this argument completely neglects the fact that some of the most mysterious characters in fiction have still had distinctive and memorable personalities.
V from V for Vendetta is a total mystery – aside from knowing that he spent time as a political prisoner, we know almost nothing about him – yet we still see that he is verbose, appreciates old movies, music and films, and believes that anarchic political systems are ones worth adopting. Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events never has his backstory or motivations explained, yet we still know that he is completely mercenary, spiteful, violent and short-tempered. Melisandre from A Song of Ice and Fire appears seemingly out of nowhere, yet the reader is never left in doubt of her deeply held religious beliefs, magical abilities and ruthless determination to pursue her goals, even if this means murder. Even Carmen Sandiego was shown to be a flamboyant thief stealing for the thrills rather than for material gain, and she was part of a computer game designed to teach kids geography.
Trinity has none of this development. She is a blank slate – we never once see her express emotions or preferences. She dispenses information, helps out her friends and gets into trouble only when it is relevant to the plot. The writers move her through the script like a pawn in a game of chess. There is literally nothing that could ever be classed as ‘such a Trinity thing to say’ – or do, for that matter, because I’m not counting kicking people in the face for this round. In short, Trinity is an utterly unmemorable character with nothing to differentiate her from the rest of the cast apart from her shiny black catsuit.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
As I mentioned in the previous question, Trinity doesn’t really have much of a personality. Thus, it’s very hard to describe her character in any kind of distinctive way – she could be replaced with literally any other character in the story and it would have very little impact on the plot. However, you can’t even describe her role in the storyline, either, as it’s impossible to talk about this without referencing Neo. While perhaps in the first film you might be able to make a case for her as an independent character (if you squint), in the second and third films she functions solely as Neo’s girlfriend. I could just about accept this if she actually did anything else in the story (I certainly did for Marion Ravenwood) but the fact of the matter is, she just doesn’t. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Trinity’s love life pretty much defines her role in the story. Her love for Neo allows him to accept that he is The One, it drives her to follow him into danger, and it drives her to rescue and defend him as much as possible. It’s also very much entangled with her desire to save humanity from the machines – as, after all, she was prophesied to fall in love with the only person who could bring them down – so her motivations get a little complex here. Although she doesn’t make many decisions of her own, when she does it’s often difficult to tell if she’s acting out of her love for Neo or out of her desire to protect him in order to save mankind. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and award her half a point, but I can’t help feeling that I’m being very generous here.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
In order for Trinity to truly develop over the course of the story, she would have to have a personality in the first place.
She goes through a huge amount of stuff in all three films – dealing with the deaths of her friends, becoming Neo’s girlfriend, fulfilling a prophecy about her love life, dealing with the machines’ attempts to destroy the last pocket of humanity, getting beat up by Agent Smith a bunch, technically dying, and literally listening to her boyfriend’s eyes getting BURNT OUT OF THEIR SOCKETS. But despite all of this, she doesn’t actually change. The Trinity at the beginning of the first film is no different from the Trinity at the end of the third film.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have a weakness?
Trinity doesn’t really have a weakness. She gets into trouble very frequently, but this is never portrayed as a consequence of her own failings. In fact, it’s rarely related to her character at all – most of the time she just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When it is related to her personal motivations, more often than not it’s due to positive character traits, such as her love for Neo and desire to save humanity. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Trinity does influence the plot in some ways – she’s the one who first makes contact with Neo, she fights her way through the team’s various obstacles, and she plays an active role on their many missions. However, she ends up needing to be rescued an awful lot and ends up dying twice – all with the purpose of motivating the male characters (mainly Neo). I’ll give her half a point for the earlier stuff but once again, I can’t help feeling that I’m being very generous.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Strap in, kids!
In some ways, Trinity can be seen as a progressive character. She’s a good fighter, a skilled hacker, is utterly dedicated to her goals and goes to extreme lengths to fulfil them. These aren’t characters we usually see in young women, and when you couple that with Trinity’s willingness to leave behind everything she ever knew just for the sake of bettering humanity, it’s easy to see why some people could regard her as a progressive character.
However, I really don’t think this is the case. While it’s true that these skills are valuable and celebrated traits when applied to female characters, they simply aren’t applied to Trinity with any real conviction. As I discussed earlier, Trinity’s skills only hold up when the plot doesn’t call for her to fail. If the storyline needs to present Neo with an interesting moral dilemma, a fresh new motivation, or simply an opportunity to look cool, the script has no problems with making Trinity weaker, making her struggle to escape captivity, or even completely killing her off. When Trinity fails, she fails for a purpose, and that purpose is Neo.
Which brings us to her love life. This is essentially her entire role in the story: Neo’s girlfriend. She’s there to support him, to love him, to follow him – and to do very little else. As I discussed earlier, this is what motivates her, what defines her character and what eventually leads to her death. It’s really her only reason to be in the story at all – in fact, the plot of all three films would work just as well if she wasn’t in them at all. She’s only there to look pretty and give Keanu Reeves someone to make out with. This is reflected in the fact that she’s not remembered for anything she says or does over the course of all three movies, but for how she looks. The most memorable thing about her is her black leather catsuit and her ridiculously impractical fighting style, which seems to rely on posing and groin-splaying than any kind of practical self-defence.
In short, Trinity may seem to embody a lot of very progressive stuff about gender, but when you examine the way the script treats her in more detail, it’s easy to see that this isn’t the case. Even though she has elements of being a much more ground-breaking character, the script often treats her like a damsel in distress. She’s only there to provide Neo with a love interest, adds nothing of any real value to the plot, and frankly, could easily be replaced by a potted plant. This, my friends, is the essence of Trinity Syndrome: a female character who never lives up to their own potential.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Trinity doesn’t really relate to other female characters. She works with a few other women – namely Switch, Niobe and the Oracle – but we don’t really see her interact with them on any meaningful level. We honestly don’t know if she likes them, if she misses them, or if she mourns them. The only woman we see her interact with in any kind of emotional fashion is Persephone. Persephone is the wife of the Merovingian – a powerful computer program – who hates her husband. She demands a kiss from Neo and Trinity gets jealous when he does so – and that’s it. That’s all the interaction they have. This is really the only relationship that stands out, but it’s so woefully clichéd that it actually works against her. I’m withholding the point.
FINAL SCORE: 1.5/10
Trinity is a classic example of a character who is strong in theory, but in practice, rarely delivers on her own potential. She’s an excellent fighter, pilot and hacker, but when you get right down to it that’s all there really is to her. She has no personality, no weaknesses, no interest in anything other than what the plot requires an interest in, no development and never really does anything for herself. She’s completely flat, and to be perfectly frank, you could replace her with a cardboard cut-out and it would have almost no effect on the plot.
This is a classic pitfall for modern female characters – and, coincidentally, one of the reasons why I started this blog in the first place. Writers are often quite keen to prove that their female characters are just as good as their male characters – which is fine. However, they often go about making their female characters strong by assigning them skills rather than personality traits. It’s very easy to make a woman in fiction look strong if you constantly see her beating up guys, but this does not make her a strong character. Unless those fighting skills are backed up by a real personality – one that includes both strengths and weaknesses – she isn’t really a character at all.
Next week, I’ll be going back to one of my favourite series: A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys Targaryen, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.