How Sense8 became as perfect a summation of the Wachowskis’ art as we’ve yet had.
There’s a moment toward the end of the second season of Sense8 (now streaming on Netflix) where one character says to another, “I’ve listened to you talk about circles about what’s right and proper, why you have to do this or shouldn’t do that. I don’t give a shit about any of it. I don’t care about rules, or what’s right or wrong. What matters to me is this: us. The right now. And I know you feel the same.” The identity of each character I’ll conceal for those who haven’t finished (or, horror of horrors, started) Sense8, but the relevant facts are these: (a) it’s one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen on screen and (b) it’s as perfect a summation of the Wachowskis’ art as we’ve yet had.
From the very beginning, the Wachowskis’ films have luxuriated in words, images, and—come to think of it—everything in a big, goofy, emotional way. Their written text doesn’t always land gracefully, their visuals can tend toward a flatness more befitting a comic book panel than a cinematic image, and their plots can take longer to explain than they do to play out. And yet. And yet.
I might as well admit what the above makes fairly obvious, which is that I am thoroughly and completely in the tank for the Wachowskis, despite periods of doubt, even periods of not liking some of their movies. The Matrix came along at exactly the right age for me to fall wholly under its spell, and how could I not, it being a compendium of all the finest things in life: cyberpunk, Yuen Wo Ping, Keanu. All the mildly wanky college student bookshelf-raiding, semi-gratuitously dropping in Baudrillard and Lewis Carroll and all that? I was a college student, that shit ruled. The sequels? Fuck you, they did too. I wavered a bit on the sequels, actually, but these days I can bore the shit of you for hours on end about why they’re Actually Good. Now would be a fine time, except instead it’s the time to talk about how the Wachowskis literally saved my life once.
When Cloud Atlas came out I was at a low point, both personally and professionally. The personal stuff was nothing new, which ironically was the reason its sting was so acute: the idea that I was going through the same boring shit as anyone else—unlucky in love, aging with excessive speed, powerless to change—made me feel dull and irrelevant. Professionally I had suffered a series of rejections and reversals that, taken individually, were not all that bad, but taken sequentially with no intervals of relative prosperity, had become an avalanche. The brief summary is that I had abandoned a career as a working artist due to burnout, and the new one I’d embarked upon, criticism and journalism, was stalling out. I was vividly without money in the most expensive city in the world. I woke up one day knowing I had to go to a matinee show of Cloud Atlas to review it, which was because I wasn’t important enough to get a press screening invite, which is a dumb thing to get sad about on its own but see the previous mention of an avalanche. And it was my birthday. And I was alone, and I had almost no money, which led me to the first time that my brain ever fully, and sincerely formed the thought: “I want to die. I no longer want to be alive.”
Something, maybe shame or not wanting to let down the one editor I had left as a freelance writer, got me out of the house and up the street to where the movie was playing. If I had had to take the subway that day I wouldn’t have made it. Having to walk to the theater meant that I had to do something. One foot here. The other in front of it. Repeat. The walk, twenty minutes in real time, seemed like years. I’d read Cloud Atlas. It was unfilmable. People I knew hated it. This was going to suck. Why the fuck did I ever stop acting. Why hadn’t I done the honorable thing and ended it all after (redacted major outlet that drunkenly threw around money) turned me down? Why. Any of this. Why.
Eventually, I got to the movie theater, paid most of the money in my checking account to see a movie I was reviewing for the price of the ticket plus enough money to eat for a couple days, and sat down. I couldn’t begin to describe what happened over the next two-and-a-damn Cloud Atlas was long hours, but the movie answered my question. Why? This. This colossally ambitious and silly thing that no sane person would possibly undertake except fuck sane people, they didn’t make Cloud Atlas, so what the hell do they know. I tried, the next day, to sum the movie up. What I should have written was “Cloud Atlas saved my life,” so I’m correcting that error now.
Speaking of which, it’s about time to get around to what the hell Sense8 has to do with any of this. Its entire subject matter is the sense of connection to other people, of never being alone, of exulting in love and sex and adventure. Then randomly everyone whips out guns and starts shooting. There are gangsters. There are sinister organizations. There’s an evil white guy in a suit (a villain eternal, the Final Boss). But all the good people are beautiful and queer and have each other’s backs. It’s silly, and even dumb sometimes, but I’m silly and dumb sometimes.
The feeling that someone out there gets you, on a level inexpressible in words, in anything other than a smile and a wave, really, is a beautiful feeling, and it gives warmth, and light, and life. I’ve spent this piece talking in circles about art and life, and thinking about how I have to write this, or shouldn’t write that. I don’t give a shit about any of it. I don’t care about the rules, or what’s good arts criticism or bad art criticism. What matters to me is this: the Wachowskis’ divine ability to sustain a heightened exalted present tense. The cinema of right now. And I hope you feel the same.