Directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers)
Written by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss
Length: 2 hours and 16 minutes
Genre: Action, science fiction
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.”
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) lives two lives: in one, he is a mild-mannered employee at a software company; in the other he is a computer hacker who goes by the name “Neo”. He has spent years searching for a man called Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), whom he believes can explain the strange feelings he has been experiencing. He is contacted by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a colleague of Morpheus, before being plunged into a strange and terrifying new world. He learns that he had been born and grew up in a dream world called the Matrix that appears to be at the end of the 20th century; in reality, it is a distant future ruled by sentient machines where mankind has been enslaved in a prison of the mind. There is a prophecy that a man will come along who can remake the Matrix and free humanity from bondage; Morpheus believes Neo is that man. As he learns the truth, Neo experiences a transformation not only in his abilities, but in his beliefs as well.
The free humans in the real world of The Matrix (1999) live deep underground near the Earth’s core, where it is still warm. Though it is a less than ideal existence, it is far superior to the fields where, as Morpheus says, humans are grown instead of born. The Matrix is implemented as a form of control, and one of the key themes of the film is choice. Morpheus presents Neo with a multitude of decisions that need to be made; these range from risking his life scaling a building to escape the malevolent Agents to deciding whether to sacrifice his own life for his friend. This aspect of choice lines The Matrix (1999) up perfectly with Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey.
For those unfamiliar, the Hero’s Journey is a story structure that was popularized by professor Joseph Campbell, who was one among many that noticed a story cycle popping up in myths from around the world. The basic outline is that a hero receives a call to action that they either follow or ignore, they are taken from the world they know and thrust into a new one where they come under the tutelage of a mentor, go through trials, and eventually transform in death and rebirth (either literal or metaphorical) before returning home with a boon from the journey. Neo’s journey in The Matrix (1999) follows this pattern exactly, as do most Hollywood films, though it does so in a way that is refreshing due to the context of the film. The Matrix (1999) also makes references to mythology in addition to the more obvious allusions. Morpheus is the name of the Greek god of dreams, so it is an apt title for a man who wakes Neo from the dream world and ushers him into a life of action.
In addition to the philosophical and mythological roots of the story, The Matrix (1999) is inherently still an action movie. It has become one of the most influential films of the last two decades through the use of wire fighting, slow motion, and visual effects. Neo is able to reshape the Matrix when he takes on the mantle of the One, and computer generated effects work well to demonstrate this. He can slow down time in order to dodge bullets, get the advantage on his enemies, and accomplish other feats that would be impossible in the real world. The Wachowskis also paid homage to their love of kung fu movies by using not only the martial art, but cinematic techniques like dusting the actors (putting dust on their clothes to show the impact of their hits). In addition to the enhanced fighting capabilities of people, there is visible difference between the Matrix world and the real world apart from the clearly modern vs. dystopian aesthetic. The world inside the Matrix has a green hue to it, calling to mind the green script of code that operators look at.
The Matrix (1999) has had immeasurable influence in popular culture and film since its release. Whether being parodied or emulated, it is a film that changed the way people create action movies. I was lucky enough to take a film genres course in college that had us analyze this film, so believe me when I say this review just scratches the surface of what makes it great. Though some of the acting falls short in spots, it is an earnest and well-crafted film that questions the notion of reality, morality, and what happens when humanity becomes consumed by its hubris. I think it is a fun thought experiment more than a cautionary tale in this day and age where AI is becoming more and more likely, automation has become the center of many industries, and it seems the machines are gaining a foothold. However bleak this vision is, I still think it retains its value as a piece of art and entertainment.
Verdict: 5 references to doors out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of slow motion, fans of dystopian science fiction, those who enjoy techno music, people who like references in their movies, those who appreciate The Hero’s Journey, fans of doors, and you!
Not recommended for: Those who dislike slow motion, Agent Smith, the easily confused, children, people afraid of latex clothing, PETA, NPCs, or those who enjoy immaculate lobbies.