The Matrix June 13, 2019
2 Hrs., 16 Mins.
he Matrix, a science-fiction thriller with a cyberpunk strut, is as sleek as it is silly. The second movie from the sister-sister filmmaking team Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who’d written and directed just one film before it, the film is set in 1999, and stars Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer without much of a life outside of his job. Or so it seems. A little into the movie, Anderson finds out that
he’s living in a simulation — guessably referred to as the Matrix — that the year is probably closer to 2199, and that he’s not a nobody office drone but rather a classic “chosen one” akin to Buffy Summers or Harry Potter.
According to a band of outsiders who know that life as most of the population knows it is bogus and computerized, which is led by a sunglasses-wearing deity of a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and secondarily run by a stealthy fighter named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Anderson has the power to save humanity from unwitting slavery. Also, his name is really Neo. It’s unclear whether that makes him a mononym à la Moby or Madonna or a gauche Neo Anderson. Let the adventures, which find him and his de facto action-hero family trying to get out of trouble, begin.
The Matrix, released in 1999, is among the most influential of blockbusters. The characteristics which today perhaps seem the most blasé — its high-concept, Kung fu-influenced fight choreography; its trippy worldbuilding; its more-than-liberal use of slow-motion — have arguably become blasé in U.S. action features because The Matrix did the dirty work way back when. Put yourself in the headspace of a viewer of 20 years ago and you get why it made such an imprint. It’s both stylish and idiosyncratically designed but it also dug into a cerebral narrative reserved for more-serious sci-fi like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Its leading questions — what if everything you thought you knew about existence was a sham, and what if you had the ability to change it? — are still-headily Orwellian.
There’s also an unforgettable moment where Morpheus, sitting across from Anderson, makes an offer. Anderson can take a pool-colored blue pill, which is sitting in Morpheus’ right hand. It will enable him to again live in the Matrix, having forgotten that he’s a chosen one and an avoider of the last name. Or Anderson can take a hot Cheeto-hued red pill, which is resting on Morpheus’ right palm and will allow him to see what his new life has to offer. It’s “wake up, sheeple” in gelcap form. Many other ideas presented by the movie — that we’re all being watched by evil, omniscient men in suits; that even when we can see the seams of a society its customs have become so instilled in us that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the truth is less desirable — are provocative and powerful. Even if, admittedly, you sort of feel like you’re wearing a tinfoil hat when soaking them in.
The Matrix is fun in a pulp novel sort of way, and you can see why its footprint was so deep that it quickly ended up becoming an action/sci-fi totem. Aside from the delightful weirdness of the action scenes, during which physics are told to fuck off with such gusto that not even 10 seconds, really, can pass before the Wachowskis hit the slo-mo button again, once you see what The Matrix purely looks like you’ll never forget it. It’s all steely exteriors, leathered clothing, heavy, heavy rain. You want to say it’s like a film noir written by Philip K. Dick and directed by, say, John Woo. Except only it’s all the Wachowskis, who were a flight risk when the movie was greenlit and given its budget but ended up proving to execs that if you have enough artistic passion and storyboards tucked in the interior pockets of your floor-length trench coats perhaps you can do anything. Sure the movie is relentlessly ridiculous. Eventually, it sees its intriguingly big ideas overshadowed by its action. And it's so self-serious that you can’t help but chuckle (I know I couldn’t) from time to time. But its novel concept and still-unmatched style have persevered, as have the performances from its roundelay of infectiously game actors. Its being claimed by overinflated dude-bros with a movie fetish is a shame, but what can you do? B+