#21: The Matrix (1999)

I love science fiction. I wrote a paper on dystopian fiction for my masters (which taught me that scholars call it SF), and when I finally finished the course, I bought myself an 800-page steampunk tome to celebrate (Perdido Street Station, wonderfully weird, if you can keep concentrating). The Wachowski Brothers’ cyberpunk action classic The Matrix therefore has a lot to live up to for me; I admire the intelligence one can often find in SF, and I have no time for travesties of the genre. 
Thankfully, The Matrix is brilliant on every level of filmmaking, and I find myself unsure of where to start with all the praise. I think perhaps I should start with commenting on the 90s-goth-cool costume and make-up. I remember thinking Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) was just the coolest when I was 11. Then there are Morpheus’s (Laurence Fishburne’s) armless sunglasses - again, I was desperate to get my hands on a pair. (Side note - I think sunglasses might be a symbol of power. I need to track when they come off and on various characters. I think it has something to do with seeing/hiding reality and truth.)
Next: the groundbreaking special effects that The Matrix co-writers and co-directors the Wachowski Brothers used as the USP for this film. With inspiration from anime films, Hong Kong action and most Asian martial arts going, the brothers not only wanted to recreate these cinematic combat styles, but also to show them in a new, exciting way - “bullet time”. This particular style of slow-motion capture was around before, but it was The Matrix that popularised it (we always now think of Trinity kicking that cop, hanging in the air as the camera darts around her), and it was Warner Bros. that trademarked the term. This has been much mocked and parodied, but you can’t deny that, even ironically, it’s pretty cool. 
Finally, you could write a thesis about The Matrix’s philosophical ideas. I’m really not the best person to outline this, but basically they’re playing around with Christ imagery, faith ideas - inc. destiny and blind belief, the question of what is reality or truth, and the problems with perceiving either of the latter in any meaningful way. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s texts were primary reading material for the writers, and then subsequently the actors too, and to begin to fully understand all that’s going on here you’ll need to digest some pretty heavy theory. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some very good theses out there about this film.

But the best thing about The Matrix? You don’t even have to think about all that philosophical stuff - you can enjoy it just as much, sitting back, though not quite relaxing, as the ridiculous action unfolds. Sure, no one has any idea what’s happening on the first watch, but you appreciate the style with which Neo (Keanu Reeves) breezes into the Agents’ HQ (lead by the ice-cool Agent Smith - Hugo Weaving), for no other reason than to give us some good shoot ‘em up footage, it seems to me. Repeat viewings are necessary, firstly to understand what the “matrix” is and how it works, but also to fully appreciate the ingenuity and skill exhibited at every level of this SF marvel.

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