#369) The Matrix (1999)

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#369) The Matrix (1999)

OR “Neo Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”

Directed & Written by Lana & Lilly Wachowski

Class of 2012

The Plot: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has a double life on the internet as the hacker “Neo”. The mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) recruits Neo and reveals the truth: the world Neo lives in is a computer simulation (the Matrix), and the real world is a 22nd century dystopian nightmare ruled by machines. Prophesized to be “the one”, Neo is unplugged into the real world, and joins Morpheus’ team of fellow escapees determined to free the human race from the Matrix. It sounds convoluted, but boy howdy look at all them flyin’ people!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “visionary and complex”, praising the special effects and their lasting impact on film.

But Does It Really?: It’s only been 20 years since “The Matrix” hit theaters, but its impact on visual effects and pop culture is still quite extensive. As a film, “The Matrix” is flawed, but entertaining. Any of the film’s eye-rolling plot points are immediately forgiven once the next action sequence starts up. “The Matrix” has never been my cup of tea, but no one can deny the film’s well-deserved spot among iconic American films.

Everybody Gets One: The Wachowskis got their start in Hollywood as screenwriters with a three-picture deal at Warner Bros. When their script for 1995’s “Assassins” was completely rewritten, the Wachowskis convinced the studio to let them direct their own screenplays. Their next film, 1996’s “Bound”, was a success, giving Warner Bros. more confidence to finance the Wachowski’s most ambitious screenplay: “The Matrix”. Former teen star turned action movie hero Keanu Reeves won the role of Neo after such names as Will Smith and Brad Pitt turned the part down.

Wow, That’s Dated: Ah, the early internet of the ‘90s. How I’ve missed seeing those eternally loading low-res graphics. Also dated, this film’s reliance on phone booths, floppy disks, and cellular phones the size of a hoagie.

Seriously, Oscars?: “The Matrix” was one of the biggest hits of 1999, and one of the few films to bat 1000 at the Oscars, winning all four of its nominations (Film Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects). 1999 was one of many years the Academy considered, but ultimately rejected, a proposed “Best Stunt Coordination” category.

Other notes

  • The Wachowskis have cited countless influences on “The Matrix”: from the film version of “Ghost in the Shell”, to Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Practically every shot of this movie has allusions and references hidden throughout. It’s like the Wachowskis designed the film to be viewed frame-by-frame on the DVD.
  • Speaking of allusions: “Hallelujah. You’re my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ.” Alright already, we get it; Neo’s a metaphor for Christ! It makes one pine for the subtleties of “E.T.”.
  • I spent most of the movie assuming the generic downtown American city featured throughout was Toronto. Turns out the bulk of this movie was shot in Sydney, Australia, with the more recognizable buildings digitally removed.
  • Hugo Weaving’s accent is… a choice. If you don’t know going in that it’s deliberately flat and machine-like, it can be quite confusing.
  • Someone using an alias on the internet? Heresy!
  • I don’t care how many acclaimed movies or August Wilson plays he’s in, Laurence Fishburne will always be Cowboy Curtis to me.
  • I am always wary of films that preach against consumerism/complacency, especially when said film is a product from a conglomerate movie studio.
  • The Construct looks a lot like a car commercial. Either that or Morpheus is about to read a letter from a DirectTV customer.
  • I wouldn’t trust Trinity or Cypher if I were Neo; they might have killed Guy Pearce’s wife.
  • So the only pop culture references to survive in 2199 are “The Wizard of Oz” and the Life Cereal “Mikey” commercial? Where were you when we needed you, Library of Congress?
  • The beauty of this film is the blending of digital effects with practical. It’s a marriage that quickly became lopsided towards the digital and has never fully recovered.
  • We have a “whoa”! Keanu knows what audiences expect from his movies.
  • There seems to be a lot of things you can’t do in the Matrix because of “Arbitrary Matrix Rules”. It helps that a lot of the film’s techno babble is explained with a dismissive, “You wouldn’t understand.”
  • Pretty sure the “there is no spoon” kids were the ones Matthew Modine experimented on before Eleven showed up.
  • Off-Broadway legend Gloria Foster is a refreshing change of pace in her one scene as the all-important Oracle. It’s a shame she didn’t finish filming her scenes for the sequels.
  • Uh-oh, Agent Smith is monologuing. This is followed by extended monologues from both Neo and Trinity. More butt-kicking, please!
  • 180 years in the future and there are still no gun control laws? Just because your movie can be prescient…
  • It took us almost the entire movie, but at long last, the “Bullet Time” scene. It is still a sight to behold 20 years later, and the “making of” footage enhances my appreciation of the scene, rather than detracts.
  • I’m willing to accept a lot of this film’s forced plot points, but the romantic angle is where I draw the line. I love you because the Oracle told me I would? Cue “Power of Love”.
  • If it’s a ‘90s movie about the fight against technology, you have no choice but to start your credits with Rage Against the Machine.
  • Sorry folks, but whatisthematrix.com is now just a link to buy the film on Ultra HD Blu-Ray. The password is useless. Useless!

Legacy

  • The Matrix” was a huge success, and paved the way for countless imitators. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a “Bullet Time” parody in the early 2000s.
  • Like many an NFR entry, “The Matrix” has had its share of follow-ups. The film’s two sequels – 2003’s “Matrix Reloaded” and “Matrix Revolutions” – are more or less ignored, while “The Animatrix” shorts fare better.
  • And like a surprisingly large amount of NFR entries, “The Matrix” has spawned several video games. The Wachowskis even directed some live-action scenes for them with the original cast!
  • The Wachowskis are still bringing their unique aesthetic to movies, with such highlights as “V for Vendetta” and…“Speed Racer”?
  • Unsurprisingly, “The Matrix” is still referenced throughout the internet. Here are just a few of the memes this film has inspired:
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  • And of course:
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4 thoughts on “#369) The Matrix (1999)”

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