“You take the Red Pill and the dream continues. I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
There hasn’t been a truly great science fiction tale filled with legendary quotes since the days of Star Wars. The one exception to this rule: the Matrix trilogy. I have long been a fan of this series of films. Wait – that’s probably a massive understatement. I knew about the movie called “the Matrix” long before anyone else was talking about it. I remember reading about it in a movie periodical about special effects. That was almost 9 months before the 1st trailer appeared. Then, when trailers were scarcely seen for it, everyone I knew was asking me “do you know about this new Keanu Reeves movie?” Indeed, I did. (I actually learned a great deal about the film through a back-channel: martial arts. Yuen Wo Ping was the fight choreographer, and a legendary talent.) When I 1st saw “the Matrix” in the theaters, there was hardly anyone in the theater. It was as if someone didn’t want you to see the movie.
2 weeks later, it was a whole different story. EVERYBODY was talking about this film! At the coffee shops, the restaurants and bars, and even at the Post Office, people were talking about “the Matrix”. At the Oscars that year, I knew it would beat the newest Star Wars film for Visual Effects. I was right. Before ever I even knew that there were 2 more movies to this trilogy, the Wachowski brothers released a special documentary called “the Matrix Revisited”. That documentary clocked in at just over 2 hours and I loved every minute of it! It was brilliant! I began to see the size & scope of what the Wachowski brothers created.
So, as I begin to share my mild obsession with the Matrix trilogy with my family, I realized that I have never written a review of one of my most beloved films! And now, I give you my thoughts on one of the most visually-stunning, intellectually-challenging, filled-with-cool-quotes films ever made…
“The Matrix” is a science fiction action-packed movie that will intrigue the mind of any viewer. It asks us to question our own reality. It asks us to look deep inside ourselves and see the inner “rebel”. Ultimately, the film is about a rag-tag bunch of computer hackers that are driven to find a mythical figure who will aid them in freeing the human race from their enemy. The enemy in this case: an entire race of intelligent machines. Along the journey of Captain Morpheus and his rugged crew of intrepid heroes, you will be shown a level of control that is so complete that almost no one even guesses that it exists. If you have never seen this film, they you won’t understand this line (but I’m going to use it anyway). The film asks us “what is the Matrix?” The answer is horrifying and stunning. It also is only the beginning of the tale. But you cannot be told what the Matrix is…you must see it for yourself. Here is where (to quote Cypher) you “buckle up your seatbelts because Dorothy is going bye-bye”.
Okay, so let’s begin to break this film down.
You have a simple and ordinary guy who is apparently a computer hacker that makes some extra bread on the side as a “personal savior”. This hacker is named Neo. Neo is also searching the computer world for a terrorist named Morpheus. We are not told why, just that he is. Neo becomes a threat to the authorities because Morpheus is looking for him too. Again, no reason is given, but that is a temporary situation. Neo is put in contact with Morpheus by another hacker named Trinity. This mysterious meeting with Trinity turns into a nightmare day when Neo returns to work and is captured by the authorities. When being questioned by Agents, Neo has his world turned upside-down when he loses his mouth and has a mechanical bug inserted into his belly-button!
Now, that doesn’t sound too confusing does it? It doesn’t seem like a science-fiction film yet, does it? Well, that last part is, but do you understand? The set-up is brilliant. It’s a normal bit of reality for a while, and then suddenly – BAM! You find yourself being plunged head-first into an entirely different kind of reality. That is what this film does and does it extremely well. A little bit confusing at first, but that is quite purposeful. It gets you to buy into one reality and then suddenly it presents a radically different one.
Once Neo meets Morpheus it is a different ball game. The plot is boldly stated, and that leaves you kind of in shock. Nobody does that! Nobody tells you the entire movie’s plot right IN the movie! This one does. Morpheus then asks Neo the all-important question: “you know the reason [I sought you out], don’t you”? Neo replies “What is the Matrix?” Morpheus then gives a direct answer (another shocker) “unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is; you have to see it for yourself.”
This is where things can get confusing to many people. The truth of the Matrix is that the reality Neo is living is in fact a prison for his mind. Thousands of humans are kept prisoner in a future world where humans are essentially reduced to batteries to provide the enslaving race of intelligent machines with power. I suppose you could say that the machines are using humans as a food source. In order to make this prison effective, the machines had to create a reality that the human race would accept. It creates a reality of America circa the end of the 20th century.
Now, this future world where people are trying to free other people from the Matrix seems to blow away most people and utterly confuse other people. I unfortunately cannot make anyone reading this review understand the genius at work here – you’ll just have to see it for yourself (the movie, that is). This is high-brow writing, intellectual stuff. It is mired in books such as Simulacra & Simulation and esoteric philosophy books. If none of that interests you, just trust in this: the machines have enslaved the human race in a CGI “video game” that is so believable that almost nobody suspects it is NOT real. Of course, as the villainous Agent Smith explains the machines had to create a flawed reality, one in which humans believe there is a chance for something greater than the world around them.
Enter Neo. When we meet Neo, he is looking for Morpheus but we don’t know why. When Morpheus meets Neo in person he explains that Neo knows something is wrong with the world and it is driving him mad because he can’t figure out what it is. The answer to that little riddle is of course that the Matrix has him. However, Neo is one of those rare humans born in the Matrix that senses something wrong with the world. (Ironically, he becomes a hacker – which is even more bizarre because he is hacking his way OUT of the Matrix.) Okay, so now we know why Neo is involved – and we come to learn that this reason is the same for Trinity, Mouse, Cypher, Switch, and others. But why is Morpheus involved as such? What is his motivation?
As it happens, Morpheus tells Neo that there was a mythical figure born inside the Matrix that could change the Matrix to conform to his will. They called this man “the One”. He freed the 1st humans from the Matrix, and began to build the last great human city called Zion. Morpheus says that it was prophesized that the One would return and lead the human race to victory against the machines in this war. The One is meant to end the Matrix…and Morpheus believes he found the One in Neo.
Okay, so Neo is the One? He has super powers? Say whaaaaaaaaaaat????
Stop right there. Don’t get too excited. Neo goes to see the Oracle and learns he is NOT the One. He also learns that Morpheus will sacrifice himself to save Neo’s life because he believes in this “truth” so blindly. Now, here we have mythical names, a prophecy, an Oracle, a savior returning to end the war and free us all – am I missing anything? Since when does science fiction get sprinkled with mythology? (Go back to the beginning of this review, and you will see I already mentioned it: Star Wars.)
Okay, so we have reality that looks familiar – which turns out to be a fake reality and is in truth a prison for your mind. We have a hacker born inside this fake reality that somehow knows that there is something wrong with the world, and he isn’t the only one to think so. We learn that the hacker is supposedly a mythical hero destined to save the human race from this enslavement. Now, we throw in betrayal, salvation, a love story, and of course a truly epic and glorious action-packed ending that will leave you gasping at just how unbelievable it all is. People learn how to fly helicopters at the push of a button. People learn to bend the rules of the Matrix like bending the rules of a computer system, and seem to have super powers inside the Matrix as a result. Of course, nothing beats an Agent. According to Morpheus many have tried and all have died.
Until you meet Neo.
I could spend hours upon hours talking about how cleverly written this film is. The references to “The Wizard of Oz” and “Alice in Wonderland” are everywhere, and this adds to my enjoyment of this film in a way that I simply cannot explain. There are subtle things too, like the names. Neo means “new”. Morpheus is a Greek name and from Greek mythology we learn he was the God of Dreams. Trinity? You know, like as in “the Holy Trinity”? Sound bizarre? Follow this possible theory: Trinity represents the 3 sides of each of the heroes of this movie – past, present, and future. That’s just a possibility but her name was chosen rather specifically. Oh, and the Oracle? You have to wait until the sequel to “the Matrix” to learn the mind-blowing truth about her, but man is it cool! The writing of this movie includes references to mythology but also philosophy, particularly Eastern philosophy. When a small child asks Neo to examine his thoughts concerning the bending of spoon, he explains “…only then will you realize the truth: there is no spoon.” This is BRILLIANT! (I think I sat pondering that quote for days and it drove me to re-read a lot of philosophical writings.)
When you add the brilliant fight choreography and the over-the-top action sequences, you get one the greatest combinations in cinematic history: the thinking man’s action movie. When I 1st saw Trinity move in what would be called “bullet-time”, I was stunned. Nobody had done anything like this before. This was literally film history playing out before my eyes. The lobby scene towards the end of the film is one of the most exquisite action sequences ever to be constructed in film. “The Matrix” has iconic still shots in it, but the editing for its action sequences ranks at the very top of my list. In short, the cinematography was well done, but the editing took it to a whole new level. The special effects were subtle at 1st, and grew a little bolder as the film went on. Have you ever seen a mirror turn liquid before? Or have you ever seen glass bend and ripple before shattering into a ba-zillion pieces? Once you see this movie, you can say “yes, I have!”
I honestly cannot recommend “the Matrix” any higher. This is one of those pinnacle films where you have to step back and say “can it get any better?” Seriously, this film is THAT good. I think I got this movie on every level on which it was constructed, from writing to action and everything in between. This is not an easy film to digest (nor review fully) on the 1st go-around. You may need to watch it again – or 3 or 4 more times. Trust me when I say, this movie has so much to it, that it warrants at least a 2nd look.
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE
- The Matrix: Explained inside the “Construct” (kristoffersonreyes.wordpress.com)
- The meaning of the pill in the Matrix (lunaticoutpost.com)
- Storming Down the Rabbit Hole (yiwashington.com)
- The Story of the Matrix (theworldaccordingtoeric.com)