- Written and Directed by The Wachowskis
- March 24, 1999 (Mann Village Theater) / March 31, 1999 (US) / April 8, 1999 (Australia) / June 11, 1999 (UK)
A computer hacker learns that the world as he believes it to be is a lie and finds himself caught in a fight for the freedom of humanity against machine overlords.
I realize many of the elements of The Matrix have been done before. You can look at any number of science fiction films or stories and see elements plucked from them and used here. But they took those disparate pieces, mixed them up, and gave us this.
And thus it became quite possibly one of the best science-fiction films ever made. Like many films that are still discussed, The Matrix left a lasting cultural impression which I would say is evidence of its greatness. “Glitch in the Matrix” and “Red pilled” are phrases in common use these days that can trace their very existence and use directly to this film. Few films or television series or books have had that kind of effect.
This is essentially a science-fiction superhero film littered with symbolism and philosophy. The narrative does not hand you anything but rather alludes to and forces you to think because you become invested in the narrative. There is just enough here to tell the story as well as being enough to let your mind do some work. That is great storytelling. As much as people talk about the effects they talk about the story even more.
Keanu Reeves is quite possibly perfect casting as Neo. Reeves takes Neo through a hero’s journey. You can see him at first not believing but following out of curiosity and then not wanting this destiny thrust upon him. Who would step up without hesitation if they were ripped from the life they knew and told that quite possibly everything depended on them? That is a frightening burden.
Speaking of Neo, one thing I never quite figured out is why do Neo and the rest of the characters go with the hacker names when they get into the real world rather than their regular names? That is the name you’ve generally been called all your life even if your life was virtual. I would think Neo would want to be referred to as “Mr. Anderson” or “Thomas Anderson” or “Tommy” or “Tom” or whatever he was called at work or outside of work rather than Neo. It is like Superman in his daily life preferring to be called “Superman” or “Supes” rather than “Clark” or “Kal-El.”
Need I say how good Laurence Fishburne was as Morpheus? Heroes need an Obi Wan of some sort on their journey. If they do not get that teacher to prepare them in some way for the task ahead then they become a Mary Sue who is good at everything from the start which in turn makes whatever struggle they go through believable.
Morpheus is a believer in a prophecy to the point of being a fanatic but not a dangerous fanatic. Rather he is a true believer willing to do what he must. Fishburne makes him an even handed but tough teacher with an almost otherworldly feel.
Carrie-Anne Moss stars as Trinity. Trinity is a loyal follower of Morpheus as well as a believer in the prophecy. Moss keeps her from being just a token love interest and gives her a type of strength that is often lacking in those roles.
Joe Pantoliano is Cypher. Cypher is a cynic, and it becomes clear early on that he has little love for the struggle. Pantoliano is a rather slimy Judas that you really come to hate. You either need to find the villain appealing or despicable and Cypher becomes despicable.
Hugo Weaving though is the films chief villain, a sentient program policing the Matrix known as Agent Smith. There are numerous Agents throughout the Matrix but unlike other Agents, Smith has a desire to escape from his duties in the Matrix. Weaving elevated Smith to a very powerful feeling villain. He was filled with a cold rage and sinister. Weaving made him terrifying and a threat as terrible as our hero was good.
Themes of destiny and believing in yourself are present in this story. The story works largely because it is built around the hero’s journey. Events force Neo to become the hero that he must be. Even though this is all part of some prophecy they make you believe that there is the possibility Neo could turn away from it all and not be successful.
If you thought there was no challenge then would you really care about this movie? Sure it would have looked cool when it came out but if you didn’t think there was a chance of failure-a genuine chance of failure-then it’s doubtful it would’ve had two successive films or anything else that has followed.
The Matrix is an amazing film all these decades later. It is a movie everyone should check out at least once because not only did it set the stage for so much that came after, it is a great film on its own merits even today.