On my flight back from Tokyo last night, I went back and revisited one of the great classics of modern scifi The Matrix. Besides the sexy Carrie Anne-Moss as Trinity and the awesome Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Keanu Reeves did truly carry this movie with a stunning performance throughout. Having seen – and been disappointed by – the two sequels (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions), I wanted to see how this film measures up to more recent scifi and I found that with one or two reservations, it totally works. The special effects were sometimes flawed (particularly when Smith muzzles Neo just before “bugging” him (quite literally)) but sometimes they were strikingly great (I love the helicopter crash in particular.
Most of the premises kept me believing in the story with one exception: when Neo is mowing down the agents from the helicopter, Morpheus is mysteriously untouched despite being tied up on a chair in the middle of the maelstrom. But in a larger sense, the concepts of the film around “What is reality?” are still amazing and relevant (reminding me for some reason of Freddy in the Nightmare of Elm Street with the “if you die in your dreams” bit that scared the bejezus out of me when I was a kid) and it is hard to beat the total bad-ass aspect of the arrival of leather-clad Neo and Trinity in the building where Morpheus was being held.
Now, I was also thinking that, this film being made before 2001 and thus before the constant war that the US has been in since then, the scene of the two heroes mowing down about 20 GIs would probably offend current sensibilities and I am not sure that had they filmed it three years later, that this scene would have been kept intact, as awesome as it was to see literally the walls being chewed off by automatic rounds.
In thinking of a few parallels and influences: I also think that the outside scene as they enter the apartment building to meet the Oracle where we are looking down at the group through the falling rain, must have influenced Nolan’s vision for the Batman trilogy because I felt a strong visual similarity there. Another parallel I drew was to the various myths around a sleeping hero awoken with a kiss – sleeping beauty in particular – because Neo is of course brought back by Trinity to fulfil the Oracle’s fantasy.
The film uses many face-offs and works primarily in twos: Neo and Morpheus, Neo and Trinity, Neo and Smith, Morpheus and Smith, Humans and The Matrix. Perhaps lots of Yin and Yang, but I think this black/white was also reflected in the dark color palette in the cineography as well. Thinking about it a little more, perhaps that is also a weakness of the film because – in typical Hollywood fashion – the humans are uncompromisingly the good guys and The Matrix with its Agents is completely evil. That being said, Smith’s speech to Morpheus about humans being incapable to live anywhere without destroying their environment ring true although few would accept the virus analogy, so critical to motivating the Matrix to eliminate us humans – on which they ironically depend for their own survival in yet another “serpent eating its tail” kind of twist. I’ll bet there were 100s of graduate theses in the early 2000s analyzing and decomposing this movie because there is just so much here.
I think that besides the conceptual elements which were so strong in this film, the thing that makes it such riveting and enduring cinema is that the fusion of the various philosophical elements is almost seamless. The sequences where Morpheus reveals the Matrix to Neo in the white room of nothingness and infinity and the Japanese training room where they do battle are both reflections of the nihilist almost nietzschean (“Neo/One as Superman”) and also Zen Buddhism (“open yourself and free your mind”) principles espoused by the screenplay. The red and blue pill image from Alice and Wonderland was brilliantly orchestrated as well as the regret and betrayal by Cypher.
It is well-worth going back and re-experiencing The Matrix. Just remember, there is no spoon.