Thomas Anderson is a hacker, obsessed with something called The Matrix, which even he doesn’t know what it is. When another hacker named Trinity introduces him to a cyber-terrorist terrorist named Morpheus, he finds out that nothing about the world he thought he knew is true.
Too Ahead of Me
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie. Like many people, I watched it a ton when I was younger but, remember, I didn’t even have an email address the first time I saw this movie and smart phones wouldn’t become a thing for another decade. On top of that, I was involved in youth ministry at my church and “The Matrix” was glommed on to as a metaphor for spirituality extremely aggressively by evangelicals at the time. In fact it is one of the things that got me interested in film’s themes in general.
The unfortunate side of all that, however, is that I entirely missed the point of the film. By the time I was of cinephilic maturity enough to understand “The Matrix,” I had moved on to other films and slotted away this one as an action movie which broke the genre open but didn’t have much more to offer me. I had moved on.
Then, this weekend, I watched it again...
Down the Rabbit Hole
First off, I can totally understand why some people were cagey about watching a 16 year old kid watch this movie. The first act is basically about Neo (Keanu Reaves, “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum”) working an office job, hacking and using drugs at night, and going to a metal/drug/sex party and being totally dissatisfied with his life.
Sure, by my standards today, it is done in a pretty tame way but for standards back in th elate 90s, it was a bit edgy.
Storywise, this movie is way ahead of where many movies are willing to go even today. This film is basically one long meditation on Neo trying to overcome his sense of false identity when he is in the Matrix and realize that because his world is digital, there is no reason that he can’t blow through walls, jump impossible chasms, or slow down time. “The Matrix” does try to dumb this all down a little, and for good reasons, but it remains remarkably convoluted whereas films like “Ghost in the Shell (2017)” make sweeping compromises to dumb down the ramifications of technology for humanities future.
Technically the film is way ahead of its time as well. I’m sure most of us have seen behind the scenes videos of how “bullet time” was created but it is almost certainly lost on most people coming of age today, just how groundbreaking it was. The first time I saw time slow down like that, it blew me away. It was like seeing a film in color for the first time must have felt to people around the time of “Wizard of Oz.”
It was also one of the earliest American films to feature fight choreography done in the style of asian martial arts films. This movie is literally where I learned that there was a style of fighting Jiu Jitsu. To say that “The Matrix” changed the face of the American action film is an understatement to say the least.
Watching it again, I realized that I had forgotten how engaging this film is. From the opening scene it just grabs you by the adrenal glands and throws you into a situation where you have no idea what is going on or why and doesn’t explain itself for the first thirty minutes. Even then, the movie is really just a long extended sequence of one man coming to grips with the world that the Wachowskis created.
I do wish some of the acting was a little stronger. Carrie-Anne Moss (“Memento”) is a woefully underwritten character but even worse is the deadpan way most of her lines are delivered and the lack of feeling she seems to project. When we find out that she loves Neo, it feels like she might have just told us what her favorite breakfast cereal is for all the emotion in her voice. Actually, I take that back. I have been way more animated telling people about cereal than that.
I am really glad I rewatched this film. I had forgotten how special it is. In fact, after seeing the glut of sci-fi action movies and cgi rendered fights of the last 20 years, I would say that I appreciate it far more than I did as a kid. This time through I find myself taking “The Matrix” off that shelf it had been acquiring dust upon and searching instead for a place on my Top 100 Movies Shelf.
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