Review: The Matrix

Thomas ‘Neo’ Anderson is a corporate drone and wanted computer hacker. One day he is contacted by the mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who urges Neo to ‘follow the white rabbit’. After creepy government agent led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) come looking for ‘Mr. Anderson’, Neo finds himself rescued by Morpheus, who is about to take the wool off Neo’s eyes to what is really going on around him. The world is not as it seems, it’s essentially a computer program used to enslave the masses, and Agent Smith and his fellow goons will do anything they can to keep the populace docile and ignorant of the truth. Morpheus has been told by the prophetic Oracle (Gloria Foster) that Neo is ‘The One’ that is the key to putting a stop to all of this. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Trinity, a follower of Morpheus, with Matt Doran’s Mouse and Joe Pantoliano’s Cyrus also among the gang.

I know some people prefer Alex Proyas’ “Dark City”, but I liked this 1999 blend of action and ideas a bit better than the futuristic neo noir of that film. Written and directed by The Wachowskis, it’s such a shame that they had to make sequels, with the subsequent film in particular being such an empty wankfest. Still, if you can view this one as an entity in and of itself, it’s terrific entertainment that did a lot for Australia, Hugo Weaving, and cinema in general. Thematically fascinating, cinematically revolutionary, and just plain cool. Best of all, time hasn’t particularly diminished its quality in the 15+ years since its release.

The Wachowski’s showed what they could do in the excellent lesbian neo noir flick “Bound”, and armed with a bigger budget and bigger canvas here they show us what they can do with that, too. I’m not as enamoured with the green filter applied by cinematographer Bill Pope (“Bound”) as I was when I first saw it, I think it dates the film a bit. However, this is otherwise one helluva good-looking film. Rain-soaked at times, tall buildings shot from low-angles, the infamous and at the time ground-breaking ‘bullet-time’ FX, it’s impressive stuff and the Wachowskis (who in the years since have gone from being brothers to sisters, an irrelevant but interesting sidenote in my opinion) at least in this and “Bound” know how to show off with camera movements, without disappearing up their own arses. I don’t understand how their subsequent films have turned out so poor, but at least in these two films they show obvious aptitude for making slick movies. Also, while most visions of the future tend to become outdated (and inaccurate by the time the year they’re predicting finally becomes the present), this one holds up better than most. In fact, at times it’ll probably feel like it was ahead of its time. The film’s technological design is both stunning and very, very weird at times.

Message to computer nerds of the world: If you jump off a tall building, you will fall and fucking die, no matter how cool you look in your black trench coat. The film is really the ultimate fantasy for gamers and computer nerds who are looking for meaning in all those 1s and 0s. But for me it also says something much deeper about our relationship with technology, and our reliance on it. In addition to being an Australian and the film being shot here, I personally connected to the film over the years because I used it for some of my Uni assignments, for starters. Thematically there’s an awful lot to chew on in this. Here, in a future world, the technology we have relied on has in fact come to dictate our sense of reality, provided us with our sense of reality. The machines have come to dictate to us. Talk about an Orwellian nightmare! The film makes one wonder if a world created and controlled by technology could really be the next stage of evolution. I’d suggest it wouldn’t be possible, but then I’m just part of ‘The Matrix’, so my thoughts aren’t really my own, so who knows? Boy does one find themselves questioning their sense of reality after seeing this film, which brings me to the topic of religion. Both this film and “Star Wars” share a concern with religious themes, although many debate just what side the Wachowski’s come down on here. Personally I don’t see the debate (Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t a criminal, and Neo’s transition into ‘The One’ is hardly biblical), this is like the Atheist’s Guide to the Galaxy, preaching a lot of the ideas and theories that I personally share about life, the universe, and everything. The topic of social constructs really comes into play with this film, and if the thought is taken far enough, one can apply it to every aspect of society, even religion. This film seems to be suggesting just that, even whilst Neo shows the occasional Christ-like quality (He’s ‘The One’, there’s a resurrection, etc.) Everything Neo thought he knew about the world, about his own existence, was just a construct used to dull the masses into unquestioning obedience. I’m not suggesting religion is entirely bad, nor that ‘believers’ are all ignorant (some are, though), but I do believe it to be socially constructed, and it does shape many people’s views of reality and the world around them. So are we all characters in God’s little Sims Neighbourhood? Or are the concepts of God and heaven all part of ‘The Matrix’ too? Or maybe this film is just a ‘Matrix’ itself, pulling the wool over our eyes to the emptiness we’d find in the next film. I choose not to see it that way, though. This film is too good to be treated in such a cheap, trivial way. But the atheistic qualities, or at least questioning of the status quo, is definitely strong throughout this film and appealed to me. The funny thing about the film is that at times you’d swear it was techno-phobic, given it’s a film with a heavy emphasis on technology, both within the film and in the making of it. This is not a complaint, I might add, just a curious observation.

I had forgotten just how much fun this film is, even funny at times. Just look at the training scene between Neo and Morpheus. All involved are playing it somewhat comedically in homage to the Shaw Brothers flicks of the 70s and 80s, no doubt. Look at their facial expressions for a start. Star Keanu Reeves has apparently learned martial arts in the years since the film, but here the choreography is by renowned choreographer/director Yuen Woo-ping, who helped make the actors seem more adept in the fight scenes than they really were. The choreography here is actually more impactful-looking than some of the block-heavy Shaw Brothers flicks if you ask me. Meanwhile, one hilarious discovery I made watching the movie this time around: One of the skills Neo gets uploaded into himself is ‘Drunken Boxing’. Brilliant.

Keanu Reeves will never be considered a great actor (though he was fine in “The Gift” and even “The Neon Demon”), but here he’s…at least better than he was in “Johnny Mnemonic”. Carrie-Anne Moss likewise, is no great thespian but she fares really well in the action scenes, especially the cool opener. This is her one memorable role to date. Aussie actor Hugo Weaving was made here, in terms of an international career. Playing the virtually created Agent Smith, he doesn’t give a cold-blooded performance…he gives a bloodless performance. He’s positively chilling, and steals the film. A magisterial Laurence Fishburne simply is Morpheus in all his enlightened badassery. Perfectly cast, it’s such a shame that the next film reduced his role to wordy emptiness. The ruined what here was a genuinely great character and spot-on performance. Joe ‘Joey Pants’ Pantoliano is always great, but I must admit his casting here is a bit too obvious. Still, he gives a terrific performance and his character is interesting. Former Aussie soap actor Matt Doran is good as Mouse, and probably delivers the most believable American accent of any of the Aussie actors in the cast (a cast that includes fellow “Home and Away” alum Ada Nicodemou and veteran character actor Bill Young).

Although you could argue that the film has slightly dated in visual terms, this is otherwise a film that has held up well over the last 15 years or so. The only real problem is that it was followed up by two lesser films that tarnished its legacy somewhat. I’m not going to shit on it for that, though. Thematically fascinating, endlessly cool, consistently exciting and entertaining, this one’s worth the hype. This is unquestionably one of the best and most iconic movies of the late 90s, alongside “The Phantom Menace” (come at me, haters!), “Being John Malkovich”, “Pleasantville”, “The Blair Witch Project”, “Life is Beautiful”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “The Ice Storm”, and “L.A. Confidential”.

Rating: B+


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