Reviewed by Kathryn A
- Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers
- Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
- Webpage at http://www.whatisthematrix.com
What Is The Matrix?
- It is an action SF movie.
- It is a distopian cyberpunk future.
- It is a philosophical debate about the nature of reality.
- It is a fantasy about a hero foretold.
- It is about the comfort of slavery, and the hardness of freedom.
- It is about waking up.
- It is "the world pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth."
- It is a computer simulation.
This is a must-see. An action film with plot and characters. An SF film which does it right. State-of-the-art SFX where they aren't just eye-candy, but vital to the plot.
Wake up Neo.
The Matrix has you.
Follow the white rabbit.
And Neo does.
Looking back, there isn't a lot of plot, merely Contact, Awakening, Training, Seer, Betrayal, Rescue, and Escape. But there is so much going on. The action is faster than the eye can see, and the build-up, one thing on another, leads you down the rabbit hole into a new world.
The story really focuses on one character, Neo, and his journey from Everyman to Superman. But the supporting characters of Morpheus and Trinity are 3D, and the film manages, as well, to elicit sympathy even from the traitor, and from the enemy we see the most of, Agent Smith.
I like how Neo's characterisation is consistent. He gets threatened by the bad guys, he doesn't cooperate. He gets threatened by the good guys, he doesn't cooperate. He is shown things that turn the world upside down, he refuses to accept them at first. Just like a normal guy. Like Everyman. And unlike many of Hollywood's attempts at more-than-human figures, he isn't nauseatingly nice when he gets Enlightenment.
I also want to put in a good word for Hugo Weaving's performance as Agent Smith. His emphatic, precise, diction was just perfect at showing a character who is not human, but not quite emotionless either, even if the only emotion he feels is contempt.
Reviews-Visually, a mixture of dark Urban Decay and hard-edged chrome-steel sterile brightness. Which I guess you could argue is the quintessence of cyberpunk. Not to mention the preponderance of computers and leather jackets. But also a touch of the surreal and Gigeresque nightmare. They also tossed in a dab of the Hong-Kong Kung-Fu flick, for the hand-to-hand combat sequences.
Little interesting bits: * Everyone who knows the true nature of the Matrix wears these little black sunglasses (or mirrorshades on one occasion). Both the Agents and the Resistance. * The really sharp-edged details, the falling ammunition shells and the pieces of broken marble. * I must admit, I liked Trinity's outfits.
Sid & Nancy scale: Rock & Roll waterslide
Don't read this bit unless you've seen the movie.
The ideas are not new. It's as old as Buddha, some of it. * the world is an illusion (Buddha, et al.) * Virtual reality (pick any random cyberpunk novel or movie) * the illusion is VR ("Total Recall", and SF novels) * a war of humans against intelligent machines (various SF novels, not to mention "Terminator") * the name "the matrix" (cyberpunk, Doctor Who, though this matrix isn't the same as those ones)
But the mixture of all these ideas is a new synthesis. And they did it right. The weakest idea, though, was the use that the AI's had for humans, but I forgive it because it was poetic justice.
The allusions to Alice in Wonderland are pretty obvious: Follow the white rabbit. is the first. The question of dreams and waking and reality ("We're all something in his dream," said Tweedledee.) The red pill and the blue pill, like Alice's "Eat Me" and "Drink Me", doing something to one's perspective in a way that the workaday world wouldn't allow. And of course Alice gets mentioned explicitly by Morpheus when he's offering Neo the pills.
Neo as Messiah -- He is foretold ("the One"). He dies and comes to life again, and is transfigured in light. He is the herald of a new age of freedom. However it all seems a bit tacked-on to me. I didn't really take much notice of the messianic overtones until someone pointed them out to me. Which is just as well, because if I had noticed, it would have irritated me.
One of the nice things about this movie is that so many of the character names are significant.
:Morpheus: The lord of sleep and dreams. Quite fitting for someone whose role in life is to "wake" humans from their simulated dream of the Matrix.
:Neo: Which means "new". This is twofold; on the one hand, Neo is a newbie, a neophyte, just finding his feet in this new world, and finding it all very hard to believe and cope with. On the other hand, after he has accepted and Believed, he is the herald of the New world.
The other interesting thing about Neo's name is that when Agent Smith keeps on calling him "Mr. Anderson", he finally says, "My name is Neo!" This is his statement of individuality. Neo is a name he chose for himself, not the one that was given to him. I like the irony of Agent Smith's statement that Neo has two lives, one as Mr. Anderson, and one as Neo, and only one of those lives has a future. It was true, but in the opposite way that Agent Smith intended; Agent Smith was saying that only Mr. Anderson had a future, but the way it turned out to be was that Neo was the one with a future.
:Trinity: I don't know why she's called that. Perhaps it refers to the Christian Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, but that doesn't fit her. You can take Neo as the Son, but Morpheus is more like John the Baptist than God the father, and Trinity isn't the Spirit - she's not even the Virgin Mary. Maybe it just means she's the third most important character?
:Cipher: Lovely double meaning in this one. It can either refer to code-breaking, an appropriate name for a hacker, or it can refer to his desire to be out of this war he hates, his wish that he'd taken the blue pill instead of the red one, his desire to be back in the Matrix, just another cipher amongst drones, comfortable and ignorant of the reality he hates.
More On Style
I liked how Our Heros were not in a state-of-the-art super-ship, but an old hovercraft whose nameplate had verdegris; their clothes were patched and their food was slush.
The Sentinels were very effective; on the one hand, swimming like jellyfish, on the other hand, when attacking, looking like spiders with too many legs. Mind you, those sequences with the Sentinels were so reminiscent of submarine warfare that I was half-expecting the ship to fill with water once there was a hull-breach. The whole movement of the Sentinels and the "hovercraft" was more like swimming; they must have had some antigravity stuff, not air-blasting which is used by 20th-century hovercraft.
"Follow the white rabbit."
The explanation of why everything tastes like chicken.
The explanation of Deja-Vu.
"My... name.. is... Neo!"
The bit where he stops the bullets.