“Ever have that feeling you’re not sure if you’re awake or dreaming?” – Neo
For a sci-fi story so wildly eccentric, it is remarkable just how accessible the landscape of the Wachowski’s Matrix really is. Essentially, it is a story that follows a central conflict between two pieces of warring digital matter, thematically it’s a fight between creator and created, and on the surface, it’s an acrobatic leather-laden romp. It is in this perfect cohesion of several moving parts which makes The Matrix such an exciting and enjoyable experience. Part heist film, dystopian horror, film-noir and high-stakes western, The Matrix is in and of itself a filmmaking masterpiece.
Waking up in a pod of thick red jelly, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is reborn into the real world, one plagued with eternal darkness and the overwhelming power of a robotic dystopia overseeing humanity’s slow demise.
Populated seemingly only by thick chunks of wire and jagged electrical towers that hold pods of dormant human life, Neo would’ve been forgiven for begging to return to the Matrix, an artificial world of ignorant bliss. It was only a few hours before this that he was plucked from his dreary life as a computer programmer by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the rest of his crew aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, a gang of rebels amongst some of humanity’s last remaining survivors.
This meeting gives Neo a firm push down the rabbit hole of The Matrix, a landscape constructed by machines to take control of the human mind, whilst they harvest the body’s natural power supply for their own benefit. It’s a bizarre set-up that strangely doesn’t take much willpower to believe, with thanks to a screenplay so perfectly refined that exposition doesn’t feel laborious at all. Morpheus, and more accurately, Laurence Fishburne, delivers the somewhat nonsensical material with such gravitas that to question his words would be almost insulting, whilst Neo is the perfect conduit, channelling this information from Morpheus and back to the viewer.
The ease in which the world of The Matrix is accepted is where the film truly excels, and what’s not to accept? The film takes place in an exact replica of our own world; the only difference is how we perceive it. Directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski encourage questions of why, what, if, and how, each of which is gleefully explored throughout the film and in the stirring minds of the captivated viewer. In a world of sudden sandbox possibilities, what can I do, how can I act, what limits can I push?
Ambitious limits of how Neo perceives the new world around him are reciprocated in the fabric of the 1999 film, one which utilises new technologies and pushes the boundaries of genre filmmaking. ‘Bullet time’, involving the 360-degree photography of a certain subject before stitching each image together in slow-motion allowed lead characters, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo, and Morpheus, to conduct action scenes like ballet dancers. This, in combination with the high-flying wire-work, meant fight sequences were fluid dances where every kick, punch, and pirouette was clear, yet seemed to also move at 100mph. There’s an iconic idiosyncrasy to it, a stiff stoicism to each fight that highlights the situational gravity, as well as the significance when pain is inevitably dealt.
An energetic orchestral score would underpin the sheer danger and severity of the rebels’ mission, whilst the pumping metallic rock gave reason for their cyberpunk aesthetic, laden in black leather and individual eccentricities. It was, of course, a style that would transcend cinema and land in the streets of 1999, a society that would soon accept the technological advances of the 21st century. The indistinguishable green numbers and letters of The Matrix found themselves onto the screensaver of every teenage phone, whilst the Nokia mobile used in the film itself saw real-life sales increase severalfold. The story of The Matrix was one that tied technologies greatest feats, and most dangerous perils together at such a time where the subject was at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist. When Morpheus leans over to Neo and says, “let me show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”, the Wachowski’s may as well be speaking directly to a pre-millennial audience oblivious to the fact that the future of technological 21st-century filmmaking was contained within the following 136 minutes of monolithic cinema.