The Matrix (1999)

  • Directors: Andy Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) , Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)
  • Writers: Andy Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) , Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)
  • Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

I revisited The Matrix rather recently (after having already seen it 3 times before) so that I could give it a review while it’s still fresh in my mind. I thought I knew it well. That was until I was in a place that had it playing on a big screen and the guy behind the counter was saying word for word whatever dialogue was about to be spoken next. Either he had an incredible memory or he had seen it more times than I have.

You have probably seen The Matrix, as it is a classic; not a cult classic, but an actual classic. It came out in 1999, and now over 15 years on, some people say it hasn’t aged well. I disagree, especially as it’s available on HD DVD and Bluray with the same if not better definition than it had in its original cinema release. I mention the HD DVD and Bluray because when it first came out on DVD it was slightly grainy as it hadn’t yet had the high definition transfer that came about years later in 2007.

With its box office success and record breaking number of DVD sales it introduced the simulation hypothesis to masses of people. Instead of posing the question, ‘are we living in a simulation?’ amusingly, many people started to ask, ‘are we living in The Matrix?’

In the film, Thomas Anderson who goes by the alias of Neo, is played by Keanu Reeves (who aptly is a computer programmer). As the story unfolds we find out that he has been living in an artificial world created by machines and that it is not 1999 but in fact closer to 2199. Some people criticise the artificial world for being ‘very 90s’ but I would point out that it literally is supposed to be 1999 and so it really should look the way it does, with its clunky cellphones and computers.

Through Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) Neo is introduced to the incredibly philosophical and fanatical Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne. What follows is the iconic scene where Morpheus presents Neo with a blue pill and a red pill. Neo has to choose whether to wake up in bed and believe whatever he wants to believe (the blue pill), or stay in wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes (the red pill). He chooses the red pill and what follows is incredibly disturbing. Reality begins to warp and distort and then just in time, before presumably something terrible is going to happen to him, he wakes up in the real world and is unplugged from The Matrix. It shows that he is in some sort of pod in a liquid with rods plugged into him. He is flushed from the pod, then rescued and brought aboard Morpheus’s ship.

There are numerous philosophical, religious, and political references. Some even speculate that the red pill depicted in the film is actually a metaphor for the drug DMT. It’s claimed by many that no one experiences reality the same way again after a DMT trip (whether that is a good or bad idea depends on your perspective).

It’s small wonder then that this film sparked a lot of angst in some people. I’ve often heard the film referenced in conspiracy theories, with one person telling me on one occasion, ‘it is truth wrapped up in fiction.’

To simply summarize the main idea: if it is possible for us, somehow with technology, to create an artificial world as real as this one, then perhaps we ourselves are already living in an artificial world that was created by beings more advanced than us. They would effectively be our Gods. I don’t mean that in the supernatural sense. If it were true, it would be scientific and based just on very advanced technology.

Oxford philosopher, Nick Bostrom, has said he places the chance that were are actually living in a simulation at a 20% probability. That surely won’t comfort people that have really been adversely affected by seeing The Matrix!

When I saw it for the first time, in 1999, I was in my early teens and I didn’t understand the main idea of it and so I just enjoyed the action scenes and the martial arts. Speaking of which, the film boasts choreography by none other than Yuen Woo-ping, who did a fantastic job.

The film is a fairly even combination of both visual effects and profound ideas. That’s something I would like to see more of. I think a great many films focus on the visual effects and action; neglecting the importance of ideas.

A similar but much more low-key film was released in the same year as The Matrix; it’s called The Thirteenth Floor, and I liked that as well although it is nowhere near as well known.

I think one of the best things in The Matrix is the formidable quality of what are known as ‘Agents.’ They are sentient programs depicted as beings that fight both with guns and hand-to-hand combat; enforcing the rules of the matrix and killing people that are awake and infiltrating it from the real world by jacking into it. They remind me of the T1000 played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. The main Agent (Agent Smith) is played by Hugo Weaving marvellously.

The Matrix has two sequels that were not as well received but they are still good in my opinion and they elaborate even further on the ideas of the first.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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