Review No. 563
What if I told you “The Matrix” must be seen to be believed?
Directors — the Wachowski brothers
Producer — Joel Silver
Screenplay — the Wachowski brothers
Keanu Reeves — Thomas A. “Neo” Anderson
Laurence Fishburne — Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss — Trinity
Hugo Weaving — Agent Smith
Joe Pantoliano — Cypher
Distributor — Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date — March 31, 1999
Language — English
Country — USA & Australia
Running Time — 136 minutes
MPAA Rating — R
MPAA Description — sci-fi violence and brief language
THE MATRIX WAS WATCHED ON AUGUST 7, 2013.
This is blind-men’s chess for those who want to play chess with the audience’s minds. The Wachowskis wrote and directed The Matrix based on the knowledge that there’s no sight until post-production; it’s all feeling around for that lightbulb. And once they’ve got ahold of it, there’s only one fear existent in them and the audience alike: letting go of the lightbulb. I won’t lie: The Matrix could have burned brighter. No doubt, it burns bright, but of the many acts it follows (Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element), this one feels a bit too thick in outlining the “hero’s journey” structure. (For those who didn’t know, Joseph Campbell outlined the concept in his 1949 nonfiction piece, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) Indeed lines such as “Follow the white rabbit” sound like “This is your call to adventure.” But it’s also clear the Wachowskis could’ve burned a hole in that lightbulb, when such lines transform into points of intrigue.
Tom Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a businessman by day. He has a steady job, pays his taxes, has a social security number. And yet he’s leading a life by the alias “Neo” whenever he gets to his computer, where he is a computer hacker, not to mention a man probably drowning in the money he makes off of such a risky job. His talent in the latter department is what catches the eye of a program known as the Matrix. He’s told that he’s in the Matrix; if he takes the red pill, he’s in Wonderland for life, and if he takes the blue pill, he can step out and remain “normal.” The way Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) pitches it to him, it’s like a “heaven or hell” decision, so guess which one he chooses? Red pill, “heaven.” But little does Neo know, it’s a matter of deciding between a purgatory with matters too frightening to grasp (the Matrix), or matters too stressful to grasp (life as he knows it).
Everything here is either a twist or a turn: the Wachowski’s screenplay is filled with either a genuine take on something that’s already been done, or a completely new approach. It’s familiar sci-fi without a nuance of familiar atmosphere. The narrative focuses squarely on how one decision effects everything; the style, fast-paced, offbeat, matched by spunky techno music. This is exactly what Tom Tykwer did with his German thriller Run Lola Run, a year earlier, yet the Wachowskis’ approach is 100% different.
Minus the shots of Neo’s computer in the very beginning (technology has advanced quite a bit!), The Matrix indeed feels like something only modern technology could make possible. Not to mention, the technology is in the right hands. This isn’t thoroughly an action movie, but by the climax, there’s action galore. Bill Pope’s cinematography is, in a word, stunning. They really do say “don’t shoot, overshoot” for a reason, don’t they? It’s to heighten excitement, and whenever Zach Staenberg’s editing kicks in, it’s no less than exhilarating. Admittedly, this is a sci-fi movie set in “real time,” so when everything goes over the top, we should notice. But we don’t. The Matrix doesn’t take a second over fifteen minutes to immerse the audience in the impossible. (Though I’d return for the sequel, if it meant just seeing shades and a leather jacket on Keanu Reeves.)
NOTE: Back in 1999, the Wachowskis were credited as “the Wachowski brothers” for their direction and writing of The Matrix. Since then, however, Larry Wachowski has undergone a sex-change operation and become Lana Wachowski; you’ll notice them credited as “the Wachowskis” in their 2012 film Cloud Atlas.