The Matrix 1999
Sorry for the delay, making the last couple entries got harder and harder as I pushed many movies to the side…but I digress. Every now and again a movie comes around that realigns your perception and defies expectations. The Matrix was absolutely one of those movies. I was admittedly late to the game, having seen it only after its release on home video. Keanu Reeves wasn’t exactly a box office homerun in those days, although he had achieved moderate success with Speed a few years prior. Laurence Fishburne was the most credentialed star who signed onto the project and would play the crucial mentor role as Morpheus. Carrie-Anne Moss had been around but was far from a star and Hugo Weaving, who played the sinister Agent Smith, was probably best known for his role as a drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Even the Wachowskis who helmed the project as writers/directors were unknown and unheralded at the time. From the outside looking in, the project appeared to be a glorified B movie that somehow snuck into the mainstream and was headed directly into the toilet. Thankfully, word of mouth goes a long way with box office success.
The film is probably best known for its social subtext, special effects and kung fu choreography. For someone like myself who had grown up a fan of sci-fi and kung fu movies separately, it was an almost natural progression to blend the two. The fight sequences fit well in the urban American settings and melded with the gun loving action. Speaking of guns, The Matrix popularized the use of the “bullet-time” special effect which has appeared in seemingly every action movie with a gun ever since. The original film did a good job of not over utilizing one effect technique too much. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of techniques that were recycled but the movie itself wasn’t completely reliant upon them as was the case with the two follow up films in the franchise. I’ve always been a fan of real explosions and real stunt work. However, it did set the table for CGI to become a more instrumental part of filmmaking in the future.
The dystopian future is ruled by intelligent machines after humanity creates artificial intelligence at the end of the 20th century. The plot centers around Neo (Reeves), a computer hacker who is recruited by a group of individuals on the outskirts of the machine world. Man vs. machine was not a revolutionary concept, nor was the unlikeliest of heroes winding up the chosen one. The plot point that sets The Matrix apart is humanity living in a simulation. Serving as glorified batteries for the machines, mankind is enslaved and forced to live out a futile simulation of life. At the heart of life, nothing is more soul crushing than living a fake one. This aspect of the film is mostly allegorical; a social commentary, seemingly, about the American way of life. The film focuses on the idea of perception as reality. Those who remain plugged into the system are blissfully ignorant of the larger world, grinding away in what they believe to be life.
In 2003, British philosopher Nicholas Bostrom put forth a hypothesis regarding simulated reality. Earlier this year, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his opinion on the subject public, claiming it’s more likely that we are living in a simulation. Just a few weeks ago, British tabloids started running with a story claiming Bank of America believes there is up to a 50% chance that we are indeed living in a simulation. Although the long philosophical debate regarding simulated reality is one I’d like to take part in, now is not the time. However, cheers to the Wachowskis for bringing such an idea to the mainstream before anyone was considering the possibility.
Check back tomorrow as we reveal the last movie on the list.