The Matrix (1999)


The Matrix movie posterIf you were old enough to see R-rated movies in 1999 (or had lenient parents), you no doubt flocked to the theaters to see the Wachowski Brothers’ cyberpunk epic, The Matrix. Centered in a mechanical Orwellian dystopia, The Matrix made everyone who saw it question their perception of reality, if only for a brief moment. The movie was an inarguable success, grossing over $460 million worldwide and wining four Academy Awards, as well as international praise, an obscenely profitable franchise, and addition to the National Film Registry in 2012.


The Matrix also presented us with "bullet time," a now-trademarked cinematic effect that conveys impossible slow-motion effects where the camera appears to move around an object in motion faster than time itself. The visual trick is actually created by positioning multiple stationary cameras and using the footage from all of them to trigger the illusion of time slowing down to an impossible rate. The footage is further enhanced by digital means to create fluidity.

The story of The Matrix follows computer programmer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who is also an expert hacker under the pseudonym Neo. In the excessively long set up to let Neo in on the secrets of the Matrix, we also meet Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), the film’s first obvious religious allusion and romantic storyline. Next in line for introduction is Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), the good guys’ stoic leader. Morpheus offers Neo his choice between the infamous red pill and blue pill, explaining that one will show him the truth and one will make him think this was all a dream. Like any curious expert hacker determined to push a plot forward, Neo chooses the red pill and soon wakes up surrounded by incubators, wires and confusion.

Take the red pill or the blue pill   Neo wakes from the Matrix

After being freed from his plugged-in state, Neo is told the gist of the Matrix and the takeover of artificial intelligence, but not the rebellion’s bizarrely inconvenient reliance on land line telephones. Neo is then brought to visit the Oracle, a prophet who predicted his arrival, as well as his fate as "The One." The scene where Neo sits in the Oracle’s apartment contains one of the most iconic moments of ’90s cinema, in which a young child shows Neo that "there is no spoon" with nothing more than a little wisdom and CGI.

Try to realize the truth.... There is no spoon.   Neo visits the Oracle   Exiting the Matrix through phone lines

Though the protagonists do have one quickly defeated traitor, the primary bad guy is actually a sunglass-wearing computer program named Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). While in the Matrix, Smith and his duplicates can take over the bodies of any regular Matrix-dwelling bystander. For Smith, possessing homeless guys and truck drivers is a seconds-long process, but inexplicably, agents have less or no power over machinery or buildings that are also a part of the greater computer program that is the Matrix, denying them a significant advantage over the human rebellion. But then again, a level playing field makes for way cooler action scenes–as do bad aim, unnecessary acrobatics, and trench coats.

Trinity & Neo rescue Morpheus   Agent Smith holds Morpheus captive   Trinity, "Dodge this."

The film culminates in an epic battle where Neo is seemingly killed in his efforts to save Morpheus. Of course, Neo is the messiah and the show must go on! He is revived by Trinity’s dimension-transcending sexual prowess and is resurrected from his premature death to fight the impossible battle against Agent Smith(s). The final scene reveals Neo’s mastery of the Matrix, evidenced by his Superman-style flight into the sky before the credits roll.

Trinity tends to Neo while he's plugged into the Matrix   Neo sees the Matrix   Neo stops Agent Smith's bullets. He is "the one."   Neo defeats Agent Smith who breaks apart

Despite its flaws, The Matrix was a groundbreaking movie with international appeal to a wide variety of audiences. The plot of The Matrix gratified some viewers by playing on their paranoid conspiracy theories. For all its overlying religious themes, the godless world of human versus A.I. appealed to an agnostic and atheist audience. Romantics were intrigued by Neo and Trinity’s otherworldly, fated romance. Moviegoers everywhere were floored by new visual effects and stunning cinematography. It may not have been perfect, but the Matrix was an icon of the late ’90s and modern science fiction that could not be ignored.

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