It was inevitable that I would get around to the generation defining film that is The Matrix (1999). I do not mean to sound hyperbolic, but it is fair to call it “generation defining.” It pioneered film techniques and story telling methods that were new at the time and have stuck with us to this day, whether you like the film or not. I suppose I liked it when it came out, but somewhere along the line it jumped the shark. Nowadays when I rewatch it, it seems trite and boring, no matter how hard it tries to be philosophical and action-packed. As I recently made my way through the trilogy, I realized that the two do not go together. There are some heavy ideas that it explores throughout all three, but before they can get anywhere with any of them it devolves into more, all-too-familiar action schlock. As for the series main character, Thomas Anderson/Neo (Keanu Reeves), the painfully obvious Jesus analog that he is supposed to be has become an overused plot device since this film’s release.
What if our world was not real? That is the central question behind The Matrix. Humans inhabit a simulated computer-scape where our minds go about thinking they have normal lives, while our bodies are kept in a pod that makes it into a veritable battery. There is a group of people that have been unplugged from the titular artificial reality, and they form a kind of resistance to the control that they see in the Matrix. We meet one of the main members of this group of humans as she is being discovered by police, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), in the opening scene. It says pretty much everything you need to know about what is going on in this world. The police apparently see her as a dangerous outlaw, but before they can make their arrest they are approached by a group of shadowing men in black suits, led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). These agents are computer programs who are portrayed as having authority, sort of like digital Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) men. Though the regular rank and file officers do not know it, the agents are aware of who Trinity and people like her really are and they seek to kill every one of them they can find. Though she manages to escape, it is also revealed that she was there looking for a long awaited savior of the human race. This person is Thomas Anderson, though he prefers his computer hacker sobriquet Neo. Apropos, the first scene he appears in he is asleep at his computer, though we see around him evidence that he had been looking into the various people associated with the human resistance, the principle one being Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). When he opens his eyes, he is given clues that only someone like him would follow. They lead him to a rather “alternative” club (to put it nicely) where he meets Trinity. She tells him that he is looking for answers, about Morpheus and, ultimately, the Matrix. The next day when he goes to work, he receives a cell phone that rings as soon as he opens the package. He answers and it is the long sought after Morpheus. He is there to guide Neo to the answers he is seeking. Unfortunately, the agents are on to Neo, and the proposed escape route involves climbing along the ledge of the skyscraper in which he works. Submitting to arrest, Neo is interrogated by Agent Smith. The agent wants Neo to lead them to Morpheus, and when Neo refuses, asking for his supposed Constitutionally owed phone call, a nightmare scenario begins to play out where his mouth is erased and a creature is inserted into his torso. He then awakes in his bed, thinking it was a nightmare. However, Trinity tracks him down again and brings him to Neo anyway. Once Neo and Morpheus finally meet, Neo is given the famous option as to whether or not to find out more about the Matrix. Of course, Neo opts for further knowledge, and that is when he is taken out of the Matrix and learns the truth that humans are slaves to machines that are controlled by a powerful artificial intelligence. He is also told that he is special, that he will be able to defeat the all powerful agents and free humanity in general. This is what Morpheus believes, and he has bought into this notion thanks to the guidance of a mysterious person known as the Oracle (Gloria Foster). However, soon after receiving the training he needs to be a foot soldier for the human cause, Neo goes to meet the Oracle and is not definitively told whether or not he is the so-called One. She acknowledges that he has the gift, but that he has to make up his own mind. As their band leaves the Oracle, a plot is set in motion by one of Morpheus’ crew, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), who is fed up with the difficult life outside of the Matrix and jealous of the feelings Trinity develops for Neo. As such, he makes a deal to turn Morpheus over to the agents, and nearly kills the rest of the crew. Neo and Trinity make it out, though, and decide to go back in to rescue Morpheus. In doing so, Neo begins to believe in his path as the One, and single-handedly defeats the agents sent to stop him, despite being shot to death at one point. Neo makes the decision basically not to die, emerges being able to see the code of the Matrix, and obliterates Agent Smith. The end.
The Matrix has so many memorable shots and moments in it that have been recognizable even to people who have not seen the film. If you have seen a number of different movies and television shows, chances are that you have come across a reference to the 1999 blockbuster. For example, there is a sequence near the climax where Neo is fighting an agent and is being shot at by the computer program. The camera goes to slow motion and you see Neo sort of limboing as bullet trails go streaking by his body. The implication is that he is now basically able to dodge gunfire, and other action films, and some comedy spoofs, have adopted the camera work for their own pieces. There are also a number of memes to come out of the film, of Neo saying “whoa” when he sees Morpheus jump from building to another, and others. If you are like me, you can find the movie to be derivative nowadays, but you cannot argue the impact it had on cinema.
Now that I have acknowledged The Matrix‘s impact on culture, let me take it to task on a Faith level. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I tire of characters being forced into a Christ mold. Jesus being the Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament, as the Bible says. Apparently, Neo’s arrival was also foretold. While producers will say otherwise, that is truly where the comparisons end. Seriously, can we please stop taking one small aspect of the Son of God and applying it to every single character that comes along with a mission bigger than themselves? The One, the Chosen One, the Expected, whatever. Jesus did not know Kung Fu, nor would he have been wanting to solve a problem with a gun. This is, of course, absurd to think about, but I see it also as a challenge to movie makers to be more creative. The other aspect of The Matrix that I get annoyed by is the notion of what is real and not real. It is embodied when Neo goes to visit the Oracle for the first time, and one of the other special children (Rowan Witt) there is apparently using his mind to bend a spoon. In giving it to Neo and explaining how it is done, he tells the One that the way to make this happen is to realize that there is no spoon. The point is that it is happening in the Matrix, and because it is all a digital fantasy land, the eating implement does not actually exist. And because Neo is god-like, he has the ability to affect this world as he sees fit. What is frustrating for me is how people who saw this film took this idea and ran with it, suggesting that we actually live in the Matrix. When unexplainable things happen, we have come to call them “glitches in the Matrix.” Stop it. God gave us this earth. It is real, and there is no reason to think that the things around us are some kind of artificial construct. When we die, we will find out the truth of the matter. In the meantime, relax.
If you have never seen The Matrix, then maybe you should check it out. Yes, it is violent and, because it is somewhat dated by now, a little dumb at times. But at least you would know some of the references that are still with us to this day. Just know ahead of time that it does have a lot of violence and the circular logic of the rest of the material can be a little frustrating. Proceed with caution.