BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Matrix (1999)

You have a choice, 3.5 readers.  You can take the blue pill and wake up, forget that you ever read this pitiful blog, or you can take the red pill and see how far down the rabbit hole this terrible blog goes.

What?  You took the red pill?  What the hell is wrong with you?

I first saw this movie in the theater when it came out in the summer of 1999.  At the time, everyone I knew who saw it thought it was the dumbest movie they’d ever seen.  I, on the other hand, thought it was special, unique, different – a science fiction film that didn’t involve space, or clichés, or wasn’t derivative, something that was brand spanking new.  The Wachowski (then brothers, now sisters) had invented a whole new world that built off itself and it was intriguing.

Plus, the special effects alone made it worth watching.  The slowed down, 360 kicks, spins, the “bullet time” slow motion where characters dodge bullets, all set the standard for other flicks to follow.  It holds up today, and looks like something that Hollywood’s best FX gurus could have made yesterday.

The plot for the uninitiated – Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) lives a lonely, forlorn life as an office drone for a tech company, hopelessly searching for meaning and finding none, even while he stays up all night exercising his hacking skills and surfing the Internet.  It was 1999, so people still thought they might find meaning on the Internet, rather than just the giant reserve of pornography and cat videos it is today (and to be honest, was kind of back then too, just a lot grainier and slower…still if you were willing to wait 12 hours, you might get ten seconds of exceptionally slow, grainy, not worth watching cat footage.)

Impressed with his hacking skills, Thomas, who takes the name “Neo,” is recruited by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne in perhaps the most memorable role of his career) and his band of rebels, including Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss), Cipher (Joe Pantagliano) and some others who weren’t that famous so, you know, moving on…

Neo is let in on a big secret.  The world as we know it is not a world at all.  It is a computer program, dubbed “The Matrix.”  The machines have won, they have enslaved humanity by putting them to sleep and hooking up to an array of cords that turn them into living batteries that give the machines energy.  To keep the humans docile, their minds are hooked up to an alternate reality program that makes them believe they are living actual lives in an artificial world.

Those, like Morpheus et. al., who realize the world is fake, know that the world’s rules can be broken.  They can load their brains up with all kinds of survival training, i.e. kung fu, weapons training, etc.  They can run up walls, fire guns with great precision and do incredible kicks where they launch into the air and time stops as they connect their foot to an opponent’s face.

The villain of the film is Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), a cold, calculating computer program who takes the appearance of a stern Federal agent.  I think Agent Smith is one of the more underrated baddies of sci fi film history.  Darth Vader might come at you like a honey badger on crack, but Agent Smith will, with his monotone, almost school marmish style, lecture you into believing that all hope is lost and that the best option is to give in, and frankly, he is very convincing.  He’s every mean adult you met when you were growing up who told you the rules matter and you better drop your pie in the sky dreams this instant.

It’s funny how you learn as you get older and can watch movies and understand them more.  At 20, I thought this was a fun movie.  At almost 40, I realize it’s double meaning.  Life is “the Matrix” and we often find ourselves weighed down by all these rules that keep us from doing what we want.  “You can’t do this because of XYZ.”

“The Matrix” can mean a lot of different things to different people.  “Taking the red pill” has become part of the cultural language now.  I’ve heard people use that phrase in a variety of contexts, including people on both sides of the political aisle trying to convert others to their way of thinking.

Basically, there’s who you are and who you would like to be and if you stick with the life that makes you unhappy, you’re like Cipher, who decides “ignorance is bliss” and wants to stay in the Matrix because living under the imposed rules is better than going it alone.  And in truth, to break the rules will lead to a period of suffering.  Morpheus and company, by freeing their minds from the Matrix, do enjoy special powers when they return to the Matrix, but when they are out of it, they live in a harsh reality, one where the few surviving humans live in underground tunnels, eat gruel, and are constantly hunted by the machines.

Thus, if you stop following the rules, your life will be hard for awhile.  People will make fun of you, not want to talk to you, you might suffer in a variety of ways, but eventually (hopefully) you’ll master your new life and become the sunglass wearing, black coat wearing kung fu master you were meant to be.

Again, “The Matrix” could be an allegory for whatever it is in your life that is standing between you and what you want.  And it’s entirely possible that you might try to break out of the Matrix and fail.  In the film, the rule is that if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life, because the body can’t live without the mind….and thus, if we think about real life, it is entirely possible that we might break the rules, suffer, and then succumb to suffering.  Maybe Morpheus is right and it is better to live free and suffer than to live a lie.  Maybe Cipher is right and it is better to live as a dupe and follow the rules rather than live in a cave and eat gruel.

Ironically, I assume that the Wachowskis broke out of their own personal Matrix by becoming sisters instead of brothers.  But again, the Matrix can be adapted to whatever beliefs you have and whatever you think is standing between you and becoming who you want to be.

The film holds up.  Although there are some late 1990s things that aren’t around today (the rebels in the Matrix talk to their friends in reality via big cell phones and must seek out a hard line or a telephone booth to get back to reality), the key is that the machines made the Matrix so that the world perpetually remains 1999 forever, even though in reality, it is 2199.

So technically, Hollywood could remake this and set it in 1999 and it would hold up with the film’s rules, though I hope they don’t.  To be honest, this film was unique unto itself.  The sequels that came out almost back to back in 2003 felt like cash grabs and to me, aren’t that memorable.  The second is better than the third though.

STATUS:  Worth a rental, or sometimes I even see it playing on cable so you might find it for free.

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7 thoughts on “BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Matrix (1999)

  1. I LOVE The Matrix. It’s my power movie; one of the few I would list as a favorite at any time.
    Thanks for the write-up.

    • I forgot to mention it’s great from a writing perspective. It’s a very complicated idea – you’ve got people in one world talking to people in another world, their bodies asleep in reality, awake in fantasy, but bad guys attack them in reality….lots of stuff going on but they give you the rules quickly and make it clear what’s going on

  2. One of my top 10! I just posted my review for The Matrix and I’m gonna review the sequels in the days to come if you want to follow my journey.

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