A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 314 – The Matrix

The Matrix – January 8th, 2011

This is a movie that got massively overhyped to me when it came out. People literally told me it would be a religious experience for me (and I’ll get back to the amusement value that statement holds later) and, well, that turns me right off. I never saw it in theaters and it took me months to get around to seeing it when it came out for rental. And then I did see it, and while it wasn’t the sort of religious experience I’d been told it would be, it was indeed impressive. Full of little holes and promising more than its sequels could deliver, but impressive nonetheless.

In a way, I already wrote a review of this movie. I wrote it back in college when I was taking a class on allegory. We read some of the classic allegorical stories like Pilgrim’s Promise, which bored me to tears, I admit, and then when we were done with those our professor told us to pick an allegorical work to write a paper and give a presentation on. Most people stuck to the classics. I went with sci-fi. And in doing so I believe I ruined the movie for several of my classmates, who weren’t huge fans of it to begin with but who claimed they’d never be able to watch it again without thinking of the allegorical possibilities.

I got a good mark on the presentation and the paper and I amused myself in the process. I call that an all-around win. Alas, a good amount of the specifics of my analysis have been lost to time and updated technology. It’s entirely likely that my paper and presentation notes exist in some form, perhaps on a CD backup of Andy’s old computer. But I’m not really interested in digging for them just to recover how I explained the link between Morpheus and the name Nebuchadnezzar. The fact of the matter is that the movie is a pretty clear messiah plot with plenty of symbolic names and phrases dropped in to boost the idea that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

I don’t really think I need to go into specifics for the plot. Hell, wasn’t this movie handed out with DVD players when they were new tech? The story follows Thomas Anderson, a young programmer who uses the handle Neo and who has been searching for the answer to vague and unsettling questions he has about the nature of the world. And he finds them, or rather they find him. It turns out that the world isn’t real. It’s all an elaborate virtual construct, in place to keep humans complacent and mentally functional so that in the real world the machines that have taken over can use them as a power source. Neo is disconnected from the network by the mysterious Morpheus and his crew of rebels. They have a sort of hover submarine they use to float around the sewers of Earth and on board is a complex rig that allows them to plug themselves back into the virtual world. Morpheus believes that Neo is the prophecied One who will be able to destroy the machines once and for all and free humanity from their enslavement. And so the movie goes, with Neo trying to come to grips not only with the revelations but with his supposed role in it all.

It’s a fun plot, but it’s nothing revolutionary when you look at the bones of it. But the movie sets it in this fantastic dystopia, with menacing enemy programs who whip through the virtual world by taking control of body after body. They’re the men in black, always appearing to take control of a situation and threatening our heroes. They’re inhuman, which is the whole point. The concept of it is great and the movie executes it beautifully. The visuals are gorgeous, with the real world’s bleak and grimy surroundings and the greenish computer screen cast over everything in the Matrix itself. The heroes all look impossibly cool in the Matrix, with their billowing coats and vinyl pants, yet in the real world they’re all dirty and wearing tattered sweaters and scraps. The machines are the slick and smooth ones in the real world, as dangerous as their Agent counterparts inside the Matrix.

And oh, oh the special effects. I probably need to describe those as little as I needed to describe the plot. This movie has the iconic “bullet time” shots where the camera pans around a slowed down or stilled moment. The rig for this is absolutely fantastic and I remember watching the making of materials for the first time and being blown away by it. The fight scenes would have been great stuff even without that particular trick, but that trick elevates them to something truly amazing. And they’re not just effects for the sake of effects. The whole bullet time thing really does play into the development of Neo as a messianic figure. He can do things the bad guys can do. That’s a big moment. Nicely played, Wachowskis, nicely played indeed.

There are some great performances in this movie. Not Academy Award material, but really fun for the movie. Keanu Reeves does a nice job, really, playing a slightly confused but then determined Neo. I loved Carrie Ann Moss as Trinity (who starts the movie with a kickass fight scene, which I’m all for – more movies should start with a kickass woman in an action sequence) from the moment I saw her. Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as Morpheus and Hugo Weaving is incredibly sinister as the evil Agent Smith. And then there’s Joe Pantoliano as the movie’s Judas, Cypher (look up the meanings of that word some day – I got a lot of mileage out of it in my allegory presentation). It’s a great cast and they come together nicely to present the world of the movie just enough to satisfy while still leaving questions. Alas, the sequels we’ll be watching tomorrow and Monday, well, we’ll get to their lack of answers then.

This movie wasn’t a religious revelation for me really, despite the massive amounts of religion-themed allegorical material. There’s the messiah storyline and references to a wide variety of faiths and beliefs. But really, for me, it’s a cinematic revelation. It was such an amazing feat of special effects and wardrobe and cast and writing (plot holes and all – I tend to ignore them) that I found it truly awesome in that it inspired awe in me.

January 8, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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