When this classic 90s movie by the Wachowskis first dropped, no one knew that The Matrix would become an instant cyberpunk classic.
Come on! There’s no way you really haven’t seen The Matrix. This is one of the best, mainstream transhumanist movie series in modern cinema. It touches on many of the core concepts of cyberpunk ideology, has some awesome fight scenes and one of the most memorable lines in all of film: “I know Kung Fu”.
But the real question for every cyberpunk: do you really know The Matrix?
Written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and released in 1999, the essential cyberpunk film was an overwhelming hit, winning four Academy awards. The movie earned over $450 million dollars in the box office while only costing around $60 million dollars to make. It spawned a franchise that is one of the rare original concepts to succeed in the last 20 years of Hollywood blockbusters. The Matrix has no source material and isn’t a rebooted concept, being a totally original idea from the Wachowskis.
The Matrix and Philosophy
For those unfamiliar with the core concept of the film, Mr. Thomas Anderson ( Keanu Reeves) is a hacker by the name of Neo. He is obsessed with the cyber-terrorist Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). He crosses paths with him and is offered a choice, the red pill or the blue pill. One pill is a journey down the halls of illusion and to see the world as it really is, and the other is to wake up tomorrow back in your bed and never know the difference.
He chooses the truth (the red pill, spanning a cultural meme of its own) and discovers humanity and machines are locked in a war that humans are losing. They have clouded the sky to try and eliminate the machine’s solar power source, but the machines adapted by using the electricity generated by a human’s brain. The machines began farming humans and keep their consciousness in a simulated world so their minds function and generate the necessary power. Neo goes on to become “The One” and embrace his role as a freedom fighter and liberator of the plugged-in world.
There is so much to take in from this film, both the philosophical questions it asks and the answers it presents. For starters, sometimes the truth is a much harder reality than we anticipated and maybe we’re better off not knowing the way things really are. At one point, Neo meets other potential candidates of “The One”. In a scene that touches on modern philosophy, a young monk child holds and manipulates a large spoon, but states that he isn’t in fact doing anything, as ‘there is no spoon’.
As our spines curve to adjust to a society buried in their phones and computers rather than standing up to the stars, the ideals of humanity and technology integrating to the detriment of humans gets scarier and more real every year.
The Matrix Changed Action Movies
To create the brain busting visuals that popped off the screen, the actions scenes in The Matrix had to take weeks to shoot, with tons of practical and digital effects being pulled together.
The shootout in the lobby is perhaps one of the craziest action scenes in recent memory. Neo cartwheeling between two columns while shooting two guards with an assault rifle is crazy looking. Concrete powder spraying in all directions as Trinity( Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo just cut through security like a hot knife through butter. High leaping kicks that seem to hang a second too long while you start to wonder if Neo is the one. As far as the fight scenes go, this one is amazing in a few ways. One being the shots themselves and the other being that it starts to push the story in a subtle way, which forces the audience to start believing in “The One”.
Speaking of changing things…
The Matrix Created Bullet Time
This is one of those things that when viewed through the prism of modern times, might seem less impressive. But that’s really just because you don’t actually know the story. The Wachowskis hired visual effects artists John Gaeta to set up a bunch of still image cameras on a simultaneous timer.
Then, the wire stunt of Keanu Reeves dodging bullets was performed while setting off the cameras all at once. So what we see in the final picture is an animation of him ducking under a bullet, flailing his arms wildly. It took an incredible creation of technology, photography and cinematography to create the 360 degree illusion that Keanu can dodge bullets.
Once again, the viewer is pulled into the myth that’s building and you go ‘holy crap, where did that come from?’. Yet again, you start to believe that maybe this guy is indeed “The One”.
Revolutionary for the time, The Matrix creating bullet did had it’s fair share of imitators, homages and parodies. Remember the epic cow fight in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist? Ya you do. Don’t act too cool like you don’t.
Neo and Trinity Download Everything They Need
One of the coolest things about The Matrix is the idea that they can just download things into their mind or onto their body. Neo gets the crash course early in the movie and that’s when the line ‘I know Kung Fu’ comes up. This allows the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar download hundreds of fighting styles into anyone’s mind, treating it like a file directory of an operating system.
Later on, Trinity asks to be given the pilot skills for a particular helicopter. they also are able to customize their load-out into the Matrix, choosing how they arm themselves in what is essentially a preload out before entering the program.
When Neo and Trinity begin preparing for their assault on the headquarters where the captured Morpheus is being held, Keanu requests ‘guns, lots of guns’. That’s when literally massive racks of weapons breeze into position. Since then, the concept of ordering items that breeze in front of you as you’re looking has been used in car commercials and all over pop culture, when really that’s the first time it pops up. Sure, DoorDash and Postmates apps on your phone isn’t quite a Matrix load-out program, but it’s a step in the same direction.
Movie Magic Makes You Believe in “The One”
The Matrix plays with your expectations. Every time the story seemed to say, “no, he isn’t the one”, The Matrix pushes big action in your face and you think Neo is in real danger because he isn’t “The One”. Then you realize you’ve been holding your breath and he did survive. You start to feel like, well, maybe he is “The One”.
There are tons of small details in the story that the directors kept pointing to. Even though The Matrix looks like our world and feels like our world, it’s a simulation. It isn’t real. When Morpheus is training Neo and asks “do you think that’s air you’re breathing?”, You remember ‘oh yeah they aren’t even really fighting, so why is he out of breath?’. These little tricks of the movie keep the stakes raised in a fascinating way.
The film purposefully has a greenish tint to it while the characters are in the Matrix. The movie wants your brain to subtly register that you’re watching the simulation of a real world through a computer screen, as though you’re playing a video game or something.
An groundbreaking franchise sprung out of this completely original cyberpunk movie. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions are released a few years later to complete the story of Neo upsetting the status quo between humans and machines. Video games, a massive multi-player online game, comic books and an animated movie all center in this universe. A fourth film has been confirmed to be released December 2021.
There is no end to the directions you can take a story in a world so incredibly built. The Matrix is an essential movie all cyberpunks need to see.
We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for The Matrix.
Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!