Tuesday, April 20, 2010
In case you were unaware, your sense of reality is totally false. You're really just fuel for soul-sucking robots who keep you sentient in a simulated reality environment. Oh, shoot, I probably should have prefaced that with a "spoiler alert," shouldn't I? For those of you who haven't seen The Matrix, that cold hard truth will probably come as a bit of a shock. I'll give you some time to digest that one.
Now that you've had some time to process it--and by process, I mean that our solar-powered robot overlords have seen fit to utilize your protein compounds for their own evil purposes--you see that the only way to combat this docile, whitewashed existence is to learn some kick-ass martial arts moves and develop some serious bullet dodging capabilities. It's pretty much the only way. Believe me, they've checked and rechecked this one. Don't worry, though; you've got your posse of trusty marginalized cyberpunk hackers to keep you company. It may not be as cushy and comfortable as the simulated world, but hey, it's real.
Facetiousness aside, serious manifestations of these themes make up The Matrix, an innovative and visually appealing 1999 science fiction film. While the movie explores a number of well-tread science fiction ideas and motifs, it does so in a way that resonated strongly with audiences and critics alike upon its late-90s release. It is by no means a perfect film, but its masterminds the Wachowski brothers manage to entertain us with Hong Kong action-style action and dazzling visual effects. These guys must be some class of genius. After all, they finally found a fitting role for Keanu Reeves' expressionless deadpan in which his flat affect makes perfect sense. Well done, Wachowski brothers. Well done, indeed.
Now that I've managed to ruin much of the suspense and plot anticipation for any of you who have yet to see the film, I'll feel free to go further into spoiler territory. There you, that was your alert. Heed if necessary before delving into expository plot territory.
The Matrix stars Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson, a quiet, mild software programmer who moonlights as a hacker with the alias Neo. As Neo, Anderson is "guilty of nearly every computer crime [there's] a law for." In a state of being probably not a huge stretch for the monotone Reeves, Anderson is disillusioned with his life and its apparent lack of meaningfulness. Our rogue heroes contact Anderson's alter-ego Neo Ghostwriter style through his computer, telling him to wake up, realize the Matrix has him, and to follow the white rabbit. A little cryptic, sure, but if anyone can crack something like this, it's a renegade hacker.
Neo discovers Trinity, a leather-laden cyber-rebel kung fu master (mistress?) who brings him to leader Morpheus. First, though, she has to de-bug him: the anonymously evil sunglass-wearing agents implanted in Neo a tracking device in hopes he would bring them to Morpheus. I didn't realize it would be an actual bug, of course, so I was thoroughly disgusted to find a giant insect suctioned from Neo's body. It's cool, though. Later I learned his body isn't even real, so it's probably not as bad as it seems.
Morpheus reveals the truth: Neo has been living in a false reality. He informs Neo that the Matrix is "the wool that has been pulled over your eyes" and that he is merely a slave to the system. Morpheus offers Neo a choice; as no one can explain the Matrix, the only means of comprehending it is to experience its impact firsthand. In an iconic gesture, Morpheus reveals two brightly hued pills: a blue one with the power to close this chapter and allow Neo to resume his quietly meaningless existence, or a red one that will enable him to see the true world outside the bounds of his current reality.
Of course Neo picks the red one, because it wouldn't be much of a movie if after twenty minutes he threw in the towel and we got to watch him program software for another hour and a half. No, Neo chooses the harsh darkness of enlightened reality, only to find himself encased in a wire-laden pod of goo. Not exactly the warm welcome he may have hoped for, but it certainly made its point. He hops aboard Morpheus' spacecraft Nebuchadnezzar with a group of cyber terrorists who are among the few with the power to unplug themselves from the system. It turns out the year is not 1999, but 2199, and the 1999 in which Neo lives is simply a recreated construct meant to keep humans in pacified captivity while machines feed off their life force. Bummer.
Neo quickly learns that the system of the Matrix is not as it seems, challenging all of the perceptions he's spent a lifetime developing and ingraining. Morpheus and the gang train Neo in how to fight agents and live a life unplugged. Neo develops the skills of a trained fighter, building up his defenses against computer programmed agents.
The pressure's on in a big way, though, as the group believes Neo might be "the One," a thinly veiled Jesus reference pointing to Neo as the potential savior of the enslaved human race. To test their theory, they bring Neo to the Oracle for screening purposes. The Oracle turns out to be a kindly cookie-baking black grandmother, but her appearance belies her wisdom and insight. Those cookies do look delicious, though.
In a classic Judas move, group member Cypher commits the ultimate betrayal: he trades Morpheus for a return to his once-blissful ignorance permanently plugged into the system. After a series of intense trials and tribulations, the remaining crew members play out an ultimate showdown in a simulated subway system. The agents were clearly not prepared for Neo's surge of belief in his own ability and possible One-ness, during which he proceeds to kick ass and take names.
Neo's down, but not out, as he ascends to oneness with his, well, One-ness. He stops bullets mid-air and emerges victorious in a kinetic climactic battle with the agents. The Wachowskis leave us hanging a bit at the end, giving them ample room to expand into a trilogy. The Matrix leaves us wanting more in a way that few suspense-filled thrillers manage to achieve. Whether or not you feel the second and third films lived up to this promise is subjective, but they certainly set a strong baseline. If this movie didn't leave you craving a black trench coat, dark glasses, and the ability to stop racing bullets, I suspect you're just not cut out to be the red pill type.