-Morpheus, The Matrix
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Today marks a special occasion: 18 years since The Matrix hit Australian cinemas for the first time on 8th April 1999. This cult classic not only transformed the visual science fiction genre with its groundbreaking special effects and its incorporation of old Kung Fu wire techniques and choreography, it questioned our societal and scientific perspective on the nature of reality. What is real? What makes it real? Culturally influential and now all grown up, here are six reasons The Matrix remains my absolute favourite film of all time.
|Image borrowed from Wondersinthedark.wordpress|
Does this really need elaboration? Everything about this masterpiece’s visual style was unique and paved the way for later films. The Sydney cityscapes, the sunglasses, the severe haircuts, the green filter and the camera angles – not to mention bullet time, but we’ll get to that shortly – all combine beautifully to create the Matrix ‘look’, but nothing holds it together like the leather jumpsuits and trench coats. Just… so cool. An entirely superficial look at my own works of fiction reveal that Renatus’s personal style is heavily influenced by Neo’s. Wonder if he’s a fan, too?
You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo. It was eighteen years ago, and nowadays when you watch a brilliantly trippy movie (e.g., Inception) people explain it to you as “the modern Matrix” to describe the phenomena of being so utterly blown away by the implications of a work of fiction that you actually need to watch it again to make sure it really was just fiction. This was the cultural impact of The Matrix, aside from an internet full of What if I told you… memes. The idea that everything we call ‘real’ could be reduced to only electrical impulses interpreted by our primitive brains and could not be substantiated as real in any furthermore convincing sense seemed fine until we watched a film that said our brains were imprisoned in a virtual reality to keep us distracted while evil robots fed on our inert bodies. Eek! But there’s an upside – if you become aware of the system, you can break free, and learn to push the boundaries of that false reality. Hence, Kung Fu. Hence, bullet time. So much awesome.
We’ve all seen robot takeover stories, watched the predictable build-up and the epic fight scenes between the disenfranchised but heroic humans and the evil killer robots, which we eventually triumph over. But what if that war has already been and gone, and we lost? What if we were crushed so completely that even the memory of the obliteration of our way of life has been forgotten to the ages, our minds enslaved to serve the purpose of our own wayward machine creations even as we live our lives believing this will never happen? You think that’s air you’re breathing? This is not a future we’re often subjected to in cinema, where the whitewashed handsome hero pilot can always pull out just one more stop to save us all. Every time I watch (and rewatch… and rewatch) this film, I’m blown away by the vision of the Wachowskis, appearing to set their story in the modern day but actually placing our reality well into a future we should already see coming. Because robots are bad.
Yes! I can finally talk about bullet time, the cinematic technique made famous by this film and generally used pretty poorly and excessively in successive movies both in this franchise and in others. Some films had dabbled with this technique previously, achieving a similar effect, but this is where the magic happened, baby. Used artfully to demonstrate the Woke characters’ talent for bending the rules of the computer reality, in particular their ability to jump really high before kicking people awesomely or Neo’s incredible speed, the technique of using a ring of cameras to capture sequential images of an event from many angles (later stitched together to create a temporal effect) gained its name from the very cool scene in which Neo dodges bullets.
On the topic of action, the fight choreography is epic, and all the BS is totally explainable within the realm of the storytelling, which so few big action films bother to do. Old-school Kung Fu wire work and perfectly executed martial artistry combine to give us some timelessly awesome sequences. Here we can make special mention of the dojo scene, Neo vs Smith, and Trinity’s escape at the beginning, but nothing does it like the lobby shootout, a.k.a. my favourite scene in any film EVER.
5. Alice parallels
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone reading a blog entitled Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast that I am something of an Alice fan, though an adolescence of adoring both The Matrix and its 150-year-old influencer Alice in Wonderland has left me unsure which love came first and birthed the other. The Matrix draws on themes and references from the trip-out of a children’s tale about a little girl who maybe dreams up a world beyond her imagining and struggles to apply her mundane, socialised logic to the wavery rules of this strange new reality. The validity of her time in Wonderland is left in question but the value of Alice’s tenacious curiosity and open-mindedness in getting her as far as she gets is not. Neo’s experience runs parallel to Alice’s.
A surprisingly philosophical film, The Matrix has provided me with many inspiring quotes to consider while I contemplate life and existence, but this is not the only way in which this film has influenced me. In so many ways, my fascination with the world the Wachowskis created has shaped the person I have become - encouraged me to question my own perceptions, demanded me to look past what I'm told to take as fact, and even introduced me to the world of fanfiction, where I learned so much about experimenting with writing that I still apply today.
Happy Australian birthday, Matrix. Welcome to the real world.