A windy mid-October day, and I sitting at home nursing a head-splitting sinus-cold instead of being at work where I should be. What better way to get some well-needed on a sick-day home rest than to park myself on the couch and indulge in some movies I haven’t watched in a few years?
For starters, this isn’t a critical evaluation of The Matrix in any sense of the word. When your head is congested with oozing snot there isn’t really much room left for philosophical extrapolation of any topic, let alone a multi-layered head-scratcher like I always remember this movie to be. Upon booting into the DVD and watching the opening bits, that green-tinted Warner Brothers logo and the oh-so-familiar green code-fall trickle down the screen, I settled in: the date on the log-file was 2-19-98. Really? Fourteen years ago, already?
Geeze, I’m getting old. I guess I did originally see this back while in University.
“I know what you’re trying to do…”
There are so many layers of theme and complexity in this plot that it’s tough not to imagine why it became such a cultural touch-point along the way. The movie was not only an action movie, or a science fiction movie, or a martial arts movie, or a special effects extravaganza, or a brain-busting thinker… it was all of these mashed together. It was like the motif that fell out through the use of televisions: layers of unreality that zoom into a television screen to reveal another reality, or fade back into a static-filled picture tube to encapsulate some other theme. Think about it.
From a design and style perspective, the use of colours, light, patterns, gradients, and reflections strikes that designer cord in me. I must have learned something from this movie — gathered up some kind of art-sensibility at some point — because part of me not only associates this look with a classic turn-of-the-millennial digital ambiance, but with a personal taste that draws me in: the falling rain, the mix of abstract technology with other tech that at the time was modern but is now (in the age of smart-phones) oh-so-dated.
“He doesn’t know.” … “Know what?”
…and speaking of phones… well, I don’t remember really noticing how prominent phones are in this story. The entirety of the narrative seems to flow around handful of notions, but one key notion is the availability, transfer, and control of information — and often through voice phones. After all, the matrix is nothing more than a massive computer system, but as representative human avatars in the matrix, the characters seem much more adept at moving information around with their voices. See, both control and escape happen through phones. When in that scene where the agent unplugs his ear-piece and starts busting down Morpheus, that’s a moment of weakness that lets our protagonists sneak through: he had cut himself out of an information feed and lost control. Phones let them in and out of systems. Phones let them track each other and be tracked in the system. Phones can be tapped and phones can be destroyed by cutting lines or shooting a mouthpiece with a gun, leading to a change of control like slamming shut a door and welding it shut.
… a backwash of dreams, reality, and a grand, never-ending city-scape…
It blends into a backwash of dreams, reality, and a grand, never-ending city-scape that seems a metaphor for information, control, and…
… well, couple that whole notion of information control with an underlying philosophical theme of fate versus determinism and you’ve got a spinning and twisting plot that messes with your brain, especially if it’s already clogged up with viral mucous.
“What’s really going to bake your noodle later on…”
The reality of the matrix is gradually unfolded as the plot builds…. which is an awesome way to do it. But I have the disadvantage that, even a dozen-plus years later, I can still recite some lines of the movie verbatim and in sync as I’m watching. The grand reveal of “Do you want to know what? It? Is?” does not quite hit me with the same impact as having seen it in the theatre all those years ago. That said, I do this thing — almost without thinking — where I put myself into my now-five-year-old daughter’s head and imagine all these things as if I’m her watching it… which she won’t be for a few years, by the way. Part of this is trying to gauge appropriateness as a parent (wink, wink) but part is also me eagerly anticipating showing all this great popular culture to her for the first time some time in the future and wondering how she’ll react. So, in a way I can appreciate the gradual unfolding and reveal of the mystery of the matrix through the first hour-or-so of the movie.
I would choose the red pill too…
It builds, grows, casts a mystery so that when we finally get the chance to plunge down the “rabbit hole” presented to us by the film… well, I would choose the red pill too after a build up like that.
“Neo, this is loco…”
Of course, the climax of the movie is a special effect-driven, coming-of-age, glavering-of-enlightenment for Neo as he kung fu’s his way through a chase and fight scene ultimately leading to his (spoiler?) death and resurrection. It is the definitive moment where the arching themes of man versus machine, mind versus machine, and mind versus reality culminate in a one-two kick-punch total knock out, and we cheer as the fake reality dissolves in the green gibberish text of the matrix itself as seen through the eyes of our protagonist. The soundtrack builds to an epic blend of orchestral and death metal, The One brings the fight to the antagonist-bully and now-cowering agents, and we’re left hanging for a couple later-to-be-released sequels.
I’m going to go watch those now… but don’t expect any more commentary here. From what I recall, the nuanced complexity sort of fell apart after the original.
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