My Favourite Films #5 The Matrix

If you ask me what my favourite film of all time is, I couldn’t give you an answer, I tend to shy away from the question- its incredibly hard to narrow it down to one flick. Hell, even doing a top 10 is tough because you always remember a movie you love just after you’ve finished.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago The Matrix would either have been number one or fighting it out for a top 3 finish.

I totally loved this flick, I must have been about 14 when it came out and maybe getting on for 16 when I finally got round to seeing it but instantly I fell in love with it. It blew my mind, it was the coolest, cleverest action movie I’d ever seen, an extremely stylish flick based around an incredibly clever premise.

Hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) is stuck in a dead end office job and unhappy, withdrawing online in his spare time. A mysterious person communicates with him via his computer and he finds himself pursued by shadowy government types. Soon he is recruited by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who works for a mysterious hacker/terrorist Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus seems to know the dissatisfaction that Neo experiences and his nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right. He feels this way because of the illusion the matrix has created, Morpheus offers Neo an opportunity to see the truth.

Morpheus offers Neo the choice.

Neo wakes up in a desolate landscape where he appears to have been kept in stasis. The world he finds himself in is a nightmarish, post-Apocalyptic wasteland and Morpheus reveals the truth to him. In the future self aware computers turned on their creators leading to a world war, nuclear strikes have made the surface of the Earth inhospitable and the machines have transformed the human race into their fuel source, holding humans in stasis where their minds are transported to the Matrix, a computer generated reality which resembles the real world.

A small human resistance has retreated under the ground, trying to survive and find a way to defeat the machines. Morpheus has freed Neo because he believes him to be “the one” a man prophesied to lead the resistance to overcoming the machines and able to control the matrix itself. Neo is skeptical but begins being trained by Morpheus, who “uploads” skills into his mind which he can then utilize in the matrix. Morpheus attempts to explain to Neo that due to the nature of the program the rules of reality can be distorted and those aware of the matrix are able to perform seemingly impossible feats.

Neo travels to the matrix to meet the Oracle (Gloria Foster) who will inform him of his destiny, but a traitor in the ranks betrays them and Morpheus is grabbed by the machines’ in-matrix operatives.

Neo, believing himself not to be the one decides to re-enter the matrix and rescue Morpheus, something that Trinity and the only other surviving crew member Tank (Marcus Chong) believe is suicide. Neo digs in his heels and Trinity joins them as they launch a two-person assault on the matrix’s agents, who are capable of astonishing things and whom no one has ever defeated.

Can Neo save Morpheus? Is he the one?

The central conceit is science fiction gold, and allows the film to address the theme of what is real. The matrix is realized brilliantly, shot with this bizarre greenish tint that suggests all is not as it seems and a dull, drab world which is then the setting for the fantastic action sequences. I especially like the fact that the film’s villain Agents Smith (Hugo Weaving) explains that the first attempt at the matrix failed because the machines made a world that was too perfect and the human mind rejected it.

As drab as the matrix is, the hellish real world is so depressing that its entirely understandable why one of the crew sells them out so that he can be put back into the matrix and live a happier life, regardless the fact that it isn’t real.

The script is brilliant, explaining the Matrix through several powerful speeches which are helped by being delivered by Fishburne as Morpheus, because Fishburne is one of the coolest people ever in this flick. The rest of the dialogue is similarly well handled, allowing the characters to discuss reality and provide exposition while still remaining human and giving us an insight into the characters. The film is also filled with great, quotable lines (“There is no spoon”, “Welcome to the desert of the real”, “Dodge this”). There’s also a streak of well handled humour throughout the flick.

The film has a brilliant look and sense of style. Outside the matrix the characters wear worn and frayed knitwear, but entering the computer world they become trench coat wearing badasses, all shades and guns. It could have been laughable but the Wachowski brothers direct it with aplomb and don’t try and hammer home how badass the characters are, more willing to let them just get on with it.

Fishburne’s Morpheus is probably the most badass, with Fishburne bringing the character immense gravitas. His complete faith in his belief is powerful and he has the vibe of an incredibly charismatic and persuasive preacher when he gives his speech to Neo to convince him to join them in the real world.

I know he gets a rough time and catches a lot of flak but I’ve always been a fan of Keanu Reeves’, and here he’s on fine form. He captures Neo’s confusion and bewilderment as he comes to terms with the real world, there’s also a kind of glee in learning the kung fu and bending the rules, and he has a laid back, likable charisma that explains why Trinity falls for him. Once the action scenes get going he handles them well and while not the biggest it makes sense because in the matrix its about his mental control and warping of his surroundings.

Carrie-Anne Moss is magnificent as Trinity, she looks staggeringly gorgeous but still carries off this toughness and convinces as a fighter. Her feelings for Neo are conveyed through understated looks and dialogue and Moss is also able to show fragility and emotion underneath the tough warrior exterior.

Carrie-Anne Moss as the badass Trinity- object of lust for millions of geeks around the world

The film’s other great performance comes from Hugo Weaving as the film’s antagonist Agent Smith, the chief of the matrix’s trio of agents, and is a menacing, mesmerizing villain. He brings a detatched, cold ruthlessness to character but then reveals in one of the film’s best scenes his utter loathing for mankind, suggesting that while he might be a computer construct he is developing some emotional response and beginning to deviate from his programming. He gets some brilliant lines and his standard issue suit contrasts nicely with the sensational OTT fighting he’s capable of.

Smith (Weaving, left) starts to let his cold exterior slip as he interrogates Morpheus (Fishburne)

In the following years it got parodied to death but the bullet time effects were astonishing at the time as were the reality distorting action sequences, and they still hold up to this day. Its used best during the rooftop shootout between Neo and one of the agents, but the film’s best action sequences is the jaw dropping lobby shoot out. Neo and Trinity enter the lobby and take on an entire squad of riot cops in a visually stunning sequence that switches from furious pace to slow motion moments. Its a frantic, awe inspiring sequence and remains one of my all time action scenes.

Neo (Reeves) during the film’s phenomenal lobby shootout.

Its rare for a film to mix intelligence and thrills with this much skill, and the Wachowksi brothers do a fantastic job here, creating a clever, exciting, iconic science fiction flick. The ending in which Neo delivers a warning to the matrix is a sensational scene that leaves the door open for a sequel and left my friends and I eagerly awaiting the follow ups, which spectacularly failed to live up to this great first installment.

It might not be in my top 3 anymore, but that’s not because I’ve gone off the film, I’ve just seen more films now. I still love it and watching it now I can still remember large chunks of the dialogue and still find certain scenes phenomenal. And that’s why it remains one of my favourite films.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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