The Matrix (1999)
Becoming a thing of legend immediately upon release, Andy and Lana Wachowski’s second film as writer/directors (after Bound) re-defined the science fiction action movie. Based around the concept of our reality being a simulation used as a tool of oppression, the Wachowskis created a tight, fast-moving and thrilling plot, set after technology has taken over the world.
The title refers to the term used for this simulated reality, and one which computer programmer and hacker “Neo” (Keanu Reeves) becomes overly familiar with as he stumbles upon the truth. He is led into a mysterious group of revolutionaries, working in rebellion against ‘The Machines’ in order to free the human race from their involuntary dream state. As Neo digs further into this truth, so do we – learning that, in this dystopian world, the human race “gave birth to AI,” sealing its fate. The AI gained strength and sentience and turned against the humans, beating them into submission. The resulting world order is one in which people are no longer born, but are cultivated and “plugged in” to The Matrix, in order to power The Machines with the heat and electrical activity in their bodies. Human beings are a power source, and nothing more.
While it draws upon aspects of religion, mythology and philosophy, The Matrix is heavily influenced by the work of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. The combination of themes, the martial arts choreography of Yuen Woo-ping and the visual effects of John Gaeta and his team, work together to create what is a significant entry into the catalogue of cyberpunk in science fiction cinema. The cast – comprising of Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano – are all perfectly placed, hitting exactly the right tone for the project, with Weaving in particular giving a stand-out performance.
As an undeniably groundbreaking piece of cinema, the commercial and critical success of The Matrix was unsurprising, but its success is significant within the realm of humans/technology movies because of the setting. Yes, it is about conflict, but here, the human race has already lost. In fact, we are generations removed from having lost that fight. We are so far removed from it, it has been effectively erased from our consciousness and replaced with a relatively benign collectively simulated reality, in which we can soundly slumber. The betrayal has already occurred but, through the eyes of Neo, we experience that realization – that horrific and sudden understanding of the crimes against us, perpetrated by our own creation – and are thrust headfirst into the choice, and the fight. Here, we are the underdog – and everybody loves a good ‘slaying the evil oppressor’ story.