Most people have had moments where they doubt their surroundings. Where they look all around them and wonder what they feel, what they experience is actually real. Or if it’s all an illusion. What would we do if we learned that everything we know was a lie. The world we knew may not be perfect, but it’s stable, reliable. Imagine being told that underneath that it was an illusion masking a future where the world was in ruins, where no hope was left?
Sci Fi Sunday: The Matrix 20 Years Later…
That was the basis of the Matrix. A films where the protagonist, Neo, was given a choice. Take a blue pill and return to his average, normal and safe life within a digital reality, or take the red pill and awaken from a slumber he never knew he was in and experience the real world.
That choice would define his life from then on and as he began to understand what his reality was, he began to learn how to manipulate it.
It was in 1999 the world was first introduced to the Matrix. Ads would run in the cinema showing a skyscraper rippling. Glass bending and shattering in a shockwave. Keanu Reeves showing off his best gymnastic skills and people moving in ways we’d never seen before. And it was weird.
In 2019 dazzling effects and mind bending tricks are commonplace. To a degree, they were in 1999 as well but never in such a mysterious and envelope pushing way. Those ads caught our attention and racked up over $178 Million on opening day.
The Matrix follows the story of a simple hacker who bbegins to gain instructions from a mysterious source. That source leads him to a group led by Morpheus, a mysterious figure who tells Neo that the world around him isn’t real. Everything he knows is an illusion. Earth was long destroyed, machines and artificial intelligence took over and now humans were born and raised as power sources; their minds occupied within a digital construct to keep them alive.
Freed from the digital prison, Neo joins Morpheus crew on a rebel ship crewed by other humans who had escaped the digital world – The Matrix. Morpheus teaches him how to re-enter and navigate the digital world. Morpheus believes in a prophecy, in a man who can bridge the gap between the real and false realities and who has the control to override the machines security programming and put and free humanity from being a slave race.
At it’s core the film follows Neos awakening, starting with learning the truth about his world and a visceral escape from the clutches of the machines as his mind is disconnected from their control. As soon as his body is released, a body that has spent it’s entire existence in service as nothing more than a sentient power cell, he has to be reconstructed from the lifeless husk every human has become to be able to cope with the real world. And that real world sucks.
There’s something dazzling about the Matrix. It’s action isn’t entirely revolutionary, but uses Neo and the crew’s missions within the virtual world to push the boundaries of what they can do. They dodge bullets, they jump over huge distances and they do gymnastics while shooting straight. While in a real world setting we’d be crying foul, this is like a video game on acid – and it all makes sense as thats what they’re turning this environment into on purpose.
Underneath that escapist fantasy – as well as the fantasy of Neo being ‘The One’ who can defeat the machines, there’s a certain normality within it. This is the fantasy that plays on our darkest emotions, the idea that nothing around us is real; the desire to be able to to impossible things. Most of us wish, at least once, that our world isn’t real and we can escape as Neo did. And it’s premise isn’t finding a McGuffin, or chasing the unreal. It’s about one man trying to find and discovery himself and his purpose in a world turned upside down.
That venture of self discovery is one everyone faces; maybe not in such a dramatic way and typically with significantly less bullets being fired. But the simplicity of that core story was one that resonated and helped to elevate the film above it’s visual impact.
Of course, years later we learned that to the writers, that self discovery was a bit more poignant. The Wachowski’s – who’s success was defined by this film – were beginning the road of transitioning from male to female; a personal journey for them both which clearly made this a passion project for the sisters on a very personal level. And that passion shows with how well crafted Neo’s emotional journey was.
Creating new effects and techniques – including the much praised ‘Bullet Time’ filming system – the balance between flash and story was a perfect mix. In a world where special effects are commonplace and expected, time has been surprisingly kind to the Matrix with that creative backing ensuring the film holds up just as well twenty years later.
This article originally appeared in SFCQ2 Comms’ Alan Van Spring 2009 Edition as part of our regular ‘On Screen’ section featuring news and reviews from film and TV which also included The Umbrella Academy, Io, Captain Marvel and much more. Comms also features the latest fleet news and announcements, a look back at Season 2 of Star Trek Discovery and loads more! To find out more visit our Comms section to read now or find out how to join SFCQ2!