10+ Years Later: Would We Still Take THE MATRIX's Red Pill?

Contributor
3
Sign-In to Vote
10+ Years Later: Would We Still Take THE MATRIX's Red Pill?

Have you ever found yourself defending a movie, going out of your way to articulate its many strengths, before gradually realizing that you haven't actually viewed it in a decade or more? Do you ever say “oh yeah, that movie is amazing!” before pausing to reconsider, internally, “or at least I thought it was...ten years ago”? Perhaps then a feeling creeps over you. The feeling that if you watched this movie today, you may not like it at all. Your tastes might be significantly different, or you've just seen so many more films to which you could compare it unfavorably.

This feature is all about revisiting the movies we used to love and champion. The only requirements are that we have not (re)watched the film in at least 10 years, and that we do so now with an open mind and a willingness to critique it with fresh eyes.

For the inaugural edition of 10+ Years Later, I decided to choose the film that originally gave me the idea: The Matrix (1999). I didn't actually see it in theatres when it came out. Rather, it was 2001 when I blind-bought the DVD. It was the first DVD my family ever owned, and we bought it at the same time we bought our spiffy new DVD player. The medium represented a whole new world of possibilities, chief among them the ability to select a scene!

The Matrix, a martial arts-heavy sci-fi hit that kids at school frequently referenced, seemed like an obvious choice to break in a DVD player, but I didn't expect to love it. I was positively enamored, however, and proceeded to wear that disc out with multiple rewatches—probably daily for a stretch there. My brothers and I could endlessly quote both verbose Morpheus and monosyllabic Neo. It was also this viewing that set into motion a celebrity crush on Keanu Reeves that lasted much longer than it had any right to last. But somewhere along the way, I became preoccupied with exploring the wider world of cinema, and that trusty DVD began to gather a whole lot of dust.

Originally, like many, I was enthralled by the action set pieces. Bullet-time was brand-new, and, let's face it, cool as hell. While it's hard not to groan at the innovation now, after seeing countless tiresome parodies or weak imitations, I remember a time when it was thrilling. Bullet-time aside, the classically-filmed action sequences are exhilarating in their own right; intriguingly unbound by the laws of physics but visceral enough to feel high-stakes. While not quite able to elicit the giddy delight they once did, they're still pretty darn good, and Hugo Weaving's nasal drone remains effectively scary in a cartoon-villain way.

The philosophy of the film was little more than a cool conceit to me. My mind was never blown by the concept of the Matrix itself, and I tended to glaze over during the scene where Morpheus explains the true state of humanity and the earth for Neo. Indeed, I didn't fully remember much beyond the notion that our world as we know it is a constructed computer program (the eponymous one), and human's physical bodies are actually chillin' in pods full of liquid in the dystopian real earth.

To briefly paraphrase Morpheus' explanation: we created AI, and of course that AI formed an army and went to war with us (or maybe it was vice-versa—we don't know). He vaguely notes that the earth was “scorched,” despite the fact that humans “blocked out the sun” thinking it would kill the solar-powered AIs. That seems like an extreme, self-destructive move, but hey, 2016 happened, so maybe. Now, humans are no longer born, but are grown en masse in stretches of land known as The Fields. The reason for this? To harvest us as energy sources—a revelation Morpheus demonstrates with a visual metaphor that is completely terrifying and not at all hilarious, by smugly producing a Duracell in his hand.

Pleasingly, that relatively brief scene (and one following it that expands slightly on what it means to be 'The One') is really all we get in the way of self-indulgent exposition and overly-elaborate backstory. From what I can tell, the Wachowskis' filmography has been bogged down by endless complex world-building and convoluted philosophies. The Matrix, on the other hand, is tight and sleek. It provides enough ideas to give the characters a reason to tangle with the deadly Agents, but the theoretical scenes mercifully don't overstay their welcome. If you're looking to sink your teeth into some Matrix subtext, though, there's good evidence for Neo's storyline being a trans narrative.

So, what of Keanu's performance? Okay, I'm not in love with him anymore, and I can admit it: he truly doesn't have the charisma and gravitational pull typically required of characters who are chosen one archetypes. At the same time, though, it works for Neo. Neo is a bland office worker who moonlights as a hacker (I maybe wouldn't buy that Keanu can hack computers, granted...). He is willing to toss away his non-life and have a bunch of crap downloaded into his mind because he didn't have much personality to begin with. He can be everyone's idea of The One, because he's such a blank slate. His lack of acting talent is, then, sort of irrelevant.

Lastly, I was rather struck by just how 90's this film felt. The club scene, which blares Rob Zombie's “Dragula” over a pan of writhing bodies clad in leather, is probably the most dated moment in the whole movie. The tattered sweaters worn by the real-world crew on the Nebuchadnezzar could have been plucked from a Kurt Cobain estate sale. While upon its release it was ostensibly futuristic and ushered in a new era of tech-chic polish, it now obviously bears many remaining hallmarks of 90's grunge and Gen-X's residual resistance to authority.

Verdict? I still dig it. Yes, it's silly, but never to the extent that it's not in on the joke. There are moments when the seams are visible (sometimes literally) during certain effects, but the energy and enthusiasm outweigh any cheese. The philosophical aspects are dull bordering on stupid, but restrained enough to be easily ignored. It's hard to separate how much of my enjoyment now comes from nostalgia, or genuine response to seeing a good film—but I haven't been disillusioned by this revisit. Personally, that's more than good enough for me.

3
Sign-In to Vote
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
carrie anne mosskeanu reeveslana wachowskilaurence fishburnelilly wachowskithe matrixwachowskis

More about The Matrix

More about 10 Years Later

bricriu .January 12, 2017 5:37 PM

I'm still upset that this film forever killed any chance of an Invisibles film. :(

YojimboJanuary 12, 2017 7:46 PM

An Invisibles TV series would be far better.
Produced by Netflix or HBO. ; )

Unflinching_EyeJanuary 12, 2017 7:47 PM

I adored it when it first hit, and for years afterwards (didn't everyone?), but its sheen has dulled for me considerably. There was a gap when I didn't see it for years (not 10, but a long time nonetheless), and when I caught it on TV one night I was stunned by how rapidly and poorly it had aged. The fx looked so much cheaper than I remembered, and I was shocked by how ugly and dated the production design was. The interior of the Nostromo (and all the tech in ALIEN) was designed 20 years previously, but it STILL looks believably futuristic. ALL of the production design in THE MATRIX looks like something out of a '90s music video.

I also think THE MATRIX hit at an unfortunate time in terms of technological advances. In '99 the internet was still pretty rudimentary and mobile phones still weren't ubiquitous (at least not where I live). Those two changes alone have dated it horribly. Add to that major advances in CGI and the dated '90s costume design and you've got a movie I can't really watch anymore.

Teresa NiemanJanuary 12, 2017 8:27 PM

I guess I have a pretty high tolerance for both clunky CGI and dated 90's costume design. I'm currently working through The X-Files, for example, and I find the aesthetic endlessly charming. I would never say The Matrix is a good looking movie, but it works for the mood it's trying to set.

Ben UmsteadJanuary 12, 2017 9:08 PM

Thank you for spearheading this effort, Teresa. It's fascinating to step back in and consider this film from the perspective of someone about the same age as myself. By the time The Matrix came along I was well on my way to exploring world cinema, but longed for anything science fiction. However, the gray/green/black aesthetic and Gibson-lite techo-dystopia tropes felt far too familiar from a bevy of 80s and 90s comics and video games that I pretty much dismissed it off the bat. Perhaps I should then do a reversal of our new column's decree and rewatch something I disliked? Though speaking honestly, it probably won't happen with The Matrix.

ZetobeltJanuary 13, 2017 8:58 AM

For me... The Matrix was the last great american film.
I'll (re)watch it.

wabaliciousJanuary 13, 2017 1:13 PM

It really does rip it off enormously. Or "homages it", rather.

YojimboJanuary 13, 2017 1:41 PM

Ditto.
I to had seen to many HK action/martial art movies and read far to many comics and sci fi books.
Also bullet time I had already seen in Buffalo 66 so even that was not new.
Still longing for anything science fiction.

bricriu .January 13, 2017 4:52 PM

Almost as much as the original Ghost in the Shell film. Fairly easy to find on Youtube are videos showing side-by-side comparisons. The similarities are undeniable. I still enjoy the film for what it is, but hardly reserve any respect for it.

Teresa NiemanJanuary 16, 2017 12:56 AM

Dude.

omnisemantic1January 16, 2017 7:47 AM

Hmm I guess I'm in a different boat than most people here. In 1999 I was 17, "The Matrix" should have been right up my alley (love sci-fi, love action, love videogames & computers, love "The Prodigy"), I saw it in cinema and yet I didn't like it much. The "humans = electricity" plot felt silly, the bullet-time seemed to be there just cause it looked cool, the fashion was ridiculous, I didn't pick on any of the social metaphors, nor did I care about the whole savior shtick.
And still like any truly good music album over the years it grew on me (watching GitS later on undoubtedly contributed to that) to the point that it is very hard for me to think of a movie that does action better, while at the same time remains interesting throughout its three acts AND manages to never ruin its atmosphere. I even enjoy the sequels a lot even though they definitely dropped the ball in the atmosphere and pacing departments.
I'd also highly recommend everyone who is interested in "The Matrix" in principle to read through this piece, if they haven't done so already - it's really worth it:
https://clint.id.au/?p=734

Giles LinnearJanuary 16, 2017 9:03 AM

Both the sad martial arts poses and the creaky Christ metaphor left me flat.

RoboticPlagueJanuary 16, 2017 10:10 AM

The sound design alone makes this film great. Take all the philosophy mumbo jumbo out of the movie and you have one of the best "modern day" Martial arts films ever. Yuen Woo Ping still hasn't done anything memorable since...well CTHD but since these two movies his output has been pretty poor. Matrix and CTHD have the best sounds of any martial arts film past or present.

Todd BrownJanuary 16, 2017 10:17 AM

Easy mistake to make, but if I can put my theology major hat on, The Matrix is not a Christian allegory AT ALL. It's gnostic to the core with elements of Buddhism and other eastern religions woven in. Any Christian imagery is purely surface level window dressing to make it palatable to western audiences.

This all gets much more explicit in the second film, where the non-western elements were pulled way more to the surface, which I personally found one of the most interesting parts of that movie. And then they just pulled back from everything and abandoned it all for that horribly unsatisfying 'love conquers all' ending in the third.

Giles LinnearJanuary 16, 2017 11:09 AM

Thanks, it's good to know they had deeper ambitions than what was evident onscreen.

God of JoyJanuary 16, 2017 12:29 PM

the transgender analysis is a fascinating read, thank you very much for including it in your write-up. Matrix was a favorite on release and I still often watch it (the whole quad, including supplemental Animatrix) often. As much as it derails itself toward the end the action sequences, a (especially for it's time) diverse cast and cinematography make this perfect eye candy for me.

Niels MatthijsJanuary 16, 2017 2:19 PM

Disliked this when I first saw it, still disliked it when I reached it last year. Doesn't even come close to any ofits many influences.

Todd BrownJanuary 16, 2017 4:39 PM

Yeah, I think that's a really interesting take, too.

omnisemantic1January 17, 2017 12:24 PM

Agreed about Revolutions - The Wachowskis seem to be naively idealistic to the point of having all their effort collapse under its own weight, because they just REALLY have to make this or that obvious point.
Though I still think that viewed strictly as science-fiction, the plotting of he trilogy as a whole is really tight, and in that sense the third film was sort of a necessary evil.