Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Matrix at 20

Today marks the 20th anniversary of one of those films that changed everything.

To commemorate the day, the family sat down on Friday night and brought out the DVD. I can’t remember the last time I saw The Matrix, but it was likely ahead of the 2003 sequel. Assuming that, it had been sixteen years since I last saw this movie.

It holds up really well.

You all know the story of Thomas Anderson, computer hacker, who hunts the internet for the mysterious Morpheus and his connection to the Matrix. Turns out, Morpheus is seeking Anderson as well. It is Morpheus’s contention Mr. Anderson—or, to use his hacker name, Neo—is the one who can defeat the evil machines behind the Matrix.

What’s interesting about watching this movie in 2019 is to be reminded of how dozens of internet memes started. I lost count of how many things have now become standard, but were once revolutionary and new with the actual Matrix movie. The red pill and the blue pill. The stop-motion in a pivotal action scene and allowing the camera to swing around to a different angle. The bullets whizzing by in slow motion. The wire work during the action scenes. (Yes, I know it was done in Hong Kong films, but many people had never seen that stuff before.)

Plus, I love how quaint it appears now that the people in the Matrix had to locate a landline. What would this movie be like today?

After years of writing my own stories, one thing jumped out at me: the overly formulaic hero’s journey story. I probably saw it back in the day, but I really saw it now. Neo’s choice. The “Obi-Wan” figure telling him what to do. Other characters doubting him. Neo doubting himself. Neo no longer doubting himself as he becomes the hero. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good story and it’s done well. But I just happened to see it now. The beauty and curse of a storyteller.

And Joe Pantoliano as Cypher. He is basically the Judas. How many hero’s journey movies and stories have a traitor? Lando in Empire Strikes Back comes to mind. I don’t recall Harry Potter having one. Fellowship of the Rings had Sean Bean’s Boromir. Paul Reiser’s Burke in Aliens. What are some others?

Then there is Keanu Reeves. He doesn’t have a lot of range, but what he does, he does pretty darn well, especially in this film. I enjoyed seeing him again. And, as someone who has not seen any of the John Wick movies—yet wanted to—I am even more enthused about seeing the Wick movies.

The Matrix is one of those films where there was a distinct before and after. It was that influential.

Oh, and the irony of the film’s debut in 1999? It came out about two months before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. As 1999 started and knowing these two movies were on the horizon, who would have thought the non-Star Wars movie would hold a higher place of honor?

What are your memories of The Matrix?

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