Hey guys! I was on a podcast! … No, not that one. I’m always on that one, so that’s not news. A different one! Bunches of you are probably familiar with The Incomparable podcast, hosted by the inestimable Jason Snell. Well, it’s that one! In fact, it’s this episode, in which we discuss The Matrix in all its late-90s glory! If you haven’t heard of The Incomparable, it’s a geeky podcast devoted to all sorts of things that are quite likely relevant to your interests, so you should check it out.
This post is a companion piece to that podcast ep. If you think I’ve missed something really important about The Matrix here, it may be because I already covered it in the podcast or perhaps one of my lovely co-hosts did. And it’s your own fault for not having listened to it already. So you should probably do that first. Just saying.
The first time I saw The Matrix, I had no idea what it was about. My then-roommate Jeff and I went to see it because we had nothing better to do. We got there late and had to sit in one of those seats that don’t even exist in modern theaters. *adjusts position on rocking chair* You see, kids, there used to be a few seats on the floor (with no stadium seating or cushy seats) that were WAY off to the side so you were looking at the screen from a 38 degree angle (or so). Yeah. That’s where we were. Second row, farthest to the right. Leagues away from the ideal movie-watching experience.
After about a minute and a half, I forgot where I was. It didn’t matter where I was sitting or what crazy angle my neck was craned. I was 100% enveloped in The Matrix. As soon as the film ended, Jeff and I looked at each other and said “We need to see this again. … In better seats.”
And we did.
And then I did. Again. Many, many more times.
I still get shivers every time I start up the flick—even now that it’s just at home on a much smaller screen. The altered Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow logos with that shrieky/sparkly/Matrixey sound in the background? Yeah. That gets me every time.
So anyway, on to the themes and thoughts and bits and bobs that didn’t get covered in the podcast. Come to think of it, this is an awful lot like a Last Word post over on the Verity! site. So if you’re used to that sort of hodge-podge brain-dump, this will feel familiar.
As I said on the podcast, this isn’t a film about character development. Still, there are some moments that stand out.
- After Neo’s been pulled out of the Matrix, he asks “I can’t go back, can I?” This may be Keanu’s best delivery of the whole film. It’s poignant and touching and really gets me thinking about how it would feel to be torn away from absolutely everything I’ve ever known or experienced.
- I really should’ve known Cypher was the bad guy. When Neo walks up behind him, Cypher turns off his monitors almost as fast as I change my screen when my boss walks up behind me at work!*
- While the chemistry between Neo and Trinity is virtually nonexistent, they do have one great scene together–when Trinity smacks Neo down for trying to rescue Morpheus alone, I wanted to high-five her. She’s a fascinating character, and I wish she’d had more opportunity to shine. The tiny glimpses of her strength make me wish there was a sequel just about her. (Preferably in which Neo does not figure at all.) I would watch the hell outta that.
- My other favorite Trinity moment is after her glorious opening action sequence. She wastes all those cops, looks around, and utters an understated “shit.” I jumped firmly on board right there.
- My other other favorite Trinity moment is, in my not-so-humble-opinion, the single sexiest moment of the entire film (and yes, that’s including every yummy minute of Keanu kicking ass): her graceful landing in the Heart O’ the City garage after escaping down the wet wall. The way she lands and crouches…*drool*…seriously.
There’s a reason this film won the Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing in 2000.
- I believe I mentioned this during the podcast, but it bears repeating: the sound in this movie is precise and ubiquitous.
- They thought about every moment and made sure each one sounds exactly as it should.
- Almost everything has a sound–even when it’s an exaggeration or complete fabrication.
- Trinity escapes the agents in the opening scene, then leans over to look around the corner. When she stands up, “Whoosh!”
- When characters settle into a fighting stance, we hear it.
- As I said before, that screechy, electronic, Matrixey sound** gives me shivers, and it continues to do so throughout the film. I sorta want it for an alarm in the morning. It’d be a trippy way to wake up, but I think I’d dig it.
- In addition to being effective on their own, I love how the different sound elements work together.
- The transition between thumping “Dragula” in the club and buzzing alarm clock in Neo’s room is seamless and perfectly underlines the dreamlike quality of the club scene.
- Even moments that could come across as hackey somehow work here. When Neo claims déjà vu, the music does the Matrix-equivalent of “dun-dun-DUN!” But it fits the tension and style of the film so well it doesn’t come off as cheesetastic.***
To this day, I’m not sure which pill I’d take if I knew what I was getting myself into.
- As I mentioned on the podcast, I adore the way we have no idea what’s going on at the beginning of the film, and only learn as Neo does. When Morpheus hits him with chunks of back story, they’re some of the better info-dumps I’ve seen. He’s filling in cracks the film has so mysteriously provided. It feels more like filling up a dry river bed than dropping a load of expository dirt onto a plain.
- It was well-covered° in the podcast that film’s premise might be a little thin, but I never noticed, or if I did, it didn’t bother me. I’m happy to assume humans are necessary for a reason, so I simply take the film at face value.°° And I love it! I’m an admitted sucker for dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories, but this goes beyond that. As long as the characters operate within the Matrix itself, I can take all the little oddities and inconsistencies that bother me in other action/adventure movies and chalk them up to the fact that it’s a simulation of reality. Once I get past the basic premise, the pedantic part of my nerd-brain actually gets a two-hour holiday.
- The one element that didn’t quite ring true for me was that “the body cannot live without the mind.” Sure it can. It’s called a coma. And the idea of the consciousness physically leaving the body and traveling into the Matrix just didn’t gel with me. That said, I was willing to go with it for the sake of the story. Especially since Neo proved it wasn’t a hard and fast rule (though the inference was that he’s the only one who can break it).
- The plethora of story-related visual treats are also dolloped out in bits. The movie takes pains to ensure some of the “physical” aspects of the Matrix remain a mystery.
- We’re told agents “can be anybody,” but we don’t actually see one take over a body until the scene in the Heart ‘O the City Hotel.
- We know our heroes move in and out of the Matrix through the phone lines, but the film is nearly over when we finally see Morpheus become a web of glowing lights and fade into the payphone.
The Thematic Elements
Another thing for which I am a sucker (as long as it’s not too heavy-handed) is a bit of film-schooley goodness.°°°
- I talked at length about the theme of “reflection,” which truly is my new favorite thing about The Matrix. The Matrix itself is a reflection of the real world of 1999, and within it we see many reflections (most often, distorted ones). The best of these is the spoon, which is hammered home with the nearly-iconic line.
- Another great visually thematic element is how we often see the beginning of the action through a TV screen or monitor. The televisions add another layer of unreality. Yes, it’s a little obvious and a lot meta, but I quite dig it.
- When the agents interrogate Neo, we enter the scene through a monitor (complete with electronic zoomey sound effect!).
- When Morpheus describes “the desert of the real,” he starts by showing Neo (and us) on an old-fashioned television. I particularly like how the TV set is still there when they’re actually “in” the wasteland.
- While we’re on themes, I think it’s neat that The Matrix deals with both questions of humanity (Agent Smith’s tirade against humanity and its smell) and of the nature of reality itself. I love how sci fi lends itself to covering such weighty stuff—even if it doesn’t always dive very deep. Though for my money, the nature of reality > the nature of humanity when it comes to entertainment. As cool as Agent Smith’s speech is, I prefer Morpheus schooling Neo about how electrical signals interpreted by the brain determine what we experience. That’s heady shit right there.
…aaaand everything else that struck me!
- The sets in this flick are fantastic. We talked about the atmosphere of the color grading inside and outside of the Matrix, but the sets themselves intensify this. The grading is fairly consistent, but the sets help sub-divide the Matrix itself.
- Parts of the Matrix are slick and shiny: Neo’s workplace, the building in which the agents hold Morpheus.
- The parts of the Matrix in which our heroes operate (the Oracle’s building, the Heart O’ the City) are decaying and nearly as run-down as the real-world Nebuchadnezzar.
- Bonus set detail: the name KYM is scrawled on the wall in the elevator of the Oracle’s building. Kym is the name of the costume designer. I think it was my mom who noticed that when I saw it (for the third time) with my family. Kudos Fangirl Prime!
- I wanted that Nokia phone SO BAD. I was crushed when my carrier didn’t have them available.
- I have no problem with vomit scenes in movies, but it does bother me when characters spew a mouthful or less. Takes me right out of the action ‘cause it looks so fake.
- STEAK! Cypher’s 30-pieces-of-silver scene makes me hungry every time. And I love that, in the real real world, they integrated the internet by including STEAK as a password at the end of the credits. I spent a lot of time on www(dot)whatisthematrix(dot)com back in the day.ˆ
- For a moment I thought it was strange they were still using BTUs (British thermal units) to measure energy, but then I remembered that 1) They still use BTUs today, even in countries that use the metric system, and 2) It may be the future, but they can be forgiven for thinking in terms of 1999 technology.
- The lamest part of the movie is when Trinity says “Dodge this.” She gives the agent ample time to do just that. (But it’s so effing cool, I kinda can’t help giving it a pass.)
- “Thomas Anderson” would be a really neat, subtle cosplay. You’d just need a suit with a bright yellow lining and a sorta skinny tie.
- Jason mentioned how his wife quoted lines from this film. I’m not usually much of a quoter, but The Matrix seems to be an exception. I found myself rattling off lines along with the characters.ˆˆ I wonder what it is about this movie that makes it so easily quotable, even for the non-quote-hound. I’m including a few of my favorites here, because I can:
- “I’m just another guy.” (Laughable coming from any movie star.)
- “Why do my eyes hurt?” “You’ve never used them before.” (Whoa!)
- “You all look the same to me.” (Hilarious, and even more so coming from an actor of color. Wouldn’t have been as effective via Val Kilmer.)
- “And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don’t like it… I believe you can go to hell. Because you’re not going anywhere else.” (You tell him, Trin!)
I used to have a movie review show on cable access back in the late-90s/early aughts. We reviewed The Matrix when it came out. Our rating scale was –5 to +5. I wanted to give it a +5, but I instituted a “five year rule” for myself. Even if I absolutely loved a film, I’d only give it a +4. And if, after five years, I still loved the film as much, it would earn the coveted +5 rating.
Ladies and gentlemen,ˆˆˆ The Matrix has officially achieved +5 status.
**Audio experts, feel free to enlighten me here. What is that sound really? Whatever it is, I love it on a cellular level.
***Well maybe a little cheesetastic, but c’mon. If you don’t like a teensy bit of cheese, you’re probably not gonna like The Matrix in the first place.
°Like, REALLY well-covered–to an amusing, übernerdtastic extent.
°°Years of watching Doctor Who have prepped me well for this.
°°°Too bad I wasn’t so in love with that stuff when I was actually in film school.
ˆDon’t bother trying to visit the site now. Warner Brothers took it down some time ago. *sadface*
ˆˆHooray for watching alone at home! No restraint required!
ˆˆˆAnd those who prefer to identify as neither or something else.