#4 – The Matrix

the matrix movie posterBecause of its lasting influence on both Science Fiction and movie making in general, it’s often hard to remember a time before The Matrix. With an ingenious mix of highly¬†choreographed action sequences, mind-blowing special effects and a premise that literally questions the nature of reality, The Matrix was both a critical and commercial success, spawning two sequels, a series of animated shorts and a host of action movie imitators. And while it is often (rightfully) noted for its ground-breaking special effects, it’s really the film’s story and heroic character arch that make it such a rich and satisfying experience. Borrowing elements from religious and philosophical texts, as well as Japanese Anime films, Philip K. Dick and cyberpunk novels, The Matrix is a movie that is teeming with big ideas and profound concepts. It just also so happens to contain some of the most kick ass action ever put on film.

The Matrix Summary: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a mild-mannered computer programmer by day, and a renegade hacker named “Neo” at night. After receiving cryptic messages through his computer about something called the Matrix, he meets a fellow hacker named Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) who takes him to see a man named Morpheus. Morpheus explains the true nature of reality to Neo and offers him the choice of either returning to his life of blissful ignorance (by taking a blue pill) or learning the truth about humanity and following him “down the rabbit hole” (by taking a red pill) into the “real world”. Obviously, since the movie doesn’t end there, Neo chooses the red pill and wakes up in a slime-filled pod that’s hooked up to what appears to be some sort of electrical structure. OK, no so bad yet. Except that as the camera pans out, you see that his pod is just one of thousands (if not millions) of pods attached to the same structure. After Neo is rescued from his pod by Morpheus, Trinity and the other free humans, Morpheus explains to Neo what the hell is going on.

Apparently it’s actually the year 2199 and the earth is controlled by sentient machines (presumably of our own making). With the sun blotted out by fallout from the first war with the machines, they needed to find an alternative energy source. In order to meet their insatiable need for electricity, the machines have resorted to using the bioelectrical energy produced by humans. The giant electrical structure that Neo and the other humans were connected to was really a giant piece of harvesting equipment meant to sap the energy for their own use. In order to keep the humans docile and content in their pods, the machines created the Matrix to act as a simulated reality to keep them happy while their energy is being drained (sounds a bit like reality television don’t it?). Morpheus and his gang of merry pranksters go around “unplugging” people who they think can handle the shock of learning that humanity is now relegated to just being one big battery for the evil machines. But just because they’ve unplugged, it doesn’t mean that they can’t plug back in whenever they want and take advantage of their knowledge to bend the laws of physics in the Matrix to their own end.

While the reality of humanity’s situation is most definitely a bummer, the advantage of knowing that the Matrix is a simulation and that with the right equipment you can be and do almost anything is full of awesome. Just by loading up a computer program, Neo is able to learn Karate or how to fly a helicopter. As he begins to accept his fate as “The One” who will save humanity from the machines, he comes to realize that he has even more control over the simulated world than he thought, including the ability to dodge bullets. Unfortunately he’s up against machines called “Agents” who are also able to manipulate the simulated world to their own ends.

The Matrix Review: I’m certainly not going to downplay the impact that the incredible action sequences and special effects had on the success of this movie. By all accounts they set the bar for every action movie to come. For me, however, the story of humanity’s enslavement by the machines and the horrifying arrangement that the surviving humans must face is what truly sets this movie apart from other mindless action films. All of us at one time or another have questioned whether or not this world that we live in is real or just simulation (ok, maybe it’s just me). Philosophers have wondered for centuries whether our world is but an illusion, a trick played on our brains by the senses. The Matrix was able to tap into that fear and anxiety is a way that few movies ever have (or ever even tried). And that, along with crazy Kung Fu and bullet dodging, are what make it one of the best science fiction movies ever created.

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