This movie is the coolest of the cool. I'm assuming you've seen it a bunch of times . . .
This movie appeals to anyone who has, at some time,
considered the state of the universe and their place in it, and
pondered the nature of reality.
I know why you're here,
Neo. I know what you've been doing.
This movie is especially cool, and appeals particularly to computer users with the idea that your present reality may be virtual: a program that you can hack into, or more interesting . . . out of. Escaping from our mundane lives is what drives many of us to the computer. The question "What is The Matrix?" is about the nature of reality but also "What else is out there?" We want this life to be the one that is not real, so we can be rescued from it and escape to a more interesting one. Cooler still because its heroes are hackers. Inherent in hacking is the idea that you are smarter than everyone else. We are ALL The One. "The Trinity? That cracked the IRS dbase?" The One who will find the answers, and who can do what no one else can. In a way, this is true because we are unique. And who we are, and what we have to give, is of value for its uniqueness. It's a matter of getting to the comfort level of seeing the value in our 'voice' or vision or person. Neo has to believe he is The One before he can be The One. Deep. Yes, it is.¹
The opening credits introduce the idea of a virtual reality and the ability to move from one 'reality' to another, as the camera goes through the lettering and ends up on a computer screen. I found the way they move in and out of The Matrix the most interesting device in this movie. [Where the phones were, how they got to them, and what happened along the way, played like they were in a video game where they had to run for their lives from Point A to Point B, and the next point of entry or exit would move them to another level (it did).] I loved the simple little things, like a lens-filter look making the whole world inside The Matrix a greenish hue, or the tie bars on the Agents' neckties, and, the more complicated, like the opening fight scene with Trinity versus five cops. This introduction to "one little girl" is one hell of a fight scene. With a slo-mo jump/kick, running across walls faster than bullets, and dropping a guy behind her with a Rockette-style kick to the forehead, Trinity's fighting set the tone that this was something different. The whole color-scheme-gritty-urban-1940s look of the city where Trinity gets chased by the police/agents reminded me of the neighborhood in "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper. Like every-industrial-city USA, but with a hint of unreality.
"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper
Such great words! "Savior", "Jesus Christ", "This never happened" "You don't exist" "awake or still dreaming", and also "unplug". The idea of Neo as Jesus is hinted at from the opening when Cypher (Lu-cifer/evil) says "We're gonna kill him." As Neo follows the 'white rabbit' (they use Alice in Wonderland really well in this movie to give us that sense of being out of our element), we can all relate to being enticed to go out when we should be going to bed because we have to work the next day, and then, of course, Neo oversleeps. The following-morning scene opens with the alarm clock going off. A literal and figurative 'wake-up call', and we cut to an office where a man is 'cleaning windows' (little things).
How cool was it to see Neo get Fed-Ex'ed a cell phone, then have it ring?! The idea that he has to face his fears (like Christ and the temptations) in order to progress is universally relatable. We see Neo is not ready to do what he must. When he is taken into custody by the Agents, it's like no other interrogation. Again, the dialog is amazing, as is the performance of the actor playing Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) ³. He's such a bad ass. He sits down at the interrogation table and flexes his arms out to the sides, much like a gunfighter would before a shootout, ready to draw his weapon. The weapon in his case is a huge file of papers. (I love the reversal in politeness, Agent Smith calls Neo "Mr. Anderson" but it's with contempt. Love the affirming payoff later.)
"Living two lives" is an interesting concept, and here it has more than one application. Neo is already living two lives inside The Matrix, but he is about to live another life outside The Matrix. In this scene the Agents plant a 'bug' in him, and then he (Neo) wakes up back in his own bed, like it was all a nightmare. The phone rings and Neo is told over the phone by Morpheus that he is "The One" and he is drawn out to meet up with Trinity who will take him to meet Morpheus. It's not until Neo is drawn out that we discover the 'bug' was real, the dream was 'reality'. This idea, that even in the 'reality' of The Matrix there is a question about what is 'real', is part of what makes this movie so interesting: the seemingly impossible things the Agents can do; closing Neo's mouth and the mechanical bug that comes to life—if The Matrix is reality, how would you explain those things? Morpheus brings Neo to a place inside The Matrix where he can choose to remain where he is, or to escape to something different. Once again, great dialog. (As Neo and Trinity climb the stairs to meet Morpheus, the camera pulls back and rises above the center of the stairway giving us a "rabbit hole" feeling . . . . little things)
I can remember thinking. This scene is so
well done. The
room is dilapidated yet beautiful, Morpheus's coat is
bad ass, as are his reflective (of course) sunglasses
without arms. When he turns around, there is lightning
and the emphatic sound of thunder.
(What an intro!) The set decoration is great—minimal furniture—it looks staged (and it's supposed to),
which adds to the whole air of unreality. The idea that you could wake up from your miserable life by taking a pill is seductive.
Morpheus tells Neo that all he is offering is the truth, nothing more,
and instructs Neo: "Follow me." (more religious undertones)
Neo has now been removed from the horrific 'farms' the machines have set up to harvest human energy, and is mentally in the real, physical world, on board the "Nebuchadnezzar," Morpheus's ship. The ship has a little of the pirate feel with a motley crew. The shift from the mental world of The Matrix into the real world is never more impactful than when Neo asks why his eyes hurt, and Morpheus answers "You've never used them before."
Neo gets his answer to what The Matrix is as they 'plug him in', and Morpheus introduces him to their loading program, "The Construct". The brutal truth is that what Neo thought was the real world was just a computer program, a "neural interactive simulation", and when Laurence Fishburne says "Welcome to the desert of the real" his delivery is ultra cool, and it's as if he's really saying "Man, can you fucking believe it?" ("Yes, we can!")
Fishburne has such a great voice, it flows over the horrible truth like a sugary coating: "The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this [holds up a battery]". Poor Neo. He can't accept the truth, passes out, and, when he awakens, realizes he can't go back. Morpheus apologizes because they have a rule that they never free a mind once it's reached a certain age. This essential concept (freeing the mind) is in so many other things, like "The Secret", "The Power of Positive Thinking", and religious faith.
This movie also has the 'cool factor' of martial arts. Once he recovers physically from being 'fuel', Neo undergoes extensive mental training. What a great idea that knowledge could be instantly uploaded to your brain! After10-hours-straight training (uploading) Neo tell Morpheus "I know Kung Fu." Morpheus replies "Show me."
Great line. Great challenge. A physical challenge that is more mental. The sound effects, drums, and gong, mixed with the music, turn the scene into a frenzied dance. (Hip Hop moves were borrowed in part from martial arts, and that is very clear here.) Morpheus gives the come-and-get-it hand gesture the movie is famous for, and eggs Neo on "C'mon, stop trying to hit me and hit me!" This fight scene is amazing. However much practice it took (months and months), it really paid off. They make it look like they are fighting all out, effortlessly. (And here, for once, when the fighting looks sped up, it fits because they are supposed to be moving faster than is normally possible.) Morpheus schools Neo in mind over matter in perfect words:
As Morpheus pushes Neo's limits, Neo tells Morpheus that he knows what he Morpheus is trying to do. Morpheus replies . . .
This is the crux of the movie: Neo freeing his mind so he knows he's The One. Knowing. Faith. If we can believe in something, we can make it real. As Neo progresses through the "Sparring Program", Morpheus raises the level of the challenges and loads the "Jump Program" where Neo must take a literal 'leap of faith.' Neo fails, of course and, inevitably, this question arises . . .
So simple, yet so difficult, and such a universal fear: like the idea that if you dream you die, you die. As Morpheus expounds on the nature of The Matrix and their enemies through the "Agent Training Program" he warns Neo "If you're not of us, you're one of them." (I love how this scene opens with the crosswalk "Don't Walk" sign of a red man suggesting all the people represent danger (. . . simple things). Morpheus explains that the Agents are "gatekeepers" and all eyes watching are part of a greater machine 'consciousness'. Another cool concept, like "the force" in "Star Wars", yet here, creepy and invasive. Another of the radically cool things about this movie, is that the agents can take over any body at any time, like the woman in the red dress turning into an agent with a gun pointed at Neo.
(. . . and we wait with bated breath to see that!!)
When the next scene opens with the Nebuchadnezzar being hunted,
it raises the stakes in the movie, and gives it a sense of
urgency. (It also sets up the payoff for the EMP-electromagnetic
pulse weapon to be used
In the following scene, Cypher shares a drink with Neo. We know
Cypher is jealous and suspects that Trinity likes Neo.
Because everyone before Neo who has faced an Agent has died,
it seems like Cypher's purpose here is to inject doubt and fear.
The Agents want the access codes to the Zion mainframe (Zion is the human city
underground in the real world, outside The Matrix) so they can stop the humans
living outside The Matrix from trying to hack into
The Matrix and
bring it down (and also kill them all).
When Morpheus decides Neo is ready to meet the Oracle, the music (Spybreak by The Propellerheads) starts the bad-ass, we-mean-business attitude that drives the movie from this point forward. The camera spin around the room where the group suddenly appears is a clever faux 'entrance,' having them appear in The Matrix without really explaining how they got there. The telephone call to confirm they're 'in' keeps the connection to the idea that somehow they used the phone to get in (but, again, this is not explained). This works for me despite that. When Cypher drops his phone in the trash can with the line open, we know he is calling the Agents and giving away that the group is 'in' and with the phone signal, their location. From the entry point, they drive to the Oracle's apartment building. Morpheus tells Neo what the Oracle told him: that he, Morpheus, would find The One. As Neo enters her apartment you think: so much for the other "potentials". As he waits to speak to the Oracle, one of the 'potential' children is using his mind to bend a spoon. The child explains to Neo:
When Neo is let in to see the Oracle, she asks Neo if he thinks he's The One. His answer: "Honestly, I don't know." She points to the Latin sign behind him "Temet Nosce" (Know Thyself) and explains:
(trumpets please) . . . In case you missed that, she can't tell him he's The One, he has to just
it. With this, she is telling him he is The One but
that he has to get there
himself. She tells him he has the gift but it looks like he's
waiting for something, which brings up Morpheus's faith in Neo.
The Oracle tells Neo that Morpheus believes so blindly that Neo is The One that he's going to sacrifice himself to save Neo, and Neo's going to have to make a choice: Morpheus's life or his own. It is just this act of 'religious' selflessness that will make Neo strong, make Neo believe. It's what he is 'waiting' for. A cause, a reason to be The One (in order to save Morpheus). This comes up almost immediately. As the group returns to the starting point to leave The Matrix, Neo has a "déjà vu" moment and sees a black cat twice. Trinity explains that a déjà vu moment usually indicates a "glitch" in The Matrix, which happens when they change something (This glitch idea is SO COOL!!!!—who hasn't had a moment of two of unreality in life . . . ). Trouble erupts when the Agents "cut the hard line" and the group discovers they are now trapped in that physical location. Morpheus does indeed sacrifice himself to help the group get Neo away, and they are forced to leave Morpheus behind. Like Christ sacrificing himself for all men, Neo will have to choose to sacrifice himself to save Morpheus.
Cypher gets back to the ship first and throws a
wrench in the works by killing Dozer and Apoc. Cypher tries to kill
Tank but Tank recovers, and at the perfect moment, kills Cypher.
It's the "miracle" that Cypher says had to happen, if Neo is
The One, to prevent him (Cypher) from killing Neo. Trinity
is brought back first. They cut
to the Agents who have taken Morpheus hostage in another
ultra-cool shot: of a helicopter and its reflection on the
building where they are holding Morpheus. Surprise, surprise,
Agent Smith, while drugging Morpheus to interrupt his brain wave
pattern so the machines can crack into his mind, confesses that
he too hates The Matrix and wants out, and states that he is
definitely out to find Zion and kill everyone there.
Faced with Tank's idea that the only option is to pull the plug on Morpheus before the Agents get the codes out of him, whether or not Neo believes he is The One, he believes can rescue Morpheus. At that point, the movie becomes a series of things Neo overcomes or defeats to move to higher and higher levels of ability inside The Matrix. Once Neo commits to the rescue of Morpheus (and Trinity insists on going along), the wow factor gets kicked up a couple notches. Donning the signature bad-ass, long black coats and sunglasses, Neo and Trinity arm up (do they!) and storm the building where the Agents are holding Morpheus.
From the moment Neo's shit-kicker boots hit the floor, what ensues is a
huge reason to buy surround sound, and, movie-making history. (Unless
you've heard it, you won't believe the difference . . . . even the sound of the metal
bullet casings hitting the marble floor.) From the reveal of how armed up Neo is when he opens his coat at
the metal detector, to the acrobatic gun battle and shower of
marble chips and dust, Neo and Trinity take the building by
storm. They believe they can rescue Morpheus and they do. This
is one of the best bad-ass, walk-in-and-shoot-the-place-up
scenes (like the
from "They Live"),
do they look good doing it . . .
And, they shoot the shit out of it. At the end, cool
as cucumbers, they strike a pose in the elevator. As it rises,
they set a bomb, escaping the elevator car through the ceiling
panel. They shoot through the cable holding up the elevator, and with
resulting weight loss, take a counterbalance express cable ride
to the top. The fire from the bomb exploding when the elevator
hits the ground floor is spectacular (and it rocks the whole
building). (In really good action movies, something has got to
be really blown the hell up.) The fight then moves to the roof
of the building. Neo and Trinity take out all the soldiers, and Neo shoots at
an Agent, who dodges the bullets with lightning speed. Then it's Neo's turn and another moment of movie-making history, known as
"bullet time", the movie makers again take our breath
The helicopter hovers into position outside the window of the room where the Agents are keeping Morpheus, and Neo opens fire with a Gatling gun! This keeps the Agents from breaking into Morpheus' mind, and Morpheus gets up and makes a run for the helicopter, but is clipped by a bullet and stumbles as he lunges out the window. In yet another breathtaking shot, Neo (attached to a cord) jumps out of the helicopter to grab onto Morpheus. Neo catches him, but then they slip to where Morpheus barely hangs on, and dangles below Neo. As Trinity moves the helicopter away to safety, an Agent shoots at the gas tank and the helicopter, losing fuel fast, has to find a place to try to crash land and drop Morpheus and Neo safely. Trinity dangles them low over a building and Morpheus jumps, and then Neo. Realizing the helicopter is not going to make it, Neo suddenly realizes it's life or death for Trinity and does the unthinkable. With faith, he hangs on the the cord that attaches him to the dropping 'copter. Trinity moves fast though, and shoots through where the cord is attached to the helicopter, and it falls away from her, to crash with a rippling effect into the side of a glass building. Another spectacular explosion scene and Trinity, after swinging on the cord being held up by Neo, smashes into the adjacent building, but is okay. Neo then pulls her up to the roof. This is the moment where Neo realizes he is in love, and Morpheus feels validated in his belief in Neo.
The three of them head for another location to get out by phone. The Agents arrive too late to the rooftop, but Agent Smith, bent on catching them, says to himself "They're not out yet" and the chase intensifies. The trio reach a pay phone in a subway station. Morpheus gets out first and this is the first time we see what happens to you when you answer the call. A homeless man also sees, and in Agent's Smith omniscience, he takes over the homeless man's body. Morpheus is out and it's Trinity's turn. She has been trying to tell Neo what the Oracle told her, but apparently can't do it now either. Just as she answers the phone, the Agent shoots. Trinity makes it out, but the phone is damaged so Neo can't use it. Instead of being afraid and running away, Neo comes into his own and turns to face Agent Smith. As Morpheus puts it: "He's beginning to believe."