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‘The Matrix’ – 21 Years On

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The tagline on the iconic poster, featuring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss, each sporting their own set of tinted shades.

Even before this movie came out, the promotional material promised big things. “You’re telling me I can dodge bullets?” Keanu, already well established after the likes of Speed and Point Break, asks Laurence at the beginning of a TV Spot from 1999. “When you’re ready, you won’t have to” comes the reply, followed by an impressive VFX shot that seems to push the boundaries of the impossible. Continue the spot, and you’ll see a heart-racing reel of exhilaratingly spectacular martial arts shots, whether it’s running up a wall, dodging bullets, or slow motion ‘bullet time’ effects.

Neo and Morpheus fighting in a dojo inside The Matrix

This movie appealed to many, with the eye-popping action scenes, dystopian and philosophical ideas, and ground-breaking special effects. But where does this story begin, and what makes this movie so standout?

The movie opens with an action scene featuring Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a mysterious latex-clad woman performing physics-defying stunts as she is pursued along the rooftops by a group of police officers and agents. This first popularized the now familiar ‘bullet time effect’, as the camera circles Trinity while she hangs mid-air in slow motion before performing the so-called ‘Trinity Kick’.

Trinity Kick
Trinity hanging in ‘bullet time’

The movie then shifts focus to an idling computer programmer Thomas “Neo” Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who is contacted by Trinity and eventually led to the mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus explains the notion of the constant feeling that something is wrong, a ‘splinter’ in the world, and that the Matrix ‘is a world pulled over his eyes to blind him from the truth.’ Intrigued by Morpheus’ ideas about being a slave, Neo has to choose between two notorious choices: the red pill, or the blue pill.

Morpheus offering Neo the red pill or the blue pill

The concepts here are particularly thought-provoking as the movie begins to introduce the idea that the world could be a construction, along with the link to a feeling that many audience members would experience themselves. This establishes a choice in the viewers’ minds, take the blue pill and continue as if nothing is wrong, or take the red pill and discover the truth about ‘how deep the rabbit hole goes’. Even now, over 20 years after the introduction of this iconic decision, the principles here still apply, if not even more than before. We live in a world where everything is increasingly interconnected, and technical development is happening at a rate faster than ever before. Who’s to say that we aren’t in the ‘Matrix’, and how do we know that we just aren’t being given the choice that Anderson is presented with?

Neo swallows the red pill and is brought out of the Matrix, to discover that he has been living in a simulation his whole life. He is told he is ‘The One’, the saviour for the enslaved population of mankind. This particularly haunting sequence of ‘waking up’ – to find he is attached to a plethora of wires and in a vat of goo – as he enters ‘the real world’ provides an evocative and scarily lifelike vision of what humanity could come to be, or what it already is.

Neo waking up from The Matrix

Neo trains through martial arts files downloaded into his brain, and is told by the ‘oracle’ that he is not the one. However, things soon start going even further downhill. Morpheus is betrayed by a member of the resistance crew named Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) and is captured, but Cypher is shot before he can kill the rest of the crew and the agents are unable to extract the information about the last human city from Morpheus. Neo uses his newfound power to demonstrate probably one of the most revolutionary visual effects shots of the 20th century – the infamous ‘bullet dodge’.

Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix

It is this that kickstarts the rest of Neo’s powers, which he uses to neutralise the agents, rescue Morpheus and fly off at the end of the film.

The incredible stunts, martial arts work, and ground-breaking visual effects shots not only helped raise the bar for sci-fi movies, but also illustrated just how impressive action scenes could be, and forced other action movies to up their game. Even the dark, leather clothing of the characters influenced later films, notably X-Men, and is still widely recognised as a staple of this archetypal film. The Matrix won 4 Oscars: editing, sound, sound effects editing and visual effects, forever marking its well-grounded foray into previously unexplored themes and visualisations. Rewatch The Matrix now, and I guarantee, you’ll still find yourself asking this unsettling question. Is the world I live in a lie?

Will you be rewatching The Matrix 21 years later? Let us know what you thought over on Twitter and be sure to download the Kernel App so you can add The Matrix 4 to your watchlist!

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