As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m taking part in Blu-ray Elite, a beta program from Warner Home Video. Warner is sending me Blu-ray movies, and I’m writing about them. One of the first films I received was The Matrix (1999), the science fiction classic from the Wachowski brothers. I haven’t seen, or really even thought much about, The Matrix in quite some time. It was ripe for a re-watch to see if it held up. I’m not sure I have enough to say about it for a full review, but I do have some brief thoughts I’d like to share.
The Matrix first came out in 1999, when I was frozen in time working in baseball. My job left me with no time to see movies. When I left baseball in 2002, there was a flood of films waiting for me to check out. The Matrix was one that had come highly recommended by several of my friends. I really enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and that’s saying something because I’m not necessarily the kind of person to seek out sci-fi. Still, a good movie is a good movie, regardless of genre. And The Matrix was really good. I even enjoyed both of the much-maligned sequels to varying degrees. So how did the original hold up after several years?
To be blunt, there are some smaller things that seem dated. But the story itself has held up brilliantly. I found myself enjoying it even more on the re-watch.
-There’s a really cool echo of David Cronenberg’s corporeal horror in many of the early scenes when Neo comes out of the machine and acclimates himself to his new world. There’s nobody better than Cronenberg at making you squirm with body horror, and I imagine the Wachowskis were trying to tap into that vibe. Even if it wasn’t a purposeful echo of Cronenberg, it’s marvelously effective.
–The Matrix works as really brilliant mash-up of several genres. Obviously, science fiction is the anchor but there are also strong noir and kung fu elements mixed in. That may sound like a very odd mix but it works really well here.
-The thematic genre mash-up is wrapped with layers upon layers of a philosophy and religion mash-up. It raises all sorts of questions regarding free will, bureaucracy, the modern world, and also introduces eastern philosophy as well as a Christ figure. I understand if some viewers see it as pretentious or heavy-handed, but I thought (at least in the first film of the trilogy) they pulled it off with aplomb.
-It’s hard to watch it without thinking about the way The Matrix has forced itself into the zeitgeist ever since. It was spoofed roundly in Edgar Wright’s Spaced, Chappelle’s Show, and even Madea Goes to Jail (2006). Phrases like “take the red pill”, “there is no spoon”, and “matrixing” (moving in especially agile ways) have entered the lexicon. They’re somewhat common. Whether you like the film or not, it’s had an impressive impact.
–The Matrix re-watch reminded me of how much I dislike industrial music. I did then and I still do now.
-Last but not least, I have to talk about Keanu Reeves. Ever since the first time I saw The Matrix, I’ve laughed that it would take a genre like science fiction to make people accept Keanu Reeves’ “acting”. As a viewer, if you tell me right from the outset that what I’m watching is “fiction”, then I’ll suspend disbelief when it comes to Keanu’s characters. It’s certainly true in The Matrix. There were at least 2 or 3 scenes where I literally laughed at Keanu Reeves.
For a period of time after the film came out, there was a group of fans of the film who made it almost insufferable to discuss it. But I can’t say I disagree with their initial assessment. It deserves its place amongst the science fiction greats, a film that will be remembered for a very long time with good reason.