Brief Thoughts on The Matrix (1999)

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 SpacedChappelle’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. 


16 Comments

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16 responses to “Brief Thoughts on The Matrix (1999)

  1. It’s been a while between drinks for me too on this film. I must dust off the old BluRay and give it another spin! Nice review!!

  2. NIce thoughts on the movie. It’s been a couple of years since I last saw it, but I do consider it a science fiction classic. It’s a movie that made you think what would happen in the sequels and since the setup was so good the expectations of everyone were just too high. They couldn’t be anything but disappointed by them. Still like the first one the best, but the sequels did have their great moments.

  3. Great overview. I watched the Benny Hill sped-up version just recently and laughed my head off over that. (For the record, I do like the original quite a bit.)

  4. womanwhowritesstuff

    When thinking about the movie, The Matrix, I always think of Grandma’s Boy. “The Matix called, they want their clothes back.” Still love the movie after all this time. Great overview.

  5. I was living in New York City when The Matrix came out. At all of the multi-plexes in Manhattan, you just couldn’t walk up to buy a ticket. I can recall that after our 3rd attempt to go see it, while standing in a mega line, they made an announcement that sounded like this, “the 215, 430 and 720 showings of the Matrix are sold out.”. You HAD to buy tix online. It was like that for weeks! How do I know? I kept going to see it! It was a phenomenon. I can recall that about a year later, I was walking to the subway somewhere in midtown and noticed people literally, clamoring and thronging around an electronics store window. What were they looking at? The Matrix. Amazing. Almost as good as Grandma’s Boy.

  6. I loved the first film, yet have not watched it since I saw the sequels. I guess I had a fear that those movies would somehow retro-actively spoil the original for me.

    Its unlikely to be true, though, because I remember very well how awesome The Matrix is – I watched it enough times!

    Perhaps it is even time to give the sequels another go. I almost walked out of the third film but, as another commenter pointed out, perhaps my expectations were too high…

  7. I have them all in DVD. Love them all.

  8. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I even have Animatrix on DVD which provides some of the backstory via Anime shorts. They took a risk by complicating the story in the sequels but the alternative could have been much worse.

  9. Not a bad movie. It is a modern day adaptation of Plato’s Allegory of the cave. It had such a huge buzz around the film that I think it tarnished it in the way… I personally think the total mashup is a little annoying and Reeves is indeed laughable.

  10. It is definitely a movie worth owning in Blu-Ray. But it is the main source of misconception of what a matrix actually is. Ask anyone who’smev taken a linear algebra course!

  11. Funny you should mention Cronenberg, because he did make a very similar film called eXistenZ which came out a little bit before The Matrix. I actually like it more than The Matrix, but that’s not a slight to The Matrix at all.

    I did rewatch The Matrix recently and I think it still holds up superbly as one of the finest action films of the last couple of decades. The story is still as provoking and the action still as amazing as it was back in the day.

    • I’ve seen eXistenZ and it’s absolutely one of several films I thought of when I mentioned Cronenberg. The crazy sexual connotations in that movie with all of the plugging in are hilarious, disturbing, and wonderfully classic Cronenberg.

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