Apologies I have once again taken a very long time to get a review out and have once again come back with a review for a film that most of you have already probably seen.
I did this review for a unit at college which is why this one delves so much deeper into film theory’s than the others I have done. I hope you read and enjoy it anyway, I will be back a lot sooner I promise! – Feedback as ever would be appreciated.
The Matrix Film Review
The Matrix is nothing less than one of the most iconic films pre 2000. The 1999 blockbuster sensation broke boundaries in both technical and symbolical aspects of film.
The concept of the film is that the world as we know it is in fact a virtual reality and that reality itself is a dystopian shell run by AI (Artificial Intelligence). We as humans are all plugged into the virtual world – called ‘The Matrix’, living what we perceive as our ‘real’ lives’ inside of foetal tanks that stunt our growth and vegetate our minds, whilst we act essentially as a living battery pack to feed the machine world. If humanity doesn’t wake up soon and face the brutality of reality the dangerously advanced AI who have put the real world on its knees will destroy ‘Zion’, the city inhabited by all that remains of humanity.
I will admit that retrospectively The Matrix does sound like a film created by a complete technophobe or even based on a wet dream Bill Gates had many years ago! When in fact, The Matrix draws a lot of its concepts from mythology, religion and philosophy within its characters, premises and themes.
The premise itself can be linked directly with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Within this theory Plato compares uneducated people to being chained in a cave. A fire glows behind the person within the cave and they see the shadows of objects cast on a wall, but never the actual objects themselves. These people then learn only ever to see the shadows as reality and therefore do not know the true form of the objects and then become confined to this forced false perception. The Matrix acts as the cave and the shadows on the wall are the things we interact with throughout our lives, we perceive them to be real because we are told that they are and never actually realise that our perceptions are wrong as it is beyond our understanding.
The minds behind The Matrix belong to the creative if not slightly paranoid Andy and Larry, the Wachowski Brothers. Who created something truly unique with this film that was almost like nothing ever done before, but something that has been copied infinite times since. This film fits perfectly into the action genre with its gunfights, explosions and kick ass kung fu! But uses action as an elegant sidekick to its immersive sci-fi setting that really takes the lead and drives the film, helping it appeal to not only teenagers of 15 or above but also to adults in their early 30’s who would have been fans of the previous decades sci-fi hits ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Terminator’ that The Matrix draws a lot of its stylistic ‘grungy noir’ influence from.
The characters the Wachowski’s have created are for the most part extremely believable and highly likeable (even Keanu Reeves), which does obvious wonders in submerging the audience’s minds into the ludicrous plot that, if you can keep up with, will actually make sense. I’ll go through all the main characters individually and explain how they relate to a famous film character theory developed by Vladimir Propp, predictably called ‘Propp’s Character Theory’, which states that there are usually only 7 broad character types in every film; villain, donor, helper, princess, false hero, dispatcher and of course the hero. These can often cross over within the narrative and you may find that several character types are applicable to the same character.
Neo / Thomas A. Anderson / The One (Keanu Reeves)
The Matrix starts with Reeves asleep at his desk being woken up by a message on his computer that has been sent into The Matrix from the real world. After a short time Neo is introduced to two of the films other vital characters, Trinity and Morpheus who I will talk about later on. When Neo learns that his life as he’d known it was nothing but a computer generated illusion he moves on quickly from the primary shock and undertakes the task given to him by Morpheus (the dispatcher) to free others from the virtual purgatory. Neo’s path to ‘enlightenment’ runs smoothly along the first 4 stages of Todorov’s theory although technically the fifth stage is not achieved until the end of the third film in the trilogy ‘Matrix Revolutions’.
As Neo embraces his role he becomes something of a Christ figure and is even given the title of ‘The One’, as they hope he is the one who will liberate the trapped human race. Throughout The Matrix several parallels can be drawn between Neo and head religious figures such as Jesus Christ, with his resurrection from the dead that establishes that he is in fact the saviour of the human race. His ability to be both Earthly and Godly, seeing The Matrix’s code shaping everything around him, which demonstrates Neo’s ability to transcend the division between realms that are in this case, The Matrix and the dystopian real world. Neo’s name before he becomes ‘The One’ is Thomas Anderson. ‘Thomas’ was the name of the disciple who wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he’d seen proof with his own eyes, which is the same connection Neo has between believing and seeing. ‘Anderson’ directly translates to ‘son of a man’, a term that was frequently used to describe Christ in the Gospels.
Keanu Reeves has found his perfect role in Neo, all he has to do is look good while hitting things quickly and say the occasional cheesy line as plausibly dramatic as possible, ‘my name is Neo’ being the definite highlight. As we go on this adventure with Neo from almost the word go, it is very easy to become invested in his character and his journey that you want to see it through to the end, which most people who saw ‘The Matrix’ did, whether or not they liked the trilogy’s second instalment ‘The Matrix Reloaded’.
Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne)
The Dispatcher & The Princess’ Father
Morpheus is the leader of the real world, focused on nothing but the task he was appointed by The Oracle; finding ‘The One’. Morpheus brings Neo out of the Matrix and shows him the lie of the life he’s been living, sending him on his journey ‘down the rabbit hole’ that unfolds the events of the trilogy.
Morpheus acts as a farther figure for all the crew on his ship, the Nebuchadnezzar. Throughout the entire trilogy Morpheus remains the only character driven by a greater sense of wisdom and guidance. Morpheus teaches Neo just as far as he needs to before he steps aside to let Neo proceed on his own. As is true to the stereotypical dispatcher role of Propp’s theory Morpheus never sets out to seek his own personal glory, he is made heroic in his own way through his interactions with the hero, Neo.
Just like all the major characters of The Matrix Morpheus’ name does hold significance to his role in the film. The name Morpheus was taken from the Greek God of dreams, who name translates to ‘he who forms’. The God Morpheus has the ability to change his own shape and manipulate the form of reality, as well as the power to capture other people’s minds with dreams and fantasies. His most significant power in relation to The Matrix is his power to wake people up, as Morpheus wakes Neo from the world of illusions.
Fishburne plays Morpheus brilliantly; making him my favourite character in the trilogy – by far. His performance is just as monumental as his character, the coolest cinematic Jesus any director has ever created (sorry Mel Gibson). When you watch Fishburne on screen you may fool yourself into thinking his role was easy to pull off, but I think its only thanks to Fishburne’s epic on screen presence and awesome line delivery that we can bring ourselves to spend time with a character that has the more ridiculous dialogue than any other.
Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss)
The Princess & The Helper
Trinity was freed from The Matrix by Morpheus, just like Neo and is now one of Morpheus’ best infiltrators of The Matrix. Trinity is not characteristically stereotypical of Propp’s princess role yet she fits due to her being Neo’s love interest. It’s hard to go into detail about Trinity’s role within The Matrix Trilogy without giving a lot of plot away but I can say that she is a consistently loyal and willing to the cause, following Neo and Morpheus into all kinds of situations regardless of whether or not it may lead to her death. She is by no stretch of the imagination the helpless victim who’s only hope is to be saved by the hero, she can look after herself and this is the main reason why she breaks so far away from Propp’s character theory’s stereotypical princess.
‘Trinity’ in Christian theology represents the unity of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Father, Son and Holy Ghost – Morpheus, Neo and The Oracle).
Moss is charismatic, clever and sexy (if you’re into that kind of thing), she accompanies Neo’s character well, although I never found her performance particularly convincing. I can never quite put my finger on why but I do think it’s heavily down to the extremely wooden, implausible scene in which she confesses her love for our dying hero. As I mentioned earlier Trinity is an unconventional ‘Princess’ both charismatically and stylistically, she isn’t your typical ‘Hollywood hottie’ – I’m not saying this remotely detracts from her performance yet am merely commenting on her being marketable to a niche teenage target audience, when conventionally modern day action for example, ‘Transformers’ would have someone like Megan Fox to attract their 15 – 35 target audience.
Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving)
Agent Smith, like all other agents is a computer program whose purpose is to serve within The Matrix. When programs (people) die in The Matrix they are deleted because they have fulfilled their purpose. The second fight with Neo in The Matrix causes Smith’s program to corrupt leading him to evolve his own characteristics and a sense of purpose turning him to an even more dangerous nemesis.
Smith blurs the line between man and machine; although ultimately humans come out on top (in true Todorov style) his ability to control his own program with such deadly conviction suggests that victory was never a certainty for humans, and that machines have more influence and potential than it might seem, even if not now, in the future.
In this role Hugo Weaving is playing, well, Hugo Weaving, a man who only has to talk at a camera with one of the coolest voices in cinema to make his performance memorable. There are scenes where he is intimidating, psychotic, cool and calm yet always dangerous. Then there are those where you cant help but wonder whether or not something important has been said, or whether or not Weaving has just made a series of interesting noises. The interactions between Agent Smith and the films other characters are in all honesty, very well executed. His fight scenes are the best in the film and his dialogue is just as ‘out there’ as Morpheus’.
The Oracle (Gloria Foster)
The Donor & False Hero
Just like Morpheus, the Oracle is a figure of wisdom and guidance that helps Neo understand his mission and purpose. The scope of the Oracle’s power is never quite clear. Sometimes she appears to be able to read into the future, near and far. Others, she seems to lead characters down a path of false promises that can lead you as a viewer to think that she may be hiding some darker secrets. Her prophecies suggest that Neo and the other characters have no free will or control over their lives. As the trilogy progresses we see her role evolve and begin to question whether or not she truly knows anything about the future, or if she is simply just a good judge of character. Regardless of her true abilities she is the one who gives Neo insight into his future, leading him on a sacrificial path to save Morpheus. This is The Matrix’s twist on Propp’s donor role; The Oracle gives Neo ‘magical’ knowledge instead of an object with which to complete his quest. This knowledge is the key to the path that helps Neo overcome his self-doubt and become The One.
The Oracle can also been attributed to being the trilogy’s ‘false hero’. At the start of the third film ‘Matrix Revolutions’ Agent Smith comes to take ‘the eyes of The Oracle’ – the program that gives The Oracle her power, installed in her computer program DNA. The Oracle, having the power she has, already knows this is going to happen and yet does nothing to stop her impending doom, despite the fact she is fully aware of the repercussions Smith’s success will have on Neo being victorious on his mission to free mankind from their digital prison.
The Oracle in The Matrix is simply an adaptation of the mythical Oracle at Delphi, who according to legend once declared Socrates the wisest man in the land. Socrates response to this statement was that if he was wise, it was only because he knew nothing. Neo too is aware of his own ignorance and the inscription above the door to the Oracle’s kitchen in The Matrix reads, “Know Thyself”, which suggests that self-knowledge is extremely important.
The Oracle in The Matrix Trilogy is depicted as a motherly figure for all of the potential saviours of mankind. Whereas The Oracle from ancient Greek mythology would sit over a chasm in a three pronged seat, inhaling vapours from Earth that were believed to be the breath of Apollo, in The Matrix the Oracle sits on a simple three-legged stool in her ordinary apartment and breathes in the smell of home made cookies baking in the oven, all symbols created to remove her overt power in The Matrix and reinforce her motherly, protective nature.
All of these characters are mature variations of stereotypical archetypes that you find in fairly tales and folklore’s, the kinds of stories from which Propp devised his character theory. This was done intentionally to help The Matrix’s predominantly teenage target audience understand the films complex concept and plot. The Matrix isn’t the kind of action film that relies solely on action pact sequences and unrealistically explosive environments to make ticket or DVD sales, these unique religious or mythological twists on traditional characters help carry the film forward and really show off the creative ability of the Wachowski brothers.
That said, there is of course still a lot of stunning action sequences that have become extremely iconic since the films release. The ground-breaking ‘bullet time’ photography, that used a set of still cameras to produce an orbiting viewpoint of action frozen in time, became the most famous action sequence of the film and unveiled the endless possibilities digital action films could have when made with true ingenuity.
If I was to sum up The Matrix in one word I think I would pick the word, ‘genius’. You really have to see it to believe it… because in the wise words of the films own gun slinging guru Morpheus, “no-one can explain The Matrix to you – you have to see it for yourself”. Wise words, wise words.