- This article is about the film The Matrix. For other usages of the term, see Matrix.
The Matrix is a film first released in the USA on March 31, 1999, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry). It stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving. A renowned Generation Y classic, it has developed a strong following as a cult film.
The film describes a world in which the titular Matrix is an artificial reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population. It contains numerous references to philosophical and religious ideas, and to the hacker subculture, as well as homages to the style of Japanese animation and cyberpunk.
The film is a co-production of Warner Bros Studios and Australian Village Roadshow Pictures.
The Matrix was filmed in Sydney.
The Matrix series and franchise
The Matrix earned $171 million in the US and $456 million worldwide. The movie's relatively unexpected success and cult following led to the next two films (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions), a video game (Enter the Matrix), and a collection of nine animated shorts (The Animatrix). After these two final installments were created, an online game entitled The Matrix Online was developed and launched, further expanding the setting and plot of the saga.
It is important to note that the Wachowskis have stated to have always intended to make a trilogy, it was only after the first installments success that they were able to make the second and third films, although it was a number of years and several iterations of wholly different scripts before the final movies were approved. All of the ideas were written by the Wachowski brothers, although five of the nine animated shorts count among their authors noted figures from the world of Japanese animation (anime).
The movie's official website provides free comics, set in the world of The Matrix. Some of these comics are now available in printed form (on 120 pages), although the creators claim that free comics will be available on the site in the future.
A computer software programmer named Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves) leads a secret life as a hacker under the alias "Neo". A series of unusual, dream-like events brings him into contact with a group of people led by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne). Morpheus, a practitioner of critical pedagogy, explains to Neo that the Matrix is a false reality and invites him to enter the "real world." There Neo discovers that the year is not 1999, but about 2199 and that humanity is fighting a war against intelligent machines. In order to deny the machines their power source (solar energy), the humans "scorched the sky". The machines responded by making use of human beings themselves as an energy source. It turns out that the world which Neo has inhabited since birth, the Matrix, is an illusory simulated reality construct of the world of 1999. developed by the machines to keep the human population docile whilst they are connected to generators and their energy is harvested. Morpheus, with the other free humans, works at "unplugging" humans from the Matrix and recruiting them.
Morpheus has rescued Neo from the Matrix because he believes that Neo is "The One," who has been prophesied by the Oracle to "hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people." Morpheus believes that Neo has the power to free humankind from its enslavement through complete mastery over the Matrix. Neo, along with the other members of Morpheus' group, is initially skeptical, but Morpheus teaches him to "bend the rules" of the Matrix - subvert the operation of the normal laws of physics. Neo also forms a close personal relationship with a female member of the group, Trinity. Inside the Matrix, the humans are pursued by a group of self-aware programs, called Agents, having incredible martial arts skills and capabilites beyond those of the humans. Their most powerful skill is their ability to "jump" between bodies, enabling them to take over any person who has not been disconnected from the Matrix.
Neo meets with the Oracle, who, in the traditions of Oracles everywhere, presents him with an ambiguously-worded prediction of his future relying on his future choices. Shortly afterwards, Morpheus, betrayed by Cypher, is captured by the Agents, who attempt to gain from him information regarding the defences of Zion, the humans' city. Neo and Trinity return to the Matrix and excecute a successful rescue of their leader. After Morpheus and Trinity exit the Matrix, Agent Smith, the leader of the Agents, destroys the phone booth from which the escape signal was being broadcasted. Subsequently, Neo engages in a duel with the program, destroying the agent's current body. He then flees as a new Agent Smith arrives, having possessed a new person.
Upon reaching the second location of a hard line (a hijacked phoneline which carries the escape sequence necessary for exit from the Matrix), Neo is shot in the chest by Agent Smith. Neo slumps over, apparently dead. However, in the real world, Trinity refuses to accept Neo's death, and whispers into his ear that she now believes what the prophecy has foretold. Neo, who is seemingly awakened by the power of her love, realizes the fabricated nature of the Matrix, and it is only then that he is able to transcend the world around him. Empowered by this newfound notion of disbelief, Neo effortlessly defeats Agent Smith, thereby "deleting" him from the Matrix. He returns to the real world but promises the Agents that he will be leading the fight against them.
Awards and nominations
The Matrix received Oscars for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects, and sound. Furthermore, the film won these awards in the year that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released, making it the first film to win the special effects Oscars when competing with an entry in the Star Wars series.
The film is known for popularizing the use of special effects such as the one now known as "bullet-time", which allows the viewer to explore a moment by the use of slow motion and a camera which appears to orbit around the scene at normal speed.
While many fans believe the effect was invented for The Matrix, there are artistic precedents for bullet time. Bullet time is effectively a technically expanded version of an old art photography technique known as time slice photography. In time slice photography, several cameras are placed around an object and fired in rapid sequence. When the sequence of shots is viewed as a movie, the viewer sees what is in effect two-dimensional “slices” of a three-dimensional moment. Watching such a “time slice” movie is akin to the real-life experience of walking around a statue to see how it looks at different angles.
In his online resume at timeslicefilms.com, freelance photographer Tim MacMillan claims to have pioneered by the mid-eighties “a way of freezing apparent time in a motion-picture tracking shot by means of multiple apertures registered to the frames of motion-picture film.” The work of Harold Edgerton, who Macmillan pays homage to in one exhibition, could be considered a yet earlier precedent. The creators of The Matrix have expanded upon Macmillan’s concept of the spatial exploration of “frozen” time by providing temporal motion, so that in bullet time a scene isn’t totally frozen but is rendered in slow motion. There is also an improved fluidity through the use of interpolation and digital compositing.
The story makes numerous references to historical and literary myths, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Judeo-Christian imagery about Messianism, Buddhism, and the novels of William Gibson, especially Neuromancer. Gibson popularized the concept of a world wide computer network with a virtual reality interface, which was named "the matrix" in his Sprawl Trilogy. However the concept and name apparently originated even earlier in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin on the British science-fiction television series Doctor Who, which featured a virtual reality known as the Matrix. The first writer about a virtual reality, populated with unsuspecting victims, was Daniel F. Galouye with Simulacron Three 1964.
The concept of artificial intelligence overthrowing or enslaving mankind had previously been touched on by hundreds of science fiction stories, cinematically most notably in James Cameron's 1984 film, The Terminator. This theme is also seen in Frank Herbert's Dune. Many have commented that both films were inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick, not only dealing with issues of Gnosticism and prophetic visions but also the war against the machines in a post-apocalyptic world. The idea of a world controlled by machines and all of humanity living underground goes back to the 1909 short story "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster.
The plot of The Matrix bears some resemblance to the basic plot of the book Neuromancer. This is not necessarily surprising, since both The Matrix and Neuromancer are roughly in the same cyberpunk genre. In both stories a computer hacker is recruited to perform a particularly difficult task. Some of the relevant conventions related to the genre might be the tough-guy hacker/cracker hero, his optional female sidekick, the more-or-less malevolent artificial intelligences, and so forth.
Some differences are illuminating. Consider, for example, Gibson's Turing Police, as compared to the Wachowski brothers' agent programs. In Neuromancer, we have human police, tasked to limit the growth of artificial intelligences. The Matrix world, by contrast, gives us AIs who curtail human development. Gibson shows humans working alongside the AI Wintermute; their eventual triumph is presented as a victory for the "good guys". Again in contrast, the human-AI collaboration in The Matrix—Cypher defecting to the agents—appears to undermine all that good and right stand for. From this standpoint, The Matrix can be seen as an antithesis to Gibson's Neuromancer.
One interesting connection between the two works is the use of a location called Zion. In Neuromancer, Zion is an orbital colony founded by Rastafarians, where the main characters dock before traveling to Freeside, the giant orbital station where the final act of the novel takes place. In The Matrix, Zion is the underground home of the free humans, and is the topic of a conversation; however, Zion is never actually visited in the first movie, although it features prominently in the two sequels. It is possible that this is only a coincidence, and that Zion is used as a metaphor for a mythical city which could be considered to be the last hope for humanity. Given the obvious influences of Neuromancer on The Matrix, it is more likely that it is being used both as a metaphor and as a subtle homage.
It is also interesting to take notice of the resemblances to Frank Herbert's Dune. While the "blind savior/prophet" imagery may be the most obvious, there are similarities even in the first of the Matrix movies. For example, at the start of both stories, there are several persons in the story who are seeking out the protagonist (unbeknownst to him), either to make him into something greater or kill him before he does become greater. Ultimately, he exceeds the expectations and surpasses all of the training given to him in ways that are beyond anything that anybody dreamed of. The Matrix is only one of several pieces of fiction that have been inspired by this book.
The Matrix reused some of the film sets from Dark City, a movie filmed shortly beforehand that was similar in plot and style. The Matrix has many other cinematic influences, ranging from explicit homage to stylistic nuances. Its action scenes, with a physics-defying style also drawn directly from martial arts films, are notable. They integrate Hong Kong style kung fu hand-to-hand combat (under the skilled guidance of Yuen Wo Ping) and wire work, the hyper-active gun fights of directors such as John Woo and Ringo Lam, and classic American action movie tropes, including a rooftop chase. The film also borrows plot aspects from Strange Days (entering and experiencing a virtual world as a premise for action sequences) and many other films and novels (our own technology is turned against us, creating a post-apocalyptic earth in which a small human "resistance" must fight the machines).
It could also be argued that The Matrix was originally based on or inspired by the concept of Ghost hacking, which is taken from the anime science-fiction film Ghost in the Shell. Producer Joel Silver stated in a Matrix making-of documentary that the Wachowski brothers showed him a "Japanimation" and told him they wanted to make a film like that, but live-action.
Additionally, there are notable influences from Japanese animation (anime). Both a scene near the end of the movie, where Neo's breathing seems to buckle the fabric of reality in the corridor where he is standing, as well as the "psychic children" scene in the Oracle's waiting room are evocative of similar scenes from the 1980s anime classic Akira. The title sequence, the scene late in the movie where a character hides behind a column while pieces of it are blown away by bullets, and a chase scene in a fruit market where shots hit watermelons, are practically identical to shots in the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell. This site contains screenshots and more similar scenes from both movies.
Elements of theology and philosophy are heavily present in The Matrix. Also, students of Gnosticism will notice many of its themes touched upon. There are also many references to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity, with concepts of Enlightenment/Nirvana, and rebirth. Further references to Buddhism/Hinduism include the free will versus fate debate, perception and the concept of Maya, Karma, and various ideas about the nature of existence. In many ways The Matrix is about a kind of reality enforcement, or similarly, hyperreality.
The Matrix follows all phases of the Campbellian heroic myth arc with near-literal precision, including even minor details like the circular journey, the crucial battle happening underground, and even the three-headed immortal enemy (the three agents).
The character of the Oracle is strongly similar to that of the Oracle of ancient Greek legend. In particular, her warning to Neo that he is faced with a choice between saving his own life, or Morpheus' is very reminiscent of the warning that the Oracle gave to King Leonidas when setting out for the battle of Thermopylae. In the Greek legend, she warns Leonidas that either his city will be left in ruins, or that a Greek king must die, thus Leonidas is left with the choice of his own life or the survival of his city. It could be further argued that had Neo chosen to save his own life, Smith would have gained the access codes he needed from Morpheus and the city of Zion would have fallen. Thus, ultimately, Neo's choice was the same as that of Leonidas: his own life, or the fate of a city.
There have been several books and websites written about the philosophy of The Matrix. One of the major issues in the film is the question of the validity of the world around us, i.e., what is reality, or whether what is happening is merely sensory information fed to us, is also raised in other science fiction films including eXistenZ, Total Recall, The Thirteenth Floor and peripherally in the film Abre los ojos (remade into Vanilla Sky).
The ideas behind The Matrix have been explored in old philosophical texts on epistemology, such as Plato's allegory of the cave and Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. In a well-known Solipsistic thought experiment, the subject is a brain in a vat of liquid; in the Matrix, Neo is a body in a vat.
Postmodern thought plays a tangible role in the movie. In an opening scene, Neo hides a diskette in a false copy of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, a work that describes modern life as a hyperreal experience of simulation based upon simulation. Interpretations of The Matrix often reference Baudrillard's philosophy to demonstrate that the movie is an allegory for contemporary experience in a heavily commercialized, media-driven society.
See also: the philosophy section of the official matrix website.
It should be noted that the reason given in the movie for computers enslaving humans makes no sense from a thermodynamic point of view. The chemical energy required to keep a human being alive is vastly greater than the bio-electric energy that could be harvested; human beings, like all living beings, are not energy sources, they are energy transformers. It would be vastly more effective to burn the organic matter to power a conventional electrical generator. On Earth, there are, ultimately, only three energy sources: the light coming in from the Sun (stated as blocked out in the movie), geothermal energy, and the heat coming from the dissipation of the tidal movements of the oceans and crust. The first is generated by nuclear fusion in the Sun's core, the second by the radioactive decay of some constituents of the Earth's mass, and the third comes from the changes in the gravitational forces caused by the Moon and the Sun. Everything else can be traced back to one of those three.
Some people have pointed out the possibility that the laws of thermodynamics could work differently in real life than in the Matrix to make it harder for people to suspect they are being used as a power source, or that the machines have technology not yet imaginable by humans, and thus the known laws of science are impossible to apply in this situation (Morpheus mentions that the human power source is "combined with a form of fusion"). On the other hand, Morpheus speaks of physical laws like gravity applying both to the real world and within its simulation, and the scenes we see within the real world are certainly consistent with basic physics (it is difficult to imagine how the "real world" would look if entropy were the machines' invention, for example).
Critical fans have speculated that the machines were actually using the humans' brains as components in a massively parallel neural network computer, and that the characters were simply mistaken about the purpose. This error would then be reflected in the "Zion Historical Archive" of "The Second Renaissance". In fact, this was very close to the original explanation. Because they felt that non-technical viewers would have trouble understanding it, the writers condescendingly abandoned it in favor of the "human power source" explanation. The neural-network explanation, however, is presented in the film's novelization and the short story "Goliath", featured on the Matrix website and in the first volume of The Matrix Comics.
It is also established later in the trilogy that the machines and humans are interdependent for reasons more philosophical than technological.
Trivia buffs should also be interested to learn that Carrie-Anne Moss also appeared in a short-lived science fiction television series called Matrix in 1993.
The Matrix character names: Document shows meanings behind certain names.
Sophia Stewart legal case
On October 4, 2004, a California court granted Sophia Stewart leave to continue her case against Warner Brothers and the Wachowski Brothers  . The case was filed by Stewart on April 24, 2003 . Stewart claims that the story of the Matrix was based on a manuscript she wrote entitled "The Third Eye" which she allegedly submitted to the Wachowskis in response to an advertisement. Heavily-publicized accounts misreported the October 4th decision as Stewart winning her lawsuit, rather than simply winning permission to continue with the case. The case also targets the producers of the Terminator franchise.
The Matrix upped the ante for cinematic fight scenes by hiring acclaimed choreographers from the Hong Kong film scene where such scenes had been refined by years of experience. The success of this film put those choreographers in high demand by other filmmakers who wanted fights of similar sophistication. To many martial arts, action or SF fans however, an unfortunate side-effect was a sudden and obvious surge in movies, commercials and pop videos blatantly copying "the matrix look", usually without the training and attention to detail that made it successful in the first place.
Religion/philosophy/theory of The Matrix