One Pill Makes You Bigger, the Other Makes You Small
As any SubGenius knows, the normal world is an illusion. Those with the gift can see through the veil and see the wondrous and horrifying reality lurking beneath the surface. The Matrix is a movie that takes everybody else on a tour of this concept of leveled realities. On one level, it’s a kick-ass comic-book action thriller. On another, it’s a creepy cyberpunk noir. On another, it’s speculative fiction at its most profound. And on yet another, it’s just plain goofy.
By day, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is just another geek programmer slaving away in the drabbest of cubicles for a software company. By night, he’s a whiz hacker calling himself “Neo”, dealing in a variety of illegal activities. You can tell that things are a little off in his world – his nighttime surroundings are a bit too empty and shabby, his office too grey for a company housed in a skyscraper (and what software company demands their programmers keep “normal” working hours), and everybody is way too thin. It doesn’t bug you at first – after all this is a movie – but once a mystery man known as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) contacts him, and Neo follows his instructions to “follow the white rabbit”, you begin to notice how stylized things are, and they only get phonier. Morpheus and his associate Trinity (newcomer Carrie-Anne Moss), people with phenomenal martial arts abilities, draw Neo deeper and deeper into the secret of The Matrix.
What is the Matrix? That’s the big secret of the movie, and telling that here would only SPOIL things for those of you that haven’t seen it yet. That would make me a big SPOILER, wouldn’t it?
The Matrix is revealed as a phony computer-generated reality created in the future by an artificial intelligence to enslave mankind, following it’s programming to keep the human race “happy”, while feeding off its energy. Morpheus and his group are fighting for the survival of a secret underground city of folks that have escaped the AI’s enslavement, while awaiting the prophecied One who will save the world. To find this savior, they make frequent forays into the artificial world (set in 1999), where they are hunted by sinister and powerful Agents of the hive mind. The Agents, led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving – perhaps best known as “Rex” in the Babe movies), are extremely dangerous and nearly impossible to kill due to their ability to alter the Matrix at will, up to a point. Morpheus believes fervently that Neo is the One, and risks his life to prove it.
An endlessly dazzling picture, it’s surprising that this is only the second feature directed by brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, scriptwriters of the undervalued Assassins. Their first, Bound, was impressive, but suffered slightly from freshman folly, trying to hard to make an impression and coming off as pretentious. Here, that weakness is turned into an advantage, abetted by producer Joel Silver’s taste for excess. You could spend an hour or two identifying the ingredients in the Brothers’ stew, but here are a few: The Terminator, Bladerunner, Dark City, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Mortal Kombat, The Truman Show, and maybe even Not of This Earth.
It’s a big action and special effects show, but the characters and story don’t get lost in the circus, and several sequences are very exciting. After Johnny Mnemonic, seeing Keanu Reeves in cyberpunkland once more will make some apprehensive, but get over it. This is not a film to miss.