|"You could say that I jacked in, and then jacked off. YEEAAAHHH!"|
Now the thing about The Matrix, the thing that really elevates to the realm of, not only important sci-fi films, but important pieces of culture, is not the kung fu or ground breaking special effects. While those are indeed amazing and have been imitated to death by dozens, perhaps hundreds of subsequent films, that followed in its wake.
Bullet time was so severely copied, mimicked, parodied, and reused in the next couple of years that it now heavily dates any movie that has a character dodge a bullet in slow motion as the camera tracks 180 degrees that I don't know if there is any other special effect that more screams the early 2000s. Maybe excessive use of wire work kung fu... oh wait, that was in The Matrix too?
|There are strings attached.|
And that's kinda the problem. Everyone was too busy copying the look and the special effects of The Matrix that they forgot to actually explore the underlining story the movie tells, as in the narrative which is really what makes it one of the most important pieces of culture of the past 20 years or whatever. Because those special effects, as cool as they are, are just the icing on the window, the cake dressing that gets people hooked and going oooh.
The thing that always made The Matrix one of my favourite movies was the feeling I got after watching it. That lingering sense that perhaps reality is false and nothing is real but merely simulated. That I was in fact in the Matrix and my whole life was nothing but a computer program, a series of ones and zeros sending stimuli to my brain tricking it into seeing a world that didn't really exist.
After watching it, I actually questioned the nature of the reality I saw before me, doubted its validity, and worried whether it was really real. This is because the movie so effectively executes that conceit making that idea seem almost palpable and undeniable.
|Ever get the feeling your life is computer generated?|
And that's a powerful thing for a film to make you severely questioned the reality of world you see before you, to suggest that, "Hey, perhaps this isn't real". And that's something the first Matrix movie managed to capture. Something which its sequels, which I've already mentioned don't exist, and the numerous imitators who followed in its wake failed to recapture or even realise, instead deciding to focus on the special effects because bullet time be bitchin'.
From here on end, I'm gonna to be building quite liberally on Cracked.com's David Wong's views on why The Matrix should be considered the most important story of recent times. Wong talks quite a bit about the hero's journey narrative, as in that narrative we see in the vast majority of our stories. The Arthurian narrative, it's seen in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and a whole host of other films and stories.
It's the story we see time and time again: a young protagonist finds out that he (nearly always a guy) is essentially the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe and only he can save the world/galaxy/universe from the bad guys. Now the young protagonist is nearly always from humble or simple beginnings, typically a farm boy (Luke Skywalker) or rootsy folk (Frodo Baggins) and they have to defeat bad guys who are essentially the Machine, a large, highly uniform and technologically centred force.
|Just space cogs in the machine.|
And that's the standard hero's journey, protagonist goes out and kills enough bad guys until evil is vanquish and peace is restored to the world/galaxy/universe. Now on the surface that seems to be what Neo does in The Matrix (remember the sequels don't exist): Neo finds out he is the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe, the chosen one, and has to go out to defeat the big bad, Agent Smith. And he does, with some pretty awesome kung fu and one with the Force-ness.
But what The Matrix does is tell a different twist on that standard hero's journey. In so many of those narratives, a rag tag team of underdogs are up against this seemingly unstoppable army and save the day by killing a whole heap of them on the way to killing the emperor/king/leader, job done, gets the girl. There the big bad is out in the open and the the rebellion is known.
That's not the case in The Matrix. In this movie, not only has the battle already been fought, but we lost and we didn't even know there was a battle to lose. The only thing that makes us think that something happened is a nagging sense that this isn't exactly how life should be, that somehow there is something missing, that there should be more.
|Like looking cool as hell in leather while carrying guns and wearing sunglasses inside just because.|
We are already plugged into the Matrix from birth, so we don't even realise there could another option, another way to live, maybe a better way. We are so absorbed into the system we can't even recognise that there is a system since that's just the way it is.
And the real message of The Matrix is not that some chosen one will come to kill the bad guy. That's not what Neo does. I mean, he does kill Agent Smith (sorta kinda not really but the sequels don't exist) but that's not the pivot scene of the film. It's the phone call in the last scene of the movie where he says that he will show people a world where anything is possible. And then he flies.
He flies. And that is so important it cannot be understated. He's not gonna lead a resistance to destroy all the machines. He's just gonna show people what is possible and that the rules that govern our lives and what we think is real are all arbitrary and just a figment of the system. That we can and should be more. That we can break free of the blinders that the system has put on us and accomplish more than we dreamed possible.
Which might be one of the most important and powerful ideas possible. I dunno, I'm just saying.
The Matrix Wikipedia page
The Wachowskis Wikipedia page
Dumb Movies That Will Be Studied By History