The Matrix is a 1999 American-Australian neo-noir science fiction action film written and directed by The Wachowskis, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano. It depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality called "the Matrix", created by sentient machines to subdue the human population, while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Computer programmer "Neo" learns this truth and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, which involves other people who have been freed from the "dream world".
The Matrix is known for popularizing a visual effect known as "bullet time", in which the heightened perception of certain characters is represented by allowing the action within a shot to progress in slow-motion while the camera's viewpoint appears to move through the scene at normal speed. The film is an example of the cyberpunk science fiction genre. It contains numerous references to philosophical and religious ideas, and prominently pays homage to works such as Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Wachowskis' approach to action scenes drew upon their admiration for Japanese animation and martial arts films, and the film's use of fight choreographers and wire fu techniques from Hong Kong action cinema was influential upon subsequent Hollywood action film productions.
The Matrix was first released in the United States on March 31, 1999, and grossed over $460 million worldwide. It was generally well-received by critics, and won four Academy Awards as well as other accolades including BAFTA Awards and Saturn Awards. Reviewers praised The Matrix for its innovative visual effects, cinematography and its entertainment. The film's premise was both criticized for being derivative of earlier science fiction works, and praised for being intriguing. The action also polarized critics, some describing it as impressive, but others dismissing it as a trite distraction from an interesting premise.
The film has since appeared in lists of the greatest science fiction films, and in 2012, was added to the National Film Registry for preservation. The success of the film led to the release of two feature film sequels, both written and directed by the Wachowskis: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The Matrix franchise was further expanded through the production of comic books, video games, and animated short films in which the Wachowskis were heavily involved.
Trinity, an infamous hacker, is cornered by police in an abandoned hotel. She overpowers them with superhuman abilities and escapes, but a group of sinister and superhuman black-suited Agents lead the police in a rooftop pursuit. She answers a ringing public telephone and vanishes.
Thomas Anderson is a computer programmer living a double life under the hacker alias "Neo". He believes something is wrong with the world and is puzzled by repeated online encounters with the cryptic phrase "the Matrix". Trinity contacts him, saying that a man named Morpheus can explain its meaning; however, the Agents, led by Agent Smith, apprehend Neo at his office. Undeterred, Neo meets Morpheus, who offers him a choice between a red pill that will allow him to learn the truth about the Matrix, and a blue pill that will return him to his old life. Swallowing the red pill, Neo's reality disintegrates and he awakens, naked and weak, in a liquid-filled pod, finding himself one of countless people connected by cables to an elaborate electrical system. He is rescued and brought aboard Morpheus's hovercraft, the Nebuchadnezzar.
Morpheus explains that, in the 21st century, humans waged a war against intelligent machines that they had created. When humans blocked the machines' access to solar energy, the machines began to harvest the humans' bioelectricity for power. The Matrix is a shared simulation of the world as it was in 1999 in which the minds of the harvested humans are trapped and pacified; Neo has been living in it since birth. Morpheus and his crew belong to a group of rebels who hack into the Matrix and "unplug" enslaved humans, recruiting them as rebels. The rebels' understanding of the true nature of the simulated reality allows them to bend its physical laws, granting them superhuman abilities. Neo is warned that fatal injuries within the Matrix will also kill one's physical body, and that the Agents he encountered are powerful sentient programs that eliminate threats to the system. Neo's skill during virtual combat training lends credence to Morpheus's belief that Neo is "the One", a man prophesied to lead the insurrection of enslaved humans against the machines.
The group enters the Matrix to visit the Oracle, a prophet who predicted the emergence of the One. She implies that Neo is not the One, and warns Neo that he will soon have to choose between his life and the life of Morpheus. Before they can leave the Matrix, the group is ambushed by Agents and tactical police. Morpheus allows himself to be captured so that Neo and the crew can escape. However, their getaway is hindered by Cypher, a crew member who betrayed Morpheus to Agent Smith in exchange for a blissful, comfortable life within the Matrix. Cypher disconnects and murders several crew members as they lie defenseless in the real world, before he is killed by Tank, a crewman whom he had left for dead.
In the Matrix, the Agents interrogate Morpheus in an attempt to learn his access codes to the mainframe computer in Zion, the rebel humans' last refuge in the real world. Tank proposes killing Morpheus to prevent this, but Neo, who believes that he is not the One, instead resolves to return to the Matrix to rescue Morpheus, and Trinity insists she accompany him. They succeed in rescuing Morpheus, and in doing so Neo gains confidence in his abilities, performing feats on par with those of the Agents. Morpheus and Trinity exit the Matrix, but Smith ambushes and kills Neo before he can leave. In the real world, "sentinel" machines attack the Nebuchadnezzar, while Trinity stands over Neo and whispers to him that the Oracle told her that she would fall in love with the One. She kisses Neo, and he revives with the power to perceive and control the Matrix. He effortlessly destroys Smith and leaves the Matrix in time for the ship's electromagnetic pulse weapon to disable the attacking sentinels.
Some time later, Neo makes a telephone call in the Matrix, promising the machines that he will show their prisoners "a world where anything is possible". He hangs up and flies into the sky.
- Keanu Reeves as Thomas A. Anderson / Neo
- Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus
- Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity
- Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith
- Joe Pantoliano as Cypher
- Gloria Foster as the Oracle
- Marcus Chong as Tank
- Paul Goddard as Agent Brown
- Robert Taylor as Agent Jones
- Julian Arahanga as Apoc
- Anthony Ray Parker as Dozer
- Matt Doran as Mouse
- Ada Nicodemou as DuJour
The Matrix is an action thriller and a co-production of Warner Bros. Studios and Australian Village Roadshow Pictures, and all but a few scenes were filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia, and in the city itself. Recognizable landmarks were not included in order to maintain the setting of a generic American city. Nevertheless, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, AWA Tower, Martin Place and a Commonwealth Bank branch are visible in some shots. Subtle nods were included to Chicago, Illinois, the home city of the directors, through place names, city maps, and a subtly placed picture of the Sears Tower.
The rooftop set that Trinity uses to escape from Agent Jones early in the film was leftover from the production of Dark City, which has been remarked upon due to the thematic similarities of the films. According to The Art of the Matrix, at least one filmed scene and a variety of short pieces of action were omitted from the final cut, and have (to date) not been published.
The Wachowskis were keen that all involved understood the thematic background of the movie. For example, the book used to conceal disks early in the movie, Simulacra and Simulation by the French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard, was required reading for most of the principal cast and crew.
Actor Will Smith turned down the role of Neo. He later stated that, if given the role at that time, he "would have messed it up". Nicholas Cage turned down the role because of "family obligations". Janet Jackson turned down a role in the film because of previous obligations to go on tour.
In the film, the code that comprises the Matrix itself is frequently represented as downward-flowing green characters. This code includes mirror images of half-width kana characters and Western Latin letters and numerals. In one scene, the pattern of trickling rain on a window being cleaned resembles this code. More generally, the film's production design placed a bias towards its distinctive green color for scenes set within the Matrix, whereas there is an emphasis on the color blue during the scenes set in the real world. In addition, grid-patterns were incorporated into the sets for scenes inside the Matrix, intended to convey the cold, logical, artificial nature of that environment.
The "digital rain" is strongly reminiscent of similar computer code in the film Ghost in the Shell, an acknowledged influence on the Matrix series (see below). The linking of the color green to computers may have been intended to evoke the green tint of the older phosphor monochrome computer monitors.
The film is known for developing and popularizing the use of a visual effect known as "bullet time", which allows the viewer to explore a moment progressing in slow-motion as the camera appears to orbit around the scene at normal speed.
One proposed technique for creating these effects involved accelerating a high-frame-rate motion picture camera along a fixed track at a high speed to capture the action as it occurred. However, this was discarded as unfeasible, as the destruction of the camera in the attempt was all but inevitable. Instead, the method used was a technically expanded version of an old art photography technique known as time-slice photography, in which a large number of cameras is placed around an object and triggered nearly simultaneously. Each camera is a still-picture camera, and not a motion picture camera, and it contributes just one frame to the video sequence.
When the sequence of shots is viewed as in a movie, the viewer sees what are 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 from different angles. The positioning of the still cameras can be varied along any desired smooth curve to produce a smooth looking camera motion in the finished clip, and the timing of each camera's firing may be delayed slightly, so that a motion scene can be executed (albeit over a very short period of movie time.)
Some scenes in The Matrix feature the "time-slice" effect with completely frozen characters and objects. Film interpolation techniques improved the fluidity of the apparent "camera motion". The effect was further expanded upon by the Wachowskis and the visual effects supervisor John Gaeta so as to create "bullet time", which incorporates temporal motion, so that rather than being totally frozen the scene progresses in slow and variable motion. Engineers at Manex Visual Effects pioneered 3-D visualization planning methods to move beyond mechanically fixed views towards more complicated camera paths and flexibly moving interest points. There is also an improved fluidity through the use of non-linear interpolation, digital compositing, and the introduction of computer generated "virtual" scenery.
The objective of the bullet time shots in The Matrix was to creatively illustrate "mind over matter" type events as captured by a "virtual camera". However, the original technical approach was physically bound to pre-determined perspectives, and the resulting effect only suggests the capabilities of a true virtual camera.
The evolution of photogrametric and image-based Computer Graphic Interface background approaches in The Matrix's bullet-time shots set the stage for later innovations unveiled in the sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Virtual Cinematography (CGI-rendered characters, locations, and events) and the high-definition "Universal Capture" process completely replaced the use of still camera arrays, thus more closely realizing the "virtual camera".
This film overcame the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace by winning the Academy Award for Visual Effects.
- Main article: The Matrix (soundtrack)
The film's score was composed by Don Davis. He noted that mirrors appear frequently in the movie: reflections of the blue and red pills are seen in Morpheus's glasses; Neo's capture by Agents is viewed through the rear-view mirror of Trinity's motorcycle; Neo observes a broken mirror mending itself; reflections warp as a spoon is bent; the reflection of a helicopter is visible as it approaches a skyscraper. (The film also frequently references the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which has a sequel entitled Through the Looking-Glass.) Davis focused on this theme of reflections when creating his score, alternating between sections of the orchestra and attempting to incorporate contrapuntal ideas.
In addition to Davis's score, The Matrix's soundtrack also features music from acts such as Rammstein, Rob Dougan, Rage Against the Machine, Propellerheads, Ministry, Deftones, The Prodigy, Rob Zombie, Meat Beat Manifesto, Massive Attack and Marilyn Manson.
As an extra bit of trivia, the track "Exit Mr. Hat" (Track 6 on the regular release/Track 21 on the Deluxe Edition) is an anagram of "The Matrix" A similar anagram title trick was used on the original The Matrix Revolutions Score.
The Matrix was first released in the U.S. on 31 March 1999. It earned $171 million in the U.S. and $460 million worldwide, and later became the first DVD to sell more than three million copies in the U.S. The Ultimate Matrix Collection was released on HD DVD on May 22 2007.
The film earned $171,479,930 (37.0%) in the USA & Canada and $292,037,453 (63.0%) in other countries, for a worldwide total of $463,517,383. In North America, it became the fifth highest grossing film of 1999 and the highest grossing R-rated film of 1999. Worldwide it was the fourth highest grossing film of the year. As of 2012 it is placed 122nd on the list of highest grossing films of all time, and the second highest grossing film in the Matrix franchise after The Matrix Reloaded ($742.1 million).
The combination of special-effects-laden action and philosophical meandering was considered fresh and exciting. Philip Strick commented in Sight & Sound, "if the Wachowskis claim no originality of message, they are startling innovators of method", praising the film's details and its "broadside of astonishing images". Roger Ebert praised the film's visuals and premise, but disliked the third act's focus on action. Similarly, Time Out praised the "entertainingly ingenious" switches between different realities, Hugo Weaving's "engagingly odd" performance, and the film's cinematography and production design, but concluded, "the promising premise is steadily wasted as the film turns into a fairly routine action pic… yet another slice of overlong, high concept hokum". Other reviewers criticised the comparative humorlessness and self-indulgence of the movie.
In 2001, The Matrix was placed 66th in the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Thrills" list. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly called The Matrix the best science-fiction piece of media for the past 25 years.
Several science fiction creators commented on the film. Author William Gibson, a key figure in cyberpunk fiction, called the film "an innocent delight I hadn't felt in a long time", and stated, "Neo is my favourite-ever science fiction hero, absolutely". Joss Whedon called the film "my number one" and praised its storytelling, structure and depth, concluding, "It works on whatever level you want to bring to it." Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky commented, "I walked out of The Matrix [...] and I was thinking, 'What kind of science fiction movie can people make now?' The Wachowskis basically took all the great sci-fi ideas of the 20th century and rolled them into a delicious pop culture sandwich that everyone on the planet devoured."
Awards and nominations
The Matrix received Oscars for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects, and sound. In 1999, it won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Direction. The Matrix also received BAFTA awards for Best Sound and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, in addition to nominations in the cinematography, production design and editing categories.
- Main article: The Matrix videography