THE MATRIX

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THE MATRIX. Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers), Lilly Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers [Andy and Larry]), dir., script, exec. prod. USA: Village Roadshow Productions, Silver Pictures (prod.) / Warner (dist.), 1999. Mass.Illusions, LLC, SpFx. Yuen Wo Ping, fight dir. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Marcus Chong, Belinda Mcclory [sic: on IMDb], featured players.

Cyberpunk film, described by one of the directors as an attempt at "an intellectual action movie," with much of the action of the Hong Kong Kung Fu variety, the tone noirish, and the imagery industrial (Persons 20 and passim). What appears to be an authoritarian America in 1999 is actually—though what is actual gets tricky in this world—a totally totalitarian VR world.

We learn more or less reliably that the VR is the creation of the machines, who won a war against humans and preserve the remaining humans in womb-like vats (Fischer: "cocoon" [16]), where they are thoroughly interfaced with the machines and tapped for power—and fed a VR in which they are fairly happy (a eutopian VR was tried, but apparently many humans can't survive eutopia).

MATRIX is a neatly-done compendium of SF motifs of interest, including: questions on what is real, as pursued in the work of P. K. Dick (see under Fiction) and such films as the Dick-derived TOTAL RECALL (1990); imagery of containment and body-violation within high-tech computer-interface wombs (unknowingly) and voluntary submission to the superimposition of the electronic and cybernetic upon the human in computer-interface chairs (cf. and contrast the chairs in L. Mason's Arachne (under Fiction); containment within a high-tech. vessel said to be a hover-craft but visually a submarine (cf. the tradition started by the Nautilus in J. Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea [cited under Fiction]); computer take-over and war against the machines (see, e.g., THE TERMINATOR, this section); an enclosed, artificial world (see under Fiction R. A. Heinlein's "Universe"); people more or less inside computers (see under Fiction, J. T. Sladek's The Müller-Fokker Effect, S. Lem's "The Experiment . . . " and "Seventh Sally," and C. M. Kornbluth and F. Pohl's Wolfbane; under Drama, see THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR and TRON (1982)); dreamers in a VR world (search for VR under "Search Clockwors2," and see esp. entries under Fiction for W. Gibson, W. Hjortsberg, and L. Manning and F. Pratt, and under A. C. Clarke, The Lion of Comarre; see under Drama, NOWHERE MAN, "Kill Switch" episode on The X-Files, ZARDOZ (1973), and DARK CITY). For the imagery of going through a mirror-portal into a strange world, see Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure in Wonderland (1865) and, more explicitly, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), both alluded to in THE MATRIX.

Note very well in this film what Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn have called "The Ovion/Cylon Alliance": i.e., threatening, insectoid machines, here cyberpunk centipedes. Note also squid-like "Sentinel" robots that attack the hovercraft/sub. The initial general-release date for the film in the USA was during Passover and Holy Week: which was appropriate given the themes of (1) freeing humans, enslaved to the machines, and (2) Keanu Reeve's "Neo" character as the "One": a Messiah opposing the VR world and devilish machines, with the goal of returning humans to their flesh and the material world (opposing him somewhat to the more Platonic-puritanical visions of the Christ opposing the World and the Flesh, as well as the Devil).

Tech. matters in MATRIX covered in detail by Mitch Persons, Dennis Fischer, and Frederick C. Szebin, Cinefantastique 31.5 (May 1999): 16-27. For MATRIX as "The End of Humanism" and a form of "techno-Brahmanism," and the Matrix as "cyber-Maya," see Stuart Klawan's rev. in The Nation 268.15 (26 April 1999): 34-35. (For maya and Brahman, see The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita, part of the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata but available separately.) For anime influences, see Dan Persons, "The Americanization of Anime," under Drama Criticism. Shooting script listed, this section, under L. and A. Wachowski. For the pills, note Rog Phillips, "The Yellow Pill," Astounding Oct. 1958, frequently anthologized; Phillips story discussed by Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell (1960; New York: Arno P, 1975: 54-55; ch. 2).

For commentary on the full MATRIX series and spinoffs, see Jacking In to the Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation.

Discussed in Sylvie Magerstädt's Body, Soul and Cyberspace in Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, which see at link.


5. DRAMA, RDE, 04/IV/99, 17/V/04, 24/VIII/10, 15July19, 3Sep19, 17Aug21