While all the world has their eyes on the prize known as “The Phantom Menace”, prepare to be blind-sided first by this stunning achievement in film, which asks the question, “What is the Matrix?”
In 587 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon completed his destruction of Jerusalem. He was also known for a perplexing dream that he did not understand. The king called out to all the wise men in his kingdom for the one man who could not only interpret the dream, but first reveal the contents of the dream; a statue serving as avatar of his great kingdom destroyed by a rock.
In 1999, we meet Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) a quiet, law-abiding programmer by day, and as Neo, a master hacker by night. Neo would seem his true identity and he is troubled by visions and thoughts he does not understand. He spends his nights searching for the legendary hacker-outlaw Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), when Morpheus, through his agent, Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss), finds him. By myth, Morpheus is the god of dreams, and the man standing before Thomas reveals that his world, the Matrix, is only a dream; a great, virtual reality created to contain the human race by an outside force. Like a snake in Eden, Morpheus offers Neo a choice of two fruits: one will erase the new knowledge and leave him in this world and the other will wake him and cast him out, to return to this existence only as an intruder. Morpheus believes that Neo is the rock that will smash the kingdom. When Neo next awakes, it is aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, a ship from Zion, last city of free humans… and the Bible analogies just keep coming. “Citizen Kane” is much a summary of all the movie styles that came before it, and much of the success of “Star Wars” is owed to the assimilation of George Lucas’s influences: Kurosawa, David Lean, westerns, movie serials, and World War II films. As Lucas spent 18 months to create the three worlds of his new film, writer/directors Andy and Larry Wachowski spent a year in pre-production to create the Matrix and its waking counterpart. All the hard work shows. The brothers have incorporated their influences: cyberpunk, Hong Kong martial art films, Philip K. Dick, Japanese anime, and comic books. In doing so, they, like Lucas, have reflected on the conventions of the old as a gateway into a new paradigm of the form. You’ll see bits that remind you of other films, but never another film that quite feels like this one. I’ve also got to give props to the sometimes-maligned Joel Silver. Here, he’s done what any good producer should do which is help the kids realize their vision. This is a huge leap from the brothers’ first film, “Bound”.
The one caveat I would have is there’s a whole of exposition to explain what you’re seeing. It’s a flaw common from book adaptations and this project was originally generated for comics. Any less talk, though, might lose the audience. It’s a tough balance.
As for the star, a lot of actors don’t come into their own until they’re older and have experience behind them. Reeves is now 34, and he’s never had as much presence as he has here. I’m sure it helped that the brothers made all the primary cast endure four months of martial arts training, complete with wires. Again, all the hard work shows.
I’ll just say to anyone lamenting the state of American cinema since the 1970s, if you’re curious where the next generation of auteurs is coming from, look in the art houses and look in “The Matrix”.