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The Matrix

Film Review by Dean Duncan Sep 29, 2014

This film’s famous first sequence grabs you, and it keeps you. It’s been parodied unto ridiculousness, but the thing itself is still pretty fabulous. Cinematographic and editorial technology contributes, tremendously. But the real key? Carrie-Anne Moss’s lithe seeming-assassin moves really well. It’s not just the fabulousness, but the coordination and athletic ability of the fabulous people. The same goes for most everyone involved here, even the seemingly less likely Laurence Fishburne. For a film, or a franchise, in which velocity vies with concept for pre-eminence, the importance of simple physical grace can not be overemphasized.

So The Matrix is really exhilarating, at least in part. It’s also really grungy. This expressionist component—outside reflects inside, or visualization parallels the generating idea—is an important part of the experience, but it’s also a somewhat unpleasant one. Expect that. Still, the grunge is pretty central to the Wachowskis’ Baudrillardian assertions, which actually work quite well. They’re talking about the simulacrum, or Jean Baudrillard’s particular take thereon. And the idea stands up. People do get ideologically hoodwinked, don’t they? Don’t we? In this of course, The Matrix also evokes Plato’s Cave, again quite effectively. We live our lives in the shadows, in profound, disastrous misrecognition. And should we ever become aware, it’s still nearly impossible to convince anyone that there’s a problem. And should you convince anyone, what can the both of you do about it anyway? And isn’t it ultimately just easier to submit?

Exalted precedents! Real and resonant ideas. Does the film deliver? Upon revisiting I’m not sure the story of even this first film stands up to closest scrutiny. The theology/miracle certainly doesn’t. Neo is pummeled one time too many, and succumbs. Trinity confesses her love and kisses him. Resurrection! Hrmm.

The thing is, if you suspend your disbelief just a little, The Matrix is still pretty amazing. Remember—especially!—there’s all that velocity. The Chosen-One trajectory that the Wachowskis hook onto is mythical/familiar, with enough wrinkles to keep us both oriented and interested. And the spectacular set pieces are really spectacular! Hugo Weaving (and the designer of his costume and his sunglasses) has created a formidable bad guy for us. The film has most utterly demonstrated that this personage cannot be bested. The tremendous final showdown, in which our saviour bests him anyway, is very satisfying! And then there’s that phone call… Popcorn, with pretensions. Like I said: pretty fabulous!