“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What
if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference
between the dream world and the real world?”
(Morpheus, in The Matrix)
Directed/written: Larry and Andy Wachowski
Cast includes: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburn, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving
Location: mainly filmed in Australia, with landmarks avoided in order to create impression of generic American city
The film describes a future in which reality as perceived by humans is actually “the matrix” – a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Neo, a computer programmer, learns the truth about the matrix and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines.
The Matrix received Oscars for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects and sound, and Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Direction. It 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.
The Matrix’s visual effects have been highly praised. One design feature to note is the use of green colour for scenes set within the matrix, and blue for scenes set in the real world. Scenes inside the matrix also use grid-patterns, which intimate the cold, logical, artificial nature of that environment.
The film contains homages to other films and literature, includingAlice in Wonderland, spaghetti westerns, Japanese animation and Hong Kong action cinema. It also references a multitude of philosophical and religious ideas. The film is full of religious imagery, and many people see it as a re-telling of the Christian story, encouraged by its Easter release date.
There are two sequels to the film – The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. These were filmed at the same time and released in 2003. As well as more extensive action scenes, these provide more information about the history of the matix and about Neo’s own role as “the One”. Whilst The Matrix was generally popular and critically acclaimed, the quality of the sequels is a matter of debate.
The central concept of The Matrix – that the world we experience as real may in fact be an artificial construct created by an external power - is not original: other contemporary works dealing with similar questions include Dr Who and The Truman Show. The film has spawned a whole industry of interpretations and commentaries, however.
Interpretations of The Matrix often reference Baudrillard to demonstrate that the film is an allegory for contemporary experience in a heavily commercialised, media-driven society. The directors are said to have required all principal cast and crew members to read Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation (1981).
The Matrix has fascinated philosophers. The magazine Philosophy Now even held an essay contest on the topic: which pill would you choose and why? As a 2002 book devoted to the subject of The Matrix and philosophy comments:
“The Matrix is a philosopher’s Rorschach inkblot test. Philosophers
see their favoured philosophy in it: existentialism, Marxism, feminism, Buddhism,
nihilism, postmodernism. Name your philosophical ism and you can find it in
The Matrix. Still, the film is not just some randomly generated inkblot but
has a definite plan behind it and intentionally incorporates much that is philosophical”
(William Irwin, ed, 2002, The Matrix and Philosophy, Chicago: Open Court)
Writers have drawn on a range of philosphers as diverse as Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche and Sartre to discuss the questions raised by The Matrix.
The questions addressed by the film include: What can I know? What is real? What is happiness? What is the mind? What is freedom? Underlying these is the central message to wake up and think for yourself.
(Sources: these notes use information obtained from Wikipedia and other on-line