In April of 1999 the Wachowski brothers released their new sci-fi film, “The Matrix.” On its opening weekend, The Matrix was shown on 2849 screens and brought in 27.788 million dollars. So what exactly was it that made The Matrix such a storming success?
“The Matrix” would not be as successful without its ingenious plot, in which human beings are the perpetrators of their own destruction. The creation of A.I. (artificial intelligence) made machines dangerous and thus a war began, between man and machine. During the war man caused the skies to darken, destroying the machines’ energy source, forcing them to find another: energy generated by human bodies. Now, somewhere around the year 2199, human beings are “grown” by machines in a place called “The Human Crops.” They are distracted from reality by a construction similar to a computer programme, disguised to look like the real world. The Matrix. Man’s only hope is the survival of the last free human city, Zion, and the resistance, fighters who free people’s minds in search for “The One” who will rise to challenge the machines. This “One” is Neo.
I think that one of the reasons why “The Matrix” is so successful because it covers such a vast range of genres, and therefore appeals to as wide a range of people as possible. The blossoming relationship between Neo and Trinity provides the film with a gentle, romantic touch. The hideous environment of the human crops and the idea of people being “grown” offers an element of horror. Of course the stunning fight scenes keep the action coming throughout the film. Also, although perhaps not so noticeably, there are a few moments of dark comedy. The main genre is evidently sci-fi, meaning that although there are scientific references and meanings, the content is fictional. “The Matrix” has also been described, more specifically as “cyberpunk.” This means that it is fast-paced science fiction involving futuristic computer-based societies.
The plot of “The Matrix” works well, because it cleverly contains many layers of meaning, for example, hidden within the structure of the film there are religious references, and connections between the characters in “The Matrix” and those in the Bible. For instance, Neo shares many similarities with Jesus. Both died and came back to life (are resurrected), seemingly more powerful than before, both have special powers, Neo can bend the laws of physics, moving fast and jumping high, and Jesus could heal the sick. Prophecies foretold the coming of both. One character in “The Matrix” even refers to Neo as “My own personal Jesus Christ.”
Morpheus has resemblances to John the Baptist. He told of the coming of The One in the same way that John the Baptist brought the news of Jesus’ coming. John baptised Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and Morpheus removed Neo from the Human Crops.
Cypher could be compared to Judas because both betrayed their respective saviours for personal gain.
There are also cryptic meanings to the names of some of the characters, for example, the word “Neo” is an anagram of “One,” this could have been set as a clue to the fact that Neo is indeed The One. The word “Morpheus” means the “fashioner” or “moulder,” this may refer to how Morpheus moulds people’s minds to reveal the truth to them.
These layers of meaning are not accidental; they have been set to keep the audience involved by giving them hints as to where the film is headed. It also makes people more likely to re-watch the film again and again, because each viewing comes with the prospect of seeing something that you may have missed previously. The religious references, however, though ingenious in making use of symbolism to indicate certain meanings hidden within the film, could be seen as controversial, because Christians might object to their religion being linked to a film of this nature, with numerous scenes of violence. On the other hand, if “The Matrix” was linked to controversy in the media, at the time of its release, then it could have made it more popular, because people may have wanted to see it for themselves.
Some of the film’s success must be attributed to the strength of the main character. All his life Neo, expertly played by Keanu Reeves, has suffered a burning curiosity inside him. He knows that something is wrong with the world, but is unable to pinpoint exactly what. At the beginning of the film Neo is accused by Agent Smith (agents protect the Matrix, they are part of it, in human form) of living two lives. In one life he is Mr Thomas Anderson, respectable employee of a highly regarded computer software company and in the other his name is Neo and he is a computer hacker. Neo comes across as reserved, confused and unsure of himself, you quickly form this impression when he goes to a club and stands in a corner, looking sullen, with his arms folded – a sign of defensiveness. At the beginning of the film when he opens the door and hands over the illegal disk the camera is above him, looking down on him, this is supposed to depict him as a vulnerable, insecure character. At first he finds it hard to accept the truth of reality, unsurprisingly – and even harder to acknowledge that he is “The One”. It is only towards the end of the film that Neo is able to accept who he is and embrace the person he was born to be. His character changes into a man who is efficient, confidant, self-assured and believes that he can do anything. He goes from a follower to a leader and for the first time feels sure of his purpose. He goes through a lot of emotional development before his mind is entirely freed.
Neo is a character for the audience to relate too, you find out things as he does. At the beginning of the film there are many questions that Neo has no answers too, this is reflected in the audience, but as his web of confusion becomes untangled, and Neo becomes more knowledgeable and less naive, the audience is learning and developing with him.
The film starts with an action sequence involving a woman called Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, instantly grabbing the attention of the audience. She is a member of the resistance, second in command on the ship. She is sleek, efficient, mysterious, intelligent, a quick thinker and at the beginning appears very reserved and private, as does Neo. Her face is expressionless and she originally comes across as quite cold. The first sign that she is not as emotionless as she seems is when Cypher (another member of the resistance) betrays them and kills Switch, Dozer and Apoc, and almost Tank and Neo. She also plainly has feelings for Morpheus, looking up to him as a father figure. She is devastated when he is captured and agrees to help Neo bring him back. Trinity has a secret that she withholds throughout the film. The Oracle has told her that she will fall in love with The One. Knowing that if Neo is The One she will fall in love with him affects her relationship with him acutely. Towards the end of the film she realises her feelings for him and tries to tell him on several occasions. When Neo dies Trinity is distraught, and tells him that she loves him. This is perhaps the ultimate example of the emotional change, which has occurred within her. She has finally become more open and trusting.
The relationship between Neo and Trinity gives the film a romantic touch, thus attracting a larger audience, by appealing to a different type of people. Trinity is another character of whom the audience can watch develop. She grows in warmth and sensitivity and her interesting relationship with Neo gives her character new levels of complexity.
“The Matrix” provides several traditional “baddies.” The “Agents” are the main opposition to the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, the leader of whom is Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving. All agents are part of the matrix; they are its protectors, part of the computer system. If the resistance were seen as a computer virus then the agents would be the software sent by the computer to destroy it. Agent Smith’s voice never wavers in uncertainty, or changes in pitch, this is probably to make him seem less human and more like a machine. His sunglasses are used to hide his eyes, making his face appear emotionless, and concealing his thoughts.
Agent Smith supplies “The Matrix” with a character of whom the audience can “love to hate”
The settings of “The Matrix” help to build up an appropriate atmosphere, and in doing so, contribute to the general success of the film. Most of the action sequences take place in the matrix, the world as we know it to be. The matrix is an elaborate computer programme created by the machines with the purpose of distracting human beings from reality. It looks like the world that humans are used to. Morpheus describes the matrix as a “dream-world.” Agent Smith says that the first matrix was designed to be a perfect world, but human beings refused to accept it and as he puts it: “Entire crops were lost.”
The Human Crops provides the film with an element of horror. It is a hideous dark place, where humans are “grown” by machines to supply them with an energy source. It is a strange, threatening environment, where the dominating colour is red, presumably to resemble the human blood being shed. It is meant to seem like the ultimate evil, where there is no hope, only despair for the human race.
The best description of what has befallen the real world comes from Morpheus himself, when he says: “Welcome, to the desert of the real,” because that’s what it is, a desert, where everything is broken or destroyed, the sky is grey and stormy and nothing will grow. It is all that is left of humanity, a pitiful waste. I think that the film-makers could have included this particular setting as a warning to humankind, not only to be careful with the creation of robots, and not to get carried away with artificial intelligence, but also gives us a picture in our minds of what could happen to the world if we continue to destroy it and pay no heed to pressing environmental issues – possibly leading to the destruction of our planet. I think that this factor contributes to the success of “The Matrix” because by confronting the audience with real issues, that could ultimately affect us all, it makes the film seem more real, adding to its credibility.
The setting that is called the Construct is a loading programme. Its purpose is to construct anything that is needed, for instance: guns, furniture or different clothes or hairstyles for the people who need them. The construct is a computer programme, like the matrix, but it was designed, and is used by the resistance. Other programmes include: the jump programme and the fight programme. All these are designed to aid the resistance in any way possible. The construct is a very open area that is completely white. Nothing is there except for what the resistance have constructed in it. No walls, no floor, no ceiling and nowhere to go can be seen. When Neo is first brought to the construct however, there is some red furniture. It is possible that the colour red was used to contrast with the white backdrop and create a more dramatic atmosphere, which ties in nicely with several of the various themes in the film.
One of the main reasons why “The Matrix” became such a successful cult film is because of its unique style – mirrored effectively with the clothes that are worn by the characters, which also make it appeal, in particular, to younger generations. All clothes worn by the main characters are designed to resemble their personalities, for example, the agents wear grey suits, to make them seem authoritative, controlling and robotic – in that they are not individuals, because they do not have personalities. The resistance, on the other hand wear black clothes that make them seem immaculate, untouchable and “cool.” For example: the long black trench coats that are seen as a trademark to the film. Sunglasses are worn by both the agents and the resistance, to obscure their eyes and hide their thoughts.
Perhaps above anything it is the special effects that make “The Matrix” truly stand out in the world of sci-fi. They allow stunning action sequences that set “The Matrix” above and apart from any films of similar genres. It was the first film ever to use “bullet-time,” – an effect created by using over a hundred cameras to shoot a single scene. Once the scene is shot, the recordings can be used to distort and manipulate the scene to create a desired effect. Some of these effects included in “The Matrix” are: freezing the scene at any moment, rotating the camera angle and making abrupt transitions from slow speeds to fast speeds. Bullet time is an important factor in the success of “The Matrix” because it allows the audience to view the same scene from many different perspectives. By creating the effect of slowing time the action scenes are extended, leaving the audience in suspense for longer.
Another effect that was used a lot in “The Matrix” was wirework. This can also be seen in Chinese Kung Fu movies. In “The Matrix” a fight choreographer was brought in to help them produce this effect, and the actors had to train extensively for five months in the art of Kung Fu. The overall impression is very effective, and fight scenes are exhilarating and spectacular.
“The Matrix” shows that there is now no limit to what can be created in an action sequences. Not only does it use these effects, but it also incorporates them well into the film, making it seem perfectly reasonable to have people running up walls, jumping incredible distances, or even flying.
I believe that there is no single contributor to the success of “The Matrix”, but a combination of key aspects. For example, it is obvious that the revolutionary camera work played a vital role in the film’s success. “The Matrix” was the first film to produce some of those amazing effects, and get away with it. Then there’s the gripping action scenes, unique storylines, a certain “cool factor,” perhaps linked in with the style and originality of the film and the complexity levels achieved by the writers, ensuring that it requires a degree of concentration just to stick with the plot and understand what is going on. The characters are well acted, especially that of Neo, Trinity and Morpheus and it is enjoyable to watch their characters develop emotionally throughout the film.
If I was to depict any particular weaknesses of the film I would say that perhaps at times it does stretch the imagination, like when Neo miraculously comes back to life. Other than that, the only flaws are the sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” are simply nowhere near as good as the original, they are equally spectacular, but lacking in a decent plot, it just feels as though the first film is being dragged out. Despite this, “The Matrix” is still a fantastic film, and I feel that it is deserving of such immense levels of popularity. After all, how may other films are there that leave you questioning reality?