The Matrix

USA 1999, 136 mins
Directors: The Wachowskis

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) works as a lowly IT programmer, leading a double-life as a hacker at night, under the alias ‘Neo’. One night he is visited by a group of rebels led by charismatic seer Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who imparts a shattering revelation about life as we know it, and seeks to recruit Neo to fight evil forces at work.

Rising to the reality-bending potential of their premise, writer-directors the Wachowski sisters pushed computer-generated imagery to stage gravity-defying fight sequences between Neo and the Matrix’s black-suited villain Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).

Alongside its breathtaking spectacle, the film also tapped into contemporary philosophical unease about our over-mediated perception of reality, with radical thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard referenced in the smart screenplay.

A contemporary review
The Wachowski wrote and sold the script for The Matrix before they made their first film, the mesmerizing crime thriller Bound. They have since reported that between comic-book conception (a spin-off from their work at Marvel on the Hellraiser stories) and production go-ahead, ‘the script that nobody understands’ underwent considerable fine-tuning, thanks to studio insistence on explanatory dialogue. Even so, for a breathlessly vertiginous first quarter The Matrix scorns offering any rationale behind its attention-grabbing assaults and chases, leaving only its peevish spokesperson to mutter legitimate protests on our behalf (‘This is insane! Why is it happening to me? What did I do?’) until reasonably concluding he must be half-asleep. At which point, naturally, he falls into the grasp of Morpheus.

The Wachowskis are good at names, as they demonstrated with the title and main trio of Bound: Corky (buoyant), Violet (clinging) and Caesar (dictatorial). Conjuring up a flock of evocations – Cypher, Tank, Switch, Apoc, Mouse – for The Matrix, they invest the film’s gradually uncovered crusade with a rich blend of messianic implications blatantly signaled by warrior priestess Trinity. Her unifying presence links – and exchanges – the powers of Morpheus the dream-master with those of the long-sought savior Neo (note the anagram) who is at once the New Man (as in, by useful coincidence, Neo-Tokyo, subsumed by Akira) and the neophyte disciple.

More squarely, the film is an ironic rereading of Logan’s Run (1976), with a not to Soylent Green (1973) and more than a dash of Zardoz (1973). The Wachowskis unveil a seedy utopia where mankind is preserved, protected and endlessly recycled by its own mega-computer. The alternative to this artificial stasis is, as usual, well beyond the wit of mortal proles. Necessarily, The Matrix ends much where it started, its newborn visionary poised – like Logan or 2001’s Starchild or THX 1138’s hero or even like Luke Skywalker (prime exponent of the ‘Why me?’ syndrome) – on the brink of literally unimaginable new benefits. Away from the meddlesome tyranny of the machine, the superhero will be in charge. There’s always One.

The retrospect is less than reassuring and the Wachowskis don’t hide their misgivings. Played by Keanu Reeves with a certain gloomy helplessness, Neo gives a good impression of being incapable of original thought (he is, after all, as programmed as any Matrix slave) and little sign of inspiring social reform. But two voices speak loudly and persuasively on behalf of the Matrix: the traitorous terrorist Cypher celebrates it for colourful comforts unmatched by the drab post-apocalyptic real world; and the fearsome man-in-black humanoid Agent Smith (not quite Winston Smith, but the Wachowskis, recognising an affinity, have mischievously appended a Room 101) spells out its evolutionary task by dismissing humans as ‘a plague – and we are the cure’. The same dispassionate logic was prologue to The Terminator and more recently at the core of Virus.

But if the Wachowskis claim no originality of message, they are startling innovators of method. As with Bound, the film is a feast of unexpected fidgets and perspectives, punctuated by trademark overhead shots and teasing detail and detour, such as the squeal of washed windows as Neo is reprimanded by his boss, or the White Rabbit subtext culminating in a glimpse of Night of the Lepus (1972) on a television. Just as in Bound, telephones play a vital role, while the fetishistic use of shades and black leather tells yet another story, encompassing Smith’s chipped lens and Neo’s triumphal final outfit. Primarily, The Matrix is a wonderland of tricks and stunts, light years from Kansas, combining computerised slow-motion with the extravagant choreography of martial-arts movies to create a broadside of astonishing images. As Neo turns cartwheels, blazing away behind wildly exploding décor, it seems clear that the Wachowskis have discovered a gleeful utopia of their own.
Philip Strick, Sight and Sound, July 1999

Directors: The Wachowskis
©: Warner Bros.
©: Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited
Production Company: Silver Pictures
Presented by: Warner Bros.
Presented in association with: Village Roadshow Pictures, Groucho II Film Partnership
Executive Producers: Barrie M. Osborne, Andrew Mason, Andy Wachowski [i.e. Lilly Wachowski], Larry Wachowski [i.e. Lana Wachowski], Erwin Stoff, Bruce Berman
Producer: Joel Silver
Co-producer: Dan Cracchiolo
Associate Producers: Richard Mirisch, Carol Hughes
Unit Production Manager: Carol Hughes
Unit Manager: Will Matthews
Unit Manager (2nd Unit): Simon Lucas
Production Co-ordinators: Megan Worthy, Jane Griffin
Production Co-ordinator (2nd Unit): Julia Peters
Production Accountants: Marge Rowland, Alistair Jenkins
Locations Manager: Peter Lawless, Robin Clifton
2nd Unit Director: Bruce Hunt
1st Assistant Directors: Colin Fletcher, James McTeigue, Noni Roy
Script Supervisor: Victoria Sullivan
2nd Unit Script Supervisor: Gillian Steine
Casting: Mali Finn, Shauna Wolifson, Mullinars Casting
Written by: Andy Wachowski [i.e. Lilly Wachowski], Larry Wachowski [i.e. Lana Wachowski]
Director of Photography: Bill Pope
Timelapse Cinematography: Simon Carroll Archive
2nd Unit Director of Photography: Ross Emery
Camera Operators: David Williamson, Robert Agganis
Underwater Camera Operator: Roger Buckingham
Steadicam Operators: Robert Agganis, Phil Pastuhov
Visual Effects Supervisor: John Gaeta
Visual Effects Producer: Matt Ferro
Visual Effects Editor: Kate Crossley
2D/3D Conceptual Designer: Sergei Chadiloff
Visual Effects: Manex Visual Effects LLC, Bullet Time_,_ DFilm Services_,_ Animal Logic
Additional Visual Effects: Amalgamated Pixels
Special Effects Supervisors: Steve Courtley, Brian Cox
Special Effects Co-ordinator: Robina Osbourne
Miniatures/Models Supervisor: Tom Davies
Graphics: Karen Harborow
Screen Graphics Co-ordinator: Adam McCulloch
Editor: Zach Staenberg
Production Designer: Owen Paterson
Conceptual Designer: Geofrey Darrow
Art Directors: Hugh Bateup, Michelle McGahey
Set Designers: Sarah Light, Jacinta Leong, Godric Cole, Judith Harvey, Andrew Powell, Deborah Riley
Illustrator: Phil Shearer
Scenic Artist: Peter Collias
Storyboard Artists: Steve Skroce, Tani Kunitake, Collin Grant, Warren Manser
Property Master: Lon Lucini
Costume Designer: Kym Barrett
Costume Supervisor: Lyn Askew
Make-up (Key Artists): Nikki Gooley, Deborah Taylor, Kathy Courtney
Make-up Special Effects Design/Creation: Bob McCarron
Senior Make-up Special Effects Artist: Wendy Sainsbury
Animatronic Prosthetics Created by: Make-up Effects Group
Animatronic Prosthetics Created by: Paul Katte, Nick Nicolaou
Animatronics Designer: Trevor Tighe
Hairdresser: Cheryl Williams
Titles Designed by: Greenberg/Schluter Inc
Titles/Opticals: Pacific Title/Mirage
Colour Timer: David Orr
Music Composed/Orchestrated/Conducted by: Don Davis
Sound Design: Dane A. Davis
Sound Recordist: David Lee
Boom Operators: Jack Friedman, Gerry Nucifora
Re-recording Mixers: John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David Campbell
Supervising Sound Editor: Dane A. Davis
Stunt Co-ordinator: Glenn Boswell
Aerial Co-ordinators: Terry Lee, Maverick Records
Kung Fu Choreographer: Yuen Woo-ping
Hong Kong Kung Fu Co-ordinators: Carol Kim, Eagle Yuen Shun-yi, Sam Huang Kai-sen, Dion Lam Tat-ho
Key Armourer: John Bowring

Keanu Reeves (Thomas Anderson, ‘Neo’)
Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus)
Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity)
Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith)
Joe Pantoliano (Cypher)
Gloria Foster (Oracle)
Marcus Chong (Tank)
Julian Arahanga (Apoc)
Matt Doran (Mouse)
Belinda McClory (Switch)
Anthony Ray Parker (Dozer)
Paul Goddard (Agent Brown)
Robert Taylor (Agent Jones)
David Aston (Rhineheart)
Marc Gray (Choi)
Ada Nicodemou (Dujour)
Deni Gordon (priestess)
Rowan Witt (spoon boy)
Elenor Witt (potential)
Tamara Brown, Janaya Pender, Adryn White, Natalie Tjen (potentials)
Bill Young (lieutenant)
David O’Connor (FedEx man)
Jeremy Ball (businessman)
Fiona Johnson (woman in red)
Harry Lawrence (old man)
Steve Dodd (blind man)
Luke Quinton (security guard)
Lawrence Woodward (guard)
Michael Butcher (cop who captures Neo)
Bernie Ledger (big cop)
Robert Simper, Chris Scott (cops)
Nigel Harbach (parking cop)
Martin Grelis (helicopter pilot)

USA 1999
136 mins
Digital 4K

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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