When Jean Baudrillard published his philosophical treatise Simulacra and Simulation in 1981, he had no way of knowing that Hollywood would take the ideas within and construct a science fiction action film. But this is exactly what the Wachowski brothers did when directing The Matrix.
Computer programming Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves) lives a double life. Programmer by day, he spends his nights hacking software under the username Neo. One ngiht he is contacted through his computer and told to go to a club where he meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who tells him that the world he’s living in is a lie. The next day at work he is chased through the office by the sinister Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), but is rescued by Trinity and her team. She takes him to see Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who offers to show him the truth of the world, the future and something called ˜The Matrix.’
The concept of reality not being as you perceive it, is the driving thread throughout The Matrix. In fact, the theme and style of the film draws just as much influence from The Terminator and some selected Philip K. Dick works as it does Simulacra and Simulation. They do however, only specifically pay homage to Baudrillard’s work when lead character Neo is seen holding a copy of Simulacra and Simulation which is full of hacked computer disks.
With a philosophical and science fiction environment, the Wachowski brothers had the first elements of a classic in the making and in their casting they took The Matrix to a new level of cool. Keanu Reeves, an actor still trying to carve a niche for himself in Hollywood, perfectly encapsulates the bemused and troubled Neo. He is completely convincing as the man who feels disjointed from reality and his deadpan delivery may not stretch his acting range, but it does fit nicely into the slick late-20th century world of The Matrix. Alongside him are Moss and Fishburne as the down-and-out true believers, desperate for someone to get behind. They are not the most obvious casting choices, but both bring an element of emotional pathos that helps ground the over-the-top action and narrative.
The real standout though is Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. Chewing scenary from his opening scene, Weaving brings a slow, methodical drawl that is as memorable as it is intimidating. His cool and calm delivery throughout makes him the perfect foil for the human rebels, while allowing room for small moments of panic that really emphasise the wonder of what is occurring. Without Agent Smith to battle against, the action would never have achieved the heady heights of excellence that it does.
The Matrix’s action scenes are the clear talking point that stays with audiences after the film ends. At the time, ground-breaking ˜bullet time’ was quite unlike anything anyone had ever attempted or seen. The John Woo styled slow motion, combined with breath-taking 360 degree swing shots and overtly-stylised combat help make The Matrix one of the most incredible action films of all time. The lobby scene in the final third measures up to the other top examples of individual action scenes in other action films.
Like the hospital scene in Hard Boiled and is a rip-roaring display of martial arts, gunplay and excitement that places The Matrix in the upper echelons of action film history. It’s a place that is well deserved, as the Wachowski brothers were able to create something unique and out-of-the-blue at a time when top-quality science fiction action films were not a predominant medium. They may have tarnished their reputations with two horribly dull sequels, but in The Matrix they struck science fiction and action film gold.