Study Guide

The Matrix

The Matrix Introduction


Release Year: 1999

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

Director: Lilly and Lana Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers)

Writer: Lilly and Lana Wachowski (as the Wachowski Brothers)

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne


It's the question that you've pondered when you're brutally sleep-deprived, giddy from altitude change, hopped up on DayQuil during a nasty bout of flu, or when your mind has been altered by, uh, some other means:

What even is reality, anyway?

That's the Big Question The Matrix tackles. But in the movie, it's more specific, more pointed, and way more terrifying:

What if the very world you lived in were an elaborate lie, a scheme to keep you from the truth of your existence?

Welcome to The Truman Show—oh wait, nope. Welcome to the The Matrix.

Neo is just your everyday world-class hacker (hello, '90s!) who finds himself mixed up in some shady business. He's contacted by a mysterious group of people and wakes up in a whole new world...with a hovercraft instead of a magic carpet.

The Matrix was released in 1999, staring Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, and Keanu Reeves as… well, basically as Keanu Reeves, except this time with a trench coat.

It was a critical and financial hit, and as for the public, they couldn't get enough of this sci-fi thriller with its crazy special effects. We're talking stuff like "bullet time," which has since been used and spoofed in approximately one billion other movies. With all the kung-fu action and crazy gun scenes, it's no wonder that people ate up The Matrix like a bowl of Tasty Wheat. In fact, they loved it so much the Wachowskis got to make two more movies. Good thing, too, because they'd always envisioned Neo's story as a trilogy.

But as it turns out, The Matrix is all karate chops and green screens: unlike other folks (we're looking at you Marvel), the Wachowskis didn't make it big by following a repeatable formula.

Get ready for symbolism, allegory, and more philosophy than an action movie should be allowed to have. You're about to enter The Matrix.

What is The Matrix About and Why Should I Care?

Wake up Shmooper. The Matrix has you. This movie isn't just worthy of your study: it demands it.

This film was a critical and public success, so if you're into cinematography or just want to be culturally in the loop, you need to sit down and watch it. But it's also so much more than that.

It's a movie that makes us question reality in a very, erm, real way. It asks us what counts as "real" and if certain realities have more inherent meaning or desirability. And this question has only gotten more relevant the more we rely on separate realities. We're not just talking about such relics as Second Life —we're referring to social media, dating apps and (yup) video games: places we visit on a near-daily basis to feel more connected, more loved, and more validated.

And the more we participate in these separate realities, the less we can dismiss them as not being really real, or being lesser than. Does a slight from a frenemy hurt less on Instagram than it does in the "real world?" Can flirtation on Tinder be as exciting (or, yes, icky) as at a party?

And The Matrix knows all about these deep questions. This movie understands. Even though it's a relic from that magical time of dELIA*s catalogues and AOL Instant Messenger—the '90s—The Matrix goes beyond asking "What if your life is a virtual simulation?" and asks "Does it matter if your life is a virtual simulation?"

But let's not get bogged down by all this reality talk. This is a true blockbuster film we're talking about, so they're plenty of other light topics to discuss like predestination and free will and ones agency in a system determined by fate…yeah. The Matrix keeps it light like a dang anvil.

You might want to buckle your seatbelts: this is going to be one bumpy ride through the service tunnels of analysis. Just think about what might start happening in the not-so-distant future when a singular machine consciousness begins to look like a possibility—or when humans begin to develop the capabilities to run ancestor simulations. Even today people are starting to ask big Matrix-y questions.

But if you're not interested, that's fine. Just enjoy the juicy, delicious steak of ignorance while the rest of us delve down the rabbit hole of genius that is The Matrix.

Trivia

Will Smith and Nicholas Cage both turned down the role of Neo for various reasons, fortunately. (Source)

In the car where Neo is debugged, Switch calls him a Coppertop. This is slang for a battery; a term used in old Duracell commercials. Redpills will call bluepills this because they are, like Morpheus so visually describes, being used like batteries by the machines. It's not a nice thing to call someone. Would you like being called a battery? (Source)

The ending date on the computer monitor is 9-18-99. When Neo is late for work, he wakes up at 9:18. Lilly Wachowski's wife's birthday is September 18th. (Source)

Neo's driver's license expires on September 11th, 2001. The movie was released in 1999. Coincidence, or conspiracy? (Source)

The Matrix Resources

Websites

The One
This site has everything from analysis of characters and symbolism to all the little details and tidbits you didn't even know you wanted to know. Keep in mind it's fan made, so sometimes the ideas get a little out there.

Fanimatrix
Here is the official fan site (if that's not too much on an oxymoron). It's got everything from interviews and analysis to info on other Wachowski creations and even news about the latest Matrix vinyl figurines. What more could you want?

Articles and Interviews

Actual Footage of the Illusive Wachowski
The Wachowskis don't get out much. But when Cloud Atlas came out they did do a few promotional interviews and here's one where Lana talks a bit about the Matrix Trilogy. Matrix talk starts around the fifteen-minute mark.

You Can't Spell Neuron without Neo
Morpheus talks about reality in terms of electrical signals in our brain. This science-focused blog does a great job at combining the mounds of philosophy in and outside of the movie with the hard grounds of neuroscience.

Video

Behind the Simulation
Well, as it turns out, the Matrix isn't a virtual reality. It was all filmed using real people (gasp!). There is tons of behind-the-scenes footage on Youtube and it's all very interesting. This link will give a few to sample from.

The Tastiest Scene
Everyone's got a favorite scene, and here is one of ours. It's just your typical over dinner discussion about experience, consciousness, sensation, qualia… you know. Mouse likes to keep it light.

Foreshadowing 101
Remember Choi? No? Well he might not be an important character but he sure is prophetic. Actually, this scene by itself has been the cause for a lot of our themes and symbolism analysis in this guide. See if you can catch them all.

The Proverbial Rabbit Hole
How could we leave you without this scene? It's our first visual of Morpheus and is the staging point for the rest of the film. It's the viewer's (and Neo's) last moment of blissful ignorance… and it has plenty of lightning and dramatic music.

If the Matrix were a Real Program
Wait, people used to make fun of Windows XP… if only they knew. This isn't going to give you any new insight but it will give you a few laughs.

Philosophy Central
If you're down to dig deep into the recesses of the Matrix Trilogy for some philosophical insight, this is your video. Yes, it's an hour long but it's totally worth it. We've got everything from Plato's Allegory of the Cave to Gnosticism and every religion and philosophical viewpoint in between.