The Matrix (1999)
Directed by Andy & Larry Wachowski

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Neo (Keanu Reeves) is told by a mysterious man with a penchant for trench coats and sunglasses that the world we know is an elaborate illusion produced by a computer program called the Matrix. Awakening from this fantasy, Neo learns that the real world has been taken over by machines, that humans are being used as organic batteries to power these machines, and that he himself may be the prophesied savior of mankind.

Andy and Larry Wachowski's The Matrix is a stylish, distinctive, and entertaining movie, but it is also severely flawed. Its inclusion of a vast quantity of pseudo-philosophical gibberish and its frequent posturing are especially irksome.


The film is, in fact, absolutely teeming with juvenile ponderings. Sadly, the characters' incessant cryptic remarks, instead of having the insight of Zen Koans, sound more like the words of wisdom found in fortune cookies or parodies of Hong Kong Kung Fu movies. While perhaps attempting to borrow some of the style of Japanese Buddhism, the film makers have included nothing substantial from any Buddhist tradition. Whatever vague ruminations there are in the movie that pass for philosophy are far more like a mixture of the ideas of Bishop Berkeley with those of John Calvin and both of these with the abstruse apocalyptic and messianic utterances of Nostradamus and the Revelation of St. John.

Despite the directors' frequently distracting attempts at profundity, The Matrix does, however, include several interesting elements. The film is visually and thematically indebted to a number of anime works, such as Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, and its action sequences rely on techniques and styles derived from the Wu Xia or Flying Swordsman genre of Hong Kong cinema. The directors' mingling of these styles with one another, and with conventions of Hollywood movies, does give the film a distinctive quality and makes it an entertaining experience.


The fight sequences, in particular, are brilliantly realized. Neo, having learned that the Matrix is an illusion which can be manipulated by his will, flies through the air, performs physically impossible contortions, dodges bullets, and slaughters his enemies. The attempts at drama and insight between such scenes are, however, far less successful.

Moreover, although I do endeavor to accept any fictional world on its own terms, there are occasions when my ability to release my common sense is tried. In The Matrix, the machines which rule the Earth preserve human beings so that the energy generated by their bodies can be used as a power source. I will grant that I am no expert about such things, but did no one tell the machines about nuclear, hydroelectric, or geothermal power? The shear silliness of many the film's basic premisses, as that just noted, constantly distracts the viewer and diminishes his ability to appreciate the movie.


Despite its demonstration that the Wachowski brothers are neither scientists nor philosophers, and should probably stay clear of discussing those topics until they have studied a bit more, The Matrix is a stylish and exciting movie. It is surely among the more enjoyable science fiction or action films to have been made. While the directors' puerile attempts to bring to their work some sort of intellectual depth and their excessive efforts to suffuse their characters with "coolness" greatly detract from its quality, The Matrix is still an engaging movie that is well worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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