Enter, Everyman: The Matrix at Ten.


The Matrix is probably the film I’ve most seen that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I never feel like I’ve really seen it all. It feels inexhaustible. Or, perhaps better, it feels like parts of it are always out of one’s reach, much like the dream that one barely remembers, but that you know shook you to your core mere minutes before.

pic_morpheusFor example, there’s a scene, early on, when Morpheus takes Neo to visit the Oracle. As they enter the lobby of the decrepit projects building in which she lives, Morpheus nods to an old man sitting in the lobby. He nods back. The two visitors enter the elevator, and proceed on their way.

The guy is blind, though. He’s holding a white cane. I must have watched that scene literally a dozen times before I…well, before I saw it. So, who, exactly, is really the blind man?

The Matrix is threaded with moments like this, where the film is playing to the viewer’s misunderstanding or incomprehension of what they’re looking at, asking questions about how sure they are of their senses and what they’re telling them. Neo’s meeting with the Oracle, perhaps the film’s central moment, itself has such a false impression built into it. It’s based on the average viewer’s conviction that she actually does tell Neo he is not The One, when, in fact, she never says this. It’s almost as if the movie were some sort of Turing test, or, more, perhaps the question is if the viewer is actually the test, and the movie the one taking it.

Those who know the film’s lore learned long ago that Will Smith was originally offered the role of Neo, but turned it down.

screen21Could it have been any other way? Could anyone but Keanu Reeves have played Thomas A. Anderson, right, the Everyman blending into the crowd until he learns to walk against it; the Nowhere Man disappearing into his cubicle (literally, at a crucial moment)?

What Will Smith was saying by turning it down was that, at that point in his life, as an actor, he didn’t have what it takes to do nothing, yet be all-present. Reeves does. What people call his “blankness” is his way of helping the viewer see what the character sees, focusing on that. (Reeves does what the role needs. He wasn’t “blank” in Something’s Gotta Give, with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, for example.)

Ten years ago this week, on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 31, 1999, I thought I was going to see a movie. Instead The Matrix is a cloudlike, mystical text. Andy Clark at Indiana University: Bloomington calls it “an exercise in ambivalence.” Indeed, I think that says it perfectly, as well as why, for me, the fog has yet to dissipate.



#1 Jase831 on 04.03.09 at 11:28 am

Brandon Lee was originally supposed to play Neo… I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like with him

#2 zion3lion on 04.03.09 at 11:37 am

what’s up definitely love this movie, hadn’t realized it’s been so long!
The summer of 02 I spent everyday after work watching this movie! definitely one of my favs

#3 Media Deva on 04.04.09 at 2:00 am

\You think that’s air you’re breathing?\

Clearly not.

Thanks for this tribute to my all-time favorite film.

#4 Katie on 04.05.09 at 6:57 pm

I’ve never seen “The Matrix” but after reading this:

“Or, perhaps better, it feels like parts of it are always out of one’s reach, much like the dream that one barely remembers, but that you know shook you to your core mere minutes before.”

I decided that I must. That sentence is beautifully written and refreshingly captivating. I almost want to take it and put it in my facebook profile under “Favorite Quotes”. I know this sounds juvenile but it means something considering I don’t have any quotes listed thus far! : )

#5 Testify on 04.15.09 at 1:47 pm

There is no spoon.

#6 Ole dirty marmot on 04.29.09 at 10:27 pm

“I know Kung-fu”.


#7 KRZ on 05.05.09 at 9:14 am

Parts 2 and 3 sucked.

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