The Matrix – 20 Years On

The Matrix – Twenty Years On.

By Andrew McKissock

Upon discovering that The Matrix is twenty years old in 2019, I was reminiscent of protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he learns he’s been living inside a computer simulation. He panics, shouting “I don’t believe it. I want out!” before eventually vomiting. As Neo’s world unravels, so do my attempts to cling to my youth.

So what’s behind the longevity of The Matrix? The story can be read allegorically in ways which remain relevant today. You could interpret the machines turning humanity into batteries as a metaphor for mankind being enslaved by capitalism. There’s also the notion that Neo’s awakening is an analogy for transitioning – Lana and Lilly Wachowski both came out as trans after the trilogy released.

The opening five minutes of the film set the scene perfectly; Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) runs along walls, jumps impossible distances and swats two police units aside before fleeing in terror from Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his cohorts. She’s demonstrably capable of remarkable actions and yet she doesn’t entertain the thought of attempting to battle the Agents, which establishes their threat. She escapes by answering a ringing phone before Smith smashes a truck into it. The action is jaw dropping – whilst hinting at a greater, more complex threat.

That threat is the Matrix itself. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) and Trinity attempt to free Neo, the man they believe to be the saviour of humanity, Smith and the system race to prevent them. When Smith arrests and interrogates Neo, the allegory for transitioning starts to take shape. He denies any future for Neo if he refuses to return to his life as Thomas Anderson, a part of the status quo. This evokes parallels of refusing to acknowledge trans identity, instead choosing to identity them by their deadname – a theme which continues through to Neo’s final confrontation with Smith.

We later learn that the Agents can manifest themselves in anybody plugged into the Matrix. If we continue to apply a trans reading and the Agents represent transphobia, it suggests that anyone plugged into the system is a potential threat to Neo and his comrades’ existence – that fear and hatred can appear when you least expect it.

As Morpheus teaches Neo about the simulations origins, he reveals that humans are now grown – serving as a power source for the Matrix. Humans are born into bondage with the system, propping it up with little reward and are easily replaceable. Oxfam recently revealed that the 26 richest people in the world own as much as 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. It’s easy to see the similarities between populations sustaining two systems, capitalism and the Matrix, with scant reward for their enormous contribution.

Whilst strands of religious symbolism, morality and philosophical questions are woven seamlessly into the film, it’s possible that The Matrix still resonates because it’s a kick ass movie bursting with slick fight scenes that ooze style rarely matches in the modern films it helped inspire. As Neo and Trinity attempt to save Morpheus, Neo reveals to security guards that he’s armed to the teeth under his leather overcoat. It’s as iconic a moment as the slow motion ‘bullet time’ battle which follows.

The film’s climax is a masterclass in tension. Everything the film sets up in the first two acts are paid off in the final as Neo faces off against Agent Smith in the Matrix, whilst Morpheus and Trinity battle machines in the real world. The Wachowskis consistently blend moments of levity with outrageous action and high concept philosophy. They manage to package them into something easily digestible for the audience; something which, twenty years later, few sci-fi movies readily achieve.

In celebration of its twentieth anniversary The Matrix is being screened at the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival on February 22nd. Tickets are still available, offering moviegoers the chance to free their mind at the Argyll Street Arches, with the promise of an after party to unplug – hopefully without the threat of Agents crashing by.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Spoiler free review

Spider-Man slings himself back onto the big screen with an infectious style and excitability. Tom Holland is the perfect fit for both the role of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. 

The movie never feels like it’s going over old, well trodden ground which is testament to the strong writing and fluid plot. 

The opening scenes add a sympathetic element to the antagonist, Vulture, and believable motivations. As the plot unfolds the stakes heighten between him and Spider-Man in interesting and surprising ways. Although, his somewhat flippant descent into being comfortable with killing felt slightly jarring.

Peter Parker’s sidekick Ned provides an extra comedic layer to the film. Their friendship helps to keep things moving during the high school scenes which never descend into the realms of boring. However many scenes are stolen by Zendaya’s character Michelle, who is excellent throughout.

The action scenes are well choreographed, although the climactic battle does get a little hard to follow at certain points. Michael Giaccino provides his usual blend of subtle and bombastic for the movie’s soundtrack.

The romantic element with Liz didn’t quite stick, feeling somewhat contrived from the outset. However, it did manage to add an extra dynamic to the climax.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an effective reintroduction to a character whom we are well acquainted with both cinematically and in his comic book origins. The movie does an excellent job of reinvigorating Spider-Man and breathing new life into the MCU.

Arrival – Review

Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival is an engrossing Sci-Fi experience which substitutes weapons for ingenuity.  The film is a refreshing take on the first contact trope, as Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) attempts to uncover the alien visitors’ intentions through using her skills in linguistics. The result is an engaging experience which conjures drama and tension without violence, relying upon a captivating performance by Adams and a story which is grand in scope but manages to remain personal.

Little time is wasted setting up the aliens’ arrival. The visitors, dubbed Heptapods, position twelve ships at seemingly random locations throughout the world. The affected countries establish communications with one another in an attempt to ascertain what the Heptapods’ intentions are. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) is sent to recruit Dr. Banks after some previous successful linguistic work with the army. Not every country agrees on a particular approach and China’s preference for aggression establishes a simmering threat to Dr. Banks’ peaceful method.

Much of the emotional resonance in the movie is attributed to a tragedy in Dr. Banks’ personal life. This tragedy, and the scenes depicting Banks’ personal life, creates an additional layer of tension which compliments the pressure situation of trying to communicate with the Heptapods. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), an astrophysicist, is an effective foil for Banks and the two build their own relationship as they attempt to construct one with the Heptapods.

Banks’ efforts to communicate with the Heptapods are key to getting an answer to the question: ‘What is your purpose on earth?’ She establishes visual aids as the most effective method of creating an understanding with the visitors. It’s fascinating to witness a rapport develop as they teach constructs of our language that we take for granted.  Each breakthrough that Banks makes is met with further pressure from Colonel Weber as the twelve countries stop cooperating with one another.

It becomes frustrating that Weber often doubts Dr. Banks, despite the obvious duress he is under, as this slips into cliché territory. Whittaker’s accent becomes as inconsistent as his character’s motivations. One particular plot point is too quickly glossed over whilst another borders on descent into the realm of silly. However, Adams’ engaging performance keeps the audience grounded as the film reaches its climax.

Fans of recent Sci-Fi hits such as Interstellar and Midnight Special should enjoy Villneuve’s Arrival, as it poses thought provoking questions whilst managing not to lose sight of the human aspect. This is owed to Adams’ excellent performance. The movie’s more ambitious elements remain grounded through her ability to engage the audience as the Heptapods’ true intentions are deciphered. Indeed the prevailing message, that humanity must work together, has never been more relevant.

 

Don’t Breathe – Review

Don’t Breathe focuses on three young thieves planning to rob a blind army veteran’s home. The movie lures audiences in with this premise and what we uncover is something far more sinister. Fede Alvarez’s latest horror demonstrates a masterful use of silence to develop tension whilst toying with the audience as we question just who it is we are rooting for.

Don’t Breathe opens with a scene which casts doubt on how innocent The Blind Man is, before spending a few short scenes establishing the daily lives and struggles of the ‘protagonists’ in attempt to lend sympathy. It’s fairly routine stuff; Rocky (Jane Levy) plans to escape Detroit with her young sister, saving her from a dead end life. Money (Daniel Zovatto) is in a loose relationship with Rocky and is responsible for trading the group’s bounty for cash. Alex (Dylan Minnette) is the voice of reason – initially unwilling to break into The Blind Man’s home. It’s also clear he has romantic feelings for Rocky. Their target, The Blind Man, received a huge cash settlement when his daughter was killed in a road accident.

The Blind Man’s neighbourhood is desolate, each house abandoned, only his home remains reflecting the only choice these characters feel they have. The setting captures the dead end life the thieves are facing. Once inside the home, they quickly lose control of the situation. The Blind Man is more than capable of defending his home and they become trapped in a situation which threatens to cost them their lives. The vacant neighbourhood that seemed to grant them freedom instead traps them, as their screams fall upon deaf ears.

The camera work is particularly effective in capturing hints that help The Blind Man navigate his home. One terrifying scene in the basement has Rocky and Alex attempt to flee The Blind Man in the pitch black. Alvarez expertly demonstrates the advantage The Blind Man has as he navigates using his other senses. He holds his arm aloft, touching a segment of lowered ceiling and feels items on shelves which help to place himself.

Alvarez grips the audience through his use of silence. The biggest advantage the thieves have is to avoid making any noise. The suspense creeps up on the audience and snares us, just as the thieves strive to contain every breath and squirm across floorboards as they attempt to escape.

The initial plot is formulaic enough, though this doesn’t serve to spoil the enjoyment. That the Blind Man harbours a secret is somewhat predictable. However, by twisting the formulaic premise the movie creates an extra dimension. It scratches at some of our most primal fears, adding another horrifying layer to the movie.

Don’t Breathe is an engrossing horror which exploits silence and clever camera work to deliver a thrilling, twisted experience that exceeds its initially formulaic premise.