Friday, July 1, 2011

BSFME Contestant #5: The Matrix

If you're just joining us, this week is "Best Science Fiction Movie Ever" Week here at Fantasy Matters.  You can read about the other contestants here; in this post, Adam Miller makes a case for his favorite--The Matrix.

The MatrixWill you take the red pill or the blue pill? 

Even thought it's been more than 10 years since The Matrix was released, this concept still shows up regularly in TV shows, books, and everday conversations.  Sure, 10 years might not seem like that much, but these days, when you consider how much the world as we actually know it has changed in the last decade, for a movie to continue to be a plausible vision of the future is a remarkable feat.  Science fiction movies don't tend to withstand the test of time.  Vangelis' electronic soundtrack for Blade Runner starts to sound a bit tinny, and The Planet of the Apes looks like an unfortunate costume party.  The Matrix, on the other hand, seems more and more possible in an age where the line between physical and digital reality becomes ever more difficult to distinguish.  While many films have taglines that catch on, this one is different because it alludes to the fundamentally different way that The Matrix made us think about reality.

Lots of little things make The Matrix great. The sunglasses and all-leather outfits, for one.  Anything Agent Smith says.  Cypher's description of reading the Matrix ("blonde, brunette, redhead").  Mouse's question about what chicken actually tastes like.  The horror and awe of seeing the way that humans are grown.  The subtle tweaking of gender roles by placing Trinity in the role of God the Father.  And, of course, the many lines that had made their way into pop culture, not the least of which is, "I know kung fu."

The Matrix is also great for reasons bigger than these moments, for reasons that have to do with the way that we make movies.  I'm certainly no expert in cinematography, but I know that there are several camera techniques that the Wachowskis used in The Matrix that have had tremendous influence on moviemaking since then.  The opening scene with Trinity where she jumps, hovers, and then the camera circles around her is one.  The scene near the end where Neo dodges bullets and then ducks as a bullet, and the camera, zoom over him is another.  The influence of these techniques is so far-reaching, and they have appeared in so many other movies since then (Shrek, for example), that we no longer even notice them.

But The Matrix did more than just change the way that we make movies--it changed the way that we think about reality.  It came out in 1999, just at the point when the Internet was starting to become a part of everyday life.  The line between physical reality and digital reality was just starting to blur, and The Matrix took that idea and ran with it in a way that is even more relevant to us today.  As a result, the ideas in The Matrix have shaped the way that we--as both human beings and consumers of digital technology--think about questions of identity, ethics, and humanity.  The Matrix also took age-old questions and shaped them in ways relevant to the 21st century; Cypher's dilemma of whether to choose misery and truth over ignorance and happiness has its roots in the story of Adam and Eve, but it is now part of a story, a mythology, if you will, that speaks to the digital age.

Perhaps the biggest reason that The Matrix is the best science fiction movie ever is that the story itself was so new and exciting.  The thrill of waking up with Neo to find out that the world as you knew it was a lie was indescribable, and even after seeing the movie multiple times, there is no science fiction movie that I would rather watch again.

So yes, I will take the red pill.

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