- Film 1: The Matrix

- The Animatrix:
.. - The Second Renaissance
.. - Kid's Story
.. - Program
.. - World Record
.. - Beyond
.. - A Detective Story
.. - Matriculated
.. - Final Flight of the Osiris /
.........Enter the Matrix

- Film 2: The Matrix Reloaded
- Film 3: The Matrix Revolutions

- Return to Source Documentary:
Philosophy and the Matrix

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The Matrix

Region 1
10-disc box set
for North America
Region 2
10-disc box set
for the U.K.
(A trilogy, part 1, starring Keanu Reeves)
  • written and
  • directed by the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski
  • produced by Joel Silver
  • music by Don Davis
  • 2 hours, 16 minutes
Story: What is the Matrix? Under the alias Neo, computer hacker Thomas Anderson embarks on a wild journey to find out, unravelling conspiratorial rumours of the nature of society's systems as he goes, linking up with the mysterious underground rebel figures Morpheus and Trinity, and battling the agents of the system.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the film.

"The Matrix" has become known as the ground-breaking action film for philosophical thinkers, and certainly deserves its fair share of kudos for what it achieved. While the original film is certainly the best received in the trilogy, even it has its drawbacks and can easily confuse audience members who are not as deeply into its genres. While I generally like and approve of this film, and believe I "get" most of what is philosophically layered into it, I think the philosophy has a few whacking great flaws itself. If there's one thing to keep in mind as we go through the saga, it is this: We all know that the map is not the territory. But do we get so wrapped up in various philosophical maps that we sometimes fail to see the obvious in the basic territory of the film?

World of the Mind

The enigmatic trailers for the film drew audience interest with the famous lines: "No one can truly tell you what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." Of course, long-time Doctor Who fans like myself could take a very good guess at what this Matrix might be, and not be too far off, since something with the same name existed on the home planet of the main character of that show, and featured prominently in many of its mythological episodes, beginning about 23 years before the Wachowski Brothers made their film. For those who found "The Matrix" hard to follow, I suggest they try "The Deadly Assassin" (Doctor Who story no. 88) as a more easily understood primer, and then come back to another viewing of this film.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this film for me, which set it above Doctor Who's "The Deadly Assassin", is the way that the virtual reality of "The Matrix" was set up as a metaphor for discovering the nature of our own reality, specifically on levels of spiritual and philosophical truth. Nice. BUT, this metaphor works chiefly for what is explored in the first film only. Once we get to the sequels, other territory is explored, and quite rightly too, but we're still stuck in a world defined by the old metaphor, while new metaphors to demonstrate the new philosophical territory are sorely lacking. And the biggest spiritual/philosophical test for me is always what the characters actually do, all metaphors aside, something that gets wildly overlooked by people looking for too many hidden layers.

I think it should be noted that a lot of the necessary exposition for this film and its concepts and metaphors is given to Morpheus, and while there is a lot of good material there, Morpheus puts his own spin on it. Watch out for the danger that this brings, as it becomes a very enemy-centered paradigm, all defined within the context of a heroic battle against an evil system of enslavement, and one in which our resistance gang winds up putting more emphasis on saving themselves than helping any helpless third parties, by virtue of the actions that get the most screen time.

I was also quite surprised on my most recent viewing to hear how often the concept of "breaking the rules" was repeated in so many different contexts throughout the film. You'd think the protagonists might want to align themselves with the universal laws of nature as opposed to those of man and/or machine, but they seem to want to just break ANY rule they encounter instead, almost as a knee-jerk reaction, whether the rule opposes something they want to do or not. Again, they really would impress more greatly as thinkers if they started thinking outside of the enemy-centered paradigm.

When The Action Hits the Fan....

While I like my sci-fi, whether obscure or blockbuster, and I regularly root for rebellious underdogs taking a stand against insidious conspiratorial systems, I'm not particularly an "action" fan, nor a martial-arts fan, nor a fan of gothic-punk stylizations, shiny leather and sunglasses and all. "The Matrix" understood and excelled in these stylizations without particularly impressing me, and that was all cool. But excessive fighting often signals a lack of understanding of spiritual philosophies. In itself, that won't hurt the first film too much, since it's partly a story point, and our main characters are all on something of a learning curve, attempting to achieve things they have never achieved before. Unlike the main character of "Doctor Who" under similar circumstances in "The Deadly Assassin", Neo seemed pretty slow in coming to figure out that he should use his mind in the first film, instead of buying into the constraints of the virtual imagery in the Matrix. And for Neo, that comes at a cost that I think is quite high.

The heavily stylized lobby shootout, although heavily praised by so many on the DVD extras, remains one of the philosophical low points of the trilogy for me. I have little interest in rooting for Neo or Trinity during this sequence. The noblest of aims for Morpheus's gang of rebels, generally speaking, is to free the human inhabitants of the Matrix from the battery fields where they are plugged in. Instead, Neo and Trinity go on a spree shooting up many of these very same poor souls who clearly have no idea what it is they are supporting by acting as policemen and guards for their government. Ken Wilber is keen to say on the commentary that the trilogy is more complex than saying that being inside the Matrix is bad and getting out is good. Fine, it should be. But getting out is better than getting knocked off by a supposed "hero". Superman II offers a good contrast during its climactic confrontation between hero and villains with incredible powers, where Superman goes out of his way to make sure that third parties come to no harm, and the villains take advantage of this by threatening them. This is a very natural way of letting the audience know who is the hero and who the villain, and helps get the audience rooting for the right characters. In "The Matrix", this is pretty much reversed, requiring the audience to accept an overly paranoid view of the world in order to continue to root for Neo and Trinity during their violent spree. This sequence revels in the by-standing casualties of the slowness of Neo's learning curve, and is anything but a spiritual triumph. And when content is this far off the mark, I care little for its style, which this scene was obviously more focused on. The first time I saw this scene, I thought it was getting so derailed that I might end up really hating the whole movie.

It wasn't until my third or fourth viewing that I actually understood the bit of plot-logic offered as a partial excuse for the excessive violence exhibited by the trilogy's "heroes". An attempt is made to explain this with the scene of the woman in red amongst the crowd at the fountain, but it is only really demonstrated in tiny moments dotted throughout the action sequences in the second half, and chiefly only in the first film. Anytime you see any agent, you are really looking at an avatar of one of the real people plugged into the Matrix, and that avatar has been temporarily taken-over by the agent. If the agent is dealt a fatal blow, it is only the real person who gets killed (through mind over matter of course), while the agent is free to take over another body/avatar, and will select anyone who happens to notice his quarry. Thus Trinity kills a helicopter pilot when she shoots the agent in the head at point blank range. Equally, Neo is in many ways fighting a feeble old vagrant in the subway station, who eventually gets crushed under the subway train, while Smith takes over some unsuspecting passenger on said train to continue pursuing Neo. While this phenomenon has somehow promoted a practice among the rebels to shoot anyone they encounter before that person becomes an agent, it really is a cowardly and self-serving policy designed to avoid what they feel will be a losing battle. They can talk philosophy as eloquently as they want, but this is what their actions boil down to. And if the agents want to describe the rebels as "terrorists", it really is fair comment.

"If you could go back, would you really want to?"

If getting out is so good, and going back into the Matrix is so potentially deadly for them and the people they would want to save, you have to wonder why they ever do it? One answer, and potentially the noblest, is to help get more people out. We really don't see much of that in the entire trilogy, beyond getting Neo out at the very beginning. You have to go to the Animatrix episode about the backstory of Clayton Watson's "Kid" character to see some more, although Neo is quick to credit the proactivity for that event to the Kid himself.

The most common recurring reason for re-entering the matrix running throughout the trilogy is.... (drumroll please).... talking to the Oracle. Which feels a bit banal when you really get down to it. This usually entails some characters coming out and going back in to rescue others who didn't make it out yet, but once everyone's out, it's usually only another Oracle visit that prompts them to go back in.

Indeed, the biggest surprise may be that all these hackers don't just stay outside the Matrix writing code and inventing programs to go in and do stuff. It somehow seems like the obvious gets a bit sidestepped here.

One of the successful things that the first film has going for it, which the sequels do not, is Joe Pantoliano and his character of Cypher. Firstly, Cypher is very well used by the script to make a specific point about the desirability of a fantasy world. And secondly, Pantoliano seems to be having a very contagious bit of fun with the role, livening up the atmosphere of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and creating countless memorable moments. Many of the other actors involved in this film also give their best performances of the trilogy here, in terms of emoting well and giving their characters some personality, with Keanu Reeves in particular being at his most human.

"I'm just another guy."

This film definitely tackles questions surrounding the idea of a messiah, as noted by fans and critics alike. Morpheus leads the charge in this particular belief system, and is eloquent and contagious enough with it for it to stand as the dominant viewpoint of Neo's role. Neo is "the One", and many people delight in examining Neo's path and choices in comparison to Jesus Christ and other messiahs from a dozen other religions. Excessive misdirection, I think. I've found it gigantically useful and freeing to never believe something is so in a film just because a character says it is, even if no other character or event challenges what he says. Personally, I see the whole need for messiahs acting as conduits for spirituality as a subset of what I call third density consciousness, which has dominated human existence throughout our recorded history. However, the present-day challenge is the transformation to fourth density, which in part has each person reawakening to their own direct connection with the creative source. In fourth density, messiahs are out of a job. There is no "One". Thankfully, Neo himself articulates as much in one of the first movie's poignant moments of decisive proactivity. I was prepared to trust Neo's viewpoint as the film's truth, despite anything that Morpheus said afterward. After all, Neo's belief would not require Morpheus or Trinity to change theirs, which clearly served them.

Perhaps too, this heavily influenced my expectations of where the future films should be headed. Neo's role would not be to solve society's problems himself single-handed. Rather, he would simply be the first to figure out how to get a grip on those problems, and TEACH the rest of society how they might use the same methods to solve some of their problems and make up their own damn minds, should they so choose.

Mind Over Matrix

And though it came late, it came spectacularly and triumphantly. Neo's mind conquered matter, and death, and he stood toe to toe with an agent and took him apart from the inside out. Few films or television episodes have a concluding moment as powerful and satisfying as "The Matrix" has. Whoa. The tables were finally nicely turned, as agents now ran from a rebel. Good stuff.

As Morpheus had explained earlier, helping to motivate the entire thrust of this ending, the rebels' inability to defeat agents was a stumbling block preventing them from doing anything more proactive to help the people in the Matrix. But now, they might have access to the keys and gateways of the Matrix.

For me, this meant that Neo, who had figured out how to defeat agents, would teach other rebels how to do the same. No longer would the rebels need to exhaust their energy with physical fights, no longer would they need to execute by-standing Matrix citizens en masse. Successfully using their minds would elevate them beyond those needs.

And if that says anything spiritual about reality through using the Matrix as a metaphor, it should then also apply without the metaphor.... in the real world. This would be the second great lesson tackled in the sequels, I thought, if they were worth their salt. Mind over matter must have its applications outside of the Matrix, and the world outside the Matrix was ripe for exploration in the sequels.

Critics' Commentary - Film 1

I don't normally review commentaries, but those on "The Matrix" trilogy are so unique, and add so much to what I'm discussing, that I will make exceptions at appropriate points. The critics' commentaries are perhaps best to tackle as we look at each film, while the philosophers' are best bundled together at the end where we can discuss the trilogy as a whole.

Although these are supposedly the critics who did not like the trilogy, it must be said that they largely do think that film 1 was good, and are fairly balanced between praising it and nitpicking it. The end result is a very enjoyable, thought-provoking, and very unique commentary for any film. It is excellent that the Wachowskis made this happen.

The chief drawback with these critics is that they have seen too many movies, meaning they are both a bit jaded and bored with anything that isn't "new", and also that they seem obsessed with making references to earlier works in film or literature. Sometimes this is enlightening, at other times it just distracts them from looking at the current film's content on its own merits.

I believe it's Todd McCarthy who makes the very interesting point that there is a limit to the willingness and benefits to puzzling out all the mythological/philosophical maps that are in play here. But rather than giving up and making no effort, I suggest a keep-it-simple approach, by keeping one eye on the territory at all times, and not trusting any one map too much.

David Thomson also has an interesting point about desensitization to violence, which is good to bring up. However, it doesn't seem to go far enough to detract from the critics' enjoyment of the government lobby shoot-out, where I felt character motivation had strayed too far into unacceptable territory.

The critics don't seem to really get the time difference in the two main domains here, particularly that the in-Matrix world projects the illusion of 1999, while the outside is 200 years or more in the future, and they seem to want to poke irrelevant holes in the difference between the technology of the two ages. As usual, commentators are required to talk over the film, and so miss a lot of the points that the films' dialogue is making, which can be very frustrating for a knowledgeable audience. But then you have to wonder how much they're really willing to pay attention to important details, and how much they zoned out....

Backstory Science and Motivation

The sci-fi premise of the Wachowskis' world here is not without its significant holes. If we do want to challenge our enemy-centered view of the machine AI antagonists, it's important to understand their motivations and their mechanisms of control, which quite frankly fall apart too easily. Using human body heat as power doesn't quite fly. Firstly, why humans, considering there are so many other species on Earth that would probably accept Matrix programming more readily? Secondly, how do you not lose far more energy than you gain by passing food and other human needs through the human? The best way of getting around this would be to define yet another reason for the machines to require humans, something that depends on their level of complex thought and intelligence - which wouldn't be too far from what we get and could possibly patch over many motivational holes in the trilogy, if only the movies had taken time to articulate something of that idea. But perhaps this examination of sci-fi backstory and world setup is best continued in the Animatrix two-parter that goes into greater detail about how it all began....

"The Matrix" delivered a lot of great stuff, not least of which was a healthy batch of anticipation for where it might go next. Yes, this franchise was destined for more.....

Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Animatrix: The Second Renaissance"

(Or, skip ahead to the second feature film: "The Matrix Reloaded")

This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray as the first film in The Ultimate Matrix Collection.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the North American market:
Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

DVD PAL Region 2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the U.K. / Europe:
Region 2 PAL

"The Ultimate Matrix Collection" DVD Extras for the first film include:

  • Philosophers' "in-favour-of" audio commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber.
  • Critics' "against" audio commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson.
  • "The Matrix Revisited" feature-length documentary (123 min.) covering the origins and the making of the film, featuring
    Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith),
    writer/directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, producer Joel Silver, and many department heads amongst the crew.
    • The Music Revisited - 41 music audio tracks (3 hours +) that featured in the documentary "The Matrix Revisited".
  • "What is Bullet Time?" featurette (6 min.) - Supervisor John Gaeta explains his groundbreaking visual effect for perspective-shifting cinematography.
  • "Behind the Matrix" 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes (17 min. total), including:
    • "Agent Down" featurette (1.5 min.) on Hugo Weaving's training injury.
    • "The Old Exit: Wabash and Lake" featurette (3 min.) on the concluding action.
    • "Yuen Wo Ping's Blocking Tapes" (6 min.)
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV ads.

Blu-ray version:

Blu-ray Extras add:

  • Audio commentary for film 1 by Carrie-Ann Moss (Trinity),
    editor Zach Staenberg, and visual effects innovator John Gaeta.
  • Music only track for film 1 with commentary by composer Don Davis.
  • MTV Movie Awards Reloaded
In the absence of a proper Blu-ray release of the Ultimate Matrix Collection in the U.K., this trilogy set appears to be the most popular hi-def version of the films for British amazon shoppers. There are a LOT of differences in the bonus features offered though, so buyer beware.
Blu-ray Region A/1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
for the North American market:
Region A/1

Region A/1

Bilingual Set

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Italian Import to the U.K.:
Region B/2

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Matrix Trilogy - U.K.

Region B/2

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Animatrix: The Second Renaissance"

(Or, skip ahead to the second feature film: "The Matrix Reloaded")

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