Making the Grades
When The Matrix first appeared on theater screens it was noted for its unique visual style—a slow motion effect where the camera appears to be able to move around an actor (usually as a barrage of lead is shot at him), while time seems to slow to a dead crawl. (The effect was even provided the trademarked name, “Bullet Time”, by Warner Brothers). Yet for others viewers the movie went far deeper than the cool imagery. They described it as bordering on a transcendent experience.
The film’s story follows Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a computer programmer by day and a hacker by nigh (under the pseudonym Neo). Roaming the online universe, he has come across the ambiguous term The Matrix many times. When another hacker named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) contacts him and explains a man called Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) can shed meaning on the mysterious concept, Neo jumps at the chance. Even after three men in dark suits, led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), put him through an interrogation that leaves him bugged (literally) and speechless, he still persists.
At their meeting Morpheus warns Neo that if he accepts the opportunity to learn the truth of his existence, he can never return to the life he knows. Then he offers Neo one of two pills: red and he follows Morpheus to find the secrets of the universe, or blue and he wakes up with no memory of their conversation. Moments after swallowing the red pill, Neo is ripped from his surroundings. His first recollection is being naked and slime-covered, then dropped into deep water. Fearing he’ll drown, he thrashes about until rescued by Morpheus and his crew of rebels, including Trinity, Tank (Marcus Chong) and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano).
It is here, within a hovercraft captained by Morpheus, that Neo discovers the sad reality of his world. After a nuclear war, intelligent machines took over the now cloud-covered Earth and began harvesting the bioelectricity created by the human body to provide energy for their species. To keep the people unaware of their fate (they are actually living within a coffin-like container hooked up to a power grid), their minds are plugged into an elaborate computer simulation called The Matrix—which convinces them they are living life like it’s 1999.
Now, with Morpheus’s training, Neo acquires advanced fighting skills that will allow him to return to The Matrix and manipulate the artificial environment. Morpheus also hopes Neo may be “The One”, meaning the person who will fulfill an old prophecy and restore humans as the rulers of the planet.
With the aforementioned distinctive style being one of the defining elements of this movie, it may be hard for parents to remember that those bullets only missed Neo (and a select few other characters). Lots of other people, police officers and unarmed security guards naively “doin’ their job” within the simulation, are gunned down and die in what amounts to a terrorist attack. Yes, it can be argued Neo needed to kill a few to save the many, but no one can contest the production’s use of violence as eye-candy. And those depictions may not prove very sweet for young viewers.
Other content you won’t want to forget are the use of some blood effects, death threats and implied torture. There is a moment of sensuality when a man places his hand on an unconscious woman’s clothed breast and an obscured glimpse of a naked Keanu Reeves. As well, you will hear a fair sampling of scatological profanities and Christian expletives, but the usual sexual expletive is absent.
With the ever-evolving ratings standards, this movie might not get an R from the MPAA if it were classified today (compare it to the 2008, PG-13 rated The Dark Knight, for example). The engaging premise (sure to stick with you afterwards), inclusion of various philosophies (Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, the idea of a savior, mentions of reincarnation), and slick visuals (that hold up very well even against digital graphics) all contribute to The Matrix’s designation as a classic. Yet all of these virtues may be better left until the kids are old enough to really appreciate them.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Matrix.
The Matrix has initiated discussion centering on our own existence—especially as we view the world through media. Other philosophers see a parallel with Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave. Do you ever feel as though your existence is a small part of something larger? How does this concept fit into existing religious ideas? Or does The Matrix mock religion?