Chapters 1 – 2. “Trinity in a Jam”/“Impossible Pursuit” (0:00 – 6:35)
Logline: A leather clad woman capable of impossible physical feats leads an army of police officers and G-Men on a thrilling rooftop chase.
The Sequence. Last time we opened on clocks. This week, we’re treated to a neo-noir chase scene filled with incredible stunts and instantly iconic imagery. Striking is the word for the sequence. Nearly every shot is just soaked in intrigue, grunge, and style. And, as is ideal in an action movie, it does feel as though we’re catching up to our protagonists at the tail end of a movie we missed the first hour and fifty minutes of. So how does it play as a standalone sequence?
The Big Picture. It doesn’t. It absolutely doesn’t. This chase scene obscures the whys, like a lot of good openings sequences. But more unusually, it doesn’t give you the whos or the hows either. We don’t know who Trinity is, we don’t know who’s pursuing her, we don’t know why she and the Agents have such physicality, and we don’t know how Trinity disappears from the phone booth.
I didn’t have the luxury of going into this movie without any foreknowledge, I knew the gist by the time I saw it on DVD. So it’s hard for me to put myself in the head of a first time viewer, but I think you’re meant to think Trinity is a terrorist. Heroes don’t kill cops after all. But she’s up against some G-Men looking motherfuckers, who we’ve been conditioned to think of as villains.
As it turns out, the situation is pretty much exactly as it appears. Trinity is bad news for these cops, and the Agents are even worse news for her. What we see here is what we get. Except we don’t know that one big thing.
This opening risks disorienting the audience, and to entice us along, it must work hard to give us some surface level pleasure. So we get an awesome action scene and all kinds of inventive shots and angles. We don’t know where this ride is taking us. We’re not even sure what this ride is. But we’re intrigued enough to see where it goes.
3:04 – The famous Trinity kick. There’s been a weird parabola effect where this was awesome at the time, it was endlessly parodied and became hack, and now so much time has passed since The Matrix was relevant that it’s awesome again.
Can you neg a movie? I think I just negged a movie.
3:15 – Go to this moment and go frame by frame. There’s a single instance of Trinity being terrifying.
3:22 – Is it worth nothing, despite what Agent Smith said, Trinity only killed one policeman.
4:00 – Smith appears to communicate telepathically here. One of the first overt signs that this is more than a conspiracy action/thriller.
4:15 – The most lively bit of set decoration in this whole movie so far is a neon lit ad for guns.
5:17 – One of my favourite shots in the movie. It’s so so terrifying, even though we know the only thing that might jump out at us is a bland white guy.
5:20 – Trinity outwardly stoic, but frozen in fear and willing herself to move. A nice bit of character texture. One of I think two for her in the movie? It’s a problem. We’ll be talking about the other one in literally the very last scene.
5:42 – Is the truck looping around a reference to Spielberg’s Duel?
6:35 – The camera pushes into the phone and turns into green code. It never occurred to me, but this is to mislead us into thinking that Trinity has escaped into a digital world instead of vice versa.
Behind the Scenes
-Carrie Anne Moss, special effects guy John Gaeta, and editor Zach Staenberg. I’ve never listened to this one before.
-Haven’t gleaned a lot, but it’s easy listening because the three of them are watching the film together. Any track in which three solo commentators are edited together has to work hard to not be a nightmare, this is more a techie-oriented group hang where a popular girl has accidentally turned up but is game to hang around.
Chapters 3 – 4. “Follow Instructions” / “The Question” (6:35 – 11:58)
Logline: A lonely hacker accompanies his friends to a nightclub and meets a woman who tells him his existence is a lie.
The Sequence. I mean this as a compliment, if you want a blank slate in your movie, cast Keanu Reeves. He excels when he’s playing a guy without any discernible character traits (why do I keep negging The Matrix?). We don’t know what Neo does, we don’t know who he is. And that’s fine, all the easier to imagine ourselves as him at the start of this insane, winding journey.
Neo, or Tom Anderson at this point, is a guy who doesn’t feel like he belongs. He goes to a throbbing nightclub, and awkwardly hangs out on the sidelines. He’s very explicitly told that he’s someone who hardly sleeps, who spends a lot of time at his computer, and who’s aware that something’s wrong even though he doesn’t know what.
The Wachowskis were some of the earliest filmmakers to try and reach what was once a relatively new kind of geek. They presented what was once a novel kind of escapist fantasy. You may someone who’s spending all your time online, but maybe it’s because that’s your path to this amazing heroic destiny.
And this was 1999. Think of how much more prevalent the Internet is. Think of how many people feel “other,” or how alone they feel in real life compared to when they’re online. Think of how many people find that life is too strange to believe nowadays. If you haven’t seen this movie in a while, give it a look. It’s so much more resonant.
The Big Picture. I’d forgotten how quickly Trinity reenters the story. On a first viewing we might be meant to assume that she was disintegrated in the previous sequence,and now here she is already. And I also forget how perfunctory the treatment is of Neo’s life. We know next to nothing about “Mr. Anderson” other than he lives in a generic hacker apartment and lives a generic day job. His history could just as easily be your history.
6:50 – If the text from your computer screen is ever reflected on your skin, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe go to the doctor? That shit shouldn’t happen.
6:54 – There’s a manhunt for Morpheus underway. And why not? He kills a lot of innocent people.
8:11 – Neo lives in Room 101, which inevitably makes me look for 1984 parallels that I don’t think are there.
8:27 – The book is Simulacra and Simulation, and Neo opens it to a chapter “On Nihilism.” I don’t think of The Matrix as a movie with a nihilistic outlook, but it does seem like something the characters could very easily slide into if they’re didn’t have something to fight for.
8:57 – I’m actually wondering for the first time if the couple that comes to Neo’s door are actually freed humans who have been sent by Morpheus. The guy tells Neo “You’re my saviour,” “You need to unplug,” which I guess could just as easily be super heavy handed foreshadowing. And Neo is told to “follow the rabbit” and now here’s a woman with rabbit tattoo. But that could just as easily be Morpheus being aware that a woman with a rabbit tattoo is on the way up to Neo’s apartment. It’s probably something you’re meant to debate.
9:11 – This actress here doesn’t have many lines, she’s like “I’m decided my character really wants to have sex with Keanu Reeves.”
Behind the Scenes
-For the scene in the club, a casting call was put out to real life S&M club patrons. They all showed up in their own costumes. I’m not sure if the commentators are kidding.
Chapter 5. “They’re Coming for You” (11:58 – 16:58)
Logline: Assisted by a mysterious voice on the other end of his cell phone, Tom Anderson dodges the mysterious agents when they turn up to arrest him at the office.
The Sequence. Brilliant, brilliant piece of filmmaking, this. The Matrix is known for its elaborate, innovative action sequences. But here we have a guy playing cat and mouse in his cubicles, and its as exciting as any of the action scenes. You can’t say the Wachowskis don’t show off their versatility as filmmakers. Anderson has to dart from one cubicle to the next, stay low so he’s not seen, climb out onto the ledge of his building, and it all seems as daunting and scary as it would for any of us.
The Big Picture. We’ve already seen Trinity’s brilliant escape from the agents in the opening scene. She’s at the height of her abilities. Now we see Neo’s first challenge. And it’s on a much smaller scale, but it’s far more nerve wracking. We’ll see him match and even surpass Trinity’s abilities as the movie goes on, and that journey isn’t as effective if we don’t see him fail in relatively mundane circumstances here.
12:36 – Anderson’s boss at the software company always seemed to me to be someone who’s interchangeable with Agent Smith. Even down to his hairline and the way he enunciates his words. I’ve googled and it seems like this has been widely noticed, but no one quite knows what to make of it.
13:00 – Neo’s office has a sickly green tint to it, something the sequels would really run with. Right now though, it could be a tipoff that this world is in fact the Matrix.
13:19 – We don’t get all that good a look at him, but is that Mouse delivering Neo his cell phone?
13:34 – I like it when a movie can be timeless, but there’s also something I like about movies that age into period pieces. The computer and the cell phone are so late 90s.
14:22 – It’s a pretty simple trick, but the Agents are shot at an upward angle, Anderson is shot from a downward angle. It gives the Agents power and makes Anderson seem small and defenceless. The Agents stride with purpose, Anderson crouches around at the orders of someone else. You (yes YOU) can create characters this intimidating just from camera placement.
14:50 – Oooh, now the camera is low with Anderson, and then it pans over to reveal the towering agents. WE are Neo, WE are being pursued.
15:40 – All the photos in this office are just ill defined shapes the same colour as the Matrix code. There’s as more questions as answers in this sequence.
16:35 – This is one of the most vertigo inducing moments I’ve ever seen. It’s fun to contrast this with what Neo is going to be capable of doing even just later in this movie, but I have no trouble believing how difficult this is for him now.
16:39 – Just like in Back to the Future, a major action scene features someone being believably intimidated by having to creep around on a rooftop ledge.
16:44 – Look at the sweaty handprint Anderson leaves on the metal beam.
16:47 – Interesting that we skip completely over the Agents finding Anderson and cut to him already having been captured. For pacing it’s great, but odd to think that we don’t see the first meeting between Neo and Smith.
Behind the Scenes
I’ve always wondered if there’s more to the window washers at the top of the scene. But even the editor says it’s a typical little Wachowski joke. Might just be that the squeaky sound is kind of funny in how obtrusive and mundane it is.
Chapter 6. “Unable to Speak” (16:58 – 22:37)
Logline: Anderson is offered a choice by the mysterious agents, help them find Morpheus or face the consequences.
The Sequence. We start off rooted in every government conspiracy movie we’ve ever seen. The coverage is very simple, all we do cut back and forth between Smith and Neo. The drama and the suspenseful uncertainty of the scene is what keeps us interested.
Then all of a sudden, we take a turn into sci-fi/horror imagery. Time hasn’t been that kind to the digital effects, the mouth sealing over is odd and the bug seems weightless and jerky. But that kind of makes them more weird and unsettling.
Neo is as blank a slate as ever, but this scene (like most in this movie) is in Keanu’s wheelhouse. All he has to do is react to the agents with the level of defiance we hope we’d have in this situation, and we continue to like him.
The Big Picture. Finally, our proper introduction to Agent Smith. Much as he’s been parodied over the years, and as familiar as Hugo Weaving has become in villain/spooky authority figure parts, to this day Smith is both threatening and highly entertaining. It’s always great to give a conspiracy movie a face too, The Matrix wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if the three main agents were interchangable. Unfortunately I think it’s a very long time before we see him again.
17:02 – It’s been said that the many screens trained on Anderson at the start are The Architect’s. I’m like, “Sure, why not” to that. There’s the question of why Anderson is on every single screen, but the Agents discovering and having The One at their mercy might be worthy of all his attention.
17:22 – The other two agents don’t say a word here. Their function is purely to intimidate Anderson.
17:41 – Hugo Weaving doing a lot by doing a little. Look at those little fussy touches, like the way he unwinds the rope on the folder, then slides it just a bit closer. He does it so deliberately it’s somehow irritating.
18:30 – This could be a stretch, but let’s try this. The film does two shots of an object reflected in someone’s sunglasses as Neo is given a choice; here with Smith and later with Morpheus. Morpheus offers Neo a genuine choice, and his glasses reflect two different objects. Smith offers a choice, but both his lens reflect the folder. It would appear that in this case, there’s only one outcome for Neo no matter what he decides.
18:56 – Smith takes off his sunglasses and to my surprise his eyes really quite kind. I always think of him as looking mean even when he’s trying to be nice in Lord of the Rings.
20:00 – There’s a bad match cut. In the prior shot, Smith had his arms held wide on the table. Now he’s got them folded away. That’s the kind of thing that drives editors crazy, but every now and then you sacrifice continuity to put in the take in which the actors are best.
20:20 – Is there any other body horror in The Matrix, or even the sequels? This scene feels like a one off weird moment.
20:46 – All of Hugo Weaving’s almost smiles here are a preview of him cutting loose as the series goes on. There are very few things about Matrix 2 and 3 that are more fun than the original, but Agent Smith is one of them.
21:49 – Neat shot, phone filming the frame with Neo out of focus in the background. It continues to give Morpheus presence before he even appears in person.
Chapters 7 – 9. “Getting the Bug Out” / “Morpheus’ Proposal” / “Down the Rabbit Hole” (22:37 – 32:23)
Logline: Neo is brought to Morpheus, and must abandon the life he once knew if he wants to find out what the Matrix is.
The Sequence. The film noir is strong this time out. Neo’s journey to Morpheus, his last few steps through life as he knows it, are drenched with atmosphere. There’s enough weird angles and rain to keep One Perfect Shot going for at least a month, the soundtrack builds and gets more mysterious. This is great (PUN ALERT) neo noir in every sense of the word.
Morpheus asks the question that the audience should be dying to know if the first act did its job right; what is the Matrix? Morpheus answers that it’s essentially the feeling you have that you’ve been blinded to what the world really is. The more literal answer to that question is what we’ll get in the next two scenes, his answer here is meant to resonate with the audience at large. Everyone at some point has felt a sense of not belonging in the world; some more frequently and more forcefully, but it’s a universal feeling nonetheless. And we still don’t quite know why Neo himself feels this. So we can just assume that he doesn’t belong in the same way that we don’t.
The Big Picture. Morpheus used to be my favourite character, and Laurence Fishburne is one of my favourite actors, but now he just gets on my nerves. He’s a guy who doesn’t have the answers but believes he does, and conducts himself as someone who does. With the leather coat, shaved head, indoor sunglasses, and pseudo philosophical, carefully enunciated way of speaking, he’s like a parody of what we imagine a turn of the century prophet to be.
But I do have to think that he’s a deconstruction of the mentor archetype. You think he’s unironically cool if you see this at a certain age, with perspective and a lot of rewatches you see that he’s a guy whose blind faith has convinced him of his own hype. But that’s just my read, the Wachowskis let us feel the way we want to feel about Morpheus.
22:37 – Every part of the shot is filled. Lights on the ceiling, rain in the tunnel entrance, rippling puddles on the floor.
23:08 – Not only is there a greenish tint outside the windows, the rain on the glass reminds me of the Matrix code.
24:48 – Just to clarify, the bug isn’t controlling Neo, or putting him at risk of the agents jumping into him. It’s just meant to track Neo so he’d lead the agents to Morpheus?
25:21 – This music cue and this series of shots as Neo gets out of the car and goes up the stairs, it’s just epic, You can feel that we’re approaching a huge revelation.
27:58 – If a character doesn’t use contractions and says “this very room” instead of “this room” he must be wise.
28:47 – Literal example of show don’t tell.
29:22 – Which group has tried to take red pills for their own, incels or alt-righters? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.
30:00 – “Put on your red shoes, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.” Joey Pantoliano is not on the same Alice in Wonderland metaphor as every other character. Is it an early sign that he’s not in sync with the team overall?
30:26 – Look at that cobbled together gadgetry.
31:35 – Can the crew see the mirror clinging to Neo? Or is the illusion of the Matrix collapsing in his eyes?
Behind the Scenes
-There’s an interesting discussion on how the 90s isn’t really a clearly defined decade, it’s a pastiche of many cultures and eras. The Matrix winds up feeling very of the 90s by combining genres.
-The red and blue pills reflected in Neo’s shades were created digitally.