Chapters 14 – 15. “Training Begins” / “Morpheus/Neo Matchup” (46:31 – 53:28)
Logline: Neo learns about the rules of the Matrix through a sparring session with Morpheus in a simulated dojo.
The Sequence. This isn’t my favourite scene, but that’s just me. I just don’t care for sparring, the stakes just can never be all that high. If Neo is having his mind freed then that’s all well and good for him, but we in the audience are just seeing a workout.
Eh well. I do like the training scenes before and after this one.
The Big Picture. There’s conceivably a version of The Matrix that ends on Morpheus holding up a battery, then cutting to credits. A “Soylent Green is People” or an “Angela was a boy” type reveal. Could be kind of cool.
But there’s advantages in taking what could be THE climactic moment of any other story and placing it a mere 45 minutes into your movie. You get to take all the beats of a conspiracy thriller and smoosh it down into a third of the time. There’s not a boring or wasted moment in the movie to this point. And once you play what seems to be you biggest card; i.e. answering what the Matrix is, you still have 90 minutes to fill up. So you’ve got to put down even bigger cards. Now that we know what the Matrix is, we start to twist things up.
47:17 – First mention of Zion. This is the one thing that feels less like world building and more like sequel hooking.
47:47 – Tank is a strange dude. Every time he talks it sounds like he’s thinking back on eating something delicious. I don’t miss him in the sequel.
48:36 – I don’t know if all the talk of Neo expanding his mind is a metaphor for drug use. But put it this way, if there’s a peripheral demographic that choose to interpret it that way, I don’t think the movie is going to turn them away.
48:53 – “He’s a machine.” That seems like a deliberate choice of words, but I don’t know what to make of it.
49:51 – A huge strength of the Matrix is how visible it is that the actors are all doing their own stunts and fight scenes. If I spot a stunt double I’ll let you know.
49:55 – This is the first moment in the movie where it looks like Neo/Keanu Reeves is kind of having fun, and it’s nice.
50:42 – The commentators point this out too, but I always appreciated how this is not a fight scene that was assembled in editing. Every shot logically connects to the one just before it, this scene is choreographed really well.
50:52 – One of the more subtle effects, Morpheus’s kick destroys the floor, which appears to mend itself when he pulls his foot out.
52:06 – “Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?” This might be what bugs me about Morpheus, he says all these things with an air of “I just blew your mind, didn’t I?”
52:38 – This is where I get a bit tired of the fight. By now it becomes more about the people watching.
Chapter 16. “First Jump” (53:28 – 56:29)
Logline: Neo tries to let go his preconceived notions when Morpheus challenges him to leap between two buildings.
The Sequence. So far, Neo is a guy who nearly always surpasses expectations. Here’s a sequence where he fails. What does it mean? In the grand scheme of things…….
I have no idea. You’d expect this to be the one challenge he can’t quite get a hang of, then in a climactic moment he has to leap much further. But we never really revisit this.
The Big Picture. Holy cow, I don’t notice until I watched The Matrix one piece at a time, but this does ever feel like a scene from a different movie. It’s really… playful. Both in terms of Keanu Reeves’ performance, and in the Looney Tune like way in which his fall is filmed.
Oddly enough, this is the one moment so far where I can picture Will Smith as Neo. In general I’d rather see Will Smith onscreen than Keanu Reeves (though Reeves chooses his projects better than Smith) but I think he’s too charming to be Neo as he exists in this version of the film. We already saw Smith as an ordinary-ish guy who gets mentored into a wild new world in Men in Black, and it was funny. It couldn’t be anything else. In The Matrix as it is now, Will Smith slides right into this scene, and pretty much nowhere else.
54:12 – “Okey dokey.” Very un-Neolike.
54:36 – I do like how gung-ho Neo is about the jump. He doesn’t show any hesitation or real fear about leaping off the building. It shows that just realizing intellectually that the Matrix isn’t real is not enough to manipulate it.
54:59 – The story isn’t following predictable beats. Morpheus isn’t a hardass mentor. His team is fully rooting for him. And if Neo struggles, it’s with something all the other characters have struggled with too. We’re not going to Whiplash our way to the finale.
56:05 – Cypher’s jealous of the exactly zero chemistry between Trinity and Neo.
Behind the Scenes
-Nothing about Neo’s “Whoa.” Wonder if that was a battle with Keanu Reeves, who famously worked hard to shed his Bill and Ted image?
Chapters 17 – 18. “The Gatekeepers” / “Running Silent and Deep” (56:29 – 1:01:05)
Logline: Neo get some more direct experience with the threats he’ll be facing both inside and outside the Matrix.
The Sequence. There’s two distinct halves. Neo is brought into a Matrix simulation and told about the Agents. Then a phone call from Tank to Morpheus transitions us back into the real world, where the ship is at risk of being discovered by the machines.
We’re still being taught, but its in interesting ways. The simulation and the way its freeze framed is astounding in its visual trickery, the appearance of Smith is a real jolt, and we finally get our answers as to what these Agents actually are.
Then, the danger on the ship feels real even though the crew evades discovery, and the machine (though super CGI looking even at the time) is actually really spooky. We’ve seen Morpheus and Trinity be badass and impossibly athletic in the dreamworld, to see them quiet and scared of the machines gives them all the more menace.
The Big Picture. We see the main threat posed to the crew in the Matrix and the main threat posed to them in reality, in (relatively) safe circumstances. In the climax of the movie, the characters are nearly killed by both threats in parallel, and because of the set-up here, there’s no confusion. Only danger.
56:30 – The beginning directly follows off on the end of the previous sequence, Trinity saying Morpheus is taking Neo to see the Oracle. There’s an expectation we’re in the real Matrix here, making the appearance of the agent all the scarier.
57:03 – Morpheus says that MOST of the people plugged into the Matrix are so dependent on the system that they’ll fight to protect it. Is that why Neo had to be bugged? Do the Agents have difficulty body jumping into Neo because he was resistant to the Matrix? The same way I can’t open Adobe Premiere on my old laptop?
57:40 – Oh shit, it’s Birdemic.
58:03 – I’m getting obsessed with the potential meaning in all the reflective sunglasses moments, but I might be overthinking it. Might just be a way to have action and reaction at the same time. We see Morpheus talking, we simultaneously see Neo listening.
1:00:12 – The late 90s and early 00s had two similar exchanges that recurred across all genre films/TV. “A.I.?” “Artificially intelligence.” And “E.M.P.?” “Electromagnetic pulse.” At a certain point we as a culture no longer needed those explained to us, maybe thanks in part to The Matrix.
1:00:21 – Why the moment where Morpheus puts on a hat?
1:00:44 – That’s one of the scariest shots in the movie, the sentinel flying around in the distance, only for a second one to appear much closer in the foreground. Appreciate the close-up on Neo too, he’s more fearful of it because it’s the first thing he saw in the real world.
Behind the Scenes
Every extra in this scene is a twin, with the idea being that Tank got lazy while designing the program and started duplicating character models. I love that there’s so much real life effort put into a barely visible background joke about a character being lazy.
Chapter 19. “Dealing for Bliss” (1:01:05 – 1:05:13)
Logline: Cypher, tired of life in the real world, cuts a deal with Agent Smith to return to the Matrix.
The Sequence. Joe Pantoliano is brilliant casting. I feel like Cypher gets forgotten about by virtue of not really being in the more visually impactful first and last half hours. He’s not present for any of the iconic sequences. Still, he feels like the only real seeming character in the movie and maybe even the trilogy. Joey Pants does not have the same kind of energy or earnestness as the rest of the cast. Which is perfect, considering what he’s about to do.
This is one of the more important scenes in the movie. Neo has been one POV, but for the next half hour we get an alternate, and frankly equally valid point of entry into the film. Nothing Cypher says sounds unreasonable. He lives in miserable conditions. And he surely got the same “I can’t tell you what the Matrix is, I’ll have to show you” spiel from Morpheus, so Cypher feels he was not given enough information to make his choice. Of course there’d be freed people who’d want to return to a life of comfort, even if it’s a lie.
It speaks to the way we deal with the world in general. To live in western society is to tacitly accept a lot of fucked up things. Slaughterhouses that bring us our meat, cars that pollute the planet, phones and clothing made with slave labour, taxes that pay for military weapons. We can live like Cypher, and just accept the world as it is and try to carry on with it the best we can. Or we can be like the heroes of The Matrix. And gun down lobbies full of security guards. Yeah, I don’t know where I stand on this.
The Big Picture. I’m not the first to wonder about this, but Cypher can’t very well plug himself in and out of the Matrix. How does he arrange this meeting with the agents? Best I can tell, this scene is a flashback, he might have slipped away from the group at some point. But how is he sure that Tank isn’t going to notice him off in a fancy restaurant meeting with a freaking agent?