05 December 2010

The Matrix

This is one of those movies that I've seen too many times over the years. It's also one of those movies that's equal parts mythology and story (if not more mythology than story), and as such it garners instant love and worship from some factors and instant disdain and snobbery from others. The thing is, especially now that I'm viewing it from a bit of a distance, the "bad dialogue" and hammy acting all contribute properly to a story which is precariously (and reasonably successfully, like it or not) balancing heavy-handed (simplistic but resonant) philosophical musings with mind-bending and genre-bending action and suspense.

Inside the Matrix, nearly every line is a metaphor. About the only times in the entire film when someone speaks literally inside the Matrix is when giving commands or orders, and then the dialogue becomes curt, direct, and decidedly barebones. Otherwise, the language isn't just colorful, it's symbolic. Outside the Matrix, dialogue tends to be somewhat reverent, acolytes discussing prophecies and holy lands, leaps of faith and quests to free their brethren. None of this is very deep or subtle, but it sets a strong tone for a lot of brilliantly unsubtle actors to tell a story that does a pretty good job of combining first year existentialism and a beginner's course on Joseph Campbell. Not since Star Wars have so many tropes been used so excitingly.

Jen (my lady) also pointed out the visual motif of the grid (tiled floors, skyscraper windows, rows of monitors), in addition to the visual motif I was focusing on, which is a sharp verticality on an anamorphically-horizontal canvas (the crawl down the inside of the walls, the elevator shaft, the fire escapes). A lot of attention has been given to the look of the film -- arguably too much, by some standards? -- and many shots cleverly and beautifully illustrate the dynamic or import of the scene at hand. An obvious example for me was the famous red-pill/blue-pill sequence: Neo reflected in each of Morpheus's lenses, and beneath him, one hand each. The left hand holding the red pill in the left lens, and the right hand holding the blue pill in the right lens. It's not exactly the way the reflection should look, of course, but it's a reasonable approximation, and a really elegant illustration of the two diverging destinies that lay before Neo: return to the fold or break away from the world and learn the truth. It (along with several other shots throughout, actually) also speaks to the scenes in the third film with the Architect, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing, intentional or not.

Now, on to the second one. Though we'll see if we make it to the end.

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