‘The Matrix’, Explained

‘The Matrix’ invites a lot of discussions. A lot many people applaud it for its visual effects and its plot elements, others call it a ‘teenager’s video game’, a good enough bashing. Science Fiction has been a subject of interest to the American Film Industry for a very long time now. Scores of films have been made to illustrate the point. A rather philosophical question regarding the existence of human race, its excesses on Earth and the question of sustained survival is also quite explored by the movie industry. An insight into Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg is our man) and some of its probable disastrous consequences is also reflected in the movies.

But what if a movie comes out in the 90s, the decade which is memorable for its stylish depiction of film (‘Heat’, ‘Fight Club’, ‘Seven’, ‘The Insider’, ‘The Usual Suspects’) on-screen, and combines all these themes into a feverish snowball thrown at the viewer with some of the most brilliant visual effects the audiences have experienced till date.

‘The Matrix’ tries to do that. Whether it is successful or not, is debatable. The one thing that is unequivocal, however, is that the movie has attained a ‘cult’ status. And that has been due to its original treatment to a modern subject that has been explored widely since then. Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, it stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano. It depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality called “the Matrix”, created by sentient machines to subdue the human population, while their body heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Basic Plot

The movie centres around a world that has been dominated by intelligent machines for a long time. The machines survive on the Bio-electricity generated by the human body. To utilize this energy machines have plugged human beings into an imaginary world called Matrix where everything that exists is just a code while in the real world people are in a state of deep sleep.

“If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

There is a group of human beings, though, which has freed or ‘unplugged’ itself and is in the quest of finding a person who they know as ‘The One’, someone who has the power to manipulate the Matrix and hence destroy the rule of machines. They find that person and try to free him from the Matrix in the first place. Standing in their way are the ‘Agents’, computer codes designed to protect the Matrix, and the ‘Sentinels’, bots that have been assigned the task of destroying the ships of free human beings.

Matrix and its Construction

Matrix is a projected reality. A construct is a space where simulations are loaded into the Matrix, for example clothes, weapons, equipment etc. It is the white space where Neo and Morpheus stand and talk in. This is where the team arrives before entering the Matrix. From here the simulations can also be loaded so that the participants can practice and train.

When participants enter the loading program and further into the Matrix their appearance is called the residual self-image. Morpheus explains it to be “the mental projection of your digital self”. Inside the Matrix everything is just lines of code. The mind visualizes everything else.

1999

Early on in the 21st century human beings start active use of AI enabled ‘bots’ for their work. Later the human beings and machines have a fallout. One of the sides starts a war. Tempted, human beings scorch the sky to blackout the solar energy which bots use for deriving energy. A war ensues. Bots go ahead with their Sentinel Program. Finally, they win over the human race and tap into their Bio-electrical energy to serve their needs.

Around 2199

The world has been overtaken by machines at this point. They operate the Matrix, as pointed earlier, and are keen on the complete takeover of the earth. The Matrix has been designed in accordance with the year 1999 as opposed to an earlier utopian Matrix. Human beings exercise free will in the Matrix and can make their choices. A very few of them make a free choice not to be betrayed by the programmed reality.

A small population of humans exists near a place called Zion which is located near the core of the earth where it is still warm (Sunlight is gone). Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew: Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cypher, Apoc, Switch, Mouse, Tank and Dozer, use a hovercraft Nebuchadnezzar to travel around and free the humans from the Matrix. They enter and exit the matrix through an access point which is mostly a phone.

The group gets access to Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) mind when he decides to take the red pill. He is freed from the Matrix and brought to the real world. He is taken to get guidance from the Oracle (Gloria Foster). She is still residing in the Matrix. She has been telling Morpheus about ‘The One’. People who have been freed are taken to the Oracle and she advises them on things to come. The Oracle has told Morpheus that he will find ‘The One’. She has told Trinity that she would fall in love with ‘The One’.

The movie follows its course testing the veracity of these prophecies by the Oracle.

Agents Vs Humans:  Reality is Bent in the Matrix

Throughout the movie the agents are found to display superhuman skills and they regularly defy the laws of Physics in the Matrix. This is obvious since the Matrix has been created and stimulated. So, anything that the mind can think and get used to can be achieved in the Matrix. We can see a lot of examples.

Neo and Morpheus enter a simulation similar to the programmed reality of the Matrix. It does not operate completely on the laws of Physics. They begin to fight. Neo shows good adaptation and improvisation but is beaten by Morpheus. Morpheus explains to Neo how his being stronger or faster in the simulation has nothing to do with his muscles.

Morpheus asks “you think that’s air you’re breathing?”

This question reminds Neo that in the simulation, everything is powered by his mind. If his mind can see past the programmed rules of the simulation he will not be limited in speed or strength. Neo displays incredible speed and beats Morpheus.

The team goes into the Matrix to get Neo to meet with the Oracle. Neo meets a small child who’s bending spoons. The child tells Neo “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon”. The spoon is just code, it doesn’t exist.

On his way out, after meeting the Oracle, Neo sees a black cat that walks up and shakes. He sees that the cat does the exact thing again. Neo exclaims saying “Déjà vu”.

Déjà vu is a French phrase that means “already seen”. It turns out to be a  glitch in the Matrix when the Agents change something. The Agents have cut the hardwire and have walled up all the windows, trapping them in the building. It can be seen, again, that the reality has been manipulated to suit the manipulators.

“Bullet Time”: Apple of Visual Effect’s Eye

The movie is noted for its striking visual effects. Special notice is to be paid to an effect called “bullet time”, which allows a shot to progress in slow-motion while the camera appears to move through the scene at normal speed. Bullet time has been described as “a visual analogy for privileged moments of consciousness within the Matrix“, and throughout the film, the effect is used to illustrate characters’ exertion of control over time and space.

The effect is achieved by a modification in a photography technique called time-slice photography where several still-picture cameras placed around an object click photographs which are then shown in sequence to create an effect of a frozen object being viewed around several frames.

Ending Explained

Neo is shot while trying to exit the Matrix. He begins to die. His mind, which is the key to survival, both in Matrix as well as the real world, is still alive. Meanwhile, sentinels begin to attack the ship. If they use the Electromagnetic Pulse before Neo gets out, they will end up killing Neo. Trinity realizes that the Oracle has told her what she needed to hear.

She tells Neo “I’m not afraid anymore. The Oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man… the man that I loved would be The One. So you see, you can’t be dead. You can’t be because I love you. You hear me? I love you”.

She kisses Neo in the real world. Neo hears what Trinity says and regains consciousness. As he gets up, he gets transformed into ‘The One’. The Agents fire at Neo, he stops the bullets with his mind. He’s no longer bound by the rules of the Matrix. He can change it as he sees fit. He enters Agent Smith and destroys his code.

Neo exits the Matrix just in time for Morpheus to fire the EMP and destroy the sentinels.

Read More in Explainers: Primer | Predestination | The Sixth Sense

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