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Episode 121 - The Matrix (w/ Cameron Esposito)

Episode 121 - The Matrix (w/ Cameron Esposito)  

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  1. 1. Should "The Matrix" enter The Canon?



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It seems that when The Matrix came along, we were more than ready to entertain the notion - at least in our popular culture - that we live in elaborate fantasies. See the proliferation of films about characters living in intricate simulations (The Thirteenth Floor, Dark City, The Truman Show), of willingly plugging into virtual realities( eXistenZ), or of elaborate hoaxes perpetrated by the government (Wag the Dog) all came out within the same two years. None of this was new, but by 1999, on the brink of a new millenium, after two decades of personal computers and video games, imaging software, the philosophy of Baudrillard, and the sci-fi writings of Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, JG Ballard, and Neal Stephenson, to name a few, we were all deeply paranoid and willing to embrace these narratives (Yeah, that's how I feel!! NOTHING is real!! I'm being lied to!!!)

 

In this Zeitgeist, The Matrix presented itself as the most audience-friendly option with its comic-book aesthetic and heart-pounding action set-pieces. It was so simple that it didn't need any of those annoying expository texts that plague the openings so many sci-fi movies like Blade Runner. The conceit was easy to grasp within the narrative of the movie. No explanation necessary.

 

The simplicity of its presentation, and the superficial "awakening to reality" philosophy has made it easy to ascribe various meanings to it, it's Christian, it's Buddist, it's Gnostic, it's Plato's Cave, it's Baudrillard, it's Marxist, it's whatever you want it to be according to whatever your own "awakening" is, which accounts for the opposing views presented by the "red-pilled" men's rights activists and the queer reading presented in the episode. In my opinion, this ambiguity is the movie's strength as a piece of popular culture, and its weakness as a work of philosophy. But the Matrix is, primarily, a work of pop-art, not a philosophical tract, so I'm good with it.

 

As far as the impact on the work of other filmmakers, there was a definite negative to the proliferation of gravity-defying stunts and effects in action films. The Wachowskis created a language for their film that is appropriate to their story. The feats that go against the laws of nature are in keeping with the conceit that the world in which they occur isn't real. The laziness and lack of imagination of their imitators is hardly their fault.

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If the concept of the Canon is meant to consider more than just one's personal taste, then that means there are going to be movies that should get a YES vote even if you, personally, dislike them. Find 2001 boring? Still a YES. Hate mafia stuff like The Godfather? Still a YES.

 

It's harder to make that auto-YES call with more recent stuff, but when looking at the last 20 years, the easiest auto-YES is The Matrix. The only thing anywhere near as safe a call is The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a whole (and I say that as someone who likes, but doesn't adore, LotR).

 

Lots of the great stuff about it was mentioned in the podcast by Cameron (and even reluctabtly by Amy), but one thing they didn't touch on is how much of a precision machine this movie is. It feels like every cut was carefully planned with purpose, nothing left to chance. Complete control of every aspect of filmmaking, like they nailed everything they asked to do. The Wachowskis didn't manage this in the sequels, and came pretty close in Bound and Speed Racer.

 

Which alone doesn't guarantee quality or even success as a movie, it's just one of those things I love about The Matrix. It's just one of many points in the pro column.

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The simplicity of its presentation, and the superficial "awakening to reality" philosophy has made it easy to ascribe various meanings to it, it's Christian, it's Buddist, it's Gnostic, it's Plato's Cave, it's Baudrillard, it's Marxist, it's whatever you want it to be according to whatever your own "awakening" is, which accounts for the opposing views presented by the "red-pilled" men's rights activists and the queer reading presented in the episode. In my opinion, this ambiguity is the movie's strength as a piece of popular culture, and its weakness as a work of philosophy. But the Matrix is, primarily, a work of pop-art, not a philosophical tract, so I'm good with it.

 

Oh man, I was going to add one more thought: when this movie came out I was spending a lot of time with evangelical christians and they ate this movie up. Their excitement about the imagery and the savior story; they were so cute! I couldn't see it except on the most superficial level. I just liked that Woo Ping did an American flick. Well said Cronopio.

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This is a solid Yes from me. In 1999 I was 33 years old and living in NYC. The Matrix quickly became the movie to see and it was hard to get a ticket even though most of the theaters that were showing it had it on multiple screens. I had never seen that before and I haven't since.

People were so excited see it because it was such a feast for the eyes! Everyone had seen martial arts movies, but not like this! Everyone had seen action movies before, but not like this! I managed to see it twice in the theater and on that second viewing it began to dawn on me that Matrix was more than all the shiny stuff. It was a skillfully constructed house full of every hero allegory, philosophical teaching and onanistic thought under the sun. A woman was seated next to me in the sold out theater and during the spoon bending scene, after hearing the child lama say something like, 'It's not about trying to make the spoon bend, it's whether or not the spoon exists in the first place'. That woman next to me said, "Child, ya'll making me think too hard for a Saturday night!". I've always thought that was kind of fabulous.

One evening as I was walking to the subway after work, I noticed a group of people all straining to look at something in a store window and when got up the scene I saw that they were watching The Matrix. I guess the store got its hands on a bootleg copy of it and it was showing on a multitude of tv's like it was the moon landing or something. The film has got legs.

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I was disappointed in how little the Matrix was actually talked about in this episode, especially taking out all the references to the Reloaded and Revolutions.

 

Yes for me. I think there's something to be said when a piece of art can be written well enough that it can be interpreted in many ways. The special effects were ground breaking, and while there is CGI they're usually used just for environmental effect. There are plenty of practical effects which make the action real. The way that sound is used to tie everything together really brings this home for me. It did win 4 Oscars in those departments.

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I'm a yes vote.

 

I was a bit weary starting this episode. I am a queer man, and I am not usually enamored with Cameron Esposito. While I agree with many of her points on queer experience, I don't find her to be very funny in delivering them and comedy is the context in which she often presents her observations. But that's just me. Don't worry, this takes a turn: I found her very good for this discussion.

 

The queer theory lens on The Matrix recently came up on another film podcast, The Next Picture Show. I hadn't heard it before, but it made a lot of sense given what we know now about The Wachowskis. There was a lot of talk on this episode about how original this film was in terms of its concepts and themes, and in terms of solely the film world, sure. However, the idea of a physical cyberspace world existed over a decade prior to this film in William Gibson's novel Neuromancer. The Matrix owes a lot to that novel, but The Wachowskis deserve a lot for realizing its heady concepts on screen.

 

Essentially this is a mix of Gibson's world with a veiled narrative on the closet and self-acceptance. That I can agree on. The end of the episode veered into typical L.A. politics that I find frustrating as a leftist (a few queer and/or POC will make millions! WE DID IT!) but overall I was glad to hear the queer theory reading throughout.

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This is one of the most recent slam-dunk Canon entries I can think of. Immediately afterward everyone was fixated on bullet-time and wire-fu. Plato's Cave is an old idea, but I think this is the most widely known take on it (though people should check out Dark City). You may not like what happened later, but it's undeniable influence makes it canonical.

 

A little while ago I came across an argument that the film is really all about Neo discovering he's trans, and that reading didn't work for me. That would be a very individual story, but the Matrix contains EVERYBODY. He's discovering the nature of reality, which is more universal. Then I heard a different argument in which it's an allegory, which works better. Then none of the characters have to correspond to actual people (none of whom would be "cis"), but can merely be facets within a person. I'm curious if anyone came up with such an interpretation after the film was first released.

 

To the Wachowskis credit they did pair back the gunplay significantly in the sequels, knowing that the culture had changed in a short span.

Did the culture really change that much? I don't think movies overall had less gunplay in the early 2000s than late 90s. I think the trilogy just shifted in a different direction because mowing down redshirts would have come across as been-there-done-that.

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Amy you were so on point in this episode! So much amazing stuff in this film that could have gone on to "be a thing" but bro's only pulled out bullet time & kung fu. I wonder how many other movies are like that.

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The Matrix still remains one of my all-time favorite moviegoing experiences. I was nineteen and in college when it came out, and that's pretty much the perfect age and time of life during which to see it. Admittedly, I found myself a bit irritated by a lot of the amateur philosophers in my dorm who went on and on about how deep it was, but at the same time, I really appreciated the fact that the movie was ABOUT something more than just shootouts, kung fu fights, and explosions, as wonderfully as they were realized.

 

More than anything, that first viewing did something few movies have managed to do; it surprised me. I wish I could articulate just how much it caught me off guard. Upon seeing the original teasers, I thought, "What is this, Johnny Mnemonic 2?" The full trailer showed me some things that made it look much more interesting than that, however, so I was definitely willing to check it out. Despite that, I was still unprepared for what I ended up seeing. I think much of the country was, as well, and that's why it became such a phenomenon and, in my opinion, secured its place in The Canon.

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I agree that The Matrix is not necessarily a great movie. Formally it can't hold a candle to the worst of Wong Kar-wai's films, its effects look dated, and the dialogue feels heavy handed. But at 14, the effects were state of the art, I was too wrapped up in the matrix to notice the sub-par script, and I had never seen a Wong Kar-wai movie. The Matrix blew me away.

 

Re-watching the movie 15+ years later, while there where moments that reminded me of feeling the world I knew dissolve as I watched, it was just a reminder, not the experience itself. Listening to the podcast discuss a queer interpretation of The Matrix, as a straight man, I had that experience again. The movie feel just as transgressive and mind blowing as when I was sitting in the theater that summer. Thanks for that. I think any work of art that forces one to re-imagine their preconceived world deserves to be in the canon.

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Honestly, I was super on the fence about this one going in. I was probably going to reluctantly vote yes just because of the revolutionary effects. But, Cameron's reading of the film took it over the top for me. I'm probably just a dumby, but this is the first time I've ever thought of the film as one directed by trans women. It's a hard yes from me.

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