Almost 20: ‘The Matrix’

The other day, I was flicking around our local iTunes library on the Apple TV. I put on one of my absolute favourite films: The Matrix. I only watched about 15 minutes’ worth, skimming here and there, but as it played, something occurred to me: the movie was released in the year 1999.

The Matrix is almost 20 years old.

I took greater notice of the special effects, the stunts and cinematography and you know what? It still holds up today. The Matrix truly set the standard at the time for Hollywood film-making (leading into the start of the new millennium), capitalising on fear about the seemingly inevitable Y2K bug. The idea of being a prisoner of some false reality was certainly a theme at the end of the nineties, as evident in other films such as The Truman Show (another personal favourite of mine).

Sure, some of the devices in the film look quite old these days, such as the famous falling Nokia 8110 and beige CRT displays, but that doesn’t matter at all. It all contributes to the aesthetic (along with the subtle green hue) of the film.

All of this also made me reflect on another major reason why I love The Matrix. It’s not just the look, the story, the effects and the soundtrack… it’s the setting. The Wachowskis decided on Sydney as the filming location, which gives it a completely different feeling from just about any other American sci-fi or action movie. The architecture is distinctive (take Harry Seidler’s prominent Australia Square Tower in a few shots), the phone boxes are different and the streetscape in general lends a different feel to the neo-noir aesthetic.

Beyond the fact that it’s obviously different from the normal appearance of American films, The Matrix also shows places throughout Sydney that Australians were able to recognise, albeit from odd angles and obscured views. This makes the locations eerily familiar, although somewhat foreign and other-worldly. Perhaps more than for any other viewer, American or otherwise, Australians can experience the matrix as it is described by the characters Morpheus and Trinity: a dream world that seems like home but just doesn’t feel quite right.

The Matrix still influences so much of what we see in movies today, be it slow-motion ‘bullet time’ in action sequences, atypical musical scores or stories that question reality (think Inception or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, let’s all be grateful that the Wachowskis dared to do something truly different, philosophical and brave, which set the standard for better American action cinema.

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