The whims of pop-culture taste can be cruel and impulsive. Fashion, music, television… nothing is guaranteed to last for any length of time. Today’s “Gangnam Style” is tomorrow’s “Macarena” (literally – I mean, they’re basically the same song). But sometimes the victims of culture shift seem to come out of nowhere. In response, I present a periodic new Sunday Discussion feature: Wait, We Hate This Now?
Today: The Matrix
When The Matrix came out in 1999, it seemed to explode out of the very collective subconscious of sci-fi fans and the pervasive end-of-century paranoia. Even George Lucas essentially surrendered Star Wars: Episode I to it. It was cool, sexy, had zero-g kung-fu, and a surprisingly compelling underlying philosophical concept.
It was, of course, popular entertainment, and a lot of the philosophy was fairly Intro To Western Philosophy level stuff, but for a movie with skin-tight leather outfits and people being kicked through walls, that’s pretty impressive. It’s pretty impressive for any Hollywood movie.
So what happened? In the last year or so, I’ve talked to a large number of people who just hate The Matrix – not the sequels, the original. Is it because of its imitators? The music and hyper-stylized camera-work becoming too dated? Is it because it’s lost its “what’s going on?” shock and surprise?
And don’t say “Keanu” – that’s too easy. Keanu Reeves isn’t a bad actor, he’s a decent actor with a limited range, and The Matrix was a perfect fit (although, seriously, why would you hire Reeves and have him say “Whoa.”?)
Matrix seemed to capture the 1999 zeitgeist so perfectly that maybe people don’t connect to it any more. They aren’t feeling Matrixy anymore, they’re feeling Dark Knighty and Avengery.
Now I furiously loved the movie when it came out. I would have taken a bullet for the movie – or better yet, dodged a bullet in slow-motion. So this turn against the film felt oddly, and irrationally, personal. And it’s everywhere. Even in my film classes, when we reach the end of the course, I usually present a few options so they can explore different areas based on their interests. One option was to examine philosophy in The Matrix, or the psychology of Vertigo. For an Intro To Film class? This doesn’t even sound like a real choice. Hmmm, action and fast and kung-fu? Or Jimmy Stewart and slowly, silently driving around San Francisco and then quietly going crazy? (And I say that as someone who loves Vertigo). But suddenly they all groaned at The Matrix. Wha?
I watched it again, thinking that maybe it wasn’t what I remembered. It had lost its sense of immediacy, and – certainly – the endless imitation has dulled the edges of watching what was so innovative, but on it’s own merits? – seriously – it’s a great movie. It just is. It just… is.
So what do you think? Do you still like the movie? Did you see it when it came out? Do you hate it, and if so – why? Did you like it before, but now don’t? If you’ve never seen it, Oh my God, you’ve never seen The Matrix?? That’s insane!!