The Matrix series
The Matrix series consists of three films, The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Matrix Revolutions, all written and directed by the Wachowski brothers and set in the same universe. The Matrix universe was further explored in other media, including anime, comics and video games. The series depicts a complex science fiction story, with many philosophical elements, which in some ways mirrors the the mythology of Ancient Greece. Other influences include cyberpunk, computer science, philosophy of mind, Hinduism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Buddhism.
The series began with 1999's The Matrix, continuing in 2003 with several Animatrix episodes released on the official site for the series. In May 2003 (May 15, 2003 in the US), The Matrix Reloaded, the first sequel, was released. Enter the Matrix was released at the same time; it was the first video game related to the films and interspersed gameplay with scenes shot especially for the video game. This game's story runs parallel to Reloaded. On the sequel's heels followed the full Animatrix DVD with nine animated shorts set in the world created by the Wachowski brothers. November 5, 2003 saw both the conclusion to the film trilogy and an unprecedented event: the simultaneous worldwide release of a major motion picture, when The Matrix Revolutions hit cinema screens worldwide at exactly the same time. The Matrix Online, which is a MMORPG released in 2005, is supposed to conclude the series.
The two subsequent movies were controversial since fans were divided in contrarian views. Many deemed them to be lower quality compared to the original movie, while some acts and motivations of the characters could not be explained logically. Revolutions was also criticised because it didn't conclude on some questions raised in Reloaded and didn't implement and expand on some potentials and plot twists that were already hinted at. Specifically fans made heated discussions about radical theories like if the Merovingian or Seraph would prove to be the previous One, that Neo would be revealed to be a program and expected some major twist in Revolutions which never happened.
In addition, several comics –– some written by the Wachowskis, others by guest creators –– have been released on the official website. These have since been collected in two printed volumes.
Influences and interpretations
The story makes numerous references to historical and literary myths, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Judeo-Christian imagery about Messianism, Buddhism, Gnosticism and the novels of William Gibson, especially Neuromancer. Gibson popularized the concept of a world-wide computer network with a virtual reality interface, which was named "the matrix" in his Sprawl Trilogy. However the concept and name apparently originated even earlier in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin on the British science-fiction television series Doctor Who, which featured a virtual reality known as the Matrix. The first writer about a virtual reality, populated with unsuspecting victims, was Daniel F. Galouye with Simulacron Three in 1964.
The concept of artificial intelligence overthrowing or enslaving mankind had previously been touched on by hundreds of science fiction stories. Many have commented that The Matrix was inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick, not only dealing with issues of Gnosticism and prophetic visions but also the war against the machines in a post-apocalyptic world. The idea of a world controlled by machines and all of humanity living underground goes back to the 1909 short story The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster.
The plot of The Matrix bears some resemblance to the basic plot of the book Neuromancer. This is not necessarily surprising, since both The Matrix and Neuromancer are roughly in the same cyberpunk genre. In both stories a computer hacker is recruited to perform a particularly difficult task. Some of the relevant conventions related to the genre might include the tough-guy hacker/cracker hero, his optional female sidekick, and the more-or-less malevolent artificial intelligences.
Several illustrative differences between the two works also exist. For example, Gibson's human Turing Police are tasked to limit the growth of artificial intelligences. The Agents of The Matrix, by contrast, are AIs who curtail human development. Gibson shows humans working alongside the AI Wintermute; their eventual triumph is presented as a victory for the "good guys". Again in contrast, the human-AI collaboration in The Matrix—Cypher defecting to the agents—appears to undermine all that good and right stand for. From this standpoint, The Matrix can be seen as an antithesis to Gibson's Neuromancer.
One other connection between the two is the use of a location called Zion. In Neuromancer, Zion is an orbital colony founded by Rastafarians, where the main characters dock before traveling to Freeside, the giant orbital station where the final act of the novel takes place. In The Matrix, Zion is the underground home of the free humans (never seen onscreen in the first movie, although it is featured prominently in the two sequels). It is possible that this is only a coincidence, and that Zion is used as a generalized metaphor for a mythical city which could be considered to be the last hope for humanity. However, given the obvious influences of Neuromancer on The Matrix, and the appearance of many Rastamen in Zion, it is likely that the name Zion is used as a metaphor (including its meaning to the Rastafari movement) and as a subtle homage to Gibson.
Some resemblances also exist to Frank Herbert's seminal novel, Dune, the concept of a war between humans and machines with religious overtones (Herbert's Butlerian Jihad). The sequels to The Matrix exhibit further similarities to Dune. The Matrix is only one of several pieces of fiction that have been influenced by this book.
The Matrix reused some of the film sets from Dark City, a movie filmed shortly before that was similar in plot and style. The Matrix incorporates many other cinematic influences, ranging from explicit homage to stylistic nuances, some of which have been acknowledged by the Wachowski brothers.
Its action scenes use a physics-defying style drawn directly from martial arts films, integrating Hong Kong-style wire work and kung fu (under the guidance of Yuen Wo Ping). The hyper-active gun fights recall the work of directors such as John Woo and Ringo Lam, while the shot composition during the build-up to Neo's climactic duel with Agent Smith is reminscent of clichés of Western films (featuring close-ups of hips and complete with modern-day tumbleweed).
In the film Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is offered a red pill to return to reality, in precisely the same way that Neo is; while the action scenes of Strange Days take place in virtual reality. The premise of characters being trapped in a computer-generated world has also been used in the Red Dwarf novel Better Than Life, among others. The Matrix also uses a common science fiction setting in which a dystopian Earth has formed through a struggle between humanity and machinery or AI; in which a small human "resistance" must fight to save humanity.
The Wachowski brothers have frequently cited Japanese animation as a strong source of inspiration; in the documentary on The Matrix Revisited DVD, Joel Silver explains that before making the film, the Wachowskis showed him an animé and then stated "We want to do that for real". The title sequence, the scene late in the movie where a character hides behind a column while pieces of it are blown apart by bullets, and a chase scene in a fruit market where bullets hit and burst watermelons, are practically identical to shots in Ghost in the Shell. This site contains screenshots of similar scenes from both movies. Also, the movie borrows the idea of Ghost hacking, which was featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie.
A scene near the end of the movie, in which Neo's breathing seems to buckle the fabric of reality in the corridor around him, as well as the "psychic children" scene in the Oracle's waiting room are evocative of similar scenes from the 1980s anime classic Akira.
The general concept of a computer world that exists in connection to the real world is similar to the movie Tron.
The franchise's close relationship with animé continued with The Animatrix.
Trench coats and sunglasses play a significant role in the Matrix cinematic feel and have largely inspired a similar subculture. Viewers would know whether a character or situation was being played out within the Matrix if central characters were wearing their characteristically dark clothing, complete with sunglasses that would be of little use in the sunless realm of the real world. Sunglasses were worn regardless if it were day or night within the Matrix, adding to the image of detachment of reality in the Matrix, the dark cyber atmosphere, and also the artificial, industrial environment they lived in. Symbolically, this may reflect the degree of vulnerability of the characters; many characters (Morpheus, Agent Smith) lose (or even break) their sunglasses during major battles, or discard them: a symbolic disposal of the tough, unemotional image.
Not all characters within the Matrix wore glasses, but as a general rule, the rebels wore sunglasses that had rounded lenses, and adversaries such as Agents wore 'evil-looking' glasses with corners or angles. Notably, Cypher, the rebel who betrays Morpheus to the Agents, wore rectangular sunglasses, thus signifying his role as a "bad guy". Agent Smith's sunglasses changed after his transformation in The Matrix Reloaded from the square Agent-style into lenses shaped similarly to the protein capsule of certain viruses. It is also notable that Agent Smith's sunglasses & Neo's look strikingly similiar except for the jagged vs. curved designs. The sunglasses used in this movie were custom-made on the set, although replicas are widely available. See the article about Agent Smith for the stylistic genealogy of the Agents.
Generally, secondary characters seem to follow the alternative fashion of the 90's, Indie and Rastas. It should be noted that the Rasta look seem to be very common of humans in Zion, if we consider the concept of Zion in Rastafari movement.
Not acknowledged, but strikingly similar is the 1982 hit video for 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' by the progressive rock band Yes.
Elements of philosophy, theology and ontology are heavily present in The Matrix. Students of Gnosticism will notice many of its themes touched upon. There are also many references to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity, with concepts of enlightenment, nirvana and rebirth. Further references to Buddhism and Hinduism include the free will versus fate debate, perception, the concept of Maya, Karma and various ideas about the nature of existence. In many ways The Matrix is about a kind of reality enforcement, hyperreality or, some might say, an awareness that the material and physical world are an illusion.
Some Christian anarchists say the world we live in is a Matrix and the only way of escaping is through achieving enlightenment. They say notable escapees over the years have included Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad. They believe the movie has many simularities to the New Testament with Neo, Morpheus and Cypher playing the parts of Jesus, John the Baptist and Judas respectively. These Christian anarchists believe the main difference to The Matrix is that outside our world lies paradise rather than the dark world portrayed in movie.
There have been several books and websites written about the philosophy of The Matrix. One of the major debates arising from the film is the philosophical question, is our world reality or is it merely an illusion which is billions of years old? Similar questions have also been raised in other science fiction films such as eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor (both of which were released the same year as The Matrix, receiving relatively less attention in box office sales and ratings), Total Recall, The Truman Show and Abre los ojos (remade as Vanilla Sky).
The Matrix follows all phases of the Campbellian heroic myth arc with near-literal precision, including even minor details like the circular journey, the crucial battle happening underground, and even the three-headed immortal enemy (the three agents).
The character of the Oracle is strongly similar to that of the Oracle of ancient Greek legend. In particular, her warning to Neo that he is faced with a choice between saving his own life, or Morpheus' is very reminiscent of the warning that the Oracle gave to King Leonidas when setting out for the Battle of Thermopylae. In the Greek legend, she warns Leonidas that either his city will be left in ruins, or that a Greek king must die, thus Leonidas is left with the choice of his own life or the survival of his city. It could be further argued that had Neo chosen to save his own life, Smith would have gained the access codes he needed from Morpheus and the city of Zion would have fallen. Thus, ultimately, Neo's choice was the same as that of Leonidas: his own life, or the fate of a city.
The ideas behind The Matrix have been explored in old philosophical texts on epistemology, such as Plato's allegory of the cave and Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. In a well-known Solipsistic thought experiment, the subject is a brain in a vat of liquid; in the Matrix, Neo is a body in a vat.
Postmodern thought plays a tangible role in the movie. In an opening scene, Neo hides an illegal minidisk in a false copy of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, a work that describes modern life as a hyperreal experience of simulation based upon simulation. Interpretations of The Matrix often reference Baudrillard's philosophy to demonstrate that the movie is an allegory for contemporary experience in a heavily commercialized, media-driven society, especially of the developed countries.
Some academics have argued that the Matrix series is consistent with a Marxist analysis of society. Professor Martin Danahay and then PhD candidate David Rieder co-wrote a chapter of the best-selling book The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real (ISBN 081269502X ) in which they argue that the movie gives a visual image of Marx’s ideas, particularly in the scene where Morpheus tells new recruit Neo that the computers have reduced him to nothing more than a battery.
"Humans in The Matrix must produce electricity to run the machines that enslave them, just as workers in Marx’s analysis must produce surplus value through their work," Danahay explained. "Also, the rebels in the movie liberate Morpheus from an office, and they rescue Neo from his white-collar job. The rebels are trying to get workers to wake up and realize they are being exploited, which is one of Marx’s aims, too.".
Danahy and Rider also argue that rebellion against the machines' domination is an analogy for the modern-day workplace with the evil agents dressed like corporate executives, and Neo escaping from his cubicle to escape them. When he ambushes the evil agents later in the movie, they are in an office high-rise complete with impersonal decor. (Source: Arlington Star-Telegram, June 10, 2003).
Similarly, the Maoist International Movement has adopted the Matrix as one of its favourite films asserting that they "could not have asked for more in a two and a half hour Hollywood movie" and views it as an exercise in dialectics in which a new mode of production is explored, the "battery mode of production". 
The youth wing of the Russian Communist Party has also embraced the Matrix and its sequels with youth wing leader Oleg Bondarenko asserting there is "no difference" between Neo and Lenin as revolutionaries.
There are also elements of conspiracy theories. Similar to John Carpenter's They Live, the Matrix is presented as the 'System', which secretly controls everything and which, according to the theorists, will eventually consume everyone. In the Matrix, high positions in companies and organisations are held only by those who are part of the System (programs, like Smith or Ramakandra). The Agents are those who uphold the 'order' and keep the 'consipracy' safe, like the MIB of pop culture.
It should be noted that the reason given in the movie for computers enslaving humans makes no sense from a thermodynamic point of view. The chemical energy required to keep a human being alive is vastly greater than the bio-electric or thermal energy that could be harvested; human beings, like all living beings, are not energy sources, but rather energy consumers. It would be vastly more effective to burn the organic matter to power a conventional electrical generator or to use geothermal energy or the heat generated by the dissipation of the tidal movements of the oceans and crust or any other not yet imagined source. The sunlight could only dimly penetrate the atmosphere in the movie.
Some people have pointed out the possibility that the laws of thermodynamics could work differently in real life than in the Matrix (to make it harder for people to suspect they are being used as a power source), or that the machines have technology not yet imaginable by humans, and thus the known laws of science are impossible to apply in this situation (Morpheus mentions that the human power source is "combined with a form of fusion"). Another possibility is that of the exploitation of latent electrokinetic abilities in human beings as demonstrated by Neo's destruction of a Sentinel in the Matrix Reloaded. On the other hand, Morpheus speaks of physical laws like gravity applying both to the real world and within its simulation, and the scenes we see within the real world are certainly consistent with physical laws as we know them. Entropy, however, can't be the machines' invention, because if it did not exist in their world, or if the direction of energy flow was sometimes concentrated instead of dissipated, the machines either could not exist, or would not require a constant source of energy to operate, mutually exclusive to the idea that humans blocked most sunlight from Earth to cut them off from their primary source of power.
Critical fans have speculated (see Krypto-revisionism) that the machines were actually using the humans' brains as components in a massively parallel neural network computer, and that the characters were simply mistaken about the purpose. A massively parallel neural network computer based on human brains might also be more energy-efficient to run than equivalent computer components, solving the thermodynamic paradox associated with the use of human bodies over conventional electrical generators. The characters' error would then be reflected in the "Zion Historical Archive" of "The Second Renaissance". In fact, this was very close to the original explanation. Because the writers felt that non-technical viewers would have trouble understanding this explanation, they abandoned it in favor of the "human power source" explanation. The neural-network explanation, however, is presented in the film's novelization and the short story "Goliath", featured on the Matrix website and in the first volume of The Matrix Comics.
It is also established later in the trilogy that the machines and humans are interdependent for reasons more philosophical than technological.
Matthew Kapell and William G. Doty have an edited volume, Jacking In to the Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation, which has explored aspects of the entire Matrix franchise, including the video games, the comics and animated short films, as well as the filmed trilogy, itself.
- Official site for the series
- Categorized directory of links at the Open Directory Project
- The Many Meanings of The Matrix, Larry Wachowski in a dialogue with Ken Wilber.
- Fan community for the series
- One of the first community sites
- Fan attempt to explain the movies
- A fan's essays on Reloaded and Revolutions
- Italian fansite
- French fansite
- Another old community site
- Fansite with lots of downloads
- Script that merges the Final Flight of the Osiris anime, Enter the Matrix and Matrix Reloaded scripts into one