Morpheus tells Thomas Anderson he has two pill choices before his journey through “The Matrix” can begin. The blue pill or the red pill.
“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Anderson, later known as Neo, chooses the red pill.
In an online interview, when the film was first released, the Wachowskis – creators of the film – revealed that they’d both take the blue pill if given Neo’s choice.
If given the same choice, with the results being the blue pill takes me back before I found the movie on Netflix, and the red means sitting and watching “The Matrix” for the first time, over 20 years after its release, I’d swallow the blue pill without a sip of water.
I want to go back to never seeing the film or sitting down for the two hours and thirty-minute journey, but not because the movie is bad.
Before going back to the early evening in my living room, first let’s go back to the movie’s release year, 1999, to defend my reasons for never seeing one of the most popular and widely referenced and ripped-off motion pictures of the last two decades.
It’s March, I’m a college senior, living in a fraternity house, going to about ten hours of classes a week, and working two jobs.
One in a retail clothing store that no longer exists and the other as a DJ at the campus bar. Not the Pauly D kind of DJ, mixing tracks and commandeering turntables. The campus bar had two CD players – one to play the first song and the second to cue up the next song, back and forth all night while drinking for free and having drunk people scream song titles into my ear that I’d played an hour earlier.
“I don’t care if you were in the bathroom, I’m not playing ‘Living La Vida Loca’ again!”
Going to the movies wasn’t a way to spend my free time, and 1999 turned into 2000 and then into 2010 and so on. Another reason for avoiding the movie, both in theaters and eventually at Blockbuster and on cable TV, is science fiction isn’t high on my subject list. I’m drawn to comedies, documentaries, and action films.
Eventually, “The Matrix” fever subsided, bigger movies came and went, and I never thought much about the film until a friend of mine, Nick, launched a podcast called “Movies My Friends Have Never Seen.” The concept – interview friends, coworkers, and semi-famous people and rag on them for never seeing major movies and then make them watch the film.
I first appeared on Nick’s show because I’d never seen the original Jurassic Park. We poured over all the reasons I’d missed one of the biggest films of my childhood, I watched the movie, and Nick and I had a great time drinking and discussing my stupidity.
While wrapping up his podcast equipment inside his mom’s Lower East Side apartment, he asked, “so what other movies haven’t you seen?”
“The Matrix is a pretty big film I managed to miss.”
Nick dropped his microphone in a Matrix-like slow-motion.
He insisted we record that episode ASAP. That was in 2014.
In 2016, I appeared on the pod for a second time because “Independence Day” somehow slipped past my radar. In an ironic twist, I’ve seen Independence Day several times in recent years, a favorite film of my 10-year-old son.
So why watch “The Matrix” now?
At the start of the pandemic, Nick emailed and explained that we both had plenty of time to record the podcast he’s been pushing for over the last six years.
I put it off again.
Another Matrix film – “The Matrix 4” – is slated for release in 2022.
I’m not sure that’s got anything to do with this, but when I mentioned in our work Slack that I’d never seen the original, the group argued over the franchise and how film number #1 is must, “Matrix Reloaded” is a decently entertaining film, and “Matrix Revolutions” is, allegedly, pure shit.
Watching “The Matrix” now, twenty years, ten jobs, two kids, and a divorce later, feels like a good idea. Especially because it’s Tuesday night, there’s no wrestling on TV, and I’ve got shit else to do.
I didn’t enter this viewing being completely oblivious to the idea behind “The Matrix.” I haven’t ignored pop culture for the last two decades. By the middle of 2002, the famous “Bullet Time” sequence in the original film was spoofed in over twenty different movies.
Right before giving Neo the pill option, Morpheus asks the hacker and office grunt if he ever feels like there’s something wrong with the world but doesn’t know what it is.
There’s never been a better way to describe the world, especially in 2020, except I can point to the many issues ripping us all apart.
Anderson’s journey begins with a computer prompt to “follow the white rabbit,” which he spots on a woman’s shoulder in the form of a tattoo. I’ve often chased the wrong women with odd tattoo choices but never because a computer told me to do it unless I’m counting random AOL chats, MySpace, and, more recently, Tinder.
From the jump, the film feels incredibly dated, and I’m not talking about the special effects. Those still hold up tremendously well.
Many key plot points jump out in the beginning of the film. First, Anderson works in an office building, which feels absolutely crazy at this point in life. One day, humans might go back to working in cubicles, but not in the way portrayed in “The Matrix”, or even “Office Space” for that matter, another classic 1990s film.
Yes, I’ve seen “Office Space.” I’m not a fucking lunatic.
Second, a major moment in the opening minutes of the film involves a FedEx delivery person going over to Anderson’s desk and handing him a package. Even in 1999, this is highly suspect. Most companies have a front desk person who accepts all package deliveries. Even pre-9/11.
Anderson opens the package, finds a cell phone and answers as it rings. This film is absolutely a fantasy. In 2020, the package gets opened, security is alerted, and police arrive hopefully soon while the entire office speculates on the phone, asks to go work from home that day because they don’t feel safe, or just leave the building completely.
I’m not going to make jokes about the phone booths, but I will say the Chosen One, and I do have one thing in common – the police can cuff me and take me away, there’s no fucking way I’m climbing out on that scaffolding.
Jump to Morpheus offering Anderson the pills and the future Neo grabs and swallows the red pill with little contemplation. He could at least asked about potential side effects. Has Anderson never seen a prescription drug commercial? Will one of either pill cause an uncomfortable side effect like a ten-hour erection, chronic diarrhea, itchy balls, or a new love of ABBA?
“The world is pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth,” Morpheus explains to his new disciple and ain’t that the truth in 2020. If only the world were pulled down over all of our noses and mouths so this damn virus would go away.
Morpheus’s pill offer immediately filled me with regrets for not taking an edible before the movie started. I decided against it because I wanted to watch the movie with an open and clear mind. Edibles tend to make me think every movie, song, book, and person is awesome and that calories suddenly don’t count.
Before filming, the studio insisted on a great deal of explanatory dialogue, as they described the screenplay as “the script that nobody understands.”
I’m in agreement with the studio because 45 minutes into this film and I’m already completely lost, but the soundtrack is boss, the action keeps my attention, and the film is filled with “oh I know the guy” actors, which is always a treat.
In several scenes, I thought Keanu looked just like Adam Driver, and I daydreamed Driver into classic Keanu’s roles. I can’t think of one Keanu movie where Driver doesn’t work. Don’t @ me.
“The Matrix” is a dense film as far as the complexity of dialogue, which makes sense, considering all the principal actors and actresses on the film were required to be able to understand and explain the Matrix.
Simulacra and Simulation was required reading for most of the principal cast and crew. Keanu Reeves has gone on record stating that the Wachowskis had him read the books Simulacra and Simulation, Out of Control, and Evolutionary Psychology even before reading the script.
In a fun little twist, Simulacra and Simulation is the hollowed out book where Neo keeps all his computer files.
Eventually, Reeves was able to explain all the philosophical nuances involved in the film but co-start Carrie-Anne Moss commented she still had little idea what the hell was really going on.
The film is a modern adaptation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, another book I’ll probably never get around to reading.
During many moments in the film, I felt as though I walked in on a college philosophy course that I didn’t sign up for, and maybe I should have read all of the Wachowski’s required texts before watching the film. Maybe I should have just taken the edible.
I stopped midway through the film to give my brain a break – ADHD wins often – and do some research on the film.
I learned several key facts about the shooting of the film, including that prior to the pre-production, Keanu Reeves suffered a two-level fusion of his cervical spine, which caused paralysis in his legs, and required the actor to undergo neck surgery. Reeves was just 35 years old at the time, and all that sounds pretty goddamn scary for a younger guy.
Will Smith was originally approached to play Neo but turned down the offer to star in Wild Wild West. Thank god.
Before filming, the actors were originally told they would be training with martial arts experts for a few weeks. That training lasted four months. Reeves insisted on training, even right after surgery, but he was only allowed to practice punches and lighter moves. Reeves trained exceptionally hard, even requested training on days off to heal.
The surgery made kicking extremely difficult, and Reeves was unable to move his legs naturally for two out of four months of training. As a result, Neo doesn’t do much kicking in the film, aside from the side leg raise in the final fight against Agent Smith and his sunglass buddies.
In order to win – and survive – against the agents, Neo and the crew have information uploaded into their brain and quickly master complex subjects like hand-to-hand combat like Ju-Jitsu and how to fly a helicopter. If only this were possible for real humans. I’d request the uploading of absurd and generally useless talents like being able to run a 7-minute mile, knowing the answer to every Jeopardy question, and not sweating so much.
Watching “The Matrix” for the first time ever, the same question popped into my head over and over. What if life in 2020 is really just an awful simulation?
“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged,” Morpheus tells Neo early on in the film. “And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
Right now, millions of people know exactly what they’re fighting for on a daily basis. Equality, being treated fairly and righting wrongs that have existed for decades while being pushed down, tear-gassed, beaten, and murdered by the people supposedly put in place to protect all citizens and keep the peace.
And at the very same time in history, millions of people are fighting just as hard to not have to wear a piece of cloth over their mouths to go to Trader Joe’s and brandishing high-powered firearms because they feel threatened inside their million-dollar castle.
There are two pills in my face – the red and blue – and the outcomes are just as in the movie.
I don’t want to go back to the time before the pandemic and George Floyd, so I’d take my chances and swallow the red pill because, in order to move forward as a society, we’ve got to take several painful steps back.
While I don’t regret watching the film, I’ll never watch the movie again, and I’m not interested in any of the other films in the franchise.
I do wish I could go back to a time when I could brag to people and proclaim, “I’ve never seen The Matrix.” It makes for a much more interesting conversation. The best contribution I’ve got now is “ever notice that Adam Driver would work in any Keanu Reeves movie?”
The film is an entertaining, 2+ hour distraction from the world.
Maybe I would have liked the film more back in 1999 when real life wasn’t a much scarier place than the Matrix.
Chris Illuminati is a 5-time published author and recovering a**hole who writes about running, parenting, and professional wrestling. Reach out to him on Instagram & Twitter.