In 1999, the Wachowskis changed the sci-fi movie game with The Matrix. This first installment of what would become a trilogy followed the story of Thomas “Neo” Anderson, a computer programmer by day and hacker at night whose life is forever changed when he swallows the red pill that disconnects him from a carefully simulated world of enslaved humans. The premise of machines rebelling against their makers wasn’t a unique concept at the time, but the utilization of people as an electrical system to fuel a dystopian world put an interesting twist on the potential fate of humanity.
The Matrix’s visual effects, specifically its use of “bullet time” — where a shot takes place in slow motion while the camera progresses at normal speed — and wire-fu filming techniques has had a significant impact on how fight scenes are crafted in countless TV shows and movies, from Kill Bill to Kick-Ass, Marvel’s Daredevil, and beyond. Neo’s impossible bullet-dodging back bend became an iconic movie moment that has been copied and parodied countless times over.
Of course, the ageless Keanu Reeves flawlessly brought Neo to life and partnered well with Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus, who served as a John the Baptist-like counterpart to his Jesus. Mainstream science fiction and fantasy erase Black people from the narrative far too often, but The Matrix went against the grain by making one of the free world’s most respected leaders and influencers a Black man. Morpheus was a man of virtually unshakable faith who spread the word about the true savior who would one day come and liberate the masses. The future included people of color who played pivotal roles, and it felt like an intentional yet natural choice.
The other major female character, Trinity, also played a key part in the overall narrative. She was given the space to be a leather-rocking, gun-shooting baddie with a high aptitude for hacking alongside her developing love and affection for Neo. Trinity’s work as a liaison and liberator is largely glossed over due to Neo taking the center stage, but she’s Morpheus’ right-hand person who was responsible for bringing people from out of the darkness into a shocking new light — and she commands a seemingly dead Neo to “rise up” and complete his initial mission to save free people. Carrie-Anne Moss is truly a force as Trinity, who reminds us that the answer is out there … and it will find us if we want it to.
Cheers to The Matrix and 20 years of gravity-defying moves, philosophical debates, enthralling action, and a dangerous yet diverse liberated existence outside of a world where machines reigned supreme.