Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Matrix

This post is the final post from The Film Experience's excellent Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

In 1999 I was a newly formed teenager, venturing out from the PG action movies and comedies that my family watched and into the world of watching movies without my parents. I don't remember much about how I got to to my movie seat, dragging my sister to the cinema. I can't remember what the marketing was, or whether it was talked about but that I remember having the urge to see this movie called The Matrix (what was the matrix anyway?). And it blew my mind. Whoa indeed.

One of the main things that blew my mind was the cinematography which expertly captured the choreography. Right from the opening fight between Trinity and the police until the final fight scenes involving air stunts and bullet-time effects, I knew this was something I had never seen before. I had seen aerial stunt work in the Asian martial arts films before, but never so polished and never so graceful (I would be even more spoiled the following years with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon etc). My impression of the choreography was so fluid and so immersive that I subconsciously incorporated it into my dreams. I recall having vivid "anxiety" dreams where I was chased (by witches I think, probably all played by Angelica Huston), first jumping through the air onto roofs, then running through apartments and houses like Neo in the final act, before escaping through the backyard and into the forest behind, gliding through branches and treetops like I was Zhang Yiyi finding my own Mount Wudang (I was not manly enough to be Chow Yun-Fat).

This was my overriding visual memory of the film, and it was such a blur of a kinetic experience, I found it difficult to find a singular favourite shot. It seemed a betrayal of these sequences to single out one shot, so I "settled" on one from a more static sequence:

Kansas has indeed going bye-bye, but instead of entering the technicolour world of Oz, we've visual regressed to a whole new world of black and green. Everything here is coded in dehumanising green digits, pulsing with electrical energy. The shot builds on the recurring motif of green digits, first seen in a line on Neo's computer, then as part of phone numbers that dial into the Matrix, and then as a jumble of digits on Tank's computer. Finally, here, Neo experiences the wonder of seeing the world anew, seeing the Matrix for the digitally programmed world that it truly is. It's a moment of triumph and revelation, the resurrected messiah empowered with knowledge and understanding.

This shot speaks to me because I recall a similar experience from high school. No, not the messiah part, but more the geeky understanding of the world part. Upon first learning about the existence of waves - sound waves, light waves, colour spectrums, electrical waves etc - I wandered out of the classroom, inspecting the world anew. I saw waves coming out from all directions, from trees, from tables, from humans. This was an exciting world, much more interesting and dynamic that what I could see with just my eyes.

To this day I sometimes imagine the waves radiating around me, data sent wirelessly from routers and mobile devices, and waves of music and movies travelling through optic fibres and air molecules to my laptop. For me, this shot encapsulates what the Matrix is all about. It reminds me of the world around us, pulsing with hidden concepts and energies, invisible to the naked eye, but easily awakened by our own knowledge, understanding and imagination.