There is no mystery why The Matrix is beloved. It is the cinematic moment where the niche genres that were lingering throughout the '90s - anime, video games, Kung Fu, the club kids scene, cyberpunk, video games, mass-market anarchism, came together to overtake the old guard. Its action is so revolutionary it took Hollywood one look to change the genre overnight. It is the revelation that CGI is the secret to all the money in the world.
Almost no stone is left unturned on this one. It may not be an exaggeration to say that The Matrix is the most overanalyzed, over-discussed, over-picked apart original movie the likes of which only Star Wars can rival. Its references to mythology, religion, spirituality and other intellectual shout-outs are ideal topics in film schools. So, what is there left to be said?
Let us begin.
Without Exception, Every Teenager is Neo
The first time Neo met Morpheus, Morpheus made an assessment on why Neo agreed to meet with him, in which he has this to say -"You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me." In the movie, Morpheus said this because Neo is feeling that the world is not real, but to the audience, this is what it is like to be a teenager. Aside from all the bullet time, and anime references, the appeal of The Matrix is that it tapped on the feeling of adolescence.
Everyone that ever lived was once a child who felt small and helpless at the mercy of a big world operating on interlocking systems we cannot begin to wrap our minds around, controlled by beings who are like us but with so much more power and never seem to tell us the whole truth. Being a teenager is being mature enough to be aware of this fact - understanding how the world works but being cut off from having any tangible control or influence over it yet is ready to pounce to do something about it.
The Matrix was supposed to be relatable for bored white men fantasizing about Kung Fu, yet somehow ended up speaking to a whole generation. We have all been there, told ourselves that, "I am the only person who knows what's going on. The whole world is out to get me. All the stuff that is unfair and nonsensical is evidence of it."
Being told that the world is not as lite and fluffy as we think it is but is actually harsh and terrible with a huge system in place to chew people up to sustain itself and the whole thing relies on you being too pacified to notice, is everyone's adult or college-aged social-political awakening.
Thomas Anderson's journey to Neo and ascension to being The One is a fantasy extrapolation of every person who adopts their identity and outlook after getting their mind blown by their cool college professor. Congratulations, you are woke. Not only that, you are the most special snowflake ever the revolution has been waiting for. By the end of the day, the most potent drug is being told, "You are right all along."Advertisement
It Captured the Internet Search Engine Endorphin Rush of the Late 90s
The late '90s are the years that the internet emerge in pop culture for when The Matrix emerged. This is the period that it is starting to be expected for the middle-class to upper-class to have internet access at home, and for kids to be using the internet for school work.
Society is just getting used to the new speed where knowledge can be attained, brought you by the new-fangled invention called a search engine. The internet became a potent form of performative rebellion from the young and first emerging internet-savvy. Once upon a time, the notion of instantly pulling up any trivial obscure topic felt like a magic trick, especially for a teenager doing it in the vicinity of adults. Being asked what movie an actor starred in only to pull out a list of his entire filmography made a generation feel like a god among insects for a brief moment in time.
The Matrix takes that feeling of knowing everything without all the educational leg work and memorization and said, "Wouldn't it be better instead if you instantly learn Kung Fu, gun fighting, piloting skills, and overall breaking of physics?" Couple that with the message of knowing how the world really works make one an enlightened God, The Matrix had us tied on the end of a string.
It Captured the Hearts of the Emerging LGBTQ+ Movement
The Matrix was something unheard of in 1999 - A mainstream Hollywood action movie with underlying themes that spoke profoundly to a generation of LGBTQ+ youth a decade before we were even aware of how personal the narrative of the movie was to its creators.
The rapid acceleration of various LGBTQ+ rights movements among Generation X and early Millenial youth happened in tandem with the emerging internet and cyberpunk cultures as the new global reach and optional anonymity of digital communications allowed a generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans youth to connect with like-minded peers and share information in a degree unimaginable in safety.
Suddenly, those who always felt different, who never had a means of support or access to information can find and form support networks in the digital realm. The Matrix so parallels the journey most of the LGBTQ+ felt at the time that it captured their hearts. Don't believe us? Let's review the plot of The Matrix.
The Matrix is about Thomas Anderson, who is deeply dissatisfied with his seemingly regular life on an existential level. He found a means of escape in a secret online community, adapting the comforting name of Neo. This led him to a group of underground people who are also keeping a secret of their own and understand the unease in his identity far better than he does. At the same time, he is being harassed by authority figures who are very interested in him staying in the status quo, one of them even keeps taunting him by his rejected name. From his new friends, Thomas learns the truth of the world and his identity. He emerges to a new world, eyes open to the dangers he faces. He undergoes a psychological journey where accepting himself as Neo is the key to unlocking a state of mind where his future is his own to shape... Sounds familiar?
Is there anything left unsaid on why The Matrix is beloved that we missed?