The Wachowskis have made yet another box-office bomb in the form of Jupiter Ascending. But that doesn’t mean that all of their films are terrible. I would like to draw your mind back to a time when they seemed like they were going to be the next Ridley Scott.
I’m talking, of course, about 1999 when The Matrix debuted and wowed audiences with its unique visual style and intriguing metaphysical ideas. Do you think this movie has already been dissected to death, and there’s nothing new to say about it? Well, I’ve got a whole new take on it that will have your head spinning.
It turns out that The Matrix is an example of cinematic chiasmus. That is, its first half mirrors its second half so that the film’s events all line up beautifully, creating a symmetrical whole. It joins an exclusive club of other superb sci-fi films that accomplished this remarkable feat of storytelling, like the original RoboCop, The Empire Strikes Back, and the Back to the Future Trilogy.
Grab your red pill and a big glass of water because this is going to be a lot to swallow.
Here are the film’s events listed in order to reveal the chiasmus, in all its glory.
A. Trinity makes a phone call, which gets traced to her location
B. Police officers break into a hotel room and point their guns at Trinity
C. Three agents arrive at the hotel
D. Trinity kills several cops and then runs from the agents
E. The agents discuss their search for Neo inside the Matrix
F. Trinity guides Neo (who is a prisoner in the Matrix) to her location
G. Trinity warns Neo that he is in danger
H. Morpheus tries to rescue Neo, but Neo is too afraid of heights
I. Neo is imprisoned by agents
J. Trinity extracts a tracker from Neo
K. Neo chooses to leave the Matrix where he finds himself helpless
L. Neo is rehabilitated by Morpheus
M. Neo is plugged into the Construct with Morpheus
N. Neo learns that humanity is harvested by insect-like machines
O. Neo rejects the truth about the Matrix
P. Morpheus tells Neo about the prophecy of a new One
Q. Tank feeds Neo combat training so he can defend himself
R. Neo struggles to fight Morpheus
S. Neo falls off a building, despite Trinity’s faith in him
T. Neo sees a lady in red and almost gets shot when she turns into an agent
U. A sentinel almost spots Morpheus’ ship, the Nebuchadnezzar
V. Cypher gives Neo advice and then meets with Agent Smith
W. Mouse talks to Neo about false food tastes generated by the Matrix
W. Neo and Trinity discuss false memories generated by the Matrix
V. Neo gets advice from a child and then meets the Oracle
U. Neo notices a glitch in the Matrix, alerting everyone to danger
T. After looking at a picture of the lady in red, Mouse gets gunned down
S. Trinity forces Neo to fall down a crawlspace inside a building wall
R. Morpheus struggles to fight Agent Smith
Q. Tank defends Neo from the traitorous Cypher
P. Agent Smith explains the evolution of the Matrix to Morpheus
O. Neo accepts his fate and decides to go back into the Matrix
N. Agent Smith describes humanity as a virus
M. Neo is plugged into the Construct with Trinity
L. Morpheus is tortured by Agent Smith
K. Neo returns to the Matrix armed to the teeth for a firefight
J. Trinity shoots an agent who’s about to kill Neo
I. Neo frees Morpheus from his imprisonment by the agents
H. Neo jumps out of a helicopter to save Morpheus
G. Neo saves Trinity from certain death
F. A newly freed Morpheus calls Tank and asks where to go
E. The agents point out that they now know the location of Neo and his friends in the real world
D. Neo fights Agent Smith and then runs from the agents
C. Neo destroys Agent Smith and the other two agents flee
B. Sentinels break into the Nebuchadnezzar and almost shoot Trinity and Neo
A. Neo makes a phone call, and the trace fails
Whoa. Now let’s talk about each of these parallel points in greater detail so you can clearly see how they connect.
A. Tracing Phone Calls
The Matrix begins and ends with a phone call. Trinity calls Cypher (who turns out to be working for the bad guys) and talks about her surveillance on Neo. The call is traced, which sets the film’s story into motion.
At the end, Neo calls the machines in charge of the Matrix and tells them he’s going to use his abilities as the One to bring them down. They attempt to trace the call, but he shuts down their system.
B. Pointing Guns at Trinity
After tracing Trinity’s call, police officers storm into her hotel room and point guns at her. They don’t shoot her because she puts her hands in the air.
Having located Morpheus’ ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, several sentinels break into it and point their guns at Trinity and Neo. They don’t shoot because Morpheus launches an EMP into the air, crippling them.
C. Agents’ Arrival and Demise
Three agents, led by Agent Smith, arrive on the scene, looking like they have the situation under control.
At the climax, Neo destroys Agent Smith and scares the other two agents away with one look.
D. On the Run from Agents
Trinity has a brief fight with the cops, killing them all. She then calls Morpheus and is told where she needs to go to get out of the Matrix. She is pursued by the three agents and barely makes it out in time before Agent Smith demolishes her exit.
Neo has a fairly lengthy fight with Agent Smith, which he wins. He gets directions from Tank on where to go to get out of the Matrix while being chased by the same three agents as Trinity. He is just barely too late and Agent Smith kills him.
E. Agents Stop and Chat
The three agents talk briefly about their search inside the Matrix for the human resistance’s next target: Neo.
The three agents note that they have pinpointed the location of Neo and his friends in the real world.
F. Escape Instructions
Trinity sends a message to Neo, who is a prisoner inside the Matrix, and tells him where to find her.
Morpheus, after being held prisoner by the agents, calls Tank and asks for his help to escape the Matrix.
G. Trinity and Neo
Trinity meets Neo in person and warns him that he is in danger.
Neo returns the favor when he saves her life by pulling her from a falling helicopter just before it crashes into a building.
H. Making the Leap to Safety
Morpheus tries to help Neo avoid capture by leading him to the scaffolding, which is his only escape from the agents in a high-rise building. Because of his fear of falling, Neo fails to get away.
When agents shoot Morpheus and prevent him from making a jump from a high-rise building to a helicopter, Neo doesn’t think twice about his fear of heights and jumps out to catch him midair.
Neo is imprisoned by agents, who insert a tracking device into his body.
Neo gets revenge by riddling the agents’ bodies full of bullets, enabling Morpheus to free himself from their imprisonment.
J. Trinity’s Shots
Trinity sucks the tracking device out of Neo’s stomach just as it threatens to get away.
And Trinity blows an agent’s brains out just as he is about to kill Neo.
K. Leaving and Re-entering the Matrix
Neo makes the bold choice to leave the Matrix thanks to Morpheus’ guidance. When he emerges in the real world, he finds himself pale, naked, and completely helpless to fight against a machine that accosts him.
Neo later makes the bold choice to return to the Matrix to save Morpheus. When he goes back in, he is clad head to toe in black clothing, and he becomes an unstoppable force against the enemies who stand in his way.
L. Bedside Manners
Morpheus and his team nurse Neo back to health aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. Neo finds it a tough transition leaving the Matrix and entering the bleak real world.
Morpheus is tortured by Agent Smith inside a government building. Agent Smith is desperate to get out of the Matrix.
M. The Construct
Neo gets plugged into a loading program known as the “Construct.” Morpheus tells him that they can load any supplies they need there before entering the Matrix itself.
Neo puts that information to use when he enters the Construct a second time and requests lots of guns for himself and Trinity to bring into the Matrix.
N. The Virus
Morpheus shows Neo the nightmarish real world in which humanity has been enslaved and is now harvested by machines who have overrun their creators and dominate the planet.
Agent Smith mocks Morpheus by describing humanity as a virus that is never able to find an equilibrium with its natural surroundings. Machines, he believes, are the cure.
O. Rejecting and Accepting the Truth
Neo’s first reaction to hearing the truth is to throw a fit and exclaim over and over, “I don’t believe it.”
Later, Neo calmly accepts his fate as dictated by the Oracle and decides to try to save Morpheus because he finally found something to believe in. He says, “I believe I can bring him back.”
P. The Evolution of the One and the Matrix
Morpheus tells Neo a little about the history of the One. Early in the Matrix’s history, a man came who could control it. The Oracle prophesied that one with even greater powers would eventually come and free all of humanity.
Agent Smith tells Morpheus a little about the history of the Matrix. An early incarnation of the Matrix failed to keep humanity under control, so they had to create a less perfect world in order fool everyone into believing it was reality.
Q. Tank Defends Neo
Tank installs program after program of combat training into Neo, ensuring he can adequately defend himself when he’s inside the Matrix.
Tank defends Neo against Cypher in the real world because Neo’s body is helpless while he’s hooked up to the Matrix.
R. Fighting Morpheus
Neo fights Morpheus, and he doesn’t stand a chance until he starts to believe in himself.
Morpheus fights Agent Smith, and he doesn’t stand a chance the whole way through.
S. Neo Falls
Neo attempts to follow Morpheus and jump from the roof of one tall building to another, but he falls to the ground. Trinity is visibly upset by this because she had faith he could do it.
Neo attempts to follow Morpheus after he breaks through a wall, but Trinity grabs Neo and pulls him so that he falls to safety.
T. Lady in Red
In a training simulation, Neo is distracted by a lady in red who walks past him. When he turns around, he is shocked to find she has transformed into Agent Smith, and he is pointing a gun at Neo.
In the Matrix, Mouse is distracted by looking at a picture of the lady in red. He is soon shocked to learn that his exit has been transformed into a brick wall, and several cops arrive and open fire on him.
U. Noticing a Glitch
A sentinel searches for the Nebuchadnezzar. It looks directly at the ship, but it doesn’t pay attention to it for long and continues on its way.
Neo experiences déjà vu when he sees a cat doing the same action twice. He doesn’t pay it much mind at first, but it alerts his teammates to the fact that the agents have spotted them.
V. Cypher’s and Neo’s Meetings
Cypher gives Neo advice about staying away from agents. Then he goes and has steak dinner with Agent Smith. He promises to betray Morpheus to the machines for selfish reasons.
Neo gets advice from a child about perceiving reality. Then he talks to the Oracle, who tells him that he will have to decide to save either Morpheus or himself. She also gives him a cookie.
W. Food and False Memories
The turning point comes from a pair of seemingly mundane conversations that are actually quite meaningful. During a meal, Mouse postulates that the machines didn’t know what different foods really tasted like to humans, which is why everything tastes like chicken. He then offers Neo a chance to have an intimate encounter with the “lady in red” program.
Right after this, Neo and his team return to the Matrix. During a drive, Neo’s mind returns to food as he points to a restaurant he used to eat at. He says he has memories of things that never really existed and he wonders what that means. Trinity says it means, “The Matrix cannot tell you who you are.” Neo asks her what the Oracle told her, but she is too shy to respond. It is later revealed that the reason she is shy is because she is in love with him, and that is why she has so much faith in him, right up to the end.
These talks seem to point to the fact that we humans are more than the sum of our parts. You can describe a food’s taste and composition, but the experience of eating it is something that is personal and cannot be exactly duplicated for anyone else. Similarly, real love cannot be manufactured. It just happens sometimes between two people. I like how the film connects food and love in this way. Even the most sophisticated virtual reality can never replace true reality because humans crave uniqueness and the ineffable qualities of existence and experience.
Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole
The Matrix is all about duality. There’s the Matrix and the real world. Boring old Thomas Anderson goes by the hacker name Neo in his secret life. Agent Smith seeks to destroy Zion while Morpheus seeks to destroy the Matrix. And so forth. This chiasmus only adds to the film’s dual nature.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey down the rabbit hole. There’s a lot to love about The Matrix, and now hopefully you’ve got a lot more to think about and admire in this film. Even if the Wachowskis never get to make another big-budget film, they’ve already achieved something special.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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All I can say is…WHOA. 0.0
And that is why I love my job. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel to give people a new experience with films they’ve watched many times. 🙂
Have you ever thought about doing one of these with a season (or series) of a TV show?
Thank you very much for the suggestion. I’ve thought about creating a YouTube channel or something like that to do these. They definitely lend themselves to a visual format. Then I could show the rhythm of the chiasmus much more fluidly than I currently do in these articles. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about video editing at the moment, and change is always a little scary and difficult. But I appreciate your gentle nudge in that direction. Who knows? Maybe I’ll wind up translating these all into video reviews in the future. 🙂
Amazing work yet again! I haven’t seen The Matrix in too long, next time I watch it I’ll be sure to keep this post in mind!
Great movie, great review, never thought of anything that you posted here.
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When it comes to storytelling mirrors, circles – and now a chiasmus – are some of my favourite things!
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Reblogged this on litaenterprise.
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