Adam: What is "The Matrix?" The question that, apparently, not too many people were asking surrounding that film and its release back in '99. Everyone surely would be talking about it soon after. A little bit of background on "The Matrix," and I suppose its stature. It did end up being the number five film at the box office this year – made over $463 million dollars total, $171 million domestically, behind three movies that are part of our "9 from '99," series: "The Phantom Menace," "The Sixth Sense," and "Toy Story 2." And one film that most certainly will not be, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." How about the Oscars? Josh are you willing to make the case now, upon this revisit, for Keanu Reeves against actual best actor nominees Kevin Spacey, Denzel Washington, Richard Farnsworth, Russell Crowe, and Sean Penn?
Josh: Spacey got it. Farnsworth should have. That's my answer to that question.
Adam: “The Matrix,” was nominated for and won four Oscars – editing, visual effects, sound and sound editing. Forget the Oscars. What about Filmspotting Madness? This year it's the best of the 2000s. Last year it was the best of the '90s. “The Matrix",” was the 10th overall seed. Seems about right. Could possibly be a little bit higher. Do you remember at all how “The Matrix,” did in the tourney, Josh?
Josh: I'm going to say elite eight?
Adam: Indeed, it lost in the Elite Eight to "Goodfellas," so it finished tied for fifth with "Rushmore," "Fight Club," and "The Big Lebowski." Not bad. Then we've got the Filmspotting poll, as we were embarking on this "9 from '99," series. We asked listeners a few weeks back to name the best film of that year. We gave you six options, plus the ability to write in your own candidate. "The Matrix," won with 24 percent of the vote. And my guess is a lot of people approached the vote the same way Jeff in Olympia Washington did. He wrote, "When I think of the best film of the year, I think about which film A) stood the test of time, and B) was the most significant or influential. This is a great pack of films. But I think the edge goes to the Matrix."
Of course there's a lot to parse in Jeff's concise criteria. Does standing the test of time mean that it's absolutely just as enjoyable to watch in 2019 as it was in 1999? Or that its style and what-is-real-how-do-you-define-real substance is just as prescient and provocative now as it was then? Or is it both? And what of its influence? I'm not concerned so much with quantifying how much it has been imitated or qualifying how successful the imitators have been.
But I am fascinated by the way author Chuck Klosterman framed the discussion of the movie and his appearance on our 600th episode where "The Matrix," made his list of the Top Five Movies Future Historians Will Remember and in his book, "But What If We're Wrong: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past," where he wrote, "When 'The Matrix,' debuted in 1999, it was a huge box office success. It was also well-received by critics most of whom focus on one of two qualities; the technological – it mainstreamed the digital technique of three dimensional bullet time, where the onscreen action would freeze while the camera continued to revolve around the participants – or the philosophical. It served as a trippy entry point for the notion that we already live in a simulated world, directly quoting philosopher Jean Baudrillard's 1981 reality-rejecting book, "Simulacra and Simulation." And it's true. We do see that book on a nightstand or on a bookcase in Neo's apartment at one point. "If you talk about 'The Matrix," right now," Klosterman continues, "these are still the two things you likely discuss. But what will still be interesting about this film once the technology becomes ancient in the philosophy becomes standard?"
Now Josh you know Chuck's fascinating answer, one I'm sure we'll touch on, which is tied to the fact that the film's co-writers and directors, each completed their transitions from male to female since "The Matrix's," release. What's your answer? What's interesting about "The Matrix," not in the distant future which Chuck is most concerned with, but in the present, 20 years later, when the technology that the Wachowski sisters so skillfully employed may not seem ancient, (but standard, sure) and in the philosophy – well how many times per day does someone in your Twitter feed joke about the worst timeline we're currently stuck in?
Josh: While Chuck's right. I mean, in a lot of ways, he was more right than he knew. The future is now. I think that element – when did we do that show with him? Was that 2017 or was it in 2018?
Adam: I don't recall.
Josh: Maybe it was about a year ago, maybe a little bit more. But basically, that's exactly the element that people would want to talk about now first, I think, are the gender issues here at play in the film. And then of course in the background with the Wachowskis, I think it's also interesting – and we'll we'll get to this maybe – that the movie has a lot of revolutionary stuff on that end and also a very square element that surprised me when I watch this again and forgot a little detail towards the finale. So maybe we can revisit that.
Adam: Is this related to the love story.
Josh: The kiss.
Adam: OK, yeah I guess we'll talk about it.
Josh: I was surprised.
Adam: Yeah, I'd forgotten it.
Josh: But to go back and answer your question... You know ,I think what I would say is that it's not the technology or the philosophy for me that make this still so shockingly fresh. It's the way it interweaves the two intricately, where they feed off each other. They need each other. They reverberate with each other in a lot of ways.
We talked about last week, "Lego Movie 2," and one of my disappointments was the way it didn't do that very same thing that the first Lego Movie did — interweave idea and form so intricately. "The Matrix," does that. I mean, if whatever philosophy you want to talk about that strikes your fancy that's in this film... We could throw out Descartes too, "I think therefore I am." Is that the angle you want to take on what's going on here? The Christianity that's in this movie — there's so much in here about... You could discuss being slaves to sin. How does the actual narrative and the special effects capture that notion? Or the many references to Buddhism that's in this film as well. Whatever philosophy you pick to focus on, the technology the film uses to get bullet time, to get these ideas of what is our identity what is reality, it's right there in the form of the film. And that is still the brilliance of "The Matrix," and I think that's what will be the brilliance of "The Matrix," no matter how many years out we get. Because you'll have movies with big ideas but the aesthetics aren't necessarily tied to it. They're they're topping, you know? It's sprinkled on top in an action-philosophy film. Or you'll get movies that have a lot of great action, but not a thought in their pretty little heads. And this is a movie that weaves those two things together consistently throughout. That was the thrill for me when I first saw it in '99. And that hasn't lost its freshness today. I don't think it will.