Which is better? Coming up with a new idea, or getting lots of people to like that new idea? Just as in most places, in film we see lots of new ideas all the time, but greater acceptance of these new ideas is relatively rare. As a form of art, film is a media full of new and interesting things. However, it is also a business, and in general it is difficult to sell things which people have not already experienced and had a positive response to. For this reason, innovation in mainstream cinema can seem to move forward at a snail’s pace. Big studios want to make what sells, and taking creative risks is not friendly to the bottom line.
The Matrix is a big budget film which broke through this struggle. It is a film we recognize for bringing new ideas to the big screen. However, even though we recognize The Matrix as an innovator, many of its ideas were actually not new. The Matrix’s creators, The Wachowski’s, have not been shy about describing their inspirations over the years and how they cobbled them together into this hit film. Below we look at some of the biggest sources of their inspiration and how those ideas made it into the final film.
Hard Boiled (1992 John Woo Film)
The Wachowskis loved Hong Kong action films. Historically, these type of films brought martial arts to modern storylines, but Hard Boiled was a little different. This was a crime story, but with guns. Lots and lots of guns. Hard Boiled was released in 1992 and was very much ahead of its time because of the way it filmed its action. This was an action movie where the action sequences revolved around gunplay. It took the same choreographed approach to martial arts fights, and applied them to slick gun battles. And more than just highlighting the potential entertainment factor of gun fights, the film used long tracking shots, slow motion, first person perspectives, and lots of violence and flying debris to make the scenes as gritty and as engaging to the viewer as possible.
Hard Boiled (1990 Dark Horse Comic)
Oddly enough, there were two unrelated things called “Hard Boiled” which influenced the Wachowskis. The second Hard Boiled was a Frank Miller science fiction graphic novel set in a future dystopian Los Angeles. While there is some parallels between the dystopian setting, and the fact that the protagonist isn’t actually who he things he is, the biggest influence of Hard Boiled on The Matrix was the visuals. The Wachowskis loved artist Geof Darrow’s haunting interpretation of the future so much they actually hired him to design the “real world” setting in The Matrix. His attention to detail led to the buzzing, insect-like machines. Darrow even helped the Wachowskis storyboard the entire movie before it even went into production.
Simulacra and Simulation
When Keanu Reeves was cast as Neo, the Wachowskis gave him some reading material to prepare for the role. One of the books he was given was this essay on postmodern philosophy by Jean Baudrillard. In this book, Baudrillard comments on how society has strayed from what is actually real. Our modern world is essentially created to cater to us, so much so that we often prefer the fake things in our lives over the real ones. It is a play on the ideas of Plato, who introduced the concept of the simulacra. Plato argued that the reality we perceive is not real at all because of various logical contradictions which exist. And so when we discuss our reality, or reflect upon it with our art or philosophy, we are essentially copying a copy. Baudrillard takes this idea a step further to explain how modern life is so reliant on these false truths that the “truth” of the world around us doesn’t even exist any more.