Film Studies: `The Matrix': great if it lasted only 10 minutes

I know my limits - if not as well as readers have learnt them. So I knew I could not see The Matrix, which has just opened in America, on my own. More than likely, I would fall asleep and be stoned for snoring through the one dialogue scene the picture might yield to. It was essential that I go with a nine-year-old who would spill cherry Coke on me to keep me awake and school me in the rollercoaster rhythms.

Luckily, I have access to such a being. He calls me Dad. And so we set out to the low-price twilight screening of The Matrix, congratulating ourselves on knowing absolutely nothing about the film to come - except that it had taken in a record $37m in the five days of the long Easter break.

"I like not knowing the story," said my son as he got his drink, and I agreed, for it is a curse of the film critic's life to know too much in advance. You want to be surprised.

Well, we saw The Matrix, and still don't know what it's about. Those readers who are wary that I may give away an ending can be reassured. The film ended; at least, it stopped. The lights came on and the patrons trooped out. But I saw nothing remotely resembling an ending - in the sense of a conclusion or a resolution - that could be given away.

Even my nine-year-old consented to this estimate of things. When we got home for dinner, the rest of the family wanted to know what it was about, and I deferred to my son, just to test him. Truth is, it's about Keanu Reeves, special effects and fighting, and that apparently is enough. My son and I conferred. We even looked up a couple of reviews - artful, devious pieces full of stuff like: "A hipness that's rare and welcome," or "The ultimate in cyberescapism."

None of that windy phrase-making for us. As far as we could tell, there are two levels of reality in the film, neither of which bears on anything you or I might recognise as reality. One of them is called The Matrix. We don't know which. The heavy inference of the film's sentiments is that one of these levels is more virtuous than and preferable to the other. But we don't know which, or why. And we don't care. Keanu Reeves is some kind of hacker dude - though it's more important that he wears a black overcoat and black boots that are the utmost and which go with his terrific martial arts attitudes whenever he's spoken to harshly. He is transing from one level to the other, pursued by three unpleasant guys in black suits and shades. They are like FBI men or robots, very mean, with no respect for Keanu's cool gear.

Keanu has allies - Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. Which reminds me that The Matrix is directed by the Wachowski Brothers (Larry and Andy) - because Pantoliano was memorable as the scumbag husband in Bound (their last picture), in which Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly conned Pantoliano and his Mob associates, walked off with a suitcase of money and had terrific sex together in an arty half-light that was quite enough to discern terrific from tame. Now, there we had a story, and characters - up to a point - and an ending you could fall off.

Andy and Larry, however, have clearly outgrown such drab amusements. There are no characters, now; there is no story. There is just Keanu in mortal combat with the three men in black. These three are extremely difficult to destroy - which allows for a lot of ingenious personal hostility, as in the Tom and Jerry cartoons of yesteryear when Tom the cat was always getting exploded, electrocuted, smithereened, or flattened, only to be feisty, Tom-like and ready for more after every fade-out.

That's OK in a 10-minute cartoon; it's a rule of the game. But in The Matrix, it's worrying that combat looms larger and still we don't grasp the rules. What do you have to do to off these guys? What it comes down to is how fully Keanu believes he is "the one" - a pretty mystical and neat condition that allows him to see bullets coming towards him, hold up his hand, and have them hesitate in mid-air so he can look them over as if they were cufflinks in a jeweller's drawer. Not that Keanu wears anything so jaded it would need cufflinks. He prefers skin-tight black mesh, boots, belts and shades. I heard someone coming out of the picture calling the clothes "the acceptable face of fascism - small f".

As for Keanu, he looks better than ever, and he has been asked to play it all semi-automatic. That's kinder to him, because the stress of thought has in the past detracted from his image and his purity. There's a blank conviction now, and you can see how like Rudolph Valentino he looks. Some of the special effects are pretty and cute, and if it was just 10 minutes The Matrix would be drop-dead. In fact, it runs two hours and - as and when it reaches Britain - it may be one of the great American hits of all time. It's over when it stops, like this column.

"Well," sighed my son, with the best will in the world, "I expect by the time they do the sequel they'll have worked it out."

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin