Few films have carried the cultural zeitgeist that The Matrix has for the past 25 years. Released in 1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s movie quickly became both a blockbuster and cult classic for fans awed by its unique special effects and philosophical underpinnings. From the film’s opening scene of a leather-clad Trinity taking out an entire regiment of police officers to Neo’s gradual acceptance of his role as the prophesied ‘One,’ The Matrix movie is layered with an array of jaw-dropping, fist-pumping, and heart-thumping action.

Perhaps what makes The Matrix so compelling is its depiction of a future where humans have lost the ability to differentiate between real life and digital fiction. Thinking about all the technologies that have emerged since the movie’s release, it’s not difficult to foresee a scenario where humanity is subjected to artificial lifeforms powered by code. 

There is no doubt that The Matrix continues to impact the way we think about film-making, technology, and, ultimately, human consciousness in a society increasingly bolstered by machines. In honor of the movie turning 25, here’s a few memorable quotes that continue to carry resonance for audiences both old and young.

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Played by Laurence Fishburne, Morpheus utters this memorable introduction to Neo as he describes humanity’s near extinction and the subsequent creation of the Matrix. The movie’s plot line is deceptively simple in structure: Neo, a low-level computer hacker with a boring office day job, must embrace his identity as ‘The One,’ a Messiah-like individual with the power to take control of the machines’ carefully constructed computer program that keeps the majority of humanity imprisoned in an artificial reality.

Morpheus’ point about “seeing the Matrix for yourself” rings true to fans of the movie. After all, The Matrix film and its heady concept of artificial reality is hard to explain to people who haven’t seen it and somehow have missed all the pop-culture references to it for the past two decades. The Matrix’s revolutionary film-making techniques gave us scenes like Neo dodging bullets and Trinity appearing suspended in mid-air. This pioneering use of “bullet-time” visual effects juxtaposes slow-motion action with real-time camera movements, a strategy that greatly differentiated The Matrix’s action scenes from other films. In the years since Neo’s bullet-dodging scene has been parodied by everything from Shrek to The Simpsons. As for “seeing it for yourself,” you can do that with a quick Google search.

“You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Memes, TikTok shorts, and television shows have been leveraging the “red pill vs. blue pill” concept since Morpheus first presented the choice to Neo all those years ago. Problematic political connotations aside, the metaphor of the red pill is a powerful way to expose and critique group-conforming behavior that discourages individuals from facing uncomfortable truths about the way things are. 

The Matrix sends an incredibly subversive message about society and the culpability of everyone in enabling unequal political, cultural, and economic dynamics. Cypher, the rat who sells Morpheus out to Agent Smith, does so specifically because he regrets choosing the red pill. Although we as viewers cringe when Cypher explains how much he wants to believe his bloody, simulated steak is ‘real,’ his choice makes even the most socially progressive among us question whether our eyes are truly open to the harsh realities of the world. Like Alice in Wonderland, ‘tumbling down a rabbit hole’ can flip our perception, sometimes in ways we aren’t quite ready to accept. 

In the case of Cypher, a person who did, at least initially, want what the red pill offered, The Matrix suggests that his desire to return to a superficial reality surpassed his loyalty to the other rebel humans and everything they fought for. Perhaps ‘going deep into the rabbit hole’ exposed a darkness that Cypher didn’t expect and, ultimately, didn’t want to know. For Cypher, the only way to eliminate his responsibility to the rest of humanity trapped in the Matrix was to claw and kill his way out. After all, if the end outcome is that his memories of murdering friends in cold blood will be erased, do his actions even matter?

“There is no spoon.”

One of the biggest allures of The Matrix film is the questions it poses about authentic reality. On his way to see the Oracle, Neo observes a young boy seemingly bending a spoon with his mind. After Neo tries and fails to bend the spoon, the boy instructs: “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends. It is only yourself.”

From a basic storytelling perspective, this moment in the movie hints at the incredible feats of strength, time-bending, and gravity manipulation that Neo will increasingly rely on as he fights the Matrix’s Agents. But on a deeper level, the boy’s simple description of ignoring the laws of physics to achieve impossible things shows how insidious the Matrix’s superimposed ‘reality’ truly is. For Neo, a man fresh out of the pods that allow the machines to feed on humans, he still cannot quite grasp that the ‘rules’ of his world don’t exist. 

Like Biblical prophets, Neo is capable of accomplishing literal miracles while within the Matrix’s code. The only thing limiting him is his mind’s inability to truly accept the artificiality of his surroundings. When Neo realizes that getting hurt while in the Matrix could potentially kill his physical body in the real world, he is surprised and more than a little rattled. Morpheus explains that because his mind makes the Matrix real, his body will automatically follow suit. Even knowing the truth — that the Matrix is nothing more than a digital mask — will not protect Neo from its dangers.  

Based on this line of thinking, the boy’s instruction to “try to realize the truth” takes on a new meaning. Even Neo, the Christ-like individual preordained to bring the Matrix to its knees, can only “try” to force his mind to ignore what his senses are telling it to believe. Regardless of his role in the prophecy, Neo is still, at the end of the day, merely human. And it’s that very humanity that makes him so susceptible to the Matrix’s pull. It’s that very humanity that ultimately makes him different from the machines.

“Welcome to the real world.”

So what is The Matrix’s overarching message? Depends on who you’re asking. Like James Cameron’s The Terminator franchise, The Matrix can be easily grouped into the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre that so often focuses on the potential negatives of artificial intelligence. In this respect, The Matrix’s 25th anniversary seems eerily prescient in a world where references to “The AI War” dominate headlines. As Morpheus explains to Neo, the Matrix came about as a way for technology to control humans, a species that, at some point, realized their innovations had effectively signed their own death warrant.

At its most basic, The Matrix is a visual masterpiece that, somehow, doesn’t take itself too seriously (if you don’t believe me, watch 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections). For all its lofty philosophical discussions and depictions of a world ravaged by human hubris, the film is ultimately an entertaining romp with a cast of pretty textbook characters: the unlikely hero, love interest, mentor, and psychotic villain. 

Will The Matrix hold relevance for audiences 25 years from now? Hard to tell. Like the Oracle tells Neo, “I told you exactly what you needed to hear. That’s all.” Perhaps The Matrix is telling us the very same thing.

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