As we’ve worked toward the upcoming release of Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9) next release, Elysium, we’ve worked on preview pieces at Hollywood Jesus. I agreed to work on this one, a look at how the Wachowski brothers had taken Big Brother-like ideas and morphed them into the cyber kinetic, visually explosive package that was the 1999 hit, The Matrix. Given how many people dig the work of the Wachowskis, and Blomkamp, I offer up this mash-up of epic, sci-fi proportions.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves, post-Bill & Ted’s and Point Blank, and pre-everything else) recognizes that “there is something wrong with the world” as he hacks his way into, through, and around the files and systems he has broken into electronically, as evidence of the shadowy Matrix appears in bits and pieces around him. But then one day, the beautiful Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) arrives with news that there’s a conspiracy and that he, Neo, is in the middle of it. Soon, he’s getting phone calls from the mysterious Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and arrested by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who we know has clone-like abilities based on a chase scene we see through Trinity’s perspective. What IS the truth here? And who controls it, Smith or Morpheus? And how can Neo make his own choices in a world where everything seems controlled by everyone else?
In Elysium, the privileged live in an orbiting space station utopia where everything is perfect, crime-free, and disease is removed. We know that the Earth below this is desolate, and the humans who remain are worker drones with only the worst remains of our society, like overpopulation, disease, pollution, etc. The status quo appears threatened when factory worker Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) gets cancer and seeks a way to break into the utopia to get himself cured. Of course, the utopia has anti-immigration laws, backed by Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley of District 9). Can one man’s desire for a better life actually break through the cycle of repression?
See how those two express some of the same distaste about our world’s dichotomy?
Morpheus reveals to Neo that his whole world is a drug-induced coma, put upon him by sentient machines who want to keep the human population “out of it.” Their privileged status keeps the majority of the humans in the dark, but the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and their fearless leader threaten that. In fact, there’s some Judeo-Christian imagery around Neo’s being “the One,” and leading a rebellion against the machines, powered by the strong ability of his mind. Of course, you can tune out all of the imagery and just enjoy vintage sci-fi, as the Wachowski brothers banter, bicker, fight, and send us flying through mind-bending special effects that are still amazing today. In fact, thanks to the clarity of high definition, this film might look better than it did a dozen years ago!
DeCosta’s problems appear to be more tangible: he KNOWS that his life isn’t what he wants it to be and that someone else’s life is better than his. The oppression is more overt even without a red pill. We won’t know for a few more weeks how it will play out, but the Wachowskis play more of a psychological game with the viewer than Blomkamp will. His direct-on attack of apartheid in District 9 wasn’t completely blunt, but it was hard to miss; his pursuit of class, social norms, and immigration seem pretty straightforward before even seeing the movie!
The Matrix has more of a Platonic feel, where you know that we’re getting a look at what it means to be lead by your nose through life, seeing mere shadows on the wall of what the real images look like. Are they going after religion, or science? Is it political or social? Is it maddeningly just clever entertainment? (I mean seriously, these people made Speed Racer!) Whatever you think the point is, it’s still all Truman Show: Neo is recognizing that his life isn’t what he thinks it is.
Only time will tell in a direct one-to-one relationship whether these films will stand the test of time, and if Elysium can outclass The Matrix in getting us to think. It certainly seems Blomkamp is more socially proactive than his latter day peers, but we’ll see. All we can know for sure is this: the truth is out there.