Twenty years ago, on this day, the Wachowski brothers, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne made a movie that turned an entire genre on its head. This cult-classic, The Matrix, tackled the essential question: What will happen when a man takes on the machines?
The movie had a very hard to follow the plot, with many of the cast also admitting to not understanding it. But people all over the world lined up outside cinema halls to witness this epic with its never-seen-before graphics and action sequences.
The movie set a new standard of filmmaking in Hollywood with its lead characters dodging bullets in slow motion and antagonists body morphing. Fans of this classic believe that no movie, not even its sequels, have been able to replicate the magic of this March 31, 1999 release.
As this film turns 20, here are ten lesser-known facts about the movie that add to its grandeur and only feed into the myth of the movie:
- When Carrie Anne Moss, the actor who plays Trinity, saw the first cut of the movie, it was the first time she had seen herself in a film. Moss started her acting career in 1989, and before the release of this film, she had appeared in many television shows and TV movies. Matrix was her first feature film. Gillian Anderson and Sandra Bullock were in offered the role of Trinity before it finally went to Moss.
- Sandra Bullock was initially offered to play the role of Neo, and the Wachowski brothers were willing to gender flip the entire script to accommodate her. However, when she turned that down, she was offered to play the female lead, Trinity, in the film. Bullock turned that down too. She said that she couldn’t see herself acting alongside the actor the studio intended to play the role of Neo. This was before Keanu Reeves was cast for the role. Bullock had worked with Reeves in Speed (1994) and later in The Lake House (2006). She later expressed regret for not having agreed to do the film then.
- Keanu Reeves may have been ‘The One’ in the movie, but he was not the first choice of either the Wachowski’s or the studio. Will Smith, Val Kilmer, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicholas Cage, and Brad Pitt were all once in the running for the lead role. Most turned down the offer to take up the role and in the end, the choice was between Depp and Reeves. Though the role eventually went to Reeves, Depp would’ve changed the role completely. Will Smith, who ended up doing Wild Wild West instead of The Matrix, said that he had not matured as an actor and did not regret giving up the role. He also said that he had no regrets of passing on the part as Reeves was “perfect for the role.”
- One of the benchmarks of the action-trilogy were its sublime action sequences. Imagine this: the opening action sequence of the movie took close to six months to shoot. The Matrix’s action sequences come from well-known martial arts choreographer, Woo-Ping Yuen. Although he liked the script, he was unwilling to work on the film. So, he quoted an exorbitant fee that he was quite confident would be turned down. But to his surprise, the Wachowski brothers accepted his condition. He then insisted on having complete control over the fight sequences and training the actors for four months before the movie was shot. And that too was accepted.
- The movie’s directors, the Wachowski brothers, claimed that the idea of the film came after they were thinking of an idea for a comic book series, perhaps anime with a mix of martial arts and sci-fi, close to the mid-nineties. They then tinkered with the idea for five and a half years and worked on 14 different drafts of the film. Although most studio executives who read the script loved their plans, they had extreme difficulty imagining how this would translate onto the screen. The Wachowskis then hired leading illustrators Steve Skroce and Geoffrey Darrow, who created over 600 storyboards. Executives were reportedly sold immediately after seeing the bold vision on display and green-lit the film.
- One of the most iconic roles in the movie went to the actors’ sunglasses. Morpheus, Trinity and Neo’s looks would have been incomplete without their iconic glasses. The sunglasses in the movie belong to the cult-ish label Blindie, which boasts of making handcrafted sunglasses. For the movie, Blindie had to present a tender to compete with competitors like Ray-Ban and Arnette. Once it won the tender, it decided to make new scratch-designed sunglasses for each character based on their unusual screen names. When the company’s tender was successful, the company’s owner was flown into Sydney where he spent the duration of the Matrix shoot custom-designing sunglasses for the cast in the back of an Oxford Street optometrist.
- The name of Morpheus’ ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, is a Biblical reference to King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, from the biblical Book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar (“the Great”) was famous for his conquests of Israel in Biblical times (specifically Judah and Jerusalem). He also built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the lost Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) for his wife. He has a dream he can’t remember but keeps searching for an answer, in Daniel 2:1-49.
- The film pays a massive homage to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” although there are also references to Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Zen, and Homer’s Odyssey. One of the main featured works of literature is “Simulcra and Simulation” by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillaud. The book can be seen lying open in Neo’s apartment and was required reading for all the principal cast and crew.
- All scenes that take place within the Matrix have a green tint, as if watching them through a computer monitor, while scenes in the real world have a blue tint. Blue was also used at a minimum in the Matrix scenes since the directors thought blue was more of an actual world color (despite, ironically, blue being the least often occurring color in nature). The fight scene between Morpheus and Neo, which is neither in the real world nor in the Matrix, is tinted yellow.
- The names of all the lead characters or their adopted names, like Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity are all based on Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Morpheus is the god of dreams. Somewhat ironic, considering Morpheus’ role here is to awaken people from their dream states to reality. The Olympic triad of Zeus (king of the gods), Athena (goddess of war and intellect) and Apollo (god of the sun, culture, and music). In the Greek culture, Zeus was the name for Nimrod, Athena for Semiramis, and Apollo for Tammuz.