The Matrix draws from and makes reference to numerous cinematic and literary works, and concepts from mythology, religion and philosophy. One can make a connection between the premise of The Matrix and Plato's Allegory of the Cave.
The allegory is related to Plato's theory of Forms which holds that the true essence of an object is not what we perceive with our senses, but rather its quality, and that most people perceive only the shadow of the object and are thus confined to false perception.
The Matrix, or rather the AI that runs it, recalls Descartes' First Meditation, or evil demon, a hypothesis that the perceived world might be a comprehensive illusion created to deceive us. The same premise can be found in Hilary Putnam's brain in a vat scenario proposed in the 1980s.
The Matrix also makes reference to the ideas of Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Hinduism, and Judaism. The Matrix's premise resembles the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Andrew Godoski from Screened.com observed Neo's "virgin birth", his doubt in himself, the prophecy of his coming, along with many Christianity references.
In The Matrix, a copy of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation is visible on-screen as the book used to conceal disks, and Morpheus quotes its phrase "desert of the real". The book was required reading for the actors prior to filming. Baudrillard himself said that The Matrix misunderstands and distorts his work.
Interpretations of The Matrix often reference Baudrillard's philosophy to demonstrate that the film is an allegory for contemporary experience in a heavily commercialized, media-driven society, especially in developed countries.
The influence of the matrixial theory of Bracha Ettinger articulated in a series of books and essays from the end of the 1980s onwards was brought to the public's attention through the writings of art historians such as Griselda Pollock and film theorists such as Heinz-Peter Schwerfel.
Bracha Ettinger's matrixial theory is referred to explicitly quite late in the film through the expression "primal matrix" but it is visualized from the beginning via the alliance between Neo, Trinity and Morpheus, their “co-birthing” in a womb-like “shareable time-space”, their co-existence in different dimension at the same time, their relation to the maternal oracle and more.
Her “archaic” matrix is always in the now and the future, it depends on human affects and desires and proposes a different relations between the symbolic and the real. This Matrix is fragile yet it is resistant to the dominating Matrix of the mechanical coded simulated and manipulated consciousness that forecloses and rejects it.
In the Ettingerian matrixial sphere freedom goes together with responsibility. The links between Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the Oracle, right from the very beginning and all along the film, manifest the possibility of "transconnectedness" in proximity and in distance, which is not global and can't form a “web of webs”.
Its webs are always specific, invested by an "Eros of borderlinking" and related to different processes thet Ettinger has named “metramorphosis” (feminine-maternal-material morpheus). This is then another kind of Matrix hidden behind the Baudrillard kind.
The Matrix belongs to the cyberpunk genre of science fiction, and draws from earlier works in the genre such as Neuromancer by William Gibson; for example, the film's use of the term "Matrix" is adopted from Gibson's novel.
After watching The Matrix, Gibson commented that the way that the film's creators had drawn from existing cyberpunk works was "exactly the kind of creative cultural osmosis" he had relied upon in his own writing.
However, he noted that the film's Gnostic themes distinguished it from Neuromancer, and believed that The Matrix was thematically closer to the work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick. Other writers have also commented on the similarities between The Matrix and Dick's work.
The Wachowskis' approach to action scenes drew upon their admiration for Japanese animation such as Ninja Scroll and Akira. Director Mamoru Oshii's 1995 animated film Ghost in the Shell was a particularly strong influence.
Producer Joel Silver has stated that the Wachowskis first described their intentions for The Matrix by showing him that anime and saying, "We wanna do that for real". Mitsuhisa Ishikawa of Production I.G, which produced Ghost in the Shell, noted that the anime's high-quality visuals were a strong source of inspiration for the Wachowskis.
He also commented, "... cyberpunk films are very difficult to describe to a third person. I'd imagine that The Matrix is the kind of film that was very difficult to draw up a written proposal for to take to film studios".
He stated that since Ghost in the Shell had gained recognition in America, the Wachowskis used it as a "promotional tool". The action scenes of The Matrix were also strongly influenced by live-action films such as those of director John Woo.
The martial arts sequences were inspired by Fist of Legend, a critically acclaimed 1995 martial arts film starring Jet Li. The fight scenes in Fist of Legend led to the hiring of Woo-ping as fight choreographer.
The film makes several references to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The pods in which the machines keep humans have been compared to images in Metropolis, and the work of M. C. Escher.
The Wachowskis have described Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as a formative cinematic influence, and as a major inspiration on the visual style they aimed for when making The Matrix.
Reviewers have commented on similarities between The Matrix and other late-1990s films such as Strange Days, Dark City, and The Truman Show. Comparisons have also been made to Grant Morrison's comic series The Invisibles; Morrison believes that the Wachowskis essentially plagiarized his work to create the film.
Comparisons have also been made between The Matrix and the books of Carlos Castaneda. The similarity of the film's central concept to a device in the long-running series Doctor Who has also been noted.
As in the film, the Matrix of that series (introduced in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin) is a massive computer system which one enters using a device connecting to the head, allowing users to see representations of the real world and change its laws of physics; but if killed there, they will die in reality.
The Matrix was released on March 31, 1999. After its DVD release, it was the first DVD to sell more than one million copies in the US, and went on to be the first to sell more than three million copies in the US.
By November 10, 2003, one month after The Matrix Reloaded DVD was released, the sales of The Matrix DVD had exceeded 30 million copies. The Ultimate Matrix Collection was released on HD DVD on May 22, 2007 and on Blu-ray on October 14, 2008.
The film was also released standalone in a 10th anniversary edition Blu-ray in the Digibook format on March 31, 2009, 10 years to the day after the film was released theatrically.
The film earned $171,479,930 (37.0%) in North America and $292,037,453 (63.0%) elsewhere for a worldwide total of $463,517,383. In North America, it became the fifth highest grossing film of 1999 and the highest grossing R-rated film of 1999.
Worldwide it was the fourth highest grossing film of the year. As of 2012 it is placed 122nd on the list of highest grossing films of all time, and the second highest grossing film in the Matrix franchise after The Matrix Reloaded ($742.1 million).
The Matrix received positive reviews from most critics, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Entertainment Weekly called The Matrix "the most influential action movie of the generation".
Rotten Tomatoes described it as an "ingenious" blend of Hong Kong action cinema, innovative visual effects and an imaginative vision. The site reported that 87% of critics gave the film positive reviews, with an average score of 7.4/10, based upon a sample of 129 reviews.
At Metacritic, which assigns an average rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 73 upon its DVD release, based on 35 reviews.
Philip Strick commented in Sight & Sound, "if the Wachowskis claim no originality of message, they are startling innovators of method," praising the film's details and its "broadside of astonishing images". Roger Ebert praised the film's visuals and premise, but disliked the third act's focus on action.
Similarly, Time Out praised the "entertainingly ingenious" switches between different realities, Hugo Weaving's "engagingly odd" performance, and the film's cinematography and production design, but concluded, "the promising premise is steadily wasted as the film turns into a fairly routine action pic ... yet another slice of overlong, high concept hokum."
Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader reviewed the film negatively, criticizing it as "simpleminded fun for roughly the first hour, until the movie becomes overwhelmed by its many sources ... There's not much humor to keep it all life-size, and by the final stretch it's become bloated, mechanical, and tiresome."
Film critic Nick Davis strongly disliked The Matrix, criticizing aspects such as its unoriginality and its attitudes toward race and gender, concluding that the Wachowskis had raised the bar of filmmaking and special effects, only to waste it on hackneyed, impersonal and political tripe.
Ian Nathan of Empire described Carrie-Anne Moss as "a major find", praised the "surreal visual highs" enabled by the bullet time (or "flo-mo") effect, and described the film as "technically mind-blowing, style merged perfectly with content and just so damn cool".
Nathan remarked that although the film's "looney plot" would not stand up to scrutiny, that was not a big flaw because "The Matrix is about pure experience".
Maitland McDonagh said in her review for TV Guide, "The Wachowskis' through-the-looking-glass plot... manages to work surprisingly well on a number of levels: as a dystopian sci-fi thriller, as a brilliant excuse for the film's lavish and hyperkinetic fight scenes, and as a pretty compelling call to the dead-above-the-eyeballs masses to unite and cast off their chains.
This dazzling pop allegory is steeped in a dark, pulpy sensibility that transcends nostalgic pastiche and stands firmly on its own merits."
Salon's reviewer Andrew O'Hehir acknowledged that The Matrix is a fundamentally immature and unoriginal film. "It lacks anything like adult emotion... all this pseudo-spiritual hokum, along with the overamped onslaught of special effects—some of them quite amazing—will hold 14-year-old boys in rapture.
Not to mention those of us of all ages and genders who still harbor a 14-year-old boy somewhere inside", but concluded, "as in Bound, there's an appealing scope and daring to the Wachowskis' work, and their eagerness for more plot twists and more crazy images becomes increasingly infectious.
In a limited and profoundly geeky sense, this might be an important and generous film. The Wachowskis have little feeling for character or human interaction, but their passion for movies—for making them, watching them, inhabiting their world—is pure and deep."
Several science fiction creators commented on the film. Author William Gibson, a key figure in cyberpunk fiction, called the film "an innocent delight I hadn't felt in a long time," and stated, "Neo is my favourite-ever science fiction hero, absolutely."
Joss Whedon called the film "my number one" and praised its storytelling, structure and depth, concluding, "It works on whatever level you want to bring to it." Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky commented, "I walked out of The Matrix ... and I was thinking, 'What kind of science fiction movie can people make now?'
The Wachowskis basically took all the great sci-fi ideas of the 20th century and rolled them into a delicious pop culture sandwich that everyone on the planet devoured." Director M. Night Shyamalan expressed admiration for the Wachowskis, stating, "Whatever you think of The Matrix, every shot is there because of the passion they have! You can see they argued it out!".
Meanwhile, Morpheus is bleeding from numerous wounds and is pumped full of serum, alternately shivering and sweating. He is hooked up to various monitors with white disk electrodes. They begin running a trace program. Agent Smith, with a tray of torture instruments near him, marvels at the beauty of the Matrix as he gazes out at the city all around them.
He informs Morpheus, who is tied to a chair, that the first Matrix was designed as a utopia, engineered to make everyone happy. "It was a disaster," says Agent Smith, people wouldn't accept the program and "entire crops were lost." "Some believed," continues Smith, "that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world.
But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned." Agent Smith compares humans to dinosaurs and that evolution is taking hold. Another Agent enters and relays that there may be a problem (as they now know that Cypher has failed).
Back on the hovercraft, Neo looks at Morpheus whose body is covered with a cold sweat. The shuddering form of Morpheus betrays the torture he's being put through by the Agents in the Matrix. Tank explains they are cracking his mind. They inject virus-like serums to break down the system. It's like cracking a computer. All it takes is time.
Tank realizes that they're trying to get the codes to the mainframes of Zion's computers; each ship's captain knows them. Because a breach of Zion's defenses would mean that the last remaining vestiges of mankind would be wiped out, Tank says their only choice is to unplug Morpheus, effectively killing him.
Back in the Matrix, the Agents process their next move. If Cypher is dead, they deduce that the remaining humans on the ship will terminate Morpheus. They decide to stick to their original plan and to deploy the Sentinels. Tank is performing what amounts to last rites for Morpheus, laying one hand on his head as his other moves to the back of his skull to remove the jack. Just as he's about to pull it out Neo stops him.
He realizes that the Oracle was right. He now has to make the choice to save himself or to save Morpheus; his choice is to head back into the Matrix. Trinity rejects the idea. Morpheus gave himself up so that Neo could be saved since he is the One. "I'm not the One, Trinity," Neo says, relaying his understanding of the discussion with the Oracle: she did not enlighten him as to whether he was the promised messiah.
And, since Morpheus was willing to sacrifice himself, Neo knows that he must do that same. Tank calls it suicide; it's a military building with Agents inside. Neo says he only knows that he can bring Morpheus out. Trinity decides to come with him, reasoning with Neo that he will need her help and she's the ranking officer on the ship. "Tank," she says, "load us up!"
Meanwhile Agent Smith continues to share his musings with a brutalized Morpheus. Because humans spread to an area, consume the natural resources and, to survive, must spread to another area, Smith says we are not mammals but viruses, the only other creature that acts that way.
In the Construct, Tank is at the operations station and loads the weapons disk. Racks of weapons appear and Neo and Trinity arm themselves. Trinity protests, "No one has ever done anything like this." "That's why it's going to work," he replies.
Morpheus has yet to break and Smith asks the other Agents why the serum isn't working. "Maybe we're asking the wrong questions," responds one. To that Smith commands the other Agents to leave him alone with Morpheus. Smith removes his glasses, leaning close to Morpheus, whispering to him. He removes his earphone, letting it dangle over his shoulder and confides that he hates the Matrix, "this zoo, this prison."
Smith admits that he must get out of this "reality." He hates the stench. He wipes sweat from Morpheus' forehead, coating the tips of his fingers, holding them to Morpheus' nose. He's sure that some element of the humans will rub off on him. He lifts Morpheus' head, holding it tightly with both hands. Morpheus holds the key to his release. Morpheus sneers through his pain. If there is no Zion there's no need for Smith to be in the Matrix.
Smith begins squeezing, his fingers gouging into his flesh. "You are going to tell me, or you are going to die." The skull is about to shatter when Agents Jones and Brown burst into the room. Agent Smith releases Morpheus and recovers, replacing his ear piece. Agent Smith listens to his earphone, not believing what he is hearing. Agent Jones looks at Morpheus, they realize they're trying to save him.
In the Hotel Lobby: In long, black coats, Trinity and Neo push through the revolving doors. Neo is carrying a duffel bag. Trinity has a large metal suitcase. They cut across the lobby drawing nervous glances. Dark glasses, game faces. Several cops try to stop them. They are met by the muted spit of a silenced gun and the razored whistle of throwing stars.
The cops slump down to the marbled floor while Neo and Trinity do not even break stride. Neo and Trinity get in the elevator. Trinity immediately drops and opens the suitcase, wiring a plastique and napalm bomb. Beneath their trench coats is an arsenal of weapons slung from climbing harnesses. Neo hits the emergency stop. He pulls down part of the false ceiling and finds the elevator shaft access panel.
In the elevator shaft, Neo ratchets down a clamp onto the elevator cable. Both of them lock on. He looks up the long, dark throat of the building and takes a deep breath. Neo says "There is no spoon." Neo whips out his gun and presses it to the cable, lower than where they attached themselves. BOOM! The cable snaps.
The counter-weights plummet, yanking Trinity and Neo up through the shaft as -- The elevator falls away beneath them, distending space, filling it with the sound of whistling metal as they soar to the top. The elevator hits the botton. BA-BOOM! The massive explosion blows open the doors, fire clouds engulfing the elevator section of the lobby. Hanging by a rope, Trinity hot-wires the panel for the door.
The Agents hear the blast and fire alarms. An enormous explosion thunders above them, shaking the building. The emergency sprinklers begin showering the room. Agent Smith smashes a table. "Find them and destroy them!" Smith commands. Agent Jones nods and touches his ear piece.
On the top floor, nervous, the Marines watch as the elevator "dings" softly and slides open. Black smoke rises out of the exposed shaft. The nearest Marine eases to the edge, peering down at the churning blaze engulfing the lower levels.
He does not see Trinity and Neo above him until it is too late. Krack! Neo kicks, knocking the Marine flying down into the shaft. Before the others can react, Trinity flips out into the hall, decking the nearest Marine. Neo cracks another. The fight is over before it begins.
On the roof: The roof-access tower is now engulfed in flames as Neo and Trinity lay waste to a dozen more Marines. Guns and knives, like extensions of their bodies used with the same deadly precision as their feet and their fists. Across the roof, the pilot inside the army helicopter watches the ferocious onslaught.
The helicopter pilot is calling "Mayday!" Suddenly his face, his whole body dissolves, consumed by spreading locust-like swarm, of static as -- Agent Jones emerges. Just as she drops the last Marine, Trinity sees what's coming. Neo sees her, the fear in her face, and he knows what is behind him.
Screaming, he whirls, guns filling his hands with thought-speed. Fingers pumping, shells ejecting, dancing up and away, we look through the sights and gun smoke at -- The Agent blurred with motion. Neo yells, "Trinity. . . . Help!" Agent Jones charges, his gun booms as we enter the liquid space of -- Bullet-time.
The air sizzles with wads of lead-like angry flies as Neo twists, bends, ducks just between them. Agent Jones still running, narrows the gap, the bullets coming faster until -- Neo bent impossibly back, one hand on the ground as a spiraling gray ball shears open his shoulder. He starts to scream as another digs a red groove across his thigh.
He has only time to look up, to see the barrel when Agent Jones, standing over him, pulls the trigger the final time. click. Empty. Neo rolls, reaching for another gun when around-house kick snaps his jaw. Agent Jones grabs the gun and levels it at Neo. Suddenly Agent Jones stops. Something is wrong. He scans the roof.
Trinity is gone. Immediately, he whirls around and turns straight into the muzzle of her .45 -- Jammed right into his head. Trinity, "Dodge this, motherfucker! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The body flies back with a flash of mercurial light and when it hits the ground -- It is the pilot. Trinity helps Neo up.
Trinity marvels at how fast Neo has just moved; she's never seen anyone move that quickly. Tank downloads the ability to fly the helicopter to Trinity, who can now pilot the aircraft.
Trinity brings the helicopter down to the floor that Morpheus is on and Neo opens fire on the three Agents. The Agents quickly fall and Morpheus is alone in the room. Just as quickly the Agents take over other soldiers stationed nearby. Morpheus breaks his bonds and begins to run to the helicopter. The Agents fire on him, hitting his leg.
Morpheus leaps but Neo realizes that he is not going to make the leap and throws himself out of the helicopter, a safety harness attached. He catches Morpheus, but Agent Smith shoots the helicopter's hydraulic line. Unable to control the helicopter, Trinity miraculously gets it close enough to drop Morpheus and Neo on a rooftop. Neo grabs the safety line as the helicopter falls towards a building.
Trinity severs the safety line connecting Neo to the helicopter and jumps on it herself as the vehicle smashes into the side of a building, causing a bizarre ripple in the fabric of the building's reality as it does. On the ship Tank says, "I knew it; he's the One." Neo hauls Trinity up to them. "Do you believe it now, Trinity?" asks Morpheus as he approaches the two.
Neo tries to tell him that the Oracle told him the opposite but Morpheus says, "She told you exactly what you needed to hear." They call Tank, who tells them of an exit in a subway near them. The Agents arrive on the rooftop but find only the safety harness and line. Though Agent Smith is angered, the other two are satisfied. A trace has been completed in the real world and the Sentinels have been dispatched to attack the Nebuchadnezzar.
In the subway, they quickly find the phone booth and Morpheus exits out of the Matrix. A wino watches this occur. On the rooftop Agent Smith locks in to their whereabouts through the wino and appropriates his body. Meanwhile, as the phone rings, providing Trinity's exit, she confides to Neo that everything that the Oracle has told her has come true, except for one thing.
She doesn't say what that thing is and picks up the phone just as she sees the approaching Agent Smith. Smith shatters the ear piece of the phone; it's impossible for Neo to exit there now. Instead of running, which Trinity implores him to do as she looks on from the ship, Neo turns to face Smith.
They empty their guns on each other, neither hitting the other. They then move into close combat, trading blows. Neo sweeps Agent Smith's head, breaking his glasses. "I'm going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Anderson," says Smith. They trade some thunderous blows with Smith hitting Neo so hard he spits up blood in the Matrix and in the chair aboard the ship.
"He's killing him," says Trinity. Neo gets back up, sets himself and beckons Smith to start again. This time it's Neo who delivers devastating blow after blow. But Smith counters, throwing Neo into a wall then pummeling him with body blows. A wind from the tunnel signals that a subway train is approaching and Smith has a wicked notion.
He throws Neo into the subway tracks then drops down there himself. He puts Neo in a headlock and, in the glow of the oncoming subway says, "You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Good-bye, Mr. Anderson."
"My name," he replies, "is Neo." Then, with a mighty leap, Neo propels them to the ceiling of the tunnel. They fall back down and Neo backflips off the tracks, leaving Agent Smith to the oncoming train. Neo heads for the stairs, but Smith has already appropriated another body and emerges from the doors of the train.
Meanwhile the Sentinels have arrived to attack the Nebuchadnezzar; there are five of them and they are closing fast. Morpheus tells Tank to charge the EMP. Trinity reminds Morpheus that they can't use the EMP while Neo is in the Matrix. "I know, Trinity, don't worry," says Morpheus, "He's going to make it."
Back in the streets of the Matrix, Neo swipes a cell phone from a nearby suit. He calls Tank: "Mr. Wizard, get me the hell out of here." He races through a crowded market while Agents appropriate bodies right and left. They force Neo down a dark alley. He kicks in a door and rushes through an apartment complex where the Agents appropriate more bodies, including that of a sweet little old lady who throws a knife at Neo as Agent Smith.
Neo leaps down into a pile of garbage with the Agents in hot pursuit. On the Nebuchadnezzar the Sentinels have arrived. They begin to tear the ship apart. In the Matrix, Neo arrives back at the Heart O' the City Hotel. Tank tells him to go to room 303. The Agents are literally at his heels. The Sentinels breach the hull of the ship. They are inside. Trinity, standing next to Neo's body in the chair, begs him to hurry.
Neo reaches room 303 and enters. He's immediately shot, point blank in the gut, by Agent Smith. Smith empties his magazine into Neo's body. Neo slumps to the floor, dead. On the ship Neo's vital signs drop to nothing. "It can't be," says Morpheus. Agent Smith instructs the others to check Neo. "He's gone," one replies. "Good-bye, Mr. Anderson," says Smith. The Sentinels' lasers are beginning to cut through the major parts of the hovercraft.
Trinity leans over his dead body. "Neo," she says, "I'm not afraid anymore. The Oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man... the man that I loved would be the One. So you see, you can't be dead. You can't be... because I love you. You hear me? I love you." She kisses him. In the chair Neo suddenly breathes. In the Matrix, Neo opens his eyes. "Now get up," orders Trinity.
The Agents hear Neo rise behind them and they open fire. "No," Neo says calmly, raising his hands. He stops their bullets in mid-air. They drop harmlessly to the floor. "What's happening?" asks Tank. "He is the One," says Morpheus.
Back in the Matrix, Neo can see things for what they really are, green cascading code. Agent Smith is furious. He runs to Neo and attacks him. Neo blocks Smith's blows effortlessly before he sends Smith flying with one well-placed kick. Neo then leaps into Smith's body and appropriates him. Smith's shell explodes in a sea of code and Neo is all that is left, the walls buckling in waves as they did when the helicopter crashed.
Agents Brown and Jones look at one another and run away. The Sentinels are now fully in the ship. They are right above Trinity and Morpheus. Back in the Matrix Neo sprints to the ringing phone in the room. Morpheus has no choice but to engage the EMP. He does and the Sentinels fall inert to the floor. Neo has made it back. He kisses Trinity. The screen is black.
A command prompt appears: "Call trans opt: received. 9-18-99 14:32:21 REC: Log>" then "Carrier anomaly" "Trace program: running" As the grid of numbers appears again a warning appears "System Failure." Over it all is Neo's voice:
"I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid... you're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin.
I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."
In the Matrix world, Neo hangs up the phone. He looks at the mindless masses around him, puts on his glasses and then looks up. From high above the city we see him take flight. The story is picked up in The Matrix Reloaded, the second of three Matrix movies.