Alex Woods Founder of Cyberpunk Matrix discusses The Matrix and it's influence on pop culture.
The Matrix is one of the most popular and well known Cyberpunk films in pop culture, and with Matrix 4 being in production it's re-birthed the love for the series once again. Alex Woods is the founder of 'Cyberpunk Matrix' and a huge fan of The Matrix trilogy. Recently this week I got to speak with him about his love for the franchise and the influences it had on pop culture and the theme
Check out the full interview below!
I know you’re a huge fan of The Matrix so I have to ask, what was your reaction when you heard about Matrix 4?
Alex: To say I was incredibly excited would be an understatement. The Matrix trilogy has been and still is my favorite trilogy of movies of all time since my early teenage years, and considering how much I have changed since then, that speaks to how universal its appeal is. I also got into cyberpunk about two years ago, and started my blog a little under a year ago, so I was incredibly happy at the thought of all the future content and the slow drip of exciting news that would be coming my way. Hearing about all the cast getting back together, like Lana Wachowski, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Keanu Reeves of course, is like a dream come true. I also feel like I liked Keanu since before it was cool. Since before the Keanussance.
What is your favourite movie in the series and why?
Alex: If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I would say Matrix Reloaded, but I consider all three movies one entity in my mind. I liked Matrix Revolutions significantly less than the other two because of how much more time is spent in the real world than in the Matrix. I also saw Matrix Reloaded first, so I think that may play a factor. And yes, I was considerably confused until I saw the first one. The music, the car chase scenes, the gunfights and kung-fu sequences, and the excellent dialogue of the second one is what stand out to me. But both the first and second one are some of the best movies ever made in my book.
The first movie was critically acclaimed and praised for its spectacular action, cinematography and special effects. However, the sequels were slandered for being too ‘philosophical’, what are your thoughts on The Matrix sequels?
Alex: I think it’s funny that you point out those three things as what made the first movie spectacular, considering the sequels had both of those in spades too. It just wasn’t new, since they were sequels. Matrix Reloaded took bullet-time one step further, and the cinematography in Reloaded was even better than the first in my opinion with the highway chase and Chateau scenes with the Merovingian. There are also probably more special effects in Reloaded and Revolutions than in the original. Haters gonna hate and everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, but I personally really liked the philosophical dialogues in Reloaded. I felt there was a lot less of that in Revolutions, since they needed to wrap up the trilogy, but the symbolism of Neo’s sacrifice to save Zion was a beautiful way to end Neo’s story.
The Matrix has been such a staple in pop culture, even those who don’t know about Cyberpunk have heard of this series! Why do you think The Matrix had this huge effect on society?
Alex: The Matrix trilogy stands up as an excellent trilogy in its own right, but they did do some groundbreaking things that, as the pioneers of such things, makes it easy to understand why they became pop culture staples. Not only was the way that they did bullet-time innovative, it was also done incredibly well. They weren’t the first ones to use stop-motion swivel cameras to slow down time, but they were definitely the ones who popularized it with how cool they made it look. The black overcoats, the bullet-time, Yuen Woo-Ping’s incredible kung-fu choreography served up to the Western market, and the philosophical ideas that have been preoccupying humans since the Greeks, all this served up in a deep, interesting cocktail of coolness that I think made it the staple it is today. It also helped that bullet-time was very easy to use in parodies, and the internet was in its early stages of sharing such memes.
Speaking of Cyberpunk, do you feel that The Matrix falls into this genre? We don’t see much of the elements that we would see in a typical Cyberpunk story, for example: a hard boiled protagonist or mega corporations. In your opinion is The Matrix a Cyberpunk film?
Alex: Well, it depends on your definition of Cyberpunk. If you go by Cyberpunk’s catchphrase of “High-tech, Low-Life” then the Matrix trilogy fits that description. Just look at the torn, ragged clothes that the free humans in Zion wear, or what they eat and how they are forced to live underground in a world where the surface doesn’t even have sunlight anymore. That’s definitely low-life. Meanwhile, the machines, the mech-suits, the underground city, and the hoverships are all high-tech. And what about Neo in the first Matrix? He’s a hacker loner that spends his nights selling illegal programs on the black market, before he starts getting cryptic messages and following clues that lead him to a secret society in his quest to solve the mystery of what the Matrix is. He may not fit the film noir stereotype, or be hard-boiled, but he does fit the detective image for the first movie at least. And while there’s no mega-corporation, I would also argue that the all-powerful machines that see and control everything are similar to the system of control that mega-corporations wield. While Mega-corporations may hire you, fire you, and control you through the system of money, the machines literally control your entire life without you even knowing it. Sounds a lot like The Man to me.
The first movie was built around this idea that the world was living a lie, they were stuck inside a simulated reality thinking that everything was normal. Even though The Matrix came out in 1999, do you think this is a commentary on today’s society and how we all live behind a smoke screen, not really knowing the truth? For example: in the news, advertisements, elections, politics, etc.
Alex: The great thing about philosophy like Plato’s allegory of the cave is that it never gets old. Keanu reported in an interview that the cast had to read three texts before reading the script and acting in the movie: Simulation and Simulacra by Jean Baudrillard, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans. The first is about symbols that become a new reality, the second is about how machines have become indistinguishable from living things, and the third is about how the human mind has evolved over time. Each of these three books I think are still relevant today, but perhaps the Matrix metaphor has become even more relevant with the advent of autonomous robots, social networks, virtual and augmented reality, and smart devices. The Matrix reminds us that it is our mind that creates this world, and it always has, even before the internet. The challenge now is recognizing the differences between the real world and the virtual world as it is getting increasingly blurred.
The Matrix shows that technology can create an illusion and a false sense of reality. Do you think we have become obsessed with technology?
Alex: Sometimes I worry about the potential dangers and harm that new technology can have on society and the world. But then, I imagine anyone who is interested in Cyberpunk does too, because that’s part of the allure, isn’t it? Cyberpunk is important to us as a society because it uses science fiction as a way to enact thought experiments in order to inform the public on the ethics of the new technology they are using. This is something that I think Black Mirror has been able to do incredibly well, especially with the episode Nose Dive which speaks about the dangers of social media gone too far (which we can actually already see with the social value system in parts of China). Technology has great potential, inasmuch as it can connect us in new ways and help teach us compassion for others, understand the world around us, find solutions to our problems, and enables us to do more than we ever could and inspire us to be greater. But it isn’t worth it if the reality is that it simply becomes a new system of oppression, of inequality and new ways to cause pain, suffering, or death. Social media is still a very new technology, and I think now that it’s become prevalent everywhere, we are learning how to use it responsibly and how not to overuse it. It’s a learning process, as with anything.
What does The Matrix trilogy mean to you?
Alex: To me, The Matrix is both a beautiful piece of visual art and an inspiring metaphor for the reality and true nature of the world around us. It’s a love letter to old-style Hong Kong Kung-Fu and to over-the-top car chase scenes. It’s also a modernized take on timeless questions since the beginning of mankind: How do we know what is real? Is there such a thing as free will, or is there only fate? How powerful is the mind, really? What does it mean to be human? What is our purpose? There are so many things that went right in The Matrix Trilogy, and that’s why it means so much to me. Cool clothes, stunning cinematography, excellent dialogue, probing philosophical questions, great music and soundtrack, incredible action scenes and special effects, and top-notch acting. I don’t know of any other trilogy that hits all the right notes quite so well.
Head over to Cyberpunk Matrix to hear more on his predictions for The Matrix 4!