The Matrix: Film & Story Structure
Looking at key story elements from the 1999 film 'The Matrix'
The Matrix, the first film of the Matrix franchise, was written and directed by the Wachowskis and released in 1999.
The film opens with an unusual fight sequence that gives us a peek into the type of action we’re about to see. Trinity fights police officers with gravity defying maneuvers. Running up walls, leaping between rooftops, her body suspending in midair. It’s the action sequence that defines the now-classic images of the Matrix film franchise.
It’s an action packed opening sequence which grabs our attention. Now that we’re hooked, we continue toward the first major plot point.
The inciting incident, the event that brings the main character, Neo, into the storyline, occurs when he meets Trinity. She knows he’s seeking answers about the matrix. “The answer is out there, it’s looking for you and it will find you if you want it to” she says. This leaves Neo intrigued and ready to learn more.
Act One Plot Point
At the end of the first act, Neo meets Morpheus and decides to take the red pill in order to learn more about the matrix and gain full knowledge of his reality. It’s important that Neo is given a choice because it serves to highlight the major recurring theme of the film: choice. (see Theme below.)
This plot point also introduces Neo’s dramatic need: to fulfill his role as “The One”. It leads us into the second act which creates obstacles to prevent him from achieving this.
The midpoint of the film is when Neo meets the Oracle. This meeting is important because it shows that Neo is still limited by his own concept of himself.
When the Oracle asks him if he thinks he’s “The One”, it’s his answer to this question that proves to be the truth. “Know thy self” she tells him. This illustrates the idea that it’s not a matter of is he or isn’t he “The One”. It’s only a matter of whether or not he believes he is. He has a choice. It is not set in stone. The theme of choice is brought up once again.
From this point on, Neo understands that he has more control of things than he thought he did.
Act Two Plot Point
At the end of the second act, Neo and Trinity save Morpheus from the agents. Neo is then left behind, setting up the action and resolution of the third act.
Climax & Resolution
Neo is killed and then reborn. He exercises ultimate control of his destiny by choosing not to die. In making this decision, he fulfills his destiny and becomes “The One”.
The theme of The Matrix is choice. It recurs throughout the film from beginning to end. Neo wants to have control of his destiny and learns, to do that, he must choose to control it.
Near the beginning, Morpheus gives Neo a choice between red and blue pill. It is solely up to him which path he takes. When Neo meets the Oracle, he has learned about the matrix but hasn’t fully grasped the limits of his power within it. The Oracle implies that Neo is “The One” if he decides to be.
At the end, when Neo has died at the hands of the agents, he proves that he has chosen to fulfill his destiny by impossibly coming back to life. He has taken control of his destiny in the most dramatic fashion.
Thanks for reading.
The Story Department is where I write about the story structure of films. I focus on identifying key story elements so we can break films down and see how they work.
“Hollywood… Not a place on the map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream, wonder, and imagine.” -Michael Eisner at the dedication of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This idea serves as my catalyst for writing about film and story structure.
Hollywood, as a creative state of mind.
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