Formative | The Matrix

Works of art that made me who I am.

On Sunday, I went to my local movie theater to see The Matrix on the big screen for the first time since I was a kid.

When The Matrix came out on March 31st of 1999, I begged Apá to take me to see it. I would get shivers when the 30 second spot aired on TV. Laurence FIshburne in the TV specifically told me, no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. I absolutely had to. No R rating was going to stop me. I did my homework by checking the reasons behind that R rating and building an iron-clad case for my parents to approve this viewing. Ultimately, I can’t remember how I persuaded my parents, but by some miracle Dad and I found ourselves at the movies in early April, eagerly chowing down on our massive buckets of popcorn in anticipation (note: shrinkflation wasn’t a thing yet, so you kinda got your money’s worth at the end of the millennia). To this day, I believe that April screening was one of the most profound storytelling experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

Mind you, I was about to turn 14. I was a bundle of impressionable receptors. Every emotion and experience is a shock to the senses at that age. They say most of us cling to the great pop culture of our youth, as it imprints on us the way a mother’s homecooked meal does. When you’ve been away for a long time and then return to the aromatic explosion that is home, it fills the soul with comfort.

The Matrix was overwhelming. In the most delightful, inspiring way. It shook me like an Etch-A-Sketch and transformed my already confused teenage noggin. Seriously. The split of my timeline is decidedly early April of 1999, before and after the screening, designated in the written record as B.M. and A.M. (Before Matrix, and After Matrix, of course). It raised the mainstream storytelling benchmark for a generation of filmmakers, and it also inspired weird kids out in the prairie to keep dreaming up cool stories (I assure you, there were dozens of us out in the prairie, not including the cows).

When I lived with my parents, the fam and I would watch countless action movies. Arnold, Sly, Bruce, and the whole 80s and 90s action gang was invited at our screen. At home, we knew action movies, but The Matrix was a new ballpark. This trippy cyber-flick fired on cylinders I didn’t even know existed and shouted from the rooftops that it’s okay to celebrate your influences and riff on them. I didn’t know anything about Neuromancer or Kung Fu Cinema or the other references the movie blended together, but not once did it take away from my viewing experience. The movie succeeded in organically weaving so much into one coherent package, and it still kicked ass. A beautiful, mind-blowing mashup, and a work of art.

Okay, I’ve made it clear how much I love this damn movie, and so watching it again on the big screen, for the first time in 25 years handed me a helping of teenage wonder right in the ventricles. It took me back to a time when I had no disbelief to suspend. It was like being home again, TV on in the living room, and Amá made sopes or chilaquiles or carne con chile. Oh, to be home again.

In harsh retrospect, the most important thing to me about the Matrix is not even the movie itself, but this: Every time I watch the movie I think of my Dad. I loved going to the movies with him. We loved the action scenes and we loved that massive drum of popcorn too. Throughout the entire movie, Apá kept asking me what was happening in every scene because he didn’t understand English. I tried my best that day, but probably gave him a botched cliffsnotes translation. I haven’t spent enough time with my father these last 25 years.

25 years is a long time. I think it breaks my heart every day, just a little. I should go down to Mexico more often to catch up on our movie theater time.

I love you so much Apá, and this movie will always remind me of you.

One response

  1. […] After 25 years, Madd and I saw The Matrix on the big screen again. What an amazing day. I wrote about it at length in my new Formative series. […]