John WalkerMarch 1st, 2002Film Studies 296The Matrix, The “Western” Never KnownAs stated by the title, there is great reason why the Matrix should be treated in the same context, although not identified, as a western. This film genre is steeped in tradition and lore. There are many definitions abound as to what may constitute a “Western film.” The main goal is to see whether or not this paper can illustrate the genre be pushed towards the future. Whether it means the 20th century, the 21st century or the distant future.
This genre can grow towards something bigger and more exciting. This paper will attempt to explore this debate and give reasoning’s as to what defines a Western, how the Matrix lives up to and modifies the stated definition, will go into the films background such as director, producer, film reviews, etc. Finally the paper will discuss the theme, tone, setting, characters and casting, acting style, lighting, imagery, musical score, and special effects.
Defining a film genre is in some ways difficult and simplistic. Every genre has stated what would define its boundaries. The difficult part is finding one that is solidified by the movies in the genre. The stated definition that this paper will digest and regurgitate is that a Western is a film which is set in the American frontier west. The typical time setting is somewhere in the mid to late 19th century and early 20th century(Dirks, 1). They glorify the past-fading values and aspirations of the mythical by-gone age of the American West(Dirks, 1). Over time, however, Westerns have been redefined, re-invented and expanded, dismissed, re-discovered, and spoofed. This actually makes the definition more lucid, making other films flexible enough to fit quite nicely into the genre.
Westerns also state that these films represent the ideals of a growing nation. Expanding and maintaining established territories is what is at the heart of older Western films as “Manifest Destiny” puts up in dialogue constantly. This particular fact is a main point which will be revisited. Dominating the unknown and uprooting natives or peoples who have been established long before the conquerors. There are many central conflicts in old westerns. The battle between good and evil is the most common. Others include man vs. man, east vs. west, human vs. nature, or in the Matrix’s case, man vs. machine. Does the Matrix live up to these ideals of a Western? Yes, in more ways than one. The plot conflict of good vs. evil, man vs. machine, is clearly evident. It shows similarities in the cowboys vs. Indians where as the roles are reversed. Often the hero meets his/her opposite double, which mirrors ones evil or good tendencies. The time-line and plot location arguments can be blown out of the water as some films which lay claim to being westerns are set in the late 20th century such as in the movie Lone Star. Many of the restraints that are placed on Western genre films are subject to similar criticism by observing the movie Walker. In Walker, there are helicopters, Mercedes Benz’s and Newsweek magazines. That is pretty much self evident as to the level of what elements can be in a film such as the Matrix. The Cowboys vs. Indians/man vs. machine conflict is a very interesting event in that is somewhat difficult to see but once explained is more easily identified. This conflict is seen as being flipped to where it’s Indians vs. Cowboys. The cowboy is traditional seen as being the good guy who is trying to battle with the “mean and savage” Indians to eradicate them from the American frontier. In the Matrix, the ones being eradicated and “grown” are the humans and the ones doing the eradicating are the machines. The humans were the original inhabitants of Earth but now the machines have risen and are now rule. Once the original settlers of America had grown in numbers, they started whipping out Indians in genocide fashion. This similarity is clearly apparent. Both conflicts come together and are seem to be seamless.
When the tables are turned like this, you can almost identify with the humans(Indians) and want them to survive and keep from being eradicated by the machines(cowboys). Other smaller similarities like gunfights, final standoffs, riding into the sunset, etc., are almost identical. There are gun battles abound in the Matrix, The last stand off between Neo(Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith(Hugo Weaving) are the typical last stands that are seen like in Tombstone and Unforgiven. The ending of the movie where Neo flies into the sequel are just like any John Wayne movies where he rides into the sunset. With some of these explanations as evidence, the “Western” definition also shows room for modification or in the words of the Matrix, “evolution”.
Andy and Larry Wachowski are the directors and wrote the original screenplay for the Matrix. A lot of the inspiration came from Japanese Anime comic books. The idea is to bring this comic book fiction which up until now only lived in print to life and action. The camera angles included in the film are almost exactly pulled from comic books. Storyboard illustrations show the Wachowski brothers endless imagination and applying it. Groundbreaking special effects like the bullet-time cinematography and fight scenes are visually stunning. Cinematography was done by Bill Pope. Keanu Reeves plays the once computer hacker Neo who is thrust into a revolution on an apocalyptic scale. Laurence Fishburne plays Morpheus who leads one of a few hovercraft ships who are part of a band of rebels who are fighting against the machines who rule Earth. Production for certain scenes went anywhere from 2 months to 16 months. Filming was done in Australia during the summer months. Visual the entire movie is shot in a type of green contrast to indicate the forces of evil that some how have control over everything. This was an incredible well done movie from start to finish. I am truly a fan of the Wachowski brothers who have done outstanding job writing this film.
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