The Matrix (1999), written by The Wachowskis, is perhaps the definitive sci-fi movie of the modern era. Let’s analyze the screenplay.
- Draft Read: “Numbered Shooting Script March 29, 1998”
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 133
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Various Cities, Underground
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple weeks
- Genre(s): Sci-Fi
- Theme(s): Destiney, Love, Consciousness, Human Life, Technology
- Protagonist Change: Significant
As the 92nd script I’ve analyzed, The Matrix, without a doubt, stands among the best. And I’ve read classics, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Chinatown (1973) and The King’s Speech (2010), among others.
It’s a genre most people either love or hate, sci-fi. I personally lean towards the latter, yet this is an exception.
Let’s discuss why that is. Perhaps most important; concept. Concept is king and a good one goes a long way. This is a great one; not only because the premise is unique, but because it taps into some of our core emotions; notably fear. How scary would it be to be a slave but not even realize it?
And that’s a pretty big realization to have. We do that with Neo on Page 41 when he wakes up for the first time. Side note: I remember reading a book from a psychologist a few years ago that noted The Matrix caused some people to experience intrusive thoughts, something labeled existential OCD. If I were a betting man, I would think this scene is that one that initiated said fear. It’s just that striking and it’s described in perfect detail.
The first 15ish pages, although one could extend that to the entire First Act, are executed in such a way to keep the reader/viewer hooked. Besides slowly revealing the premise, there is a general sense of urgency (Neo is under threat). Truly great screenwriting.
The blue pill red pill scene. Great example of having the protagonist take a leap of faith. Agency 101.
Another important aspect of the script is how simply it is written. This makes practical sense as the writers were the eventual directors and it lets us apply more available brainpower (not a real term, but it’s applicable here… c’mon) to follow the story.
I like the use of action lines to break up large portions of text and to speak directly to the viewer.
…if you don’t like it then I believe that you can go to hell, because you aren’t going anywhere else.
There’s nothing more to say except–
Tank, load us up.
Some writers might argue that the above action line could be replaced by an ellipsis or even that the pause should be obvious through the writing itself, but I think it gets us to pause for the right amount of time. That is just one example of such cool-handed screenwriting.
Interestingly, I noticed many similarities between The Matrix and Inception (2010). The concepts are similar enough and there are scenes that almost match. For example, the people in the Matrix and the dream world of Inception are suspicious of outsiders (Page 52), everyone is strapped into a chair to enter the Matrix (Page 64) (same as Inception) and the bad guys (the agents) attempt to hack the good guy’s (Morpheus’) mind (Page 92), essentially the reverse of Inception. There’s more, but those are good examples.
It feels wrong to note any part of this script as neutral. It’s great.
Some of the dialogue did feel a tad too simple. Or, perhaps trying to make a point too directly. Or, I could guess where it was going before it went there. For example, Page 65:
I have these memories, from my entire life but… none of them really happened.
He turns to her.
What does that mean?
What do you think it means?
None to note.
Humanity is stuck living in a simulation. A group of rebels try to find the man that can get us out.
Neo, a hacker turned prophet (essentially). Trinity, his love interest. Morpheus, the leader of one of the rebel ships. Agent Smith, the agent who wants to kill off the last remaining humans not in the matrix.
In regard to character inter-dynamics, there’s all the usual twists and turns with love between characters, a character that backstabs others, etc.
Dialogue & Pacing
Such direct dialogue produced some great lines. Agent’s smith speech on Page 139-141 is great. Here’s one part of it:
Some believed we lacked the programing language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery.
Pacing was good. While I marked the reading speed as medium, or average, the story flowed well. There really weren’t any slow spots; perhaps some of the conversations between Neo and the crew on the hovercraft were forgettable, but they didn’t drag.
Of course this is an emotionally impactful film. Even though the concept may appear far out it’s quite easy to understand, and as noted touches on some of our most tender emotions.
Best Part of The Script
The final sequences between Neo and Agent Smith. Start on page 109 in the Subway Station.