The 1999 Science Fiction Action movie, The Matrix, directed by The Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving is undoubtedly one of the most complex and entertaining movies of the late 20th century. The Matrix Trilogy began with the feature film The Matrix and continued with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded in May, 2003 and The Matrix Revolutions in November, 2003. It features a cyberpunk story incorporating references to several religious and philosophical ideas. It also shows influences of various mythologies, anime and different martial art forms. Amidst all the breath taking visuals and action sequences this futuristic fantasy movie gives a lot of prominence to architectural styles and design. The Wachoski brothers’ keen interest in detailing was also evident in their recent release, Jupiter Ascending. The Matrix surprisingly contains many of the real world buildings along with the fictional virtual reality cities within The Matrix.
The most notable of architectural features in the movie is the Mega City, an enormous virtual city in which the inhabitants of the Matrix live. Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline. The city was designed to represent an amalgam of major cities in the United States and Australia during the 1990s characterized by grey and utilitarian areas with small pockets of colour and entertainment. The cities that provided inspiration for the Mega City include Sydney (where most of the film as shot), Oakland (where some of the car chase sequences in The Matrix Reloaded were filmed) and Chicago (the birthplace of The Wachowskis). Hence we see yet another movie in which the major city is designed based on existing cities. Other examples include the Gotham City in Batman Trilogy and the fascist architecture inspired structures of Equilibrium.
The concept of the city in The Matrix is actually an archetype of the hyper reality theory developed by prominent author Umberto Eco, who wrote the popular novel, The Name of the Rose, which was filled with detailed description of the cathedrals of Italy. The hyper reality theory states that the virtual city constructed by the machines controlling the society is more convincing and realistic to its inhabitants than the real world itself.
The logic behind the creation of the harsh grey and uninteresting landscape was to ensure that the unknowing inhabitants of the Matrix did not question their living space given that they lacked an alternative. It can also be possibly said that the City is an inhabitant-unique environment, where no one sees things the same way. Other theories state that the visualization of the City could possibly be a result of the redpills’ experience outside of the Matrix. Further, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) describes to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) that earlier instances of the Matrix which were cheerier did not meet the expectations of the humans hosted within. The Architect later expands on that explanation telling Neo (Keanu Reeves) that the first versions failed because they were designed around the two extremes of perfect paradise and absolute hell that the human mind was unable to accept.
A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts: Downtown, International, Richland (ironically called the slums by the redpills), and Westview. The map shows that the actual shape of the city represents the Y-shaped symbol which can also be seen at the end of the code sequence in The Matrix Revolutions.
An architectural feature that stands in stark contrast to the modern or futuristic styles in the old fashioned Chateau or the Merovingian mansion located in the mountains. The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons. The Chateau provides the audience a real world atmosphere amidst all the virtual reality.
As mentioned earlier, many of the real world buildings and structures are either referred to or are seen in the film. The Sydney Tower is visible on the construct TV screen. In the famous roof top bullet scene the audience can catch a glimpse of the UTS Tower building. Other prominent buildings from Sydney that are visible include Martin Place and St. James railway station. Early drafts of the movie’s screenplay identified the city as Chicago and most of the street and landmark names referenced are from Chicago, such as Wabash and Lake, Franklin and Erie, State Street, Balbo Drive, Cumberland Ave, the Adams Street Bridge and the Loop Train. Apart from the cities of Sydney and Chicago, the film also refers to the Heathrow Airport, the United States Congress to name a few.
Overall we can say that The Matrix Series captures the design of a futuristic all inclusive city with great detail and accuracy. With the huge influx of population to urban areas, the future cities would in all probability end up resembling the Mega City of The Matrix with loose connection to the base city from which it expanded.