Wachowski, Andy and Larry
Wachowski, Andy and Larry
Andy Wachowski: Born December 29, 1967, in Chicago, IL; son of Ron (a businessman) and Lynne (a nurse) Wachowski; married Elisa Blasingame, 1991. Education: Attended Emerson College.
Larry Wachowski: Born June 21, 1965, in Chicago, IL; son of Ron (a businessman) and Lynne (a nurse) Wachowski; married Thea Bloom, 1993 (divorced, 2003). Education: Attended Bard College.
Agent—c/o Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046.
Film producers, directors, and writers. Worked as house painters and carpenters. Directors of films, including Bound, Gramercy Pictures, 1996; The Matrix, Warner Bros., 1999; The Matrix Reloaded, Warner Bros., 2003; and The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros., 2003. Producers of films, including Bound, 1996; (with Joel Silver) The Matrix, 1999; The Animatrix, 2003; (with Silver) The Matrix Reloaded, 2003; and (with Silver) The Matrix Revolutions, 2003. Directors of video games Enter the Matrix and The Matrix Online.
Directors Guild of America.
Stockholm Film Festival honorable mention, and L.A. Outfest Grand Jury Award honorable mention, both 1996, and International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film, Fantasporto, 1997, all for Bound; Saturn Award for Best Director, and nomination for best writer, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, 2000, both for The Matrix.
(With Brian Hegeland; and authors of story) Assassins (also known as Day of Reckoning), Warner Bros., 1995.
Bound, Gramercy Pictures, 1996.
The Matrix Reloaded, Warner Bros., 2003.
The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros., 2003.
Authors of unproduced screenplay "Carnivore." Coauthors of scripts for "Animatrix" series of animated short films based on The Matrix, including: The Second Renaissance Part 1, Final Flight of the Osiris, SecondRenaissance Part 2, Kid's Story, Matriculated, World Record, Beyond, Program, and Detective Story, all 2003.
Coauthors of stories published in Clive Barker's Book of the Damned, Marvel, c. 1990s; coauthors of The Matrix (comic book based on the movie), illustrated by Geoff Darrow;
The Matrix has inspired video games, T-shirts, and numerous other movie tie-ins.
Work in Progress
A screenplay adaptation of V for Vendetta, a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd; Plastic Man, a screenplay based on the DC Comics character.
"It was an underground sensation that became the 'Star Wars' of the new millennium," wrote Gina McIntyre in the Hollywood Reporter, "a thinking man's action film born aloft by the cultural zeitgeist: a time of paranoia, rife with fear that machines might inadvertently bring about the end of modern civilization as the clock ticked down to 2000." McIntyre was not describing some art film from Central Europe; rather she was announcing the arrival of The Matrix, a movie written and directed by virtual unknowns: the Wachowski brothers. Larry and Andy Wachowski became the hottest property in Hollywood with this 1999 release.
The Matrix posits a bleakly dystopic future in which machines have enslaved human beings, breeding and growing them in pods and harvesting their inner bioelectricity as an energy source. These human dynamos are in turn plugged into the Matrix, a virtual-reality eye-candy intended to keep humans quiescent. Only a few feisty individuals living in the last remaining human city, Zion, have escaped this numbing virtual reality. The leader of that city, Morpheus, is on a quest to find the human destined to lead the revolt of humans against their computer captors. The unlikely messiah in this scenario is a computer hacker named Neo, who becomes the greatest power in the digitized world, and who in turn is forced to go on the run to avoid the digitized enforcers of the Matrix.
Warner Bros. was so tentative in its support of the Wachowski's debut film that the studio released The Matrix in a cinematic "dead" time—early spring of 1999—and it was also overshadowed by a highly touted summer blockbuster Star Wars sequel. To the surprise of the industry and critics alike, it was The Matrix that attracted the crowds and the critical buzz. The movie, starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, became a worldwide phenomenon, grossing over $460 million from its modest $70 million budget; released later in DVD format, it was the first picture to sell over a million copies. It also inspired a cottage industry of tie-ins, from video games to posters.
Blending Hong Kong-style kung fu clips, Japanese animation, biblical references, and tips of the hat to everything from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Eastern religion, The Matrix engendered a cult following of viewers who sought philosophical clues, posting their findings on Web sites and in college classrooms around the globe. But its quasi-philosophy was only part of the film's draw; it was also, as Daniel Fierman noted in Entertainment Weekly, "the most influential action movie of its generation. This is not hyperbole. It isn't even a stretch." Winner of four Academy Awards for technical achievement and special effects, the movie pioneered the visual effect of freezing a fight scene while the camera spins dizzily around it, reversing the point of view: suddenly the viewer is the speeding bullet racing toward its target. This slow-motion balletic "bullet-time photography," the film's visual trademark, also became its most copied aspect, appearing in numerous other films during the next few years.
Aside from the profits and the critical acclaim, the real surprise of The Matrix was its creation through the work of two brothers from Chicago whose biggest credit up to that time had been a lesbian heist movie that scored better as a cult flick than it had at the box office. The Wachowski brothers, college dropouts who had both worked as carpenters, were as wary of interviews as J. D. Salinger; such secrecy served only to intrigue the public and the press even more. Larry and Andy Wachowski teased the public by their very absence; in contracts with Warner Bros. for the follow-up movies to complete their "Matrix" trilogy the two wrote in the stipulation that they would not have to do interviews.
From Comics to Hollywood
The Wachowski brothers were born in Chicago, Larry in 1965, and Andy in 1967. Their father, Ron, was in business, and their artist mother, Lynne, was a nurse. Together with their two sisters, the brothers grew up in South Chicago, loving movies and comic books, and eventually becoming fans of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. The parents encouraged the former taste, taking their kids on marathon viewings of three movies at a time. Attending Whitney Young High School, where science and the performing arts were emphasized, the brothers "didn't particularly stand out," according to Mark Miller in Wired.com. They participated in student dramatic and television productions, but mostly on the technical side, working behind the scenes. After high school graduation, both attended college for a time; Larry went to Bard in New York state, where he stayed for two years before dropping out and returning to Chicago. Brother Andy went to Emerson College in Boston, where he studied, among other subjects, introductory film. Soon, however, both Wachowskis were back in Chicago, where they set up a house-painting and carpentry business and began writing comic books together.
By the 1990s the Wachowski brothers were working for Marvel Comics on several different titles, including adapting Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" fiction. A turning point came when the brothers read the autobiography of Roger Corman, a master of the B-movie. His How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime proved the inspiration for the duo to attempt a screenplay. The resulting script, Carnivore, in which wealthy people are eaten by cannibals, did not find a home, but its writing did spark some interest. When they came up with another script, Assassins, they sold it to Dino de Laurentiis, who took it to Warner Bros. pictures. Mel Gibson was scheduled to direct, but chose to make Braveheart instead. When Richard Donner was brought on to direct, he demanded rewrites that changed the Wachowskis' original script drastically, and the film was transformed into a vehicle for star Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas. The general critical consensus of that movie was summed up in one word by Christopher Parkes of the Financial Times: "dud," though it did well enough at the box office. During this process the brothers met Warner Bros. producer Joel Silver, who took a liking to them. During the filming of Assassins, they showed Silver the shooting script for another movie they had in mind, a sci-fi thriller replete with special effects and philosophical musings. They wanted to direct the movie themselves, but had no experience behind the camera. So with Silver's blessing they went back to de Laurentiis and presented him with yet another story idea they had for a movie about two lesbians who steal from the mob. The film, Bound, was, as Miller noted, "in essence . . . a $6 million test to see whether [the brothers] . . . could write and direct. They could." As Larry Wachowski told Josh Horowitz in an online interview for Movie Poop Shoot, "We tried to make a movie that was entertaining, that had sex and violence because we like sex and violence. And that had a lot of deeper intellectual concepts. The whole idea of playing in a genre that is so convention-heavy as film noir." Though Bound earned less than $4 million, it was a critical success.
With Bound completed, the Wachowski brothers now had to convince the studio heads that their science-fiction thriller was a viable project. To that end, they hired graphic novelist Geoff Darrow and illustrator Steve Skroce to adapt their six-hundred-page screenplay into a storyboard shooting script. This presentation earned them a $70-million budget; when Keanu Reeves was brought on to star as Neo, the film was assured of "demographic appeal," as Miller further noted. Shot on location in Australia, the movie tells the story of Thomas Anderson, a.k.a. Neo, who lives a rather boring life as an Internet hacker. One day he is contacted by someone called Trinity, and Neo's life is changed forever as he discovers that his destiny is to free the human race from its virtual-reality slavery by the Matrix, a group of artificial intelligence computers. The year is 2199, and humans are merely energy sources for intelligent machines that sustain the minds of humans through computer-generated cyber dreams.
The resistors to this slavery, known as the Zionists, are led by Morpheus (Fishburne), who sends Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to recruit the mild-mannered software engineer to his destiny. The Zionists hope to break the system that hold the Matrix in place and thus keeps mankind in virtual chains. Morpheus gives Neo two pills: a blue one that will allow him to wake up and remember nothing, and a red one that will keep him in "Wonderland" in search of the furthest reaches of the rabbit-hole Matrix. Neo in fact becomes the savior, the One, who can lead the rebellion. But the Matrix had in place Agents programmed to stop any such rebellion; these Agents—"who look like Blues Brothers," as Roger Ebert noted in his Chicago Sun-Times review—battle the Zionists in virtual-reality mode, where humans are unbound by gravity and time. Such virtual combat can lead to death, however, if the mind is destroyed.
The Matrix, with its high-octane blend of kung fu and special effects, earned over $37 million in its first five days, and critical praise followed. Jeffrey Ressner, writing in Time magazine, called it a "brainpopping trip.... Every other movie out there is the blue pill. This one is the red." For Ressner the film was "the Bible meets Batman; Lewis Carroll collides with William Gibson; Greek and geek mythology bump and run." Other reviewers also noted the influences and antecedents to the movie, such as Gibson's cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, the movies Bladerunner and Terminator, as well as the films of Jackie Chan and John Woo. Ebert also mentioned Dark City and Strange Days as possible influences, while Philip Strick, writing in Sight and Sound, noted that The Matrix "is an ironic rereading of Logan's Run (1976), with a nod to Soylent Green (1973) and more than a dash of Zardoz (1973)." Strick went on to note that while the Wachowskis' "man-against-the-machine" is hardly a film novelty, "they are startling innovators of method." The film is, Strick went on, "a feast of unexpected fidgets and perspectives." For Newsweek's David Ansen, it was a "flamboyantly energetic action move," and Ebert found it a "visually dazzling cyber adventure, full of kinetic excitement."
Other commentators noted the philosophical underpinnings of the film, from Homer's Odyssey to Plato. Writing in Starburst Magazine Online, James E. Brooks commented that, "although obviously an action movie, The Matrix is just as much about ideas and concepts that cut to the core of reality and existence." Speaking with Ressner, Larry Wachowski confirmed that notion, commenting that the film is "'a story about the birth and evolution of consciousness.'" Wachowski also explained to Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times that the script was a "synthesis of ideas that sort of came together at a moment when we were interested in a lot of things: making mythology relevant to the modern context, relating quantum physics to Zen Buddhism, investigating your own life." Not all critics felt that the melding of action and philosophy was successful, however. Weinraub called the film a "compelling but not altogether coherent blend of mythology, religious mysticism, martial arts, virtual reality and time travel." Ebert also thought that the movie "retreats to formula just when it's getting interesting." For Ebert, it was "cruel . . . to put tantalizing ideas on the table and then ask the audience to be satisfied with a shoot-out and martial arts duel." But in the end, many critics, including Ebert, were impressed with the action sequences. "I wanted . . . a third act," the critic concluded. Ebert would get his wish, and more, but it would take four more years.
The Trilogy Comes Full Circle
With the commercial success of The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers were given more independence in making the two other films in their "Matrix" trilogy. With $150 million budgeted per movie, the two films were shot together in Australia under a grueling production schedule with basically the same cast as the first movie. Meanwhile, a video game, Enter the Matrix, and nine animated films revealing the series' backstory were produced by the Wachowskis. The first of the sequels, The Matrix Reloaded, appeared in the spring of 2003; the final installment, The Matrix Revolutions, hit box offices in November of 2003.
The Matrix Reloaded "sends Neo on a personal quest to understand the nature of the task he accepted when he embraced his identity as the long-sought 'One,'" according to Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. To do this, Neo must re-enter the Matrix, searching for the Architect, the creator. At the same time a machine army is boring into Zion, and Agent Smith and his look-alikes are on the trail of Neo. In The Matrix Revolutions Neo destroys the Matrix and discovers himself in the process.
The two "Matrix" sequels suffered the usual fate of many such efforts, with audiences less impressed with the second and third efforts than they had been with the first. Honeycutt noted that the Wachowskis were "determined to one-up themselves in the area of effects," but that the subsequent films "computer technology and overkill supplant the ingenuity of the original film's action." McIntyre, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, observed that unlike the original film, the sequels were "two of the most highly anticipated franchise films yet made," and such expectations are often hard to fulfill.
Writing in the Nation, Stuart Klawans felt that The Matrix Reloaded "moves more heavily than its predecessor. At times, the picture even grunts with effort." Klawans added that "to people who want passion and expansiveness from a movie, and ideas that are fresh rather than recycled, the Wachowskis have become an obvious drag." Similarly, Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, found the second "Matrix" installment "so dull, so literally ruled by Laurence Fishburne's trance-inducing Morpheus, that I had to reload The Matrix DVD to remember why I had been taken with all those streaming digits the first time around." And in Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman called The Matrix Reloaded "an insanely pretentious and dazzling cyberaction sequel" that "combines mainframe pretzel logic . . . with an overall atmosphere of sodden, junky, faux-Kubrickian philosophizing." Gleiberman went on to report that "it would be hard to think of another sci-fi movie that said so little while trying to mean so much."
Other reviewers found things to like in The Matrix Reloaded. For J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, several of the second film's action sequences are not only technically better than those of the original, but also are good cinema in their own right: "For pure video game shock and awe, the most exciting sequence is a prolonged freeway chase with helmetless Trinity riding her motorcycle against traffic as cars pile up and scatter all around like autumn leaves." Hoberman also observed that The Matrix Reloaded "aspires to more than mindless sensation." Reviewing the movie in Time, Richard Corliss warned prospective viewers to "strap yourself in for a road-rage theme-park ride," and praised the Wachowski brothers for having "vacuum packed enough action and meditation, enough complications, conundrums and kung fu to keep viewers rubbing heir eyes and scratching their heads." Daniel Eagan, writing in Film Journal International, commented that the movie "starts slowly, but delivers a finale jaw-dropping enough to whet appetites for the next installment." Eagan also noted that while it was not as good as The Matrix, the second part of the trilogy "does offer hope that the final installment will be a knock out."
If you enjoy the works of Andy and Larry Wachowski
If you enjoy the works of Andy and Larry Wachowski, you might want to check out the following films:
Kathryn Bigelow, Strange Days, 1995.
James Cameron, The Terminator, 1984.
Alex Progas, Dark City, 1997.
Ridley Scott, Bladerunner, 1982.
According to Ansen in Newsweek, The Matrix Revolutions is "a more straightforward, race-against-the clock action movie than its predecessors." Here the people of Zion battle the squidlike Sentinels of the Matrix in a twenty-five minute battle, "a wild sequence so densely crammed with flying metal, flaming weapons and smashed architecture it verges on abstraction," according to Ansen. Despite such techno-wizardry, however, Ansen still felt that the "Wachowskis didn't have many more tricks up their sleeves" after the original movie in the trilogy, making the final film "not much fun." Eagan, writing in Film Journal International, found Revolutions a "bit too redolent of Greek mythology, or at least a Joseph Campbell seminar," and burdened by "special effects [that] overwhelm the actors." For Eagan The Matrix Revolutions is a "dispiriting end to a series that once promised more." Similarly, Todd McCarthy, writing in Daily Variety, called the third installment a "turgid melodrama" containing "patchy plotting, windy dialogue and, yes, spectacular combat effects." McCarthy further observed, "If 'Reloaded' generally disappointed, 'Revolutions' deflates." Corliss was less negative, however, noting in Time that if Revolutions "doesn't touch the original for sheer cinematic wow, it . . . brings the enterprise to a satisfying climax." New Yorker reviewer David Denby also found aspects to praise, noting that "at it's best, the picture is violently exciting."
Despite the mixed critical reception, both "Matrix" sequels did well at the box office, The Matrix Reloaded earning over $300 million in its first month, while The Matrix Revolutions brought in $24.3 million on the first day of its release. Matt Seitz concluded in the New York Press Online, "I like these films, not just for their technological innovations, lavish action sequences, controlled compositions, deft editing and eerily focused tone, but for their unfashionable determination to connect everyday reality and pop fantasy." Seitz went on to argue that "the pop-culture backlash against them . . . has been arbitrary and somewhat unfair—more a reaction against marketing hype than the movies themselves." During the much-hyped release of their two sequels, the Wachowski brothers kept their usual silence, remaining, as Akin Ojumu wrote in the Observer Online, "among the most powerful figures in Hollywood."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 29, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Haber, Karen, Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Horsley, Jake, Matrix Warrior: Being the One, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
LaVelle, Kristena M., The Reality within The Matrix, Saxco Publishing, 2002.
Seay, Chris, and Greg Garrett, The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in The Matrix, Pinion Press, 2003.
Yeffeth, Glenn, Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix, BenBella Books (Dallas, TX), 2003.
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Gordon Flagg, review of The Art of the Matrix, p. 1107.
Chicago Sun-Times, March, 3, 1999, Roger Ebert, review of The Matrix.
Christian Science Monitor, May 9, 2003, Josh Burek, "Gospel according to Neo."
Daily Variety, May 27, 2003, Peer Bart, "Cracking the Wachowski's 'Matrix' Code," p. 4; November 3, 2003, Todd McCarthy, review of The Matrix Revolutions, pp. 8-9.
Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 1999, Jeff Jensen, "After Effects," p. 7; April 18, 2003, Daniel Fierman, "Caught in the Matrix," p. 26; May 16, 2003, Daniel Fierman, "The Neo Wave," p. 24; May 23, 2003, Owen Gleiberman, review of The Matrix Reloaded, p. 52; October 17, 2003, Marc Bernardin, review of The Matrix Reloaded, p. 65; November 14, 2003, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The Matrix Revolutions, p. 97.
Film Journal International, June, 2003, Daniel Eagan, review of The Matrix Reloaded, pp. 44-45; December, 2003, Daniel Eagan, review of The Matrix Revolutions, pp. 42-43.
Financial Times (London, England), Christopher Parkes, "Cinema's Dystopic Duo," p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter, May 6, 2003, Gina McIntyre, "Back in Black," pp. 19-21; May 8, 2003, Kirk Honeycutt, review of The Matrix Reloaded, pp. 2-3.
Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2003, Mark I. Pinsky, "Religious Critics Unload on 'Matrix,' Mixed Bag of Themes," p. E18; June 13, 2003, Robert K. Elder, "The 'Matrix' on Imax," p. E2.
Nation, June 2, 2003, Stuart Klawans, review of The Matrix Reloaded, p. 43
Newsweek, April 5, 1999, David Ansen, "What Cyberdreams May Come," p. 70; April 19, 1999, N'Gai Croal and Devin Gordon, "Maximizing the Matrix," p. 64; November 10, 2003, David Ansen, review of The Matrix Revolutions p. 63.
New Yorker, November 10, 2003, David Denby, review of The Matrix Revolutions, p. 128.
New York Press, Volume 16, number 45, 2004, Matt Seitz, "Out with a Bang."
New York Times, April 5, 1999, Bernard Weinraub, "Brothers Unleash Comic Book of Ideas," p. E1; May 25, 2003, Frank Rich, "There's No Exit from the Matrix," section 2, p. 4; November 2, 2003, Dave Kehr, "Matrix, Third Time Up," section 4, p. 2.
Observer (London, England), May 18, 2003, Akin Ojumo, "Brothers Grim."
Sight and Sound, July, 1999, Philip Strick, review of The Matrix.
Time, April 5, 1999, Richard Shickel, "Dreaming by Numbers," p. 68; April 19, 1999, Jeffrey Ressner, "Popular Metaphysics," p. 75; May 13, 2002, Jess Cagle, "The Matrix Reloads," p. 62; May 12, 2003, Richard Corliss, "Unlocking the Matrix," p. 64; June 2, 2003, p. 87; November 17, 2003, Richard Corliss, review of The Matrix Revolutions, p. 145.
Village Voice, May 14-20, 2003, J. Hoberman, "Use Your Illusions."
Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2003, John Lippman, "'Matrix' Overloaded?," p. B1.
Wired, November, 2003, Mark Miller, "Matrix Revelations."
Animatrix Web site,http://www.intothematrix.com/ (March 21, 2004).
KCBS Online,http://cbs2.com/entertainment/ (May 14, 2003), "'Matrix"s Wachowski Brothers Hide in Shadows."
Matrix Revolutions Web site,http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/ (March 21, 2004).
Matrix Web site,http://thematrixonline.warnerbros.com/ (March 21, 2004).
Movie Poop Shoot,http://www.moviepoopshoot.com/ (November 5, 2003), Josh Horowitz, interview with the Wachowski brothers.
Starburst Online,http://www.visimag.co/starburst/251_feature.htm/ (March 21, 2004), James E. Brooks, "Inside the Matrix."
Tribute Online,http://www.tribute.ca/ (March 17, 2004), "The Wachowski Brothers."*