I was visiting my brother for the weekend on my many trips to the city in 1999. He was living near the Virgin Megastore--when it was still around--so I only had to go around the block and down the street past Silver Spurs to the movie megaplex on the right. I was just killing time, so I didn't even know what the film was about. I saw that it might be sci-fi and that Keanu Reeves was in it. That gave me flashbacks of when I had seen Johnny Mnemonic in 1996 down at the Delaware shore with some members of the band Cecil's Water. I remember that being a horrible film, but I was a geek for sci-fi, so I figured, why not? I could always leave if it was bad. (I am fairly famous for doing this. I just don't stay in movies that don't hold my interest. I think it began with Under Siege 2 with Steven Segal, but I had learned that I could just exit a theater and go to another film if it was that bad in the first ten minutes.)
The first 20 minutes of THE MATRIX is a lot of set-up. I was confused by the club scene and the whole white rabbit thing. Even when they offered the reveal of people being batteries, I was still a bit confused. It wasn't until Neo meets The Oracle that it suddenly clicked for me. I'm not sure why it took so long, but I was very much into the story after that. Then, when all hell breaks loose for saving Morpheus, I was just amazed by the special effects. Each action sequence builds upon the one before it. It was almost like the Wachiowski brothers were saving these tricks for a while. Neo does that aerial kick. Then they fly up the elevator, while he says, "There is no spoon." Once they get to the apartment rooftop, we get machine-like-speed from Neo dodging bullets, and then Trinity tells an Agent to, "Dodge this," and then blows him away.
Once the helicopter is downloaded and Neo blows up some more agents to free Morpheus, I think I was literally on my feet in the theater. I even consciously began to notice that there were other audience members who were responding out loud to the action.
"Woo!" I would hear. "Aw, man," another audience member would say.
Then came the ultimate ending: a flying Neo with Rage Against the Machine in the background.
The feeling I had when I walked out the theater was pretty strong. I felt like I was in The Matrix for a bit. That's how deeply I got entrenched into the world of the film.
I don't think I've felt that too many times in the cinema: changed by what I'd seen. I tried to hold onto that feeling as long as I could. I walked out the theater, went around the block, and felt like life was possible--uplifted. I know that's strange. Why would a stupid sci-fi film give me that? But it did. I was ecstatic--almost like I was on a drug.
The next day I had planned on going to the MOMA, but I couldn't resist. I went right back to the theater and watched the film again. I knew it was going to be a hit, but at that time, I felt like I was in on a secret, and I didn't want to let it go.