How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes
Video Reflection on a Scene from The Matrix.
This “Red Pill Blue Pill” Scene from Wachowski’s The Matrix focuses on the conversation between Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Neo (Keanu Reeves). In the clip, Neo has become aware of the matrix, an artificial reality used to keep the human mind occupied to maintain docility, while the body is harvested for energy. Morpheus presents the opportunity for Neo to escape the matrix and see the real world by taking the red pill or to continue living in the matrix and not be bothered again by taking the blue pill.
In this scene, there are numerous different cinematographic techniques used. Since this is a clip that focuses primarily on the dialogue between Neo and Morpheus, much of the scene uses a straight on shot of Morpheus’s and Neo’s face with a shot reverse shot pattern to imply that they are speaking to each other. A shot reverse shot is a technique used in which only one character is on the screen at a time. One character is shown speaking in one shot then in the next shot the next character’s face is shown speaking. Even though we cannot see them speaking to each other directly it is implied by this style of editing.
These two images illustrate this shot reverse shot pattern that is prevalent throughout the scene. While only one character appears in each shot, it is implied that they are speaking to each other by the direction each character is looking. Is it by chance that the director has placed Neo on the right and Morpheus on the left? Ebert notes in his “How to Read a Movie” that “Right is more positive, left more negative…. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left.” In this scene Neo is located on the right and Morpheus on the left. Neo in this scene is the character of innocence and naiveté while Morpheus is the knowledgeable and more cynical character. Additionally, Neo represents the future in that his mind is about to be freed from the matrix, while Morpheus is a resistance veteran who has freed minds his entire life. This set up is consistent with Ebert’s ideas.
In addition to the shot reverse shot used in the dialogue between Morpheus and Neo, we also see an eye line match. An eye line match in cinema is when two characters are on screen together and they are either looking each other in the eye directly or direct eye contact is implied. A common type of eye line match is when we can see one character’s back and another characters face in the same shot. In this case eye contact is implied.
These two images, which are played one immediately after the other, illustrate this form of eye line match. Eye contact between the two characters is shown. This differs from a shot reverse shot pattern because now both characters are visible on the screen at the same time.
The scene also makes use of a wide angle establishing shot, which shows the viewer the room in which the scene is taking place.
This is a rather “zoomed in” establishing shot. Some establishing shots will show the outside of the building or even an entire city to show the viewer where the scene is taking place. This shot is also characteristic of the lighting that is used throughout the scene. There is not much light in the shot and the characters remain in an almost silhouette form. For every lighting scheme, the director wants to create a particular mood. This elicits a mysterious and foreboding response in the minds of the viewers. This scene is filled with mystery and fearful apprehension. The viewers of the film also do not have the knowledge of Morpheus so the lighting is made to put each viewer in the same mindset of Neo.
We also see a match on action occur when Neo takes the red pill from morpheus’s hand. A match on action is a technique in which the a shot of one action is cut to another shot of the same action taking place from a different angle or viewpoint.
The Gif above is the example of three match on actions from the clip. We can clearly see Neo reach for and grab the red pill in the reflection of Morpheus’s sunglasses. The pill, however, is taken from the point of view of Neo and is placed into his mouth from the point of view of Morpheus.
A minor detail is that Morpheus has a prop throughout the scene. A prop is defined as anything a character interacts with on camera. Morpheus is holding a small container with the red and blue pills.
Here we can see the container that he has been holding throughout the clip. Later, Morpheus is holding the pills in his hands.
Since Morpheus interacts with these items they are both considered props. The prop is small and is somewhat concealed in the hands of Morpheus. The prop raises questions in the scene. What is it? What does it contain? Why are the pills red and blue? Will they hurt Neo? These are all questions evoked by the props that add to the viewer’s mystery surrounding the scene.
The scene makes use of both diegetic and non diegetic sound. Diegetic sounds can be heard by the characters themselves. These usually include character’s voices or sounds made by objects in the story. Non-Diegetic sounds are not heard by the characters themselves in the clip. These sounds often include a narrator’s commentary, sound effects, or “mood music.” It is important to note that diegetic sounds and non-diegetic sounds frequently are played at the same time. This particular scene makes use of both forms of sound.
Below is a portion of the clip, which displays diegetic sounds.
The diegetic sounds in this clip are voices between Morpheus and Neo as well as the thunder and rain in the background. These sounds are all diegetic because they can all be heard by the characters in the clip. The thunder and rain are used from the very beginning to set the tone for the scene. The thunder immediately portrays the ominous ambiance.
Below is a portion of Non-Diegetic sounds from the clip
The background music is a non-diegetic sound that builds to a climax. This is non-diegetic because neither Morpheus nor Neo can actually hear the music. It is only heard by the audience watching the movie. This ominous music adds to the creepy aurora portrayed in the scene. The dialogue, however, is diegetic sound.
Although this scene is fundamentally just dialogue between two characters with the only prop being two pills, a glass of water, and a small box, the director has created an exciting, tense, interesting, and climatic scene through the use of different camera angles, dappled lightning, rich and voluminous diegetic speech and thunder sounds as well as non-diegetic background music.