A million Mr. Andersons can attest to Wachowskis’ undeniable influence

Mila Kunis and Douglas Booth in a scene from the film Jupiter Ascending. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

According to the 2000 census, there are approximately 760,000 Andersons in the United States. And it's fairly safe to say that a considerable percentage of the male members of that not-so-exclusive club have, at one time or another, been greeted with "Misssssteraaanderson ... "

It happens at the doctor's office and the DMV, while having your tires rotated or your teeth cleaned. You get it from people you never imagined went to the movies at all, much less to messianic sci-fi extravaganzas. It makes you wonder: How many people have seen "The Matrix"?

Lots. The 1999 effects-heavy adventure, the second feature directed by the Wachowski brothers (later the Wachowski siblings, after Lana's — nee Larry — sexual reassignment surgery), is among the most financially successful, honored and revered films in the sci-fi canon. It spawned two sequels, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Matrix Revolutions" (both 2003). It's impossible to tell how many have seen it on DVD, on-demand or on pirated downloads. But the Matrix-ites are legion.

The Wachowskis' latest, "Jupiter Ascending," opens Friday and will mark the first time since the birth of the "Matrix" franchise that the sibs have directed a film from their own original screenplay. Whether they've concocted anything really original remains to be seen. However: The frequency by which one gets the elongated "Mister Anderson" from perfect strangers (the line was first uttered by Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith in addressing Thomas Anderson/Neo, played by Keanu Reeves) indicates, albeit unscientifically, just how widespread their influence has been among viewers.

On the screen, that influence is more quantifiable, and has been largely stylistic, technological and cyberpunkish. The so-called "bullet-time" technique, in which a character's heightened sense of perception is illustrated by having everything around that character move in slo-verging-on-frozen motion, was a signature of "The Matrix," and has since become ubiquitous.


The sources from which "The Matrix" derives exalted the whole genre, to an almost ridiculous level — its sources, critics have noted, range from novelist William Gibson's "Necromancer" to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" to the New Testament (Neo's status as the prophesied "chosen One" always seemed a pretty obvious tipoff).

Conversely, perhaps, the Wachowskis' appeal has involved a low-to-the-ground fanboy sensibility — the filmmakers are usually pretty much in love with the process as much as the plotline, and don't seem averse to the cult factor that has grown around "The Matrix," even though it's led to some unsavory associations. (By 2003, three accused killers had mounted a so-called "Matrix defense," including Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the D.C. snipers.)

It also has led to such dubious Wachowski efforts as the Razzie-nominated, live-action "Speed Racer," and the grandiose and largely unintelligible "Cloud Atlas" adaptation of 2012 (from David Mitchell's novel), codirected with the German filmmaker Tom ("Run Lola Run") Tykwer. At the time of "Cloud Atlas," Andy Wachowski tried to explain to Newsday the filmmakers' approach to an unwieldy novel — that they were trying to replicate the experience of having read the book, rather than reading it.

"You read a book, you go to bed, you think about it, you sleep on it," he said. "It impresses itself on your subconscious. While this is happening, your brain is finding connections in the book of the sort David Mitchell has ingeniously laid out between narratives."

Whether those connections were, in fact, made by viewers might have been reflected in the modest returns on what was a reported $102 million budget, and a cast that included Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. "The Wachowskis are strict practitioners of the Baroque," wrote Violet Lucca in Film Comment. "And one of their solutions to the problems of adapting the book — the special makeup effects — required a level of capital that they were either unable or unwilling to invest in."

But when you've created something like the "Matrix" trilogy with its half-billion in grosses, you get more than one second chance, even though the online trolling began some time ago in anticipation of their new movie. "Did the Wachowskis peak with 'The Matrix?"" one site asks, not untypically.

"Jupiter Ascending," which stars Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis and Eddie Redmayne, will be "a science-fiction space opera," Lana Wachowski told the Associated Press. "It has a lot of things from a lot of genres that we love. It's got a lot of original action. It's got a lot of romance."

Whether the romance continues with the Wachowskis — among their fans, and their studio — will depend on how high "Jupiter" ascends.

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