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How The Matrix Built a Bullet-Proof Legacy

One day in 1992, Lawrence Mattis opened up his mail to find an unsolicited screenplay from two unknown writers. It was a dark, nasty, almost defiantly uncommercial tale of cannibalism and class warfare—the type of story that few execs in Hollywood would want to tell. Yet it was exactly the kind of movie Mattis was looking for.

Only a few years earlier, Mattis, in his late twenties, had abandoned a promising legal career to start a talent company, Circle of Confusion, with the aim of discovering new writers to represent. He'd set up shop in New York City, despite being told repeatedly that his best hope for finding talent was to be in Los Angeles. Before that strange script showed up, Mattis was starting to wonder if those naysayers had been right. "I'd only sold a few options that paid about five hundred dollars each," Mattis says. "I was starting to think about going back to law. Then I get this letter from these two kids, saying 'Could you please read our script?'"

The screenplay, titled Carnivore, was a horror tale set in a soup kitchen, where the bodies of the rich are used to feed the poor. "It was funny, it was visceral, and it made it clear that whoever wrote it really knew movies," Mattis says. Its writers were Lilly and Lana Wachowski, two self-described "schmoes from Chicago" who, in later years, would be referred to by many colleagues and admirers simply as "the Wachowskis."

By the time they contacted Mattis, the Wachowskis had been collaborating for years, having spent their childhood creating radio plays, comic books, and their own role-playing game. They'd been raised in a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's South Side by their mother, a nurse and artist, and their father, a businessman. Growing up, their parents had encouraged them to discover art, especially film. "We saw every single, solitary movie that was out," said Lana. "I would go through the newspaper and circle them, and I would figure out a plan on how I would see them all."

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by Bilge Ebiri

The Matrix literally transformed the industry,” says Chad Stahelski, who was Keanu Reeves’s stunt double in the film and went on to become one of the busiest stunt choreographers in the industry. Nowadays, he’s best known for directing the John Wick films, also starring Reeves. (Stahelski directed the first John Wick with fellow stunt veteran David Leitch, and has helmed the subsequent sequels by himself.) But he’d be the first to admit that those movies, not to mention most of the others he’s worked on, would never exist without The Matrix. “Back in the day,” he recalls, “fight scenes were secondary to car chases and horse chases and helicopter chases and motorboat chases.” And what fights there were focused on “single-gun battle stuff or Arnold Schwarzenegger pummeling you to death with his hands.”

But The Matrix showed that a fight sequence could be graceful and surprising, as well as tell a story. Even the nascent superhero-movie genre, which would soon become dominant, took a big page out of the Wachowskis’ playbook. Think of Spider-Man learning to use his powers, or Black Widow speedily dispatching a roomful of villains while still tied to a chair, or Wolverine slicing his way through armies of thugs. “Now,” Stahelski says, “action movies want their big sequences designed around the fights. Think of any action movie in the past decade or so that doesn’t have a bitchin’ fight scene. The Matrix said, ‘Look what you can do with your heroes.’” The director and stunt legend recently took a break from a busy schedule finishing John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum to talk with me about how The Matrix changed movies — and his life — forever.

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