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How Stanley Kubrick Influenced The Matrix Sequels

If the sequels to the Wachowskis' sci-fi opus The Matrix left you a bit underwhelmed, the movies' cinematographer Bill Pope knows who you should blame: Stanley Kubrick.

Pope recently sat down for a chat with famed lens man Roger Deakins on his Team Deakins podcast, and during his visit, he had quite a bit to say about The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions both of which are generally considered to be inferior to the first film. Pope shares that assessment, and he wasn't shy about saying so.

"Everything that was good about the first experience was not good about the last two," Pope explained (via CinemaBlend). "We weren't free anymore. People were looking at you. There was a lot of pressure. In my heart, I just didn't like [the sequels]. I felt we should be going in another direction. There was a lot of friction and it was a lot of personal problems, and it showed up on screen, to be honest with you. It was not my most elevated moment, nor anybody else's."

That is a brutal — albeit fair — assessment. However, according to Pope, the sequels might have popped a bit more if Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the writers and directors of all three Matrix movies, hadn't run their cast into the ground with take after take — a technique they cribbed from the late Kubrick. 

"The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, 'Actors don't do natural performances until you wear them out.' So let's go to take 90!" Pope said, before deadpanning, "I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him."

Stanley Kubrick's tendency to wear down his actors is well-documented

Kubrick's "truckloads of unnecessary takes" method of achieving naturalistic performances has been noted numerous times in the past — most often in reference to what many consider to be one of the greatest horror films in history, The Shining. Remember that scene in which Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) threatens his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) as she tries to hold him off with a baseball bat? Duvall's hysterical weeping in that scene isn't acting — it's completely real. According to The Vintage News, the scene holds the world record for the most takes of any scene with spoken dialogue: a mind-numbing 127. 

That was only one of many times during the film's shoot that Kubrick pushed Duvall to her absolute physical and mental limit, causing her to nearly quit The Shining. And she wasn't alone.

In the book Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, author John Baxter recounted how veteran actor Scatman Crothers — who portrayed the Overlook Hotel's cook, Dick Halloran, and who was in his late 60s during filming — was forced to do dozens upon dozens of takes of the scene in which his character is killed by Torrance with an axe to the back (via Collative Learning). In the middle of it all, Crothers broke down, reportedly screaming, "What do you want, Mr. Kubrick? What do you want?" Another scene, in which Crothers' character simply crosses a street, required 50 takes before Kubrick was satisfied. 

Baxter dryly notes that "nobody was ever sure if this system bore fruit" — but apparently, the Wachowski sisters got it in their heads to give it a whirl during the shooting of the Matrix sequels, which may explain why Keanu Reeves' Neo looks exhausted half the time he's on screen. Of course, Reeves and Lana Wachowski are currently in production on The Matrix 4 — a project that the star presumably signed on to after receiving assurances from his director that she wouldn't go all Kubrick on him again.