Why do people wear sunglasses in The Matrix?

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9

Main characters in The Matrix wear sunglasses very often. Is there any explanation why?

I have read a few theories on the Internet about it:

  • actors constantly blink due to the gunfire
  • they have sunglasses when they are "in power" (destroying stuff) and take them off when they lose power (running from agents)
  • to look cool
  • to look cool when taking them off

I think that the second speculation is wrong, as the Frenchman does not wear glasses (but his people, whom he commands to shoot Neo, do).

styrofoam fly

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 684

35Out-of-universe, sunglasses/mirrors/other reflective surfaces are a common motif. They're often used to represent how a character's perspective or role changes throughout the film. One example that comes to mind is during the fight scene in the subway, when Neo manages to shatter one of Smith's lenses - one could interpret this as the undoing of the Agents' facade of invulnerability. There are plenty of other examples, but I haven't seen the film in a while, not to mention the sequels. – user170231 – 2017-03-28T16:18:08.653

46Rule of cool (warning, TVTropes) – fyrepenguin – 2017-03-28T16:18:11.407

23Another potential out of universe explanation (and admittedly just my theory) - eyes tend to be reasonably complex things to render without falling into the uncanny valley. It's possible the sunglasses were chosen, at least in part, to make the CGI scenes less taxing. – berry120 – 2017-03-28T16:51:33.220

If Keanu trained for The Matrix the way he trained for John Wick, I guarantee he wasn't blinking from the gunfire.

– Steve V. – 2017-03-30T03:02:15.827

6Isn't it obvious? For the same reason they are wearing long black leather coats! D'uh. – Peter A. Schneider – 2017-03-30T13:37:00.873

@user170231 one of the myriad uses of symbolism found in such abundance throughout this series. – Dan Henderson – 2017-03-30T19:25:47.780

I thought the sunglasses were another terminal these guys were looking at/through, further blurring the line between real and virtual. – keithpjolley – 2017-04-01T19:11:57.920

@PeterA.Schneider absolutely as they say "Cyberpunk is style over substance" – Neuromancer – 2018-02-20T22:35:42.907

Answers

121

For the rebels, it's same reason they wear long trench coats and mostly black clothes. It's a stylistic choice, that both sells the rebels image, that they fly against convention, and the cyber punk look from futuristic stories like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell.

When Morpheus meets Neo, he is wearing sunglasses, despite being inside a house during a rainy night. It's just meant to look cool. They'll shed the shades and trench coats when they need to be more practical.

Trinity in particular also uses her sunglasses as eye protection when riding a motorcycle twice, both in the first and second movie.

For the agents, it's another deal altogether. They wear it as a disguise. An additional layer of impersonality. It's standard MIB fantasy clothing. A dark suit and shades.

To the best of my knowledge, the Wachowskis never commented on the shades in particular, but I'll leave here a nugget about shades:

Psychologist Paul Ekman, an authority on facial expressions, says that of the 23 facial expressions relating to human emotion, about one-third involve the eyes. Shades may slightly obscure your view of the world, but they also hide the world's view of how you are feeling.

CyberClaw

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 4 218

41

The sunglasses for the main characters were designed by Richard Walker from Blinde Design. In this article in the Chicago Tribune Kevin Jones (curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles) talks about design choices in the production design:

"What was interesting about those in 'The Matrix' is the way they reflected back to the viewer what they couldn't see on screen," said Kevin Jones, curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. "In just about any film, when you see a person driving a car, they take the rearview mirror away. But here are these sunglasses acting as a rearview mirror so you know what's going on behind you as well as in front of you."

Conversely, there's the element of mystery.

"You cannot see where the eyes are looking," Jones said, "and that can be exciting to the plot."

So out-of-universe it was definitely a specific choice for the production team to get a unique, individual design specific to each character.

An interesting in-universe interpretation can be found here:

The renegades and the Agents always wear sunglasses in the Matrix. Sunglasses hide the eyes and reflect those who are being looked at. The removal of sunglasses signals that a character is gaining a new or different perspective, or that he or she is vulnerable or exposed in some way. When Neo removes his glasses to kiss Persephone in The Matrix Reloaded, he looks deeply into her eyes, indicating both the precariousness and gravity of the moment. When Morpheus offers Neo his crucial choice between the pills, the blue pill is reflected in one shade of his sunglasses, the red pill in the other, an overt reference to the two different ways of seeing that Neo must choose between. When Neo enters his new world, his sunglasses serve as protection for him, keeping him invulnerable to the dangers and surprises he encounters.

One final interesting point - at the start of the film all of the agents' sunglasses are the same shape, but as Smith goes increasingly rogue, his sunglasses begin to take on a new shape (as noted in TV Tropes):

Special mention goes to Morpheus' reflective pince-nez shades and the change in Agent Smith's lenses. They start out with the same oblong shape as those used by other Agents, but once he goes rogue, they take on a polygonal shape that approximates the outline of Neo's shades to contrast their growth.

Matt Jones

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 625

21

In the related video game Enter The Matrix, it is implied that the sunglasses worn while in the Matrix are actually a heads-up display. You see a typed message from Sparx appearing character by character, superimposed on your view of the game.

EDIT: I should emphasize that there is zero support for this idea in the movies, and it probably was invented by the game developer. Nevertheless the Wachowskis probably signed off on it.

Ross Presser

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 341

1I think there is at least some degree of canon...ical...ness(?) to ETM, as it was actually developed concurrently with the 2nd and 3rd films, such that the game's plot actually interweaves with that of the movies, particularly in its cutscenes. Admittedly, though, that probably doesn't extend to in-game text/dialog related to the game's UI. – Dan Henderson – 2017-03-30T19:39:39.587

4So you got a huge wire attached to your brain, transferring who knows how much data per second directly to it, creating an entire virtual universe inside your brain. Nevertheless this tech needs you to wear a pair of virtual glasses to actually deliver you an text message from a friend. Sound exactly like the BS explanations game developers use all the time. – r41n – 2017-03-31T06:36:05.277

2@r41n Like you have to hack a phone to disconnect? The Matrix seems to be very overwhelming of their senses. Things had to be presented inside of the matrix while remaining inconspicuous to avoid detection by the agents. – Ullallulloo – 2017-03-31T20:51:30.300

@Ullallulloo, sorry, still doesn't make it any more reasonable. – r41n – 2017-04-03T06:28:32.110

4

Lots of interesting answers, including the bullet points from the research you have already done. I like almost all of them.

However I didn't see one that clearly gives the in-movie explanation. All of these answers are very good reasons to why the choice was made to have them wearing glasses, but in movie, its much simpler than that.

Because they choose to.

In Morpheus's explanation of what the matrix is to Neo, he points out Neo's appearance as a representation of himself. The way he sees himself is reflected in that. Do they think the glasses make them cooler, so they have them because they think they are cool? Maybe. It doesn't matter. Thats how they view who they are.

Im glad they view themselves with such awesome eye ware, as the scenes that you can see the reflections would be very different and much duller without them.

wade21

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 41

It is also worth pointing out that before being freed from the matrix, they were all part of the same (sub)culture. They were all hackers. It isn't that unreasonable that they'd all choose to wear similar fashion. Especially when they can just look however they want. – Shane – 2017-03-30T19:55:34.287

expected to see this answer higher up. was almost going to post it myself. the line he says is actually written or spoken backwards, but it's "the mental representation of your digital self". (or correctly "the digital representation of your mental self".) – Dave Cousineau – 2017-04-03T04:35:39.580

0

They wear sunglasses because making animations in sunglasses is easy and the animated scenes in sunglasses look more realistic. Considering the animation technology we had in 1999 when movie came, it looks a fair choice.

user48594

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 9

2Sunglasses can create problems too. For example, Morpheus scene where he meets Neo in the first movie, has a bunch of straight shot scenes. His shades being highly reflective, meant they had to digitally alter every shot with them looking at the screen, to remove the camera. Sometimes this is used for a better shot (when he shows the red and blue pill in the shades reflection), but most of the time it is just an hassle for post prod, and a couple of shots had to be re-edited after release when they saw the reflections. – CyberClaw – 2017-03-29T08:45:14.197

1On top of that, Matrix 1 doesn't use cgi for generating humans. All the shots are filmed with a real life human. Reloaded and Revolutions has a few scenes that uses some glaring CGI, Neo vs the Smith army, and Trinity dying falling off a building come to mind. But by then, the shades were already part of the style (and heck, Trinity wasn't wearing shades when she fell, despite a real close close up of her face). – CyberClaw – 2017-03-29T08:47:52.953

@CyberClaw: It would be harder to do that with eyes, though. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2017-03-29T09:58:03.783

What would it be harder to do? The only movie in the series with CGI humans, they did do it with eyes like the Trinity falling scene I mentioned. – CyberClaw – 2017-03-29T10:00:15.180

0

For an in universe answer for a spy sunglasses would hide their eyes so others cannot see their expression as easily or where they are looking. Poker players wear them for this reason.

An out of universe answer is given in this video.

At seconds thirty onwards it argues that Kenau Reeves has a emotionless neutral face through out the entire movie so the audience do not empathise with him, but helps the audience imagine being him. The sunglasses go further in that direction by hiding the expressive eyes.

PStag

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 1

-2

Actually the original reason this trope started (real world answer here) is because anyone learning to fire a gun, or who does not do so fairly often, has a tendancy to blink or close their eyes when the shoot. Which in real life a momentary blink is not too bad, but it looks a bit silly on screen. Particularly in slow motion.

As a result most films which feature actual guns firing blanks (rather than cgfx) will put sunglasses on any actors who cannot stop themselves from blinking.

One thing I really like in McAtrix (a pizza hut, a pizza hut) was the cinematic use of the reflections on some of the glasses, extreme closeups using the reflection as the screen. It had been done before, but it was quite nice.

Trinity was also based on Molly Millions from Neuromancer (I know, she's not a great version of molly) and Molly had reflective glass implanted over her optics.

Slipoch

Posted 2017-03-28T11:19:34.600

Reputation: 9

1Do you have any evidence for claiming that Trinity was based on Molly Millions? Molly is an augmented body guard and warrior, while Trinity is a hacker. The only commonalities is they're both women who have glasses at some point. – Matt Jones – 2017-03-30T11:18:31.813

The writers stated they thought this was how Molly would look but her character was quite different. So I guess it's more based on molly to two degrees of kevin bacon. Molly also can't take her glasses off, they are embedded. – Slipoch – 2017-04-07T14:37:00.047

Do you have any quotes from the writers about this on any resources? I looked but I could find no evidence of this. – Matt Jones – 2017-04-07T14:38:51.180

Sorry was half way through and hit enter...le sigh, start again.

The character description from the screenplay and clothing outfit is almost identical (except the glasses vs the implanted screens).

The character is also quite similar in behaviour to Molly (particularly if you take the plot of johnny pnemonic into account as well.) with the exception that Molly is more of a hardened killer. But if you look at Trinity in the first half of the movie, she is also a badass who has no problem killing innocents possessed by agents. (only in the second half does she need neo at all) – Slipoch – 2017-04-07T14:53:24.257

Some of the writers of the animes that the wachowski's have previously referenced also stated that their inspiration was from Neromancer.several including one of the original writers of GITS (unsure if movie or manga) talk about Molly speficially). So it may also be a case of 2 degrees of Kevin Bacon. This was interviews in a magazine back in 1990 or somewhere, so no idea if it ever got digitised. Around when I saw Gits for first time so prolly movie. – Slipoch – 2017-04-07T14:54:08.303

In general the matrix, while it uses a different main plot, touches on a lot of the same themes and philosophical questions (internet as it's own virtual world, 'ghosts', morality of killing individuals through software/hacking and self aware AI attempting to manipulate humans, what is human etc.) as Neromancer and Gibson's other books.

There is a good little comparison that touches on these lightly at :http://neuromancervthematrix.blogspot.com.au/

– Slipoch – 2017-04-07T14:54:21.193

But my main point before I got distracted in my reply above was that this started as a Hollywood thing (I was involved in short film/tv for a while) back in the day to cover up the fact that the actors were closing their eyes when they shot guns. – Slipoch – 2017-04-07T14:56:19.960