The Matrix gave us many moments that permanently changed the visual effects game in Hollywood, spawning a slew of copycats with slowed-down action scenes. During one such instance worth referencing, Neo and Trinity are dispatching a group of armed SWAT members on a rooftop when one of their opponents (a helicopter pilot) begins to convulse. His body morphs into a dreaded agent, replete with standard black suit, sunglasses and a coiling earpiece. The agent exudes calm as he squares off with “the chosen one,” pausing opposite our hero. Neo spins around and fires first, sending a hail of bullets towards the agent—who brings time to a crawl and easily dodges around the projectiles like an arm-waving inflatable tube man. Back the other way the agent then fires on Neo, who desperately attempts to pull the same stunt while leaning backwards. Two bullets clip Neo, sending him down in pain. The agent then approaches to finish his kill, and Trinity flatly presents a glorious one-liner: “Dodge this,” before perforating the agent’s head.
In the larger industry it’s sometimes referred to as “bullet time.” Max Payne utilizes this ability in his video games, leaping out as time pauses so he can place Uzi bursts with deadly care. The movie 300 offers a similar effect over and over again as Leonidas and company carve and kick their way through hordes of Persians. Even sound effects will hit inertia and drag when the moment occurs, letting you, the audience, know that you’ve entered some kind of temporal stretching.
While it’s a welcome development when Neo comes to appropriate the agent version of bullet time, it’s also very important that this ability doesn’t catch on more widely. I don’t just mean for people from the real-world resistance: Citizens of Zion. If somehow everyday Matrix slaves learned of bullet time and how to use it, imagine the devastating effects on common industries.
Take fast food: If one person could slow down time and flip a dozen burgers while simultaneously prepping and salting accompanying fries, they’d succeed in doing the work of multiple employees. You could run an entire burger joint with only two people: One on the grill, and one operating every till and drink machine at the same time.
Manufacturing industries everywhere could improve their profit margins by retaining only their most talented in time distortion techniques, sending the rest packing with pink slips. Surgeries could be drastically sped up, dental visits done lickety-split, store shelves stocked in minutes instead of hours, and a visit to the hairdresser might be accomplished at a drive-thru window. Besides data entry—where keystrokes take timed precision and wouldn’t be read if placed too close together—we might only find jobs for the average Joe that require prolonged thinking, like lawyers or writers.
Sports would change forever. From a spectator’s perspective, the field of a football game might turn into a dizzying display of wire-stunt style acrobatics. Sleight of hand too quick for the eye to follow would decide who ends up with the football, running towards the opposing end zone. A single tennis rally could last for hours and turn into a war of attrition. Even a basketball game might devolve into a shooter and defender flailing in super-speed around each other, while the one with the ball looks for a clear lane to shoot or pass. If referees could catch infractions, the only points scored might be those earned from the free throw line.
In terms of the more dangerous effects on society, accelerated cops would have to be ready to respond to equally fast criminals. Robbing a convenience store would only take seconds if you waited for a cash drawer to open and then zipped by. Pickpockets would have a heyday on a crowded street. We’d probably see overall crime on a significant rise simply because of all the displaced workers needing to look after their families in any way possible. Heck, even a simple playground fight at an elementary school might turn into a full-on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon situation, requiring an intervention from well-trained teachers.
Our governments would try desperately to combat the speedy scourge by passing anti-bullet time laws, shackling the hands and feet of those caught in the act in order to stop them from moving at anything but a normal speed. But as we’ve seen throughout history, when profits are at stake and businesses can milk an advantage, it’s more likely that lobbying groups would mire the attempt in protests and court challenges. Let alone, imagine, the opposition of everyday people. If you had the ability to slow time, would you so easily forfeit it? Not quite a direct comparable, but look at gun laws in the United States. While guns have proven insanely harmful to society on a whole, there’s immense resistance to restricting them.
Beyond breaking the illusion of the Matrix, a foundation which guarantees the safety of those sleeping in their slime-filled cocoons, free and uninhibited bullet time would tear society apart. So maybe let’s just be glad that we (hopefully) don’t live in the Matrix, and that the laws of physics as we know them still apply.
Featured image credit: Den of Geek