Born on Dec. 29. 1967 in Chicago, IL, Wachowski was raised with then-brother Larry by his father, Ron, a businessman and his mother, Lynne, a nurse and amateur painter. After graduating from Whitney Young High School, which had a noted performing arts curriculum, Wachowski matriculated at Emerson College in Boston, MA, while brother Larry attended Bard College in New York. Both dropped out and went into the carpentry business together while writing comic books in their spare time. Eventually, The Wachowskis wrote issues of Clive Barker's Ectokid (1993-94) series for Marvel Comics' imprint Razorline, as well as Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1989-1992) and Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990) for Epic Comics. The duo wrote and sold their first script to producer Dino De Laurentiis, which eventually became the action thriller Assassins (1995), starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas as rival hit men forced to work together. Panned by critics, the film veered between generic actioner and character study while becoming a box office dud.
For their directorial debut, The Wachowskis chose a rather risqué project with Bound (1996), a romance-thriller featuring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon as two criminal lesbians in love. Drawing on influences as varied as Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" (1944), Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) and even Sam Raimi's cult classic "The Evil Dead" (1981), the duo set out to create a modern film noir that would invert the genre. With its elaborately stylish camerawork and intriguing story, "Bound" was either a hit or miss with audiences. Receiving generally appreciative reviews, however, the film found a limited, but appreciative audience, thanks in large part to the steamy sex scenes between Tilly and Gershon. From there, the brothers were propelled to superstardom when they wrote and directed The Matrix (1999), a sci-fi-action hybrid that morphed 17th century philosophy with futuristic technology to create a major blockbuster hit. The film drew upon such diverse influences as cyberpunk, anime, Hong Kong action films, Alice in Wonderland, The Bible, Descartes, and postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, which was required reading for both cast and crew.
"The Matrix" starred Keanu Reeves as Neo, a slacker computer programmer who is drawn into war between humans and sentient machines by a ragtag group of rebels led by the mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). While a vast majority of humans remain unaware of the war, thanks to being lulled to sleep in a simulated reality, the group of rebels - which include a fellow hacker named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the traitorous Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) - go in search of The One in order to save humanity while trying to outrun the machines led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) across the vast wasteland of Earth in 2199. Over a period of more than five years, the Wachowskis developed the story for this comic book-come-to-life, penning 14 drafts and overseeing the design of some 500 storyboards. The arduous shoot required the actors to undergo extensive physical conditioning so the film's innovative, special effects-driven set pieces would have a unique visual flair. In the end, all the meticulous planning paid off, as the film opened at the top of the box office and eventually grossed over $450 million worldwide. Meanwhile, the film was a massive cultural touchstone and popularized the use of "bullet time" visual effects across every medium.
The success of "The Matrix" spawned a franchise that consisted of two sequels, an animated series, and even a number of video games. After the straight-to-DVD release of the animated shorts Animatrix (), the Wachowskis concurrently filmed The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), both of which toned down the philosophical underpinnings of the first film in favor of more amped-up action. While critics were generally warm towards "Reloaded," they were far less forgiving with "Revolutions," with many calling the latter film anticlimactic. Both were major box office hits, of course, though "Reloaded" nearly doubled the amount made by "Revolutions." It was around this time that rumors began to swirl about Larry Wachowski - namely that he was in the process of undergoing sex reassignment due to his increasingly feminine appearance, and was having marital problems born from his frequent visits to a dominatrix. Though Wachowski denied that his brother was transforming his gender, the rumors continued to swirl, especially when Larry receded further from the limelight.
Meanwhile, the Wachowskis stepped back from directing to write the scripts for the comic book adaptation, V for Vendetta (2006), starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, and "The Invasion" (2007), an adaptation of Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Back in the director's chair(s), the brothers helmed Speed Racer (2008), a live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese anime series of the same name. Starring Emile Hirsch as the titular race car driver, as well as Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox and Susan Sarandon, "Speed Racer" was savaged by critics and underperformed at the box office. After producing the martial arts actioner Ninja Assassin (2009), starring Rain and Naomie Harris, the Wachowskis returned to directing with Cloud Atlas (2012), a complexly structured epic that traversed multiple characters and storylines throughout various time periods in order to show how one life can have a significant impact on others. Made outside the studio system for a whopping $100 million, "Cloud Atlas" was the most expensive independent movie ever made and received an enthusiastic standing ovation following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, though critics were divided upon its theatrical release. But before the film made its premiere, Larry Wachowski - now renamed Lana - emerged to confirm that she did indeed receive gender reassignment surgery by revealing her new self in a promotional video for "Cloud Atlas."
By Shawn Dwyer
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