With the upcoming release of the first new Matrix movie in nearly 20 years – “The Matrix: Resurrections” (in theaters and on HBO Max, December 22nd, 2021), we recently decided to do a deep dive into the Matrix series on the latest “season” of Podcasters Assemble, and it really got me thinking about what might be in store for the future of the franchise…
Warning: there will be spoilers for “The Matrix” (1999), “The Animatrix”, “The Matrix: Reloaded”, “The Matrix: Revolutions”, and potentially “The Matrix: Resurrections” (2021) if I’m at all right about my crazy fan theories!
The Matrix was a cultural phenomenon in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and it wasn’t just because of the slow-mo ‘bullet time’ effects either. I’m not going to waste your time recapping the Matrix films, because if you clicked on this presumably you’ve watched them by now. Like Morpheus says to Neo (and the audience), “No one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to experience it for yourself.”
In my opinion, the first movie is easily in my Top 10 movies of all time and holds up incredibly well. It’s an action movie inspired by anime and Hong Kong cinema with cyber punk imagery and Buddhist themes. Everything from the choreography to the special effects to the acting, music, and editing all works on numerous levels. And even though it’s influenced by movies like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and Greek philosophers like Plato, it’s also a pretty unique story that really makes you ask ‘What is real?’
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for it’s two sequels, “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “The Matrix: Revolutions” – basically one long and convoluted CG fest split into two sub-par b-movies. Seriously, I would argue that the Star Wars prequels are way more rewatchable than these two (feel free to argue with me in the comments below). However, even though those movies are a huge drop in quality from the first one, they aren’t completely without merit, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper. I think the Matrix sequels were a product of the WB producers wanting to rush them out before they were ready, in order to cash in on the craze before it died out, and I can totally see where they’re coming from, but it ultimately killed the franchise for the next couple decades. It’s unfortunate, because there’s moments in those two movies where you can see what they could’ve been if they had taken the time to really get it right.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention “The Animatrix”. For the uninitiated, the Animatrix was an anime anthology series that really did a lot of heavy lifting in the world building department. If nothing else, ‘Program’, ‘A Detective Story’, ‘The Final Flight of the Osiris’, and ‘The Second Renaissance’ are basically required viewing for any fan of the series.
And now with this year’s “The Matrix: Resurrections” bringing back both Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss – we’ve got A LOT of questions… namely, how are Neo and Trinity back?!
After all, we saw them both die at the end of “The Matrix: Revolutions” right? And when I say dead, like it wasn’t even ambiguous, Trinity died in the ‘real world’, impaled by several metal beams after a crash-landing into the Machine City! (spoilers?) And then Neo, who at this point had his eyes burned away by a plasma gun, sacrificed himself to save the machines from the Smith Virus and as a result brokered an uneasy peace between the machines and Zion. All in all, it was a pretty conclusive ending to the trilogy.
So how is it possible that both Neo and Trinity are alive and well, like nothing’s happened?
Back to where it all started – back to The Matrix!
Theory #1: Could this actually be a prequel?
Now I know Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss look significantly older in this new movie and there seem to be some quick shots and lines referencing the other films, but for all we know that could be misdirection by the marketing team. After all, Morpheus was recast (with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II replacing Laurence Fishburne) and he looks significantly younger in this version. And according to the first trailer, we get an indication that not everything is as it seems when Neo looks in the mirror and sees a different person in his reflection. There were even rumors early on that they were working on a Morpheus prequel, so what if that’s still the case?
So how would this work? In “The Matrix: Reloaded” we meet ‘the Architect’, who explains that the Matrix has gone through a number of iterations over the years and that this is the 6th iteration of the program in a cycle of destruction and rebirth, with Zion falling to the machines and then being rebuilt after the Matrix is rebooted. There are even other hints and references to this in the other films: at the end of “The Matrix: Revolutions” we see that the Matrix has been given a firmware upgrade once again with the sky looking like a colorful Windows Vista background, and in the original film, Morpheus explains: “When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was he who freed the first of us, taught us the truth – As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free. After he died, the Oracle prophesied his return and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people…”
So for all we know, this could be the story of an earlier version of the Matrix where Neo sacrifices himself to save Morpheus, who then goes on to seek out his resurrected messiah in the original film. It would also help explain how Trinity is still alive. The hints at DeJa’Vu could even be referring to these same events happening before, but differently. Maybe even the first Matrix film took place in an earlier version than the one we saw in the sequels, and the same or similar events just keep repeating each cycle. In the second trailer for ‘Resurrections’, Morpheus says “We can’t see it, but we’re all trapped in these strange repeating loops.”
Admittedly, after what we’ve seen in the subsequent previews, this is probably the least likely scenario, but it would definitely be an intriguing twist!
Follow the White Rabbit…
Theory #2: Maybe Trinity is actually The One?
There have been a lot of fan theories circulating about Agent Smith being the real hero of the Matrix trilogy for years now, but I’d argue that it’s just as likely that Trinity could be the (actual) one!
There are a few lines and moments in the second trailer for the new film that indicate that this might not be Neo’s story, “The most important choice in Neo’s life, is not his to make.”
Neo even says, “She believed in me, it’s my turn to believe in her.”
Maybe after the events of ‘Revolutions’, the machines took Neo and Trinity’s bodies, plugged them both back into the Matrix as a way of reviving them and maybe during this process, because of their connection, the anomaly that gives Neo his “powers” imprinted on to her? Or maybe by Neo bringing her back to life inside the Matrix (see ‘Reloaded’) unlocked her potential as another ‘The One’?
We know that there were previous iterations of “The One” and it’s even hinted at that Seraph may have been one of those previous incarnations, so it’s likely that it’s not Neo each time, and it would also explain how Neo is still around in this rebooted version of the Matrix OS. Now that Neo has fulfilled his own destiny, maybe it’s up to Trinity to finish what he started? Perhaps when Trinity died, her consciousness uploaded to the network automatically, because (like Neo) she was also wireless connected to the source and hadn’t realized it yet? Or because of their connection, they’re both ‘The One’? Like the Aristotle quote about a single soul in two bodies.
In the first ‘Matrix’, the Oracle explained that “-being the one is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.” Which could lend further credence to this theory. In fact, the moment where Neo first ‘realized’ he was the One, was when he was dying and Trinity told him that she loved him – so could it be that she was the one that imbued him with that power in the first place?
Was she ‘The One’ all along?
Curiouser and curiouser…
The Matrix Has You…
Theory #3: Neo never left the Matrix?!
Now this one’s a bit of a head trip, which makes me think that it might actually be what’s really happening here.
Stay with me now: the second and third movie never actually happened, it was all a simulation! Or at least the events of Reloaded and Revolutions were all a lie to convince Neo that he had succeeded in his quest and saved humanity. He then wakes up in his bed as Mr. Anderson and convinced himself it was all a wacky dream, not realizing that he’d been captured by the machines and plugged back in shortly after Cypher betrayed the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar? Or let’s take it one step further: the ‘real world’ might not actually be real, it could be another layer of The Matrix itself!
There’s a fair amount of evidence to back this theory up too: In the opening of ‘The Matrix: Reloaded’, Neo wakes up from a nightmare foreshadowing Trinity’s demise towards the end in extreme, slow mo detail (seriously, for a premonition sequence, it goes on way too long). How is it that Neo can see the future? I understand Neo being able to manipulate the code of the Matrix, but I don’t think that predicting the future in exact detail was ever mentioned as a part of his power set. It all seems a little too convenient.
Then there’s a moment where Neo is given a spoon, in the real world, and told that it was sent from one of the Oracle’s orphans. Now sure, maybe it indicated that the kid had been freed from the Matrix, or maybe it was a subtle warning that Neo himself never left the Matrix in the first place!
Another possible clue is at the end of ‘Reloaded’, where Neo stops a group of Sentinels *outside of the Matrix* with seemingly telekenetic powers! He then passes out and it’s revealed that his mind somehow wi-fi-ed back into the network, setting up the cliffhanger for the third film where Morpheus and Trinity have to go in and retrieve his… soul? This is later reinforced in ‘Revolutions’ which expands on Neo’s newfound abilities outside of the Matrix. Now sure there’s the possibility that because Neo’s consciousness gained access to ‘the source’ inside the Matrix, it gave him wireless admin access to all the machines themselves through their own network or whatever (which is a whole other cool theory), but what if this is a clue that Neo never actually left the Matrix?
This is possibly reinforced by the overuse of color grading in the sequels. While the first film did a great job with it’s use of color, the sequels beat you over the head with it: everything is a sickly green shade in the Matrix, and the real world is blue / gray and all around depressing. By comparison, the new film and the original just looks drastically different from the over-the-top quality of the sequels, making them feel less authentic, almost like… it wasn’t real?
Could it be that there are multiple layers to the Matrix? Has the series been pulling an Inception on us since before Christopher Nolan made that term a thing?
In fact, one of the last lines of the third movie is Morpheus asking in disbelief, “Is this real?” Could it be that ‘the real world’ is really just another deeper layer of the same simulation? If the first movie was all about questioning everything, than why shouldn’t we question the events of the sequels?
This would also be a clever way to make the new movie accessible to fans who either didn’t love the sequels, or have only ever seen the first one. It’s almost like what the ‘Halloween’ franchise did recently with the 2018 movie – ignoring everything that came after the first one and only using the original as cannon! It would also explain away a lot of the bad CG, sloppy storytelling, and wooden acting choices that plagued the other sequels.
In fact, it might make those two movies even more interesting as a weird dream-like simulation with little clues here and there as to what’s actually real…
Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is…
Theory #4: What if Morpheus and Trinity aren’t real?
Whether or not Neo ever actually left the Matrix in the first place, the trailers for the new movie indicate that Neo is living a lie in this current reality. He’s somehow been reset into thinking that the past was all a dream. It’s pretty clear that it’s all a fabrication and that he’s been blue-pilled to blind him from the construct.
However, what we don’t know is if anything else we see in the trailers is what it seems. Maybe we’re meant to believe that Trinity and Morpheus are who they say they are, but it also could be another clever ruse. An insidious way for the machines to trick Neo into doing what they want. They would presumably have realized that Trinity is Neo’s greatest weakness and used the memory of her to manipulate him! Further, Morpheus himself might not actually be himself, so his recasting could be a clever indication of that. Both Morpheus and Trinity could be agents in disguise, like a pair of trojan horses!
Just like with the prophecies of the one and Zion, it could just be yet another system of control. After all, the Architect himself said, “Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness.”
Ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake, or dreaming?
Theory #5: What if the Matrix itself isn’t real?!
Now here’s perhaps the most unsettling thought, what if it really all is in Thomas Anderson’s head? In the trailer, we see Neo talking to his psychiatrist, Neil Patrick Harris, and he asks “Am I crazy?”
Could it be that this entire series culminates in the mind blowing twist that we’ve been experiencing the entire series from the point of view of an unreliable narrator experiencing a vivid delusions? That’s in no way to downplay the seriousness of mental health issues either, if done right, it could be a clever way to help the audience empathize with what it’s like to struggle with a sever case of schizophrenia.
At the same time, could such a twist undermine the entire point of the series and feel like a let down, by using the whole “It was all a dream!” trope from the ending of ‘The Wizard of Oz’? (And you were there, and you were there!, etc) Or better yet, maybe the new movie will be open to interpretation and have fans debating for the next few decades!
For the record, I don’t actually have the answers to all these questions, like Morpheus says: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.” So I guess we’ll have to wait and see the truth for ourselves when “The Matrix: Resurrections” drops in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22nd, 2021!