Speculation and fan theories have always been integral parts of the Matrix fandom. After all, this is a trilogy that’s not just about the over-the-top action spectacle the Wachowskis have carefully crafted — but also about philosophical intrigues about the very nature of life itself. That might be why now, almost two decades after the end of the original trilogy, The Matrix remains so alive in the internet’s social imaginary. Part of the reason why a fourth Matrix film was released was to satisfy fans who were still left with some burning questions after the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions, even if the answers to those inquiries were not what they were expecting.
The Wachowskis riddled their sci-fi epic trilogy with hidden meanings and obscure metaphors: something that has fueled the fires of online discussion for twenty years now. Perhaps the most fascinating Matrix fan theory out there has to do with the nature of the so-called “Real World” and the roles that some of the protagonists play in the larger scheme of the Machines. Fans of the series know this as the “Matrix in a Matrix” theory, and it isn’t as easy to disprove as one might think.
There is no spoon
The basis for the “Matrix in a Matrix” theory is quite simple: the Real World (Zion and the human harvesting machines) is just another layer of the Matrix simulation. As to why it exists, the theory says that it is designed to give the more rebellious individuals a sense of achievement or some faint illusion of hope. As we’ve seen countless times in the franchise, the Machines need the humans to believe that the world they inhabit is the real deal: the deeper in their slumber they are, the better energy sources they become.
What makes the theory so believable in the first place is that it aligns perfectly with some of the metaphysical questions posed by the Wachowskis all through the trilogy. Since the very first Matrix movie, Morpheus tells Neo that all of the things that make them human can be reduced to mere electrical impulses. Considering this, the audience might believe that even life outside the Matrix could be a simulation: “electrical impulses” carefully applied by the Machines to make the humans think they are free from their control.
It’s worth pointing out that this particular “Matrix in a Matrix” theory originated shortly after the release of The Matrix Reloaded, the second film in the franchise. In this film, Neo manages to use his powers to stop the Sentinels outside of the Matrix, which prompted keen-eyed fans to ponder if the Real World wasn’t as real as it seemed.
The choice is an illusion
Completing this Matrix fan theory’s cycle of false hopes, some fans even consider that Neo, Morpheus, and even Trinity are AIs created by the Machines. For their plan to work, and for the humans to believe some individuals were up to the task of combating the source of the Machine’s power, the mechanical overlords gave humanity superpowered messiahs that could deliver them the hope that there was a world free of the Machines.
The “Matrix in a Matrix” theory is most surely a bummer for the overall narrative the franchise aims for. The Matrix Resurrections all but debunked the whole theory, proving once and for all that Zion is in the Real World outside the Matrix. As it stands now, The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth entry in a completed trilogy, so some fans might choose to believe that Resurrections only furthers the theory that the Machines keep the cycle of hope alive every few years — and that the real Real World still remains a conveniently hidden secret.