Let’s take a deep dive into explaining The Matrix. Starting with... what is the Matrix?
There was a world before the Wachowskis made The Matrix, and a world after. This science fiction action movie changed the way Hollywood functions. It brought in a new sense of style for directors and elevated the fight scene to something we had never seen before in eastern cinema.
But the movie also left mass audiences with a lot of questions. There were probes into the deeper meaning of the film, its influences, and the characters at the center of the franchise.
Each new sequel brought more and more questions—to the point where the trilogy really needs an explainer as we prepare for the fourth movie. That’s what we plan on doing. Today we’re going to explain The Matrix and write brief summaries of The Matrix 2 and The Matrix 3 to fully explain the Matrix series.
So let’s enter the mainframe now.
Understanding The Matrix
One of my favorite movie-going experiences ever was my dad taking me to this movie and its sequels. Each time I sat down with my Cherry Coke and my popcorn, I was transported into a world unlike any I had seen before. I was not prepared for the journey of wonderment that awaited me.
Now, as an adult, I am obsessed with the logic and perspectives behind each film.
The Matrix movie summary
In the opening scene of the first film, the police show up at an abandoned hotel. They send officers inside just as what appears to be FBI agents show up. Inside, the officers surround a woman at a computer. This is Trinity. She overpowers them with her superhuman abilities and flees once she sees these agents, who appear to be superhuman as well. She answers a ringing public telephone and vanishes right before an agent crashes a trash truck into the booth.
We cut to a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson. His online hacker name is NEO. He’s been searching for something called "the Matrix." Trinity contacts him through the computer and tells him to follow the white rabbit. He sees a rabbit tattoo on a woman who visits with her boyfriend later. Neo follows her to a metal club where Trinity meets him and says Morpheus will be in touch.
The next day, Neo is late for work. A team of agents and police, led by Agent Smith, arrives at Neo's workplace. A cell phone is delivered and Morpheus guides Neo away from them, but Neo chooses to be captured rather than risk escaping via the window ledge of a very tall skyscraper. The agents threaten Neo and ask him to locate Morpheus, whom they say is a terrorist. When he refuses, the agents cause his mouth to magically fuse closed and implant a robotic "bug" inside him.
Neo wakes up and assumes this was a nightmare. Later, he is contacted by Trinity and her team. They remove the bug from Neo's stomach, proving it was all real.
They take Neo to meet Morpheus. He offers Neo a choice between two pills; red to reveal the truth about the Matrix, and blue to return him to his former life. Neo swallows the red pill and he awakens in a liquid-filled pod, among countless humans attached to an electrical system. He is retrieved and brought aboard Morpheus' futuristic flying ship, the Nebuchadnezzar.
It is revealed that in the early 21st century, a war between humanity and machines led the machines to capture humans and harvest them for bioelectric power. This all happened after humanity nuked the sky, hoping to thwart the machines by ending their reliance on the sun. To pacify the human subjects, they keep them asleep in a computer simulation known as the Matrix. The simulation looks just like the world did in 1999. In reality, all that’s left of humanity lives in an underground city known as Zion.
Morpheus and his crew hack into the Matrix to "unplug" humans and recruit them to be on their side of the war. Once you know the Matrix is just a program, you can bend the rules inside it to have these super abilities. But death within the Matrix kills you on the outside. The agents are sentient computer programs that eliminate threats to the system, while machines called Sentinels eliminate rebels in the real world.
The reason they woke Neo up is that Morpheus believes Neo is "the One," a human prophesied to free humankind. Neo’s prowess at the training programs inside the Matrix show promise that he might actually be that prophesied person.
They all head to see a woman called the Oracle, a computer program that helps people understand their destiny. She says Neo is not the One and warns that he will have to choose between Morpheus' life and his own before this is all over.
After leaving the Oracle, they are attacked by agents and police. It turns out they have been betrayed by one of the members of the team named Cypher. A fellow crew member, Mouse, is killed by the police, while Morpheus is captured fighting Agent Smith. Cypher exits the Matrix and murders several crew members as they lie defenseless. Before he can kill Neo and Trinity, Tank awakens and kills Cypher. He then pulls Neo and Trinity from the Matrix.
How does The Matrix end?
The agents, led by Smith, interrogate Morpheus in an attempt to learn his access codes to Zion. Tank proposes killing Morpheus to prevent this, but Neo says he must return to the Matrix to rescue him, as the Oracle prophesied. Trinity vows to go with him.
In the process of rescuing Morpheus, Neo gains confidence and performs superhuman movements comparable to the agents. They are able to save Morpheus and even kill an agent, much to Smith’s surprise.
Morpheus and Trinity escape the Matrix, but Smith ambushes and kills Neo before he can flee. Meanwhile, a group of Sentinels attacks the Nebuchadnezzar. As Neo lies there basically dead, Trinity confesses her love for Neo and reveals that the Oracle told her she would fall in love with the One, therefore, it must be him.
Neo awakens in the Matrix with new abilities to perceive and control the simulation in ways not even the agents can. He defeats Smith and the other agents and leaves the Matrix just as the ship's electromagnetic pulse disables the Sentinels.
Back in the Matrix, Neo makes a telephone call, promising the machines that he will show their prisoners "a world where anything is possible." He hangs up the call and flies away.
The Matrix ending explained
At the end of the movie, Neo flies away, showcasing his new abilities. It turns out he needed to hear that he wasn't the One to finally step into his power and become the one everyone has been waiting to see and to fight back against the machines.
Neo's powers in the Matrix give the computers something formidable to go up against. Especially since he can dissect the code, which tears Smith apart. This will come back in the sequels and be the root for the machines and humans to wage war against one another.
As the film ends, Neo issues a challenge to the machines, saying, "I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’ll hang up this phone and then I’ll show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."
This is the gauntlet that will be explored across the entire trilogy.
The Matrix: Neo and Trinity
At the heart of the movie is the romance between Neo and Trinity. They work as our window into this world. Neo is the outsider, the fish out of water who learns what's going on along with the audience. Trinity is one of the experts, trying to bring Neo up to speed.
Their love and relationship grounds all three movies in this trilogy. They can be seen as the heart of all the movies. Neo loves Trinity, and she loves him back. This in essence is the meaning of all the movies. The ongoing effort we spend to protect the ones we love is what separates humans from machines.
Machines only think in terms of necessity, while humans can think in terms of love.
The Matrix explained
One of the popular theories surrounding The Matrix was that it was an allegory for being trans. Director and writer Lily Wachowski addressed the trans allegory in a Netflix Film Club video commemorating the 21st anniversary. She said she is “glad” the meaning is finally being understood, adding “the world wasn’t quite ready for” that trans narrative in 1999.
Wachowski added: “I love how meaningful those films are to trans people and the way that they come up to me say, ‘Those movies saved my life.’ Because when you talk about transformation, specifically in the world of science fiction, which is just about imagination and world-building and the idea of the seemingly impossible becoming possible, that’s why it speaks it to them so much. And I’m grateful I can be a part of throwing them a rope along their journey.”
As you can see, the trilogy of Matrix movies takes on lots of different world teachings and digs deep into how these perspectives can be made into fiction.
With a fourth Matrix movie coming soon, it will be interesting to see how these ideas are expanded upon within the world. Will we add more philosophy or will we stick to the pillars created in the original films? Time will tell.
The Matrix sequels explained
After the smashing success of the first movie, sequels were greenlit. The Wachowskis returned to tackle a story spanning two movies. These were all about defending Zion, whether or not Neo is really "the One," and all sorts of other interpersonal conflicts. There were deeper meanings, challenging identity and conformism, but we'll get to that.
Let's dig into The Matrix sequels.
Brief The Matrix Reloaded movie summary (The Matrix 2)
As the movie opens, we see a dream in which Trinity has to attack a power plant, is ambushed by agents, and dies. This dream is a prophecy that Neo is worried will come true.
The second movie in the trilogy focuses on the city of Zion. We get our first view of the city where humanity makes its bed. The city is about to be attacked by thousands of Sentinels, and their only hope is if Neo goes into the Matrix and hunts down a way to stop them.
Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest of their crew continue to battle the machines that have enslaved the human race in the Matrix. As their quest unfolds, Neo learns more about his superhuman abilities, including the ability to see the codes of the people and things around him.
Meanwhile, Smith, formerly an agent, is now a virus spreading through the Matrix. He's even infected someone's mind so deeply that they exist outside the Matrix in the real world. His name is Bane, and he's determined to kill Neo.
Believing mankind's salvation lies not with action, but with the Oracle's prophecy, Morpheus pleads for the resources to allow the Oracle to contact Neo. While Neo has gained greater control over his abilities in the Matrix, he is haunted by horrifying visions of Trinity's death. With new information from the Oracle, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus take the fight into the Matrix in hopes of saving Zion and ending the machine's enslavement of humanity once and for all.
Neo gets a message from the Oracle, who also turns out to be a Program, and instructs him to find a person known as the Keymaker and get the keys to the Source Program of the Matrix. With those keys, Neo could potentially shut down the whole Matrix and save Zion.
Neo defeats the Merovingian who is guarding the Keymaker and then heads to the Source. At the Source, he meets the Architect, who reveals that Neo himself is a Program and tells him that it is up to him to save humanity or save Trinity. There is no way he can do both.
Neo chooses Trinity and takes his chances with humanity. Outside the Matrix, the Nebuchadnezzar is attacked by Sentinels, and it is revealed Neo has real powers. He shoots energy from his hands and destroys them. But this wipes him out and puts him into a coma. The movie ends with Neo in a coma, and with Agent Smith entering the real world by copying himself to one of the ships in Zion's defense.
The Matrix Reloaded explained
At the heart of the second movie is what stood out from the original. This is a story about humanity and machines.
Neo is given a choice. He can be there for the end of humanity or he can do his best to save the woman he loves and restart the human race with her. We're told this has happened many times before, and there is no hope. Because of the relationship between Neo and Trinity, Neo decides to head into the Matrix to save her, neglecting mankind.
This is very different than the Neos that came before him. But Neo's love for being human means he knows living without Trinity would not make life worthwhile. This love becomes the point of the entire trilogy. Neo is only willing to sacrifice himself for love.
Brief The Matrix Revolutions movie summary (The Matrix 3)
The third movie begins with Neo still stuck in his coma. That means his mind is still in the mainframe of the Matrix. Trinity, Morpheus, and Seraph fight for the key to rescuing him, while Zion's military leaders prepare to defend their home against the all-out assault of the approaching machines ready to destroy everyone.
As Agent Smith continues to grow in power and spread his virus, Neo returns to learn from the Oracle that only by stopping Smith can he stop the war and save humanity. It's a deal he can make with the Matrix agents and programs. They're afraid of Smith replicating and taking over the mainframe. With standard entrances to Zion cut off, Morpheus assists Niobe in piloting the Hammer back to Zion, while Neo and Trinity navigate through machine defense systems on their way to the machine city, believing the end of their path is there. Neo uses his superpowers to clear the way, shooting beams of lights and cutting machines down as they go. But their assault leads to the mortal wounding of Trinity.
Meanwhile, Zion is under attack and being ravaged. Humans are doing their best, but the Sentinels keep coming. As they destroy Zion, Morpheus and Niobe return as Neo faces Smith in a final, climactic battle.
The Matrix Revolutions ending
At the end of the movie, Neo allows Smith to infect him. He sacrifices himself by instructing the machines to surge his body with energy in the real world. While this causes the desired effect and defeats Smith, it kills Neo.
Once dead, the Matrix has to reboot itself. This recalibration means that there has to be an era of peace, one in which humans will be able to choose to leave the Matrix if they so desire. Therefore, Neo was able to save mankind as the machines begin to reboot themselves.
The Matrix Revolutions explained
In the ultimate finale of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions ends with a tentative peace established between humans and machines.
The Oracle is asked by the Architect whether or not she believes the peace that Neo died for will last. We know it will be around for a little, but what about in the future? The Oracle responds "for as long as it can," indicating that she is uncertain. And this is the smartest program out there.
For now, peace has been achieved, thanks to Neo's sacrifice.
The Matrix Revolutions last scene
The final scene shows the Oracle and the Architect watching the sunrise over a peaceful city. This can be seen as the mother and father of the Matrix watching a new day, or the reboot of their vision.
In the very last scene of the trilogy, we understand that if the Matrix reboots, eventually the One program will come about again. And Neo will return. This could possibly be where the Matrix 4 takes us.
What’s the deeper meaning of The Matrix trilogy?
The trilogy tackles ideas like fate, free will, love, purpose, and compromise. If there's a deeper meaning, it should be that we can become whoever we are on the inside, if we're brave enough to realize that.
I think the other big pillar of these films is that there is no wrong decision if you act out of love. If you let love be your guide, you can make it through even the most dystopian situations. After all, love is what separates us from machines. We're similar in many other aspects. We strike back at viruses trying to hurt us, we like uniformity and conformity, and we've replicated and populated the earth.
Are you excited for the fourth installment of The Matrix movies? Let us know where you think the series will go in the comments.