With only two weeks until the release of The Matrix Resurrections, many of us are hurriedly rewatching the Matrix trilogy, trying to tease out the connection between those movies and the new sequel. This means revisiting the ending of The Matrix Revolutions – originally the ending of the Matrix story, period – and trying to wrap our heads around that flick’s notoriously hard to follow finale.
The Matrix Revolutions co-writer/director (and sole director of Resurrections) Lana Wachowski has previously noted that the film “asks you to actually participate in the construction of meaning”. This intentional ambiguity has given rise to several fan theories about what actually happened and why, and what that means for Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and everyone else caught up in the war between Zion and the Machines. Everyone seems convinced their interpretation of Revolutions’ ending is correct – and, fittingly enough for a franchise that asked its characters (and viewers) to question their reality, it’s hard to know what to believe.
So, with this in mind, let’s take a look back at what happens during the climax of The Matrix Revolutions, unpack why these events happened and what they really mean, and tease out how this sets the stage for The Matrix Resurrections!
How does The Matrix Revolutions end?
As The Matrix Revolutions draws to a close, things are looking pretty grim for our heroes.
The conflict between Zion and the Machines has finally boiled over into all-out war, and the Machines stand poised to wipe out their human enemies for good. Meanwhile, Agent-turned-computer virus Smith has overrun the Matrix, absorbing pretty much every sentient being within its virtual reality – with designs on invading and corrupting the real world next.
Grieving the loss of Trinity, Neo brokers a ceasefire with the Machines, negotiating a truce between them and Zion… if he can stop the seemingly unstoppable Smith. Entering the Matrix, Neo squares off with Smith – as Smith’s endless horde of doppelgangers watch on – in an epic wire fu brawl that rages from the rain swept streets to the stormy skies above. While the pair are evenly matched and Neo even briefly gains the upper hand, Smith ultimately comes out on top.
As the defeated Neo lies prone, he hears Smith – possessed by the prescient Oracle, whom he previously absorbed – pronounce that “everything that has a beginning has an end”. Finally understanding that it’s his destiny to sacrifice himself to achieve peace, Neo allows Smith to absorb him – seemingly overwritten forever, just like all Smith’s other victims.
Except this time, something’s different. A jolt of electricity surges through Neo’s limp body in the real world, while in the Matrix, the Smith that was once Neo sets off an explosive chain reaction that destroys Smith and all his clones. And with that, the war – and the cyclical system of control it represented – is over. The last we see of Neo, his dead body is being reverentially borne away by the Machines… which doesn’t mean he’s gone forever, necessarily. A brief shot from the Machines’ perspective shows a radiant burst of light emanating from the exact spot where Neo’s body lies, implying that his consciousness has somehow survived.
The Oracle essentially confirms this during the final scene in the movie. Set in the newly reloaded, more user-friendly version of the Matrix, these closing moments see the Oracle tell fellow program Sati that she expects they’ll see Neo again – making it clear that Neo’s return wasn’t just possible, but pretty much inevitable.
The answers to all The Matrix Revolutions’ big questions
Based on the above summary, The Matrix Revolutions’ ending seems pretty straightforward – but there are still three really big questions fans are still wrestling with:
- Why did Smith and his duplicates explode?
- How did Neo’s consciousness survive (and where is it now)?
- What’s the new status quo between Zion and the Machines?
The first question – what made all the Smiths go kablooey? – is easily the hardest question to answer. There are a lot of ways to explain this and depending on how deeply you want to dive into The Matrix franchise’s philosophical and cyberpunk roots, things can get really complicated, really quickly.
One popular interpretation doing the rounds on online forums is that Smith is destroyed by Neo’s free will and his own ultimate lack of purpose (it’s incredibly convoluted; I’m not going to rehash it all here). Lana Wachowski offers a different, decidedly Buddhist slant on proceedings in a video segment in 2005 video game The Matrix: The Path of Neo, stating that: “Neo stands on the verge of satori, ready to resolve the paradox of choice and choicelessness, of freewill versus fate, but that can only be achieved through an act of surrender, which only occurs after he has abandoned the perspectival nature of truth, accepting the totality of present consciousness.” So, she’s basically saying that Neo leaves himself open to the universe, and the universe provides a solution.
If all this high-brow philosophising makes your eyes glaze over, there’s another, easier to digest theory: Smith absorbing Neo balanced out the equation that underpins the Matrix itself. Remember that in The Matrix Reloaded, the Matrix’s creator, the Architect, explains that the Matrix is built on an unbalanced equation caused by the free will of its unwitting human occupants – and personified by Neo and his superhuman non-conformity. In Revolutions, the Oracle further explains that Smith’s dramatically increased power levels are the result of this equation trying to balance itself. So, when Neo and Smith combine at the end, this union harmonises the equation – allowing the Machines to use Neo as an anti-virus program and delete Smith from the system.
That’s the first question answered (and answered and answered) – now, what about how Neo’s consciousness survived? This one’s a bit easier to answer; setting aside any spiritual explanations (which are totally valid, mind), all you need to understand is that at the end of Reloaded, Neo set up a wireless connection between his mind and the Matrix’s mainframe. This is how he was able to use his telekinesis outside of the Matrix in that movie, and how he later manifested the ability to “see” the Machines and their technology after being blinded in Revolutions. This wifi connection is almost certainly how his consciousness escaped certain death during the climax of Revolutions – although where exactly his consciousness went next is still up for debate…
Finally, there’s the issue around the Zion/Machines status quo when Revolutions’ credits roll. Many fans were surprised (even disappointed) that the Matrix wasn’t shutdown at the end and argued that nothing really changed. This is a huge misunderstanding, however, as Neo’s victory over Smith changes everything! Not only is humanity safe from extinction, but the Machines will even let those who want to leave the Matrix do so without fear of reprisal. What’s more, the new version of the Matrix is clearly a much nicer, sunnier place (literally), now populated with programs such as Sati, who – like Neo himself – are capable of loving and being loved.
What does this mean for The Matrix Resurrections?
OK, how does this all feed into The Matrix Resurrections?
To quote the Oracle, “Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way” – the biggest connection between The Matrix Revolutions and Resurrections is that Neo is back on the scene, confirming that his consciousness did indeed survive his apparent demise. It’s also possible – even likely, given the green tint-free footage seen so far – that his mind is now jacked into The Matrix 7.0: the new version glimpsed during Revolutions’ finale. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots in the Resurrections teaser and trailer that appear to show the Machines reinserting Neo’s “corpse” into a Matrix pod further support this theory.
It looks like Smith has also returned, too. Actor Jonathan Groff’s delivery in the latest trailer emulates the distinctive, unnatural cadence used by Hugo Weaving as Smith in the original Matrix movies, and together with archival footage of Weaving intercut throughout, strongly hint that Neo’s arch enemy is back. While this doesn’t jibe with Smith’s destruction in Revolutions, he and Neo shared a unique bond – so maybe Smith managed to piggyback on Neo’s consciousness transfer?
Then there’s the truce between Zion and the Machines, which is hanging by a thread, if the Resurrections teaser and trailer are anything to go by. This is a big rollback from where we left things at the end of Revolutions, but it doesn’t invalidate anything, either. On the contrary, the idea that hostilities have flared up again after years (maybe even decades) of peace is pretty easy to swallow (and lends credence to the theory that The Matrix Online remains part of the franchise’s official canon).
Of course, there’s a chance that The Matrix Resurrections will upend everything we believe about the franchise (again), and that includes what really happened at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. Until then, though – to paraphrase the Oracle – you’ll just have to make up your own damn mind when it comes to how everything fits together.