The Matrix Resurrections, director Lana Wachowski’s 2021 follow-up to the original Matrix trilogy, packs a dizzying amount of detail in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. And in the case of connecting to the previous trilogy, bits of lore that make sense of it are dropped — and moved past — at rapid speed. If you didn’t spend the early 2000s immersed in Matrix-related mythology and the expansive transmedia experience of the animated spinoffs and games, what happened between the events of 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions and Resurrections could be easily overlooked.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections.]
At the end of Revolutions, Neo brokered a truce between the Machines and the humans, sacrificed his own life to defeat his nemesis Agent Smith, the Matrix rebooted itself, and war between the Machines and the humans was more or less over. As The Architect, the program originally responsible for creating the Matrix, told his counterpart the Oracle at the end of the film, any human who wished to voluntarily leave the Matrix was now allowed to do so. The Matrix Resurrections picks up 60 years after the events of The Matrix Revolutions, and the consequences of Neo’s sacrifice and the period of peace borne out of it have manifested in ways that neither the Machines nor humanity could have imagined.
As Niobe tells Neo shortly after being rescued from the Matrix again by Bugs and the crew of the hovership Mnemosyne, the Machines honored the terms of the truce by ceasing all hostilities towards the last human city of Zion and allowing humans the freedom to leave the Matrix. While no one in Zion knows exactly what happened to Neo and Trinity after they left to go to the Machine City, newfound peace is nonetheless celebrated and attributed to their apparent sacrifice. For his role in discovering and believing in new, Morpheus is appointed at the head of the supreme council of Zion as more and more newly-freed humans are welcomed to the city. However, this fragile period of peace would not last. As the power stations connected to the Matrix began producing less and less energy, tensions flared between factions among the Machines who disagreed on whether to continue upholding the terms of Neo’s truce.
A civil war broke out between the Machines, with human-sympathetic programs and robots fleeing the carnage and seeking refuge among the humans. While Niobe warned Morpheus of how conflict between the Machines would pose an imminent threat to Zion, Morpheus’ faith in Neo’s truce never wavered. This faith would prove to be Zion’s downfall, as the civil war between the Machines ended with the rise of a new program, The Analyst, who proceeded to purge the preexisting hierarchy of programs (i.e. the Oracle, the Architect, etc.) within the Matrix and led an assault on the city that resulted in the death of Morpheus, among countless others.
At some point either before or after the destruction of Zion, Niobe and a group of sympathetic supporters of humans and machines alike broke away and founded another city. This city, IO, was created only through the peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the humans and machines, achieving technological feats and agricultural advancements heretofore thought impossible due to the centuries of environmental damage wrought by the Human-Machine War. In an effort to preserve the precious gains achieved in IO, Niobe de-prioritized the freeing of humans held captive by the Matrix, choosing instead to hide and protect what little peace they had managed to create from the machinations of The Analyst.
As for what happened to Neo and Trinity, that’s a little more complicated. Following Neo’s defeat of Agent Smith, his and Trinity’s bodies were recovered and brought to the Machine City to be studied. The Analyst, who was one of the programs present during Neo’s sacrifice, set about meticulously reconstructing their bodies over the years in order to understand the mystery at the heart of the One’s “source code.” Although the nature and origin of Neo’s powers continued to elude him, The Analyst discovered something else after reviving the two. Whenever they were in close proximity, Neo and Trinity generated spectacular amounts of energy. In order to contain and harness this energy in the service of the Matrix, the Analyst built a separate power station apart from the plants containing the rest of humanity and imprisoned Neo and Trinity in pods across from one another.
After wiping their memories, the Analyst then disguised their avatars from anyone else connected to the Matrix in order to conceal their identities in addition to the fact that they were still alive. To keep Neo and Trinity sedated and unaware of their true identities and powers, the Analyst took their combined memories of the Matrix and wrote them into the reality of this new Matrix as a video game series called (you guessed it) The Matrix, which was created by Thomas A. Anderson (aka Neo).
Although thoroughly convinced of this new reality, some subconscious part of Neo still recognized the nature of the simulation in which he was imprisoned and yearned to escape. This is why he created the modal, a self-contained simulation within the Matrix posing as a level of a video game, albeit one containing a sentient program modeled after his former mentor and comrade Morpheus. This modal was discovered by Bugs and the crew of the Mnemosyne, leading to the beginning of The Matrix Resurrections and the subsequent rescue of Neo from the Matrix.
The beauty of Lana Wachowski and her collaborators film: Most of this is tucked away in asides, with exposition rarely slowing down the action. But it’s all there in bits and pieces and just enough gaps to let the imagination run wild.