Some people would laugh at this idea and some might feel a little paranoid since discussions of the real world tend to go several ways when it comes to what’s real and what’s questionable. The Matrix became a reason to question our senses back in 1999 since it invited us to question everything that was seen and everything that we believed was real. But going a little further with the idea of what is and isn’t real, a fan theory suggests that not only are Neo and the rest still not free of the Matrix but that they’ve been sequestered in a multi-layered program that allows them the illusion of freedom while keeping them firmly in the grasp of the machines. Many folks might laugh as they think that this level of control is too complicated for the main point of this story. But sitting back and thinking about it for a moment, such a move would make a lot of sense given that it would be perfect in a way. How does one deal with a person that refuses to accept the reality that’s put in front of them? They offer up something that makes the person feel as though they’re in control.
It’s a little disheartening to imagine that there is no reality in The Matrix and that what Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity, along with everyone else, were seeing was a carefully staged act that was made to look as real as possible in order to keep the humans happy by giving them some type of hope that there were humans still alive in the world that had not been birthed by the machines. Plus, it would be more than a little tragic since it means the machines would have evolved in such a way that they were able to create the level of deception that would rival or exceed anything a human could think up. In a sense, it would validate the idea that humans were meant to be the agents of their own destruction, once again, since humans were the ones to create machines, and in an ironic twist, the machines would eventually create humans.
The ruse would have to be so perfect that the machines would believe it as well, which could have led to many conflicts, especially since the main goal was to be free of the machines, and the programs needed to deceive Neo and the others in this manner would have to be intricate enough that other programs might not recognize them. It’s a confusing morass of code and programming that would need to go into keeping everyone convinced that Zion existed, and that the One could inspire hope and ‘defeat’ the machines in a way that would force them into a compromise that would allow humans and machines to coexist. But it would also be a method of control that would keep everyone occupied and not as keen on finding out that their freedom was pure illusion, and that everything they’d experienced was still taking place in the Matrix. That level of deception doesn’t sound like it would be easy, even for a machine, but it would also be insanely disheartening given the fact that it would mean that nothing the heroes had done had ever mattered.
Some might want to claim that this theory might be a huge way to cheat everyone by being able to wipe the slate clean and claim that the Matrix was inescapable, but it gets even worse than that. It would mean that the Matrix was capable of acting out in a human manner as it toyed with everyone instead of just shutting them down. From the need to analyze and observe humans, the machines would offer up the illusion of freedom to see what they would do and how they would react when given the knowledge of what was happening and how they could affect the world around them, but be unaware that they were still within an enclosed system that had thoroughly tricked their every sense. There are more than a few instances throughout the movies that would back this up, especially when it comes to the battle in the third movie.
It feels safe to say that the machines could have wiped out humanity at any given moment without feeling even a little bit bad about it. But as always they existed to observe, analyze, and react accordingly when they saw fit. The battle in Zion could have likely been over much sooner had the machines not needed to gather data, Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity could have been killed at any time given how easily agents could become one person or another. And what’s really telling is that Neo could have been killed without question and it wouldn’t have made any difference. In fact, it might have been easier to eliminate Zion so that things could be started up again.