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The Matrix: Why The Only Way In Or Out Is Through Phone Lines


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The only way in or out of The Matrix is through a telephone line. Throughout the Wachowskis' high-concept sci-fi trilogy, characters such as Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus rely on hard line phones to enter or exit the artificial reality of the Matrix. The dystopian future seen in The Matrix contains cell phones that can operate between the real world and the simulation, not to mention state-of-the-art weapons and advanced artificial intelligence in the real world, so the rebels' reliance on phone line technology is an oddity. But a closer look at the use of these hard phone lines to enter and exit the Matrix could reveal secrets about the deepest origins of the Matrix in The Matrix trilogy.

Released in 1999, The Matrix remains one of the most mind-bending and influential sci-fi movies of all time. The film follows Neo (Keanu Reeves) and a small band of rebels as they attempt to overthrow a computer simulation, known as the Matrix, in which humanity are unknowingly held captive. The key objects linking the Matrix and the real world are hacked hard line phones found within the simulation at specific locations. Neo and other insurgents must answer these phones, operated by rebels in the real world (appropriately known as Operators), to navigate between the Matrix and reality, with the ultimate goal of freeing humanity.

The Wachowskis explained part of their rationale for using hard line phones in fan Q&A in 2002 (via Matrix Fans): "We felt that the amount of information that was being sent into the Matrix required a significant portal. Those portals, we felt, were better described with the hard lines rather than cell lines. We also felt that the rebels tried to be invisible when they hacked, that's why all the entrances and exits were sort of through decrepit and low traffic areas of the Matrix." This illuminates the reason the rebels chose phone lines over the more advanced technology seen in The Matrix, but it doesn't explain the existence of the phone lines that bridge the simulation and reality in the first place. So why are they so important?
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The most sensible explanation for why hardline phones serve as entry and exit to the Matrix is that, instead of designing a virtual telephone network, the Matrix used the physical network it was already built on. In other words, the phone lines exist in the simulation because they existed in the real world when the Matrix first came into being. Much like a piece of legacy code, these phone booths are leftovers from the real world and represent a bygone configuration of the Matrix.

This insight could suggest that the first Matrix may have arisen earlier in the timeline than previously thought. In The Animatrix, an animated prequel to The Matrix, it's said that the first concrete machine resistance occurred sometime around 2090. However, it's unlikely that phone booths and hard phone lines were still plentiful in 2090 or beyond. One possible takeaway is that the original computer simulation occurred before 2090 and before phone booths disappeared from the landscape. Another conclusion could be that the simulation seen in The Matrix trilogy might be inside another, larger simulation with a completely different "real" timeline.

With Neo set to return in The Matrix 4 despite his apparent death at the end of The Matrix: Revolutions, there will probably be some changes to the existing Matrix timeline, including suggestions of time travel. Ultimately, whether these theories impact future productions, it's surely unlikely that the franchise will drop the thrill of racing for a ringing hard line phone from The Matrix trilogy for future franchise chapters.

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