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The Matrix Timeline Explained: When The Movies Take Place

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The Matrix franchise spans over a considerably convoluted timeline if one is to take the vast amount of supplementary material into consideration. However, if the timeline of The Matrix trilogy alone is to be mapped, certain gaps in temporal continuity become apparent, as the exact year in which the central events take place is never made clear. With the upcoming release of the much-anticipated Matrix 4, Lana Wachowski might choose to shed some light upon the chronology of events that will lead up to Neo’s apparent return, and how his presence might trigger yet-another human versus machine war within the franchise’s inner universe.

While there is no set beginning to the chain of events that bring about Neo’s evolution into the One, it is perhaps best to trace back to a point before the simulated world of the matrix came into existence. Referred to as the Second Renaissance, this era spanned between 2090 and 2139, a time period that harkened machine prosperity and human decadence. The events that transpired during the Second Renaissance led to the eventual subjugation of the human race, which was triggered when the Machines turned against their makers after years of persecution. After several bouts of robot massacres and the trial of B1-66ER, who had killed its master in an apparent act of self-defense, tensions between the factions grew and led to the creation of the machine city, 01.

01 brought about the beginning of the end, as the mass-production of cheap, high-quality goods within the city led to the devaluation of the human currency, and eventual economic breakdown. What ensued was later dubbed as The First Machine War, a long-standing global conflict between humanity and the Machines, which took place during the mid-22nd century, between 2139 and 2199. Here’s a deep-dive into the possible timeline that preceded the events of The Matrix Trilogy, when the events of the trilogy occurred, and the possible timeline trajectory after.

The First Machine War & Operation Dark Storm [2139-2199]


The emergence of 01 brought about revenue for the Machines, allowing them to produce highly advanced artificial intelligence that could be integrated within global consumer constructs and society as a whole. Ultimately, 01’s supremacy brought about the utter collapse of global nations and their economies, spurring an emergency economic summit by the United Nations Security Council. Although the Machines offered the humans the chance to integrate contributing members to solve the economic crisis, the U.N. delegators rejected this offer and violently attacked the Machine ambassadors. This drastic measure was further exacerbated by the decision to bomb 01, however, the nuclear assault failed to annihilate the machine race. This was due to the fact that their inorganic structures rendered them resistant to radiation, or any form of electromagnetic heat.

This triggered the Machines’ agenda to annihilate most of mankind, birthing the first Machine War. In response, the U.N. came up with a final solution, namely Operation Dark Storm, which was a mission to block out the sun’s rays from Earth’s path so as to plunge the world into darkness and bring an end to the war. However, this decision had wide-ranging repercussions for humanity, as the absence of sunlight inevitably led to the death of all vegetation and phytoplankton, along with universal crop failure. While the Machines were affected to a considerable extent as a result of Operation Dark Storm, they soon started to create and deploy legions of new machine models, which were neither dependent on solar energy, nor assumed humanoid forms - the precursor of the Sentinels seen throughout The Matrix Trilogy.

Armed with these new weapons, the Machines saw themselves turning the tide of the war in their favor, and quickly began experimentation on human prisoners of war. A startling revelation ensued, wherein it was discovered that the machines could exploit bio-electric, thermal, and kinetic energies from the human body, and harvest them for their own means. This is referenced directly in The Matrix when Neo is shown escaping his harvest pod, and the fact that countless humans were rescued by Zion operatives through the years.

Machine Domination & The Birth Of The Matrix [2200 - Undefined]


Soon after, the Machines succeeded in enslaving all of humanity, going as far as to creating synthetic humans for the purposes of energy harvesting. In order to keep the humans under a false lull of comfort and security, the Machine-program named the Architect created a simulated reality meant to imprison humanity in an endless loop. Although the first few renditions of the matrix were deemed critical failures due to the many equational errors and glitches that crept in, the Architect was able to create a stable matrix on the third or fourth try. The key ingredient to creating a sustainable and incident-free matrix was to grant humans the illusion of free will, which allowed them to be manipulated by the Machines in a much more effective manner.

The Matrix Trilogy: The Resistance, Zion, & The Rise And Fall Of Neo [2200-2703]


The introduction of choice, or by extension, free will was brought about by the Oracle, along with the concept of the One, or the Prime Program. In order to combat the marginal instability brought about by the simulated world, a chosen one was birthed within the matrix with the source code embedded within them. This directly led to the creation of the Prophecy, which Morpheus believes is about the rise of the One, who will lead humanity towards a new world and true freedom. As the death of the One is integral to the functioning of the matrix, and the various times it “reloads” successfully, there are several versions of the One before Neo, as explained by the Architect himself in The Matrix Reloaded. Just like Neo was offered a choice, every rendition of the One is offered a choice between saving humanity by reloading the matrix or saving 23 humans to create a new Zion, or remain within the matrix until death.

On the other hand, there were a small percentage of humans who rejected the program altogether, who in turn, formed the guerilla resistance in Zion, with the mission to free more humans from the matrix. However, these free humans, including Morpheus and Trinity, are unaware of the fact that they are not the first ones to have claimed freedom, as they are not privy to the Machines’ plan of the matrix being reloaded every now and then. It is the presence of Neo, the sixth One, which breaks this endless cycle, as he chooses to save Trinity instead of returning the Prime Program. Instead of allowing Zion to be destroyed, Neo ventures into the Machine world, and offers a truce between the two factions in exchange for stopping yet another growing threat to the Machines - Agent Smith. After Smith is destroyed, Neo sacrifices himself in order to save both the real world and the matrix, which finally marked the end of the Machine war.

The End Of Neo’s Truce & The Second Machine War [2704 - Undefined]


Fearing the inevitable end of Neo’s truce, either due to a continued distrust of the Machines or the possibility of a new threat, the city of Zion began to make preparations to abandon their home and build a new home unknown to the Machines. However, the new location is soon discovered by a group of Cypherites, who are disciples of Cypher, the new city is destroyed and the Architect is alerted about the situation. Hence, the truce came to an end, and hence began the Second Machine War, which most likely will be touched upon in the upcoming Matrix 4 film. Although the aftermath of Neo’s truce is not part of the canonical trilogy, it is unfolded in considerable detail in The Matrix Online, which might serve as a blueprint for the sequel’s many events and the return of Neo.

As fans of the franchise are involved in complex speculations as to what might occur within the narrative of Matrix 4, various theories about the relationship between Machines and humans have emerged. It is interesting to analyze how Neo could have been alive after his ultimate sacrifice, and how the Matrix 4 will aim to present this occurrence without cheapening the emotional impact of Neo’s death in Revolutions. Matrix 4 could very well be about a whole new threat altogether, forcing them to join forces against a formidable nemesis. This theory is supplemented by Neil Gaiman’s short story, Goliath, set after the events of Revolutions, wherein a hostile race of aliens attack Earth and the Machines have no choice but to cooperate with the unplugged humans of the world. Although nothing is written in stone yet, it is imperative that The Matrix franchise is headed towards a bleak, tragedy-ridden conclusion, with Neo at its unstable and simulated center.

The Matrix 4 (2021)
Release Date: Dec 22, 2021

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