The Matrix Decoded
Names and their Meanings
Numbers in the Matrix
License Plates
Literary Influences
Speech Transcripts
Movies/TV Series Referenced by the Matrix
Miscellaneous Symbols
        What is the difference between an homage and plagiarism? Well, its a fine line, but take this analogy: when you write a paper and want to reference something someone else wrote, you place a footnote. Most readers gloss over the footnotes without ever looking at them. But they are still necessary to the integrity of the paper.  Similarly, the Wachowski brothers knew they would be derided as having copied aspects of certain books. To counter this, they actually put in obscure allusions to those books as their offering of an homage, a sort of 'footnote'.

The Bible

 Reference in the movies:

While this is referenced generally throughout the movie, it is very specifically found in the license plates of the movie.

Simulacra and Simulations   by Jean Baudrillard

Basic notions of the book:

Published in 1981, Baudrillard argues that our "postmodern" culture is a world of signs that have made a fundamental break from referring to "reality." This creates a world of hyperreality where the distinctions between real and unreal are blurred. Robert Tilton becomes a simulation of religion; Ronald Reagan a simulation of politics; and Kurt Kobain a simulation of marginality. The culture industry blurs the lines between facts and information, between information and entertainment, between entertainment and politics. The masses get bombarded by these images (simulations) and signs (simulacra) which encourage them to buy, vote, work, play,... but eventually they become apathetic and cynical.

Reference in the movies:

In The Matrix, Neo hides a disk in the hollow book Simulacra and Simulation. Neo opens the book at the chapter "On Nihilism". Nihilism, from the Latin "nihil" meaning "nothing". However Baudrillard himself noted that the film's "borrowings"' from his work "stemmed mostly from misunderstandings"

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream   by Harlan Ellison

Basic notions of the book:

Originally published in 1973, the plot is quite similar to The Matrix. After a global computer system becomes sentient, it battles with humans for control, and wins, and then takes out its anger by imprisoning some humans in an artificial world of the computer's own making. One of the sentient characters explains how much it hates humans, just as Agent Smith does. 

Referenced in the movies:

Specifically, the title is referenced when Neo's mouth is made to seal shut by the Agents. Morpheus also  quotes Baudrillard when he says, “Welcome to the desert of the real." The original screenplay draft called for him to say, “You have been living inside Baudrillard's vision, inside the map, not the territory”, but the line was changed to make the reference more subtle.

Neuromancer   by William Gibson

Basic notions of the book:

Gibson presented the idea of a global information network called the Matrix, and the term cyberspace, a virtual reality simulation with a direct neural feedback. The main character in Neuromancer, Maelcum is from Zion. Maelcum is a big, "all natural" man that wouldn't enter the matrix, much like Tank and Dozer. This book coined the term “jack in” and associated terms to refer to using a computer network. Neuromancer's matrix is 'real', for example, if you died in it you died in real life. One character, "Dixie Flatline," died and his persona was recorded into a "construct" and used by the main character of the book as a guide. Neuromancer's electrodes were hooked up to the humans forehead to 'jack in', much like the plug into the brain in the Matrix. Users of Neuromancer's matrix would strap themselves into their chair, so that they wouldn't move around too much while they were jacked in. In "Neuromancer" the A.I. Wintermute was controlling the lives of a few of the characters via interacting with their electonic appliances, and they didn't really know it. Maelcum flys a "tug" space-vessel, a weaponless carrier vessel much like the Neb in the Matrix.

Referenced in the movies:

In Reloaded, the music to the freeway chase is called "Mona Lisa Overdrive".
Mona Lisa Overdrive is another book written by William Gibson. Gibson has also written a book Johnny Mnemonic, that became a movie with Keanu Reeves as well.

            Also, the use of black coats, sunglasses, trenchcoats, a villian with a French accent, EMP weapons, "Smith", "The Oracle", "Zion", a factory of babies grown in tubes, are likely references to this book as well.

Metamorphoses   by Ovid

A mythological compendium in epic style by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso. His name means "he who forms, or molds."

Tibetan Book of the Dead

First put into written form by Padma Sambhava in the 8th century, this book acts as a guide for the dead during the 49-day state that intervenes death and the next rebirth. It teaches that awareness, once freed from the body, creates its own reality like that of a dream.

On page LXIX: On principle, it would seem that in the case of entry into an unborn body such entry may made into the matrix in the same way as if it had occurred after a break of consciousness in death. On page LXXXI: This last is followed by the consciousness taking up its abode in a suitable matrix, whence it is born again as a Birth-Consciousness.

Alice in Wonderland   by Lewis Carroll

There are several references to this classic story, more than I list here, but these are the ones that jump out:

Rabbits:  The most obvious scene is when Neo is told to "follow the white rabbit." Afterwards, he meets a woman who has a white rabbit tattoo on her shoulder. Rabbits are also seen on the TV in the Oracle's apartment (from the movie Night of the Lepus). Alice meets a rabbit after falling down a rabbit hole and tries to follow him. This is referred to again when he meets Morpheus: "I imagine right now you're feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole?" and "You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Names in The Matrix are important meaning, often several meanings.

Names are important to both the book and the movies. Alice has a conversation about name meanings with Humpty Dumpty:

          "My name is Alice, but----"
          "It's a stupid name enough!" Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. "What does it mean?"
          "MUST a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
          "Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh.
          "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
          "The question is," said Alice, "whether you CAN make words mean so many different things."

Dual personality:  Agent Smith tells Neo that he has been living 'two lives.' Alice ponders the possibility of being two people, "But it's no use now to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!"

Mirrors:  When Thomas (Neo) has taken the red pill, he sees a mirror that becomes fluid, and begins to cover him; he then awakens in his pod. Alice enters the Looking-Glass world through a mirror that magically becomes fluid-like so she can climb into it.

What is real?  A great deal of time is spent in both stories contemplating the nature of reality, and of dreams within dreams. Neo has a difficult time understanding that, in the Matrix, he is controlling his actions with his mind, not his body. For example, In the dojo Morpheus asks, "Do you think that's air you're breathing?"

Alice has a conversation with Tweedledum and Tweedledee about the Red King while the King is asleep:

          "He's dreaming now," said Tweedledee. "And what do you think he's dreaming about?"
          Alice said, "Nobody can guess that."
          "Why, about YOU!" Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands truimphantly. "And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be?"
          "Where I am now, of course," said Alice.
          "Not you!" Tweedledee said contemptuously. "You'd be nowhere. Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream!"
          "If that there King was to wake, " added Tweedledum, "you'd go out--bang--just like a candle!"
          "I shouldn't!" Alice exclaimed indignantly.
          "I AM real!" said Alice who began to cry.
          "You won't make yourself a bit realler by crying," Tweedledee remarked. "There's nothing to cry about."
          "If I wasn't real," Alice said--half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous--"I shouldn't be able to cry tears."
          "I hope you don't suppose those are REAL tears?" Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt.
          … Again, several chapters into the story Alice contemplate waking the King:
          "So I wasn't dreaming, after all," she said to herself, "unless--unless we're all part of the same dream. Only I do hope it's MY dream, and not the Red King's! I don't like belonging to another person's dream," she went on in a rather complaining tone, "I've a great mind to go wake him, and see what happens!"

Deja Vu: Neo sees a black cat twice, referring to deja vu. Alice asks the Cheshire cat for directions while a "deja vu".

Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”

            This is referenced as a theme throughout the movie, but it is specifically referenced during the “Cave Rave” scene that everyone usually hates. It is perhaps the people of Zion that are truly still in the proverbial cave.

The Wizard Of Oz   by Frank Baum

Referenced in the movies:

Some of the similarities of these two stories are a little bit of a stretch, but taken all together it is easy to believe the Wachowski brothers when they say they love The Wizard of Oz. Cypher refers directly to this movie when he says to Neo, "Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye."

Emerald Cities:  The world of the Matrix is tinted in green (the color of the code). This green world turns out to be a hoax. Oz, the city Dorothy is traveling to is also tinted green. The green tint in the city turns out to be a hoax, too.

Water:  In The Matrix, water is a very prominent theme, even the code looks like falling rain. Dorothy uses water to kill the Wicked Witch Of the West. Similarly, the final fight between Neo and Smith takes place in the falling rain.

Dreams:  Neo's time in the Matrix, what he thought was his life has been a dream.  Dorothy's adventures turn out to be a dream as well.

The Wizard:  Neo travels to see the Oracle, sort of the Wizard of the Matrix, who can share wisdom with him and help him in his quest to fight the Matrix. Dorothy travels to see the Wizard of Oz in hopes that his wisdom will help her find her way home.

The Sandman   by Neil Gaiman

            The Sandman (1988-1996) is a seminal DC Comics series, often cited as one of the most important titles of the modern age in comics. Neil Gaiman wrote the title for 75 monthly issues and a number of specials and one-shot stories. The individual comics have been collected into a number of books. Dave McKean illustrated the covers for each issue, and is responsible for helping developing the unifying look Gaiman wanted for his stories.

            The Wachowskis chose Morpheus partly as a reference to the main character of the same name. 

Also to come:

Philip K. Dick

George Orwell's "1984"


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