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How Do You Escape The Matrix?
There are two ways to get out of the Matrix, with help and on your own. Both require belief.
Usually, there’s a pretty clear delineation between the real world and fiction. You go to the movies, and you see a T. rex eating some poor sap hiding on a resort toilet and you know it isn’t true, because (among other things) when you exit the theater, there aren’t any dinosaurs. Which is part of what made The Matrix (streaming now on Peacock) such an infectious idea.
The Matrix presented a high-tech (and high caliber) sci-fi future masquerading as the present. The fact that most people were totally unaware of the real war going on in the background was baked into the narrative. It was almost a foregone conclusion that at least some people might wonder if we’re really inside of a simulation.
A quick search around the web for the term “how to escape the Matrix” reveals a surprising amount of content about “deprogramming” yourself and new-age self-actualization, but you’ll have a hard time figuring out how a person actually gets out of a digital simulation. If we really are in the Matrix, our only guidebook is Wachowskis’ lore. Fortunately, all four films in the Matrix franchise are streaming on Peacock. To the tape!
Getting Out of the Matrix With and Without Help
In the films, we know that a certain portion of the global population always rejects the simulation. If they’re lucky, they find their way to the underground city of Zion, the last free human settlement. Most of the time, people escape the Matrix only with the help of others already on the outside. Neo’s own experience of exiting the simulation is typical.
A ship operator (in this case, Morpheus) identifies a person they believe fit for rescue from the Matrix. After meeting with that person and setting the stage, they are given a choice in the form of two pills. In an iconic shot we see Morpheus holding one pill in each hand, one red and one blue, through the reflection in his glasses.
"You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes," Morpheus, The Matrix
It’s one of the most iconic lines in movie history but it hides a subtle truth. Like all things in the Matrix, the pills aren’t real, but psychic representations of computer code. When Neo swallows the red pill, it activates a tracing program to locate his body in the Machines’ pod stacks. Once you’re located, the operator sends a command to the pod to wake you up and eject your body.
The precise effects of the blue pill are less clear because we don’t see it used onscreen. However, we can make some assumptions based on Morpheus’ comments to Neo and a little common sense. It’s speculated that, had Neo taken the blue pill, it would have reset his program to a previous point or reintroduced him back into the Matrix with all memory of the truth erased.
A talk, a pill, and a short ride through a Machine sewer; that’s the conventional path out of your digital prison, but it isn’t the only one. In rare instances, individuals were able to break out of the simulation on their own steam. Morpheus tells of the original “the One,” the first person to wake from the Matrix. Because they were the first, they necessarily broke out on their own. Nearly everyone in Zion can trace their freedom directly back to that first mental prison break. That’s the story, anyway.
We do know canonically that at least two people have escaped on their own, an act known as self-substantiation. Their stories are presented in different sections of the animated anthology The Animatrix.
Dan Davis was an Olympic runner obsessed with being the best there ever was, better even than he was yesterday. Davis pushes himself to his physical limit, coaxing every last bit of power from his strained muscle fibers. Then he pushes himself a little more. There, at the fringes of possibility, Davis sees the crack in the façade and, seeing the truth, he runs even harder. He runs so hard he eventually breaks into another reality.
Our second example comes by way of highschooler Michael Karl Popper, popularly known as The Kid. He’s portrayed in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions by actor Clayton Watson where he is mostly an overexcited hanger-on, following Neo around like a puppy. In his animated origin story, appropriately titled “Kid’s Story,” the Kid has a recurring dream in which he is falling, but he always wakes up just before hitting the ground. When agents show up at his school and corner him on the roof, he jumps, sure in the knowledge that it isn’t real. He wakes up on the Nebuchadnezzar under the watchful eyes of Neo and Trinity.
Whether you break through on your own or with a guiding hand, the trick seems to be examining the world around you, rejecting what you see to be wrong, and holding that knowledge confidently as you walk through the door to someplace new. Of course, you could always take the blue pill, go back to your comfy life, and believe whatever you want to believe.
While you’re there, catch The Matrix series in its entirety, streaming now on Peacock.