The Matrix in a Matrix (MIAM) was a popular fan speculation which circulated after the release of The Matrix Reloaded in discussions online. The theory was that the Real World was not actually real, but rather another level of the Matrix simulation: i.e. the Redpills were always remaining in the Matrix, and everything regarding their Extraction, Zion etc were also a simulation.
This theory expected a possible major turnover in the next movie, The Matrix Revolutions, which would eventually reveal the truth.
The hints which originated and fueled the theory were mainly these two elements of Reloaded:
- Smith is shown to possess programs or Bluepills alike inside the Matrix; yet he managed to possess Bane, who was not part of the Matrix, and the possession persisted even after he jacked out.
- Neo is seen at the end of the movie to be able to disable the Sentinels by telekinesis, manipulating the "real" world as he was doing with the bullets inside the Matrix.
- When Neo is blinded he still can see the code in the "real world", suggesting that he is in fact still in a simulation.
Fans were divided into sides, with some arguing that Zion and the Real World were not real but digital, others that the theory was unnecessarily complex. Both sides isolated elements (hints in dialog, symbolism, colors, the trailers of Revolutions) to support their position.
Variants of the theory
Variants of the theory also evolved.
For example there was a speculation that the Real World as seen in The Matrix and the better part of Reloaded was indeed real. However after Neo's meeting with the Architect, he was somehow trapped in the digital world, and did not actually jack out of the Matrix at the end of Reloaded. This would explain his powers 'outside' the Matrix at that particular point.
Despite fans' theories, Matrix Revolutions did not elaborate on this idea and the trilogy as a whole did not have any further plot twists. It is unknown whether the Wachowskis may have deliberately made Neo's powers in the Real World at the end of Reloaded ambiguous as a form of red herring, to encourage people to question even the "Real World"'s reality.
Revolutions showed that Neo had powers outside the Matrix, but those only had to do with Machines; he could not fly or manipulate his speed or the world around him in the way he did inside the Matrix. As for Smith's existence outside the Matrix, it can be explained simply by suggesting that he erased Bane's brain and replaced his personality through his headjack.
Regardless of what their intent was, the Wachowskis have said that their reason for creating the films was to get people to think, come up with ideas like this, and discuss them with one another.
- Is Zion just another Matrix? Thoughts and consequences - a thorough discussion about varieties of the theories on the way to Matrix Revolutions
- Matrix in a Matrix debunked