A Deleted Subplot from "The Matrix" Directly Contradicts Its Sequels
Did "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" Really Follow a Master Plan?
Perception: Every narrative event that occurred over the course of The Matrix trilogy was mapped out in advance and executed in accordance with a foolproof master plan. Thus, all three films constitute a singular and unified three-part story.
Reality: The story of The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) is mostly the result of retroactive revision and was never planned when the first film came out. Whoa!
“The advantage of these films from the outset is that they’ve been envisaged as a trilogy. It’s not like they made the first one then thought they better write something more. These films are a complete cycle.”
-James McTeigue, Interview by REDPILL, August 2002
If you’ve ever been a fan of The Matrix series, you’ve probably heard on at least one occasion a variation of the claim that the first three films were always envisioned as a trilogy and/or that the sequels were made primarily because its writer-directors, The Wachowskis, had always intended to tell a bigger overarching story.
This claim has been repeated extensively in interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries, in articles and thinkpieces, helping foster the impression that everything that appears on-screen in Reloaded and Revolutions had been conceived in advance, as though nothing had to be invented for them. From this perspective, the first Matrix was not designed as a standalone movie but rather as the first third of a preconceived three-part epic.
I would argue that claims of the series adhering to a master plan have been highly exaggerated and the resulting narrative has obscured the reality of how and why the sequels ultimately turned out the way they did story-wise. This is not to say that there has not necessarily ever been a plan or plans for sequels when the first film was made, but rather that such plans can and often do change organically in the course of storytelling. The biggest piece of evidence that the sequels’ narrative was mostly the result of retroactive revision lies in a pair of seldom-mentioned scenes that were shot but deleted from the final cut of The Matrix. These scenes directly contradict what I will term as the “Predecessor Twist” central to The Matrix Sequels.
The Predecessor Twist
“The Matrix movies are a true trilogy, not sequels… They’re designed to be viewed and thought about as one continuing storyline.”
-Zach Staenberg, Interview by Andrea Van Hook, 1 Jan. 2004
To briefly recap, the plot of The Matrix revolved around the idea that its main protagonist Neo was the second coming of a God-like being known as “The One.” According to a prophecy, The (Second) One was supposed to bring about the destruction of the Matrix, thus ending the reign of the Machines over humankind, an event that begins in earnest at the end of the movie. However, the sequels fundamentally revised the very concept of The One, rendering the canon established the first movie as apocryphal history.
The Matrix Reloaded revealed that much of what the first film had established about The One was a lie. In reality, Neo wasn’t the second incarnation of The One but the sixth. And rather than being destined to liberate mankind, The One was merely a participant in another system of mankind’s control by the Machines. The third film, Revolutions, then sees Neo attempt to break out of the seemingly endless cycle repeated by his 5 Predecessors.
At the moment, I am not interested in examining the particulars of the predecessor twist. What I want is to emphasize how – alongside other plot points in the sequels – this twist was and continues to be sold to the audience on the extratextual level as a natural preplanned extension of the first movie’s narrative. Per the continuously perpetuated Master Plan discourse, the revelation of the “true” history of The One was always intended to occur at the end of the second film, in turn leading to the events of the third, even before the first movie came out.
This means that the writer-directors intended to make viewers of the first movie believe the false story of The One, only to then reveal the true story to them in the sequels. When we hear Morpheus tell Neo about the prophecy of The One in the first film then, we are meant to be hearing a lie that Morpheus believes, as this and all other scenes in the film were initially written with the idea in mind that really, all along, there were 5 Predecessor Ones before Neo. It wasn’t that the mythology and history we learned in the first film was initially meant to be canonical, but later became invalidated retroactively. No, the Story of the One in the first movie always meant to be non-canon, an intentional misleading of the audience, a red herring.
Such a narrative may seem convincing on the surface. But when you actually dig a little deeper into the production history of the three films, it completely falls apart.
The Deleted Subplot from The Matrix
“This trilogy completely flows from the very first shot of The Matrix to the last shot of The Matrix Revolutions. It's all part of a master plan, and it all goes where it's supposed to go."”
- Joel Silver, “End of the Matrix” by Ian Spelling in Starlog #317 (December 2003): 42
Despite the fact that The Matrix is a modern sci-fi classic, its Deleted Scenes surprisingly never really seem to come up in discussions among fans and critics. Indeed, I get the impression that nobody even knows that they exist, save for the cast and crew of the first movie. Even then, those aware of them seem to downplay their significance by never discussing them at length or making them out to be minor or unimportant. I find this surprising, for the two scenes together compose a subplot, according to which Neo had 5 Predecessors in the first movie… all of whom died fighting an Agent under the mistaken belief that they were “The One.”
Though never released on home video, they appear in the released official copies of the film’s Final Shooting Script and I’ve been able to corroborate that both were indeed shot before getting excised in post-production.
The first deleted scene is an extension of the conversation between Neo and Cypher on the main deck, where Cypher offers Neo a drink. In the released film, after Cypher discusses with Neo what a ‘mind-job’ it must be to learn that he might be The One, he then advises him to run away when he encounters an Agent.
In the Shooting Script, however, prior to offering his “little piece of advice,” Cypher reveals to Neo that he is actually not Morpheus’ first candidate for the title of “The One.” In fact, he is the Sixth. The Five before Neo had all died after taking on an Agent under Morpheus’ influence.
The second scene takes place later when Morpheus takes Neo to see The Oracle, specifically once they reach the door in the hallway that leads to Oracle’s apartment. In the theatrical release, after Morpheus tell him that he can only show Neo the door, and that Neo must walk through it, Neo tries to open the door almost immediately, only for a Priestess to open it before he does from inside the apartment.
But the Shooting Script reveals that a whole other scene took place before this moment. Here, Neo hesitates and then decides to confront Morpheus about his 5 Predecessors. Morpheus confesses that he had misread the prophecy, believing he could simply anoint someone as The One and that this indeed resulted in the deaths of five individuals, which led him to doubt himself. But somehow he knew when he first saw Neo that he is “the sixth and last.”
Together, the two scenes feature some fascinating character development and backstory elements. The characters of Morpheus and Cypher both would’ve benefited tremendously from these scenes. The former gets to express human vulnerability in addition to his stalwart zealotry, giving viewers reason to doubt that Morpheus is right about Neo even before Neo visits The Oracle. Meanwhile, the latter’s betrayal of his teammates arguably has more nuance and justification than in the final cut. But ultimately, the scenes were not absolutely essential to advancing the plot about Neo gradually waking up and realizing his true purpose as The One.
Confirmation of filming and/or cutting
Though neither the Cypher Scene, nor the Morpheus Scene has ever been released on home video, there exists plenty of evidence that both were, in fact, filmed and then excised from the final cut close to the end of post-production.
Perhaps the earliest corroboration of their physical existence comes from Starlog magazine. In the April 1999 issue, the shooting of the extended Morpheus/Neo conversation is indirectly referenced by Production Designer Owen Paterson:
“In the sequence where Morpheus and Neo go to meet the Oracle… they have a bit of dialogue in the foyer and a whole lot more in the elevator. Then, they walk down in this corridor, have a long conversation about what’s going to happen, open the door and they’re in the Oracle’s apartment.”
Source: David McDonnell, “Designing The Matrix,” Starlog #261 (April 1999): 46.
Later in the same issue, one can find an extensive article on actor Lawrence Fishburne that explicitly mentions the predecessor subplot when discussing the characterization and motivation of Fishburne’s Morpheus.
Here’s how author David McDonnell describes it:
“And now he believes that savior is Neo (Keanu Reeves). The problem, of course, is that Morpheus has found Messiahs before. Plenty of times. And they didn’t lead anyone to the promised land – they just got killed.”
Fishburne is then directly cited as saying:
“There were five failures. But his faith is unshakeable, and that’s really the most interesting element for me in terms of playing Morpheus – finding the moments where his faith is rock-solid… And his intuition is really clear about Neo. He knows Neo is the One.”
Source: McDonnell, “A Touch of Morpheus,” Starlog #261 (April 1999): 50.
Evidently then, at the time of the interview, Fishburne was under the impression that the Predecessor subplot is either in the film or at least constitutes a canonical part of Morpheus’ backstory that audiences might not be privy to.
In the July 1999 issue, actor Joe Pantoliano similarly references the Predecessor subplot more than once when discussing Cypher’s character and motivation throughout the film, going so far as to raise the possibility that Cypher possibly was himself a former candidate for The One prior to Neo.
As he puts it:
“It has been decided by Morpheus... that Neo is the Chosen One, the Messiah who’s going to save us all. For many years now, I was hoping to be able to fill those shoes. But then there’s the first Chosen One and the second Chosen One – a series of debacles where these guys were trained by us and then killed by the Agents.”
Source: McDonnell, “Cypher Man,” Starlog #264 (July 1999): 66.
“People say that I'm the traitor, but I think I'm the survivor. I'm the guy who's gonna survive this madman's plan. Because at this point, I'm so angry with Morpheus and his beliefs and I'm taking this kid down. Because this kid is gonna die. In fact, I actually tell Neo, "You know, you're not the first. You're the sixth. So when you come up against an Agent, do what we do. Run. Run like hell 'cause they're gonna kill you."
Source: Ibid., 67
Pantoliano even reiterated the idea behind Cypher’s motives 20 years later in a podcast discussion by CinemaBlend. About 40 minutes in, he talks about how he argues with fans of the film over whether or not Cypher was right to do what he did. And one of the rationales he offers for Cypher’s behavior is:
“You've gone through six or seven Ones! Neo is just another guy that's gonna get his ass killed. And he's going, 'I've made a terrible mistake! Ignorance is bliss. Why shouldn't I go back to a world and pick the person I want to be?”
Source: Sean O’Connel, Reelbend Podcast, April 22, 2020
From this, one could infer that the performances of Pantoliano and Fishburne as their respective characters and their perception of the Morpheus/Cypher relationship were directly informed by the predecessor subplot.
That the scenes and plot points the actors reference were filmed and then cut would be later directly confirmed in the official The Art of the Matrix (AOTM) behind-the-scenes book, released in December 2000. In the introduction to a copy of the Final Shooting Script included in the book, editor Spencer Lamm notes that “everything” in the script was filmed but “changes occurred during editing.” (271) Later, Phil Oosterhouse – assistant to the Wachowskis on the first film – explicitly states that that the part “where Cypher tells Neo there were five potential Ones before him was shot and then cut in postproduction,” though only the Wachowskis know why. (403)
Precisely why the Predecessor Subplot scenes were cut is difficult to say, as the Wachowskis, to my knowledge in any case, have never really discussed the scenes, nor their removal. But one possible explanation was provided by editor Zach Staenberg in Brian Raftery’s article on the film’s legacy in Wired Magazine:
“After one successful Matrix test screening, the film's creative team was called into a meeting with co-chairs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, as well as dozens of other top staffers. "Terry said, 'We love this movie,'" remembers editor Zach Staenberg. "Their only note to us was to take five to ten minutes out. We ended up taking five and a half minutes out, and they never even looked at that final cut."”
Staenberg never specifies what was cut, but it is safe to conclude that the Predecessor subplot was removed among the five-and-a-half minutes, as every other scene in the Final Shooting Script shows up in the Theatrical Release. Some other existing scenes were clearly trimmed here and there (such as the opening conversation between Cypher and Trinity), but otherwise there is almost a one-to-one equivalence between the final cut and the final shooting script.
So, it seems then that the Predecessor Subplot was removed simply to lower the running time (approx. 2 hours 21 minutes) at the request of the studio, tightening up the picture and so increasing its overall pace. The subplot proved convenient in that regard, as its removal wouldn’t really impact the film’s causal chain of narrative events. Consequently, when you watch the film, the editing feels so seamless, you’d never even know that the aforementioned scenes were even there.
Narrative Implications and Conclusions
“…what happened happened and couldn’t have happened any other way.”
-Morpheus, The Matrix Reloaded
What all this points to is that, at the time the first film was made, the Wachowskis already had in mind the backstory that there had existed several predecessors to Neo. But their conception of the “predecessors” was radically different from what would end up onscreen in Reloaded and Revolutions several years later.
The original Predecessor concept is completely in line with the Mythology and History of The One as established in the first movie’s continuity. Neo’s 5 Predecessors in this context were false messiahs, just regular redpills misled by Morpheus. Thus, their existence does not conflict with the notion that Neo was indeed the Second Coming of The One, destined to destroy the Matrix. In fact, is serves to affirm it.
By contrast, in the sequels, all the “Predecessors” would be indeed True “Ones” and seemingly different (yet physically identical) incarnations of the same being, whose purpose was to perpetuate a cycle of mankind’s creation and destruction. Here, the very idea of what it means to be a “Predecessor” is fundamentally incompatible with the conception and mythology of “The One” established in the first film.
The logical conclusion is that the Wachowskis never intended to mislead viewers of the first movie with the false story of The One, only to then reveal the true story to them in the sequels. On the contrary, what we had learned in the first film was indeed true at the time it was released. In the course of editing, the writer-directors made the decision to cut the Predecessor Subplot, effectively erasing it from the narrative.
However, this in turn left the door open for them to reintroduce the Predecessor concept in a heavily revised form in the sequels, thereby retconning much of the first movie’s internal history and mythology. This illustrates that the central plot twist of the sequels was not intended when the first film came out.
Contrary to the Master Plan discourse then, the overarching story of The Matrix trilogy did not arrive fully formed. Instead, like many other long-running serialized narratives, such as Star Wars, it underwent a gradual and organic evolution.
If the Wachowskis indeed had plans for a trilogy when they made The Matrix, with the original concept of The One in place, then those plans must’ve radically changed as the latter two pictures were being developed.
This is the first part of an ongoing multi-article retrospective on The Matrix series. If you enjoyed this entry, please check out the others:
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