The Matrix is a world of layers, where reality is ephemeral and the line between "real" and "artificial" is blurred. The vast majority of people are trapped in a machine-built program called the Matrix, enslaving their minds in a world of pure fantasy. Meanwhile, the few humans not plugged into the Matrix live in an apocalyptic hellscape, fighting hopelessly against the AI that took over the world. In the film, the robotic system that holds humanity down is arguably much nicer than reality. The Matrix itself is a limitless world, after all. Anything is possible inside, which is why some people believe there is no "real world" in The Matrix at all.
What if the reality that contains Zion, the human resistance, Neo, and every "free person" on Earth is actually just another layer of the Matrix? That's what one innovative fan theory suggests, and it's supported by plenty of evidence. Logically, the machines would build backup plans to keep humans in line, and the series itself contains evidence that renders this theory eerily possible. This breakdown will go over all of the theory's major points and attempt to prove the worst case scenario for Neo - that he's still trapped somewhere inside the Matrix.
If provided a choice between the Matrix and Zion, many people would understandably choose the Matrix. Zion exists in a cold, brutish, subterranean hellscape worse than anything in the Matrix. In fact, it's so terrible, some wonder whether it was actually designed that way.
Quora user HNL suggests that the bleakness of the real world, specifically Zion, is actually a tactic used by the machines to make the Matrix seem more appealing. In The Matrix, Cypher even betrays his human comrades just so he can return to the Matrix with a fresh identity and a mind wipe.
Quora user HNL points out that the machines clearly have the means to take out Zion. They have an endless supply of sentinels and unlimited time, but they don't seem very interested in eliminating Zion.
The EMPs the humans use are essentially one-use devices, so the machines could simply send in reinforcements to finish off humanity after they blow their EMPs. This theory claims the machines don't do this because Zion is an orchestrated charade, a programmed simulation meant to follow a predetermined script.
Quora user Tango believes Neo's powers in the real world prove that it's simply another layer of the Matrix. At the end of The Matrix Reloaded, machines are racing toward Neo. During the finale, he suddenly gains the power to manipulate machines, despite being outside the Matrix.
He puts out his hand and fries a squadron of sentinels with nothing but his mind. These powers are never fully explained, but this theory suggests that Neo's powers work in the real world because he's actually still in the Matrix.
The Architect tells Neo that he is simply the "eventuality of an anomaly" that the Architect tried in vain to prevent. This means the machines are aware of "the One" and have been anticipating his arrival. The Architect gives Neo a choice, one that could decide the ultimate fate of humanity - but why?
Theorist Jason Payne claims that the Architect, who designed the entirety of the Matrix, doesn't need to offer Neo anything. He only humors Neo because this is all part of a master plan, one that tricks the few humans who reject the first layer of the Matrix into thinking they've escaped to the real world.
In actuality, the real world is just another design meant to give humans the illusion of autonomy. The Architect even admits that Zion is just another form of control.