Shooting on the fourth film in the Matrix franchise began earlier this month, but so far story details have not leaked, and we doubt they will before the film’s release. We do know that one thing they’ll need to explain is how Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, both of whose characters appeared to die in The Matrix Revolutions, are back in action.
One option is to retcon, to retroactively establish continuity with a plot device that establishes that Neo and Trinity didn’t really die, countering the clear implication of the previous film. If that sounds like cheap plot manipulation, that’s because it often is. But it’s also not the only option, and Reddit user u/dinguschungus has not one but two theories that would allow Reeves and Moss to return without undercutting the previous films.
Both theories are founded on the revelation in The Matrix Reloaded that Neo is actually the sixth Chosen One, that the previous versions have all chosen to destroy Zion and pick 23 people to rebuild it — ensuring another repeat of the Machine War — instead of crashing the Matrix and killing everyone in it, potentially exterminating mankind but also giving it a chance to break free of the cycle of wars. Neo, unlike his predecessors, chooses the latter option, and in The Matrix Revolutions, he ultimately sacrifices himself to destory Agent Smith and the Matrix, causing it to be rebooted once again, this time to a peaceful state.
But what if, instead of entirely new people, every time the Matrix is rebooted humans are recreated in the same way the timeline, in which there’s a Chosen One presented with the same choice Neo was, is. It would follow that Reeves and Moss aren’t playing Neo and Trinity in the new movie, at least not the same Neo and Trinity. It’s here where the two theories diverge.
It’s possible that Reeves and Moss are playing the original Neo and Trinity, the real humans who were duplicated and integrated into the Matrix later on, in the timeline of the existing films. This would mean that the new movie is set before the First Machine War, a choice that would open up a lot of storytelling opportunities for a prequel about how the world of the first three films came to be. They’d probably be pretty depressing, as their presence in the Matrix later on proves that they lose to the machines.
But if the new movie is set within the Matrix, Reeves and Moss might play later versions of Neo and Trinity. This would dovetail nicely with how Revolutions ends, with the Oracle saying that she thinks they will see Neo again. It would also be cool to see where the story goes into the future, giving the filmmakers more freedom in choosing how it ends.
Both of these theories are elegant solutions to a unique storytelling problem, and while hoping that either comes to pass is too much, we can hope that the plot of the actual film evinces a similar desire to fit the new story neatly into the existing world instead of the other way around.