This article is for the first film only. For tropes applied to the entire franchise, see The Matrix.
"Have you ever had a dream Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"
The first film of the trilogy begins in what looks like the Present Day. The film's protagonist, Thomas Anderson, a.k.a. Neo, finds out that this world exists as an illusion created by sentient machines that Turned Against Their Masters and took over the world. The machines plugged humanity into a virtual world — The Matrix — to keep humanity complacent while the machines sapped their bio-electricity to fuel themselves. note The Wachowskis intended for the machines to use humanity as a giant neural computer network, but Executive Meddling intervened.Neo eventually finds himself face-to-face with Morpheus, who teaches Neo the truth; Neo reluctantly joins the resistance movement against the machines, which happens in both the real world and The Matrix. "Free minds" know The Matrix only resembles reality, so they no longer have to follow certain inconvenient rules (such as gravity) while "jacked in". (They do have one rule they cannot escape, though: death in the Matrix means brain death in the real world.) The Matrix has its own defense force, both inside the system (programs known as Agents that can bend the rules of the Matrix) and outside it (hunting machines known as Sentinels). Neo eventually finds his place as a foretold hero and sets out to free mankind from the Matrix; in the process of this self-discovery, Neo defeats one of the Agents — Smith — and sends the others running in terror.
This film provide examples of:
Alice Allusion: Neo has his first meeting with Trinity after a chatroom message suggests he follow a white rabbit (actually his friend's girlfriend, who has a white rabbit tattoo). Morpheus' first conversation with Neo is full of Alice Allusions.
And I Must Scream: The scene where Neo's mouth gets covered over while the Agents insert a bug-like tracker through his belly button is a more literal use of this trope.
Agent Smith: Tell me, Mr. Anderson... what good is a phone call... if you're unable to speak?
Better Than New: After he gets killed by Agent Smith, Neo becomes The One and gets much more powerful than before because of being beaten by the Big Badwhich was prophesied earlier, in passing, by The Oracle when she remarked "...it looks like you're waiting for something ... your next life, maybe".
Blind Seer: Invoked and then subverted when Neo visits the Oracle. When he and Morpheus get out of the car, the next scene shows a blind old man with a stereotypical wise-man beard sitting on a bench and holding a cane. The obvious conclusion is that this man is the Oracle. But he's just a guy sitting on a bench. However...the blind man nods to Morpheus as he and Neo pass by. Not so blind as we thought; he was likely a lookout for the Oracle.
The Heart of the City hotel, room 303, in which both the first and (almost) last scenes of the movie take place.
The trace program that opens the movie, and the last scene of the movie. The first time around, it completes, and reveals Trinity's location to the Agents. The second time, Neo uses his powers as The One to freeze it before it can make any progress.
Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Neo and Smith get into a shootout in the subway and wind up with their guns at each other's head, only to point out to each other that they're both out of rounds. Neo and Trinity also run out of ammunition and discard their empty weapons during the security checkpoint battle. Of course, they brought "lots of guns", and don't mind taking their opponents' weapons. And any case where people fire more rounds than they should be able to with the gun they are using can be easily handwaved because the Matrix programming can create infinite ammo.
Brick Joke / Continuity Nod: Early in the first movie, Choi makes a brief comment about mescaline to Neo, saying "It's the only way to fly!" The last shot of the movie shows Neo getting up and flying for the first time.
Call to Adventure: Neo literally receives a cell phone call to adventure from Morpheus, starting Neo's fight against the Machines (whether he wanted to or not).
Came Back Strong: Neo only gets to fully awaken his spoon-bending powers after being killed by Agent Smith in the first movie.
The Can Kicked Him: Morpheus fights Agent Smith in a dilapidated bathroom. His bald dome is sent hurtling onto a toilet bowl, shattering it.
Cluster F-Bomb: While the original script had a lot more swearing, most uses of "fuck" that weren't dropped were replaced with "shit" for the final film.
Confiscated Phone: Neo steals a guy's cell phone. The guy complains, and Agent Smith steals his body.
Counting Bullets: In the subway fight between Neo and Agent Smith, both note that the other has run out of bullets.
Agent Smith: You're empty.
Neo: So are you.
Creepy Twins: A subtle version in the Agent Training Program. If you watch it and you're certain that you saw the same extras walk by the camera twice, guess what, you're right: All of the extras are twins. It suggests that Mouse wrote the program and after making half the crowd became lazy and copied them. And the producers actually went around looking for basically every pair of twins they could find just for this one scene. Now were you looking for that, or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
Despair Event Horizon: Immediately after Neo dies in the first film, the sentinels start cutting into the interior of the Nebuchadnezzar. The look of utter hopelessness on the faces of Morpheus and Tank tell us that they don't even care. Trinity, however, brings him back with The Power of Love.
A variation: Trinity spends the first minutes of the movie trying to reach a phone booth, and when she finally reaches it and pick up the phone, a truck demolishes the phone booth. Fortunately, since the landline was her exit, Trinity is not injured.
This also happens right before Neo and Smith's subway fight, as Smith tries to shoot her before she can leave the Matrix. Once again, she manages to escape in time.
Distracted by the Sexy: One of the most memorable examples can be found in the "Woman in the Red Dress" scene. Morpheus and Neo are walking in a crowded part of the Matrix while Morpheus is instructing him that they can't trust anyone still plugged into the system. Neo is distracted by a gorgeous woman who strolls by in a red dress, and when Morpheus asks if he was paying attention and Neo looks back at her, she's turned into Agent Smith about to shoot him. Morpheus freezes the program, reveals it to be a test, and points out the message: Agents can be anyone.
Morpheus:[takes out a pill box and empties the contents into his hands] This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill [opens his right hand, revealing a translucent blue pill], the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill [opens his left hand, revealing a similarly translucent red pill], you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. [Neo reaches for the red pill] Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more.
The Dreaded: The Agents are seen as the ultimate enemy, with good reason. Morpheus' lesson to Neo in the "woman in the red dress" program makes this clear:
Morpheus: I won't lie to you, Neo. Every man or woman who has stood their ground, everyone who has fought an Agent has died. [...] We've survived by hiding from them, by running from them. But they are the gatekeepers. They are guarding all the doors, they are holding all the keys, which means that sooner or later, someone is going to have to fight them.
Morpheus: You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth.
Driving Question: "What is the Matrix?" It's answered shortly thereafter, but then it's replaced by "What is real?"
Eat The Camera: While Morpheus and his crew are searching for Neo's body in the real world, Neo touches a mirror. The mirror spreads over him like quicksilver and flows down his throat with the camera following. The scene changes and Neo wakes up in his real body. Watch it here.
Neo is told to "Follow the white rabbit." as a metaphor for waking from the Matrix. Immediately after that the doorbell rings and outside is a woman with a white rabbit tattoo. This is a reference to the trope but not an instance of it.
On the first movie's DVD, you can choose to see the film in "White Rabbit Mode". In this version, a white rabbit symbol appears on the screen during certain scenes and if you click it, you can see brief behind-the-scenes footage of the making of that particular scene.
At the very beginning of the movie, we hear the voices of Trinity and Cypher talking over the phone, while in the foreground we see the logs of a tracing program initiating, Trinity then says "Are you sure this line is safe?" and Cypher replies "Of course I'm sure". A little bit later an agent says "The informant is real". All these foreshadow Cypher being The Mole.
Also Cypher commenting how Trinity likes to watch Neo, hinting on her being in love with him.
Trinity placing a hand against the glass of a phone booth; when Neo stops bullets just by raising his hand, we realize what she's trying to do.
Neo's conversations with Choi and Mr. Rinehart.
Morpheus's warning to Neo that some people will cling to the world of the Matrix and will resist liberation from it. Then Cypher chooses to turn on his allies and return to it.
Tank's comment about Neo being "a machine" for being able to absorb the data uploads for hours on end without a break.
Pretty much everything in the Oracle's talk with Neo in the first movie, but three lines in particular: "Your next life, perhaps", "One of you is going to die", and "Take a cookie. I promise by the time you're done eating it, you'll feel right as rain." The first two are directly connected to Neo finally becoming the One in the hotel during the fight with the Agents; the third implies insertion of the "prime program" the Architect later references, as his powers start awakening after he eats the cookie.
During Neo's training he asks Morpheus, "What are you saying, that I can dodge bullets?" Morpheus responds, "No, Neo. What I am saying is that when you are ready, you won't have to." At the end, Neo becomes the One and stops bullets with a mere gesture.
Gargle Blaster: Dozer's homemade hooch, good for "degreasing engines and killing brain cells."
Gatling Good: Neo's helicopter rescue of Morpheus involves a Gatling gun. The Gatling was not portrayed realistically, as it would have shredded everything in the room - including Morpheus himself - if it was.
Genre Savvy: During the Oracle's first conversation with Neo:
Oracle: Well now I'm supposed to say "Hmm....that's interesting."
A Glitch in the Matrix: Trope Namer. An experience of deja-vu means that something within the Matrix has been altered. In this case, that the windows of their building have all been filled in with bricks.
Go Mad from the Revelation: Morpheus suggests that adults who are freed from the Matrix have an exceptionally hard time adjusting, which is why they don't normally free people after they reach a certain age. Cypher has two lines, to Trinity in the opening scene ("We're gonna kill him. You understand that?") and the "He's gonna pop!" when Neo's reeling from the reveals in the first Construct sequence, tie into this.
Good Versus Good: Unfortunately, one of the downer points about the mission. Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and others frequently kill/injure law enforcement agents, who are simply not aware that they are part of the Matrix. Morpheus gives their stone cold philosophy on the subject early on- everyone they are trying to save is plugged into the systemnote For instance, they could at any moment be possessed by an Agent, and Agents can actually see and hear what they see and hear, and "that makes them our enemy".
In Trinity's opening sequence. she is cornered by about six police officers in a seedy abandoned hotel room, she attacks them, apparently killing at least one and knocking out all of the others.
They are also extremely ruthless about it; they don't so much fight law enforcement officers as massacre them, particularly in the Hallway scene. Notice that when Neo and Trinity enter the agents' base and wipe out the lobby guards, they spray those guys with automatic rifles. One is even shot while reading a newspaper (which is torn in half by bullets).
Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Any time you see the first movie heavily edited for language on TV. ("Holy slugs!" "Shucks!")
Neo: How about, I give you the flipper, and you give me my phone call?
Security Guard: <Neo pulls guns out from under trenchcoat> Holy smokes! or Holy Shmucks!
Neo: <The bug gets sucked out of Neo's stomach> Jeepers creepers, that thing is real?!
Cypher: We would have told you to shove that red pill right up your ear!
Mouse: Judas Priest, he's fast!
Tank: Believe it or not, you piece of slime, you're still gonna burn!
Gravity Is Only a Theory: Gravity is not real because the world is not real. At the end of the movie, Neo gives the tyrant overlords the proverbial finger by flying in broad daylight, showing mankind that gravity is not all it's cracked up to be.
Green Aesop: Not really the point of the trilogy as a whole, but Agent Smith's monologue to Morpheus definitely has hints of this.
Guns Akimbo: Neo in the first movie, though most of the cast does it as well.
Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted; Morpheus does this to allow Neo and the others to escape, but is eventually rescued.
He's Dead, Jim: After Neo has apparently been shot to death, Agent Smith tells another Agent to "Check him." The other Agent puts a finger to Neo's neck (apparently checking his pulse), then immediately says "He's gone."
Hologram: The bridge of the Nebuchadnezzar (and presumably the other hoverships) has a holographic display that shows other objects (like Sentinels).
I'm a Humanitarian: Apparently, when Matrix-enslaved people die, their real dead bodies are turned into mush and fed to everybody else via tubes, which keeps them alive in there for all their lives. Gross.
Intimidation Demonstration: The very first fight Neo has. "What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others can be broken. Understand? Then hit me, if you can." Cue Neo and then Morpheus both waving their hands around in the air and assuming theatrical pre-fight poses.
Liberty Over Prosperity: Everyone who lives outside of the Matrix has basically chosen this. Cypher, however, has second thoughts... Of course, since the Matrix is a representation of the world as it was in 1999, not everyone has prosperity there anyway. Agent Smith states a utopia was once attempted, but no one would accept the programming, with it being seen as a dream they "kept "trying to wake up from" and "entire crops were lost."
Agent Smith: It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you...help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
Local Reference: The Wachowskis are from Chicago, and drop several references to it. Namely, every street is named after a Chicago street, and there is a photo of the Chicago skyline as it was in 1999 on the wall when Neo is in Mr. Rinehart's office.
Longing for the Matrix: Cypher is so tired of real life and its hardships that he willingly asks the Agents to be re-imprisoned in the Matrix as a rich celebrity. Despite the fact he is aware that the Matrix is unreal, Cypher prefers it to real life. Because after nine years, what has he learned? Ignorance is bliss.
Manipulative Bastard: The Oracle. She tells Neo that whether he or Morpheus dies is his own choice. But she also tells Trinity that she will fall in love with a dead man who is the One. So really, she was just playing Neo. Morpheus even said that the Oracle just told him what he needed to hear.
Military Moonshiner: Dozer distills liquor, which Cypher says is good for just two things: degreasing engines and killing brain cells.
More Dakka: The minigun scene is just one example.
Tank: So what do you need? Besides a miracle. Neo: Guns. Lots of guns.
Motivational Lie: The Oracle uses this, telling Neo that he's not the One and that Morpheus will sacrifice himself for Neo because he thinks Neo is the One. Neo can't live with that, so he saves Morpheus, proving that he is in fact the One and awakening his powers along the way. Morpheus says that the Oracle told Neo "what he needed to hear." She later confirms this in Reloaded.
No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: Agent Smith believes this to be the reason behind the failure of the "paradise" Matrix that preceded the current one. He rationalizes that humans define themselves through misery and suffering, and thus paradise was a dream they couldn't accept as reality. The actual reason is that, to accept the Matrix, humans need to believe they have a choice in the matter, even if they aren't really aware of it.
Not in Kansas Anymore: Just before the red pill taken by Neo kicks in, Cypher says, as Layman's Terms to summarize what Morpheus was saying, "Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye!"
Not So Different: What ultimately leads Cypher to betray La Résistance. As he explains at length, while Zion and the rebels have freed him from the tyranny of the Machines' simulated world, the Zion military themselves are not above using lies of omission and forced conscription in order to draft more soldiers, and all he is able to do as a member of the military is what he is ordered to do; he is ultimately no more free under the rebellion than he was under the machines.
Obfuscated Interface: The Matrix Raining Code provides any information required by the plot without the burden of a conventional user interface: less danger of the UI becoming dated being or be too hard for the audience to follow. It is there to be visually evocative — the audience gets their information from the characters talking about it. When the déjà vu happens, however, we cut back to Tank's workstation and the raining code generates an ominous flash on screen.
The first level of the Outside is escaping the Matrix itself and getting to the real world. However, the real world is a prison, more specifically a human body farm in which the people are living batteries.
The next "Outside" is getting from the prison to the colony called Zion.
Outside of Zion is the rest of the world, which is totally dark and inhabited by robots. So the True Outside World is a depressing Crapsack World.
Fan theories suggest that there is another level of outside as well: Neo never escaped the Matrix, and is still in the Matrix which is why he attains supernatural powers in the real world.
Platonic Cave: The Matrix. It is later on subverted by Cypher, by claiming that 'reality' is merely a subjective-relative state post empirical evidence, which drops down on one's perspective and ideals. Thus, the Matrix can very much be the real world.
Plucky Comic Relief: Mouse. That ends the second he gets backed into a corner and the armored personnel under the command of the Agent overwhelm him with their combined gunfire, leaving him dead as a doornail.
The Power of Love: Neo's transformation into The One is sparked by Trinity telling his mostly-dead body that she loves him. The sensation of her kiss on his lips convinces him he may not be as dead as he thinks he is. Then again, it could be the Prime Program activating and fully awakening Neo's powers.
Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Before frying Cypher, Tank says, "Believe it or not, you piece of shit, you're still gonna burn!"
Questionable Consent: As Cypher specifically complains, the whole "red pill vs. blue pill" choice was dishonest. Only the Matrix was explained in full, not the "real world", and many, like him, would reject it had they known the import of their decision.
Redshirt Army: Just about the entire crew of the Nebuchadnezzar besides Neo and a few others. As individuals they are Mauve Shirts. Their leader, Morpheus, does not even notice they died and no one thinks to tell him.
Residual Self Image: A person's avatar within the Matrix is generated by a combination of will and programming parameters established by the Matrix. This appearance can be markedly different from the "outer" self.
Morpheus: (speaking to Neo in the Construct) [...] Your clothes are different; the plugs in your arms and head are gone. Your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call 'residual self image'. It is the mental projection of your digital self.
The Reveal: One of the creepiest and best remembered reveals in film is when Morpheus explains the true nature of the Matrix.
Revival Loophole: According to the Oracle, Neo has the potential to be The One, but he's waiting for something, maybe "his next life". At the end of the movie...
Roofhopping: There's a Chase Scene that involves Agents Roof Hopping after Trinity. Part way through, the whole thing is lampshaded when a cop, seeing an Agent jump an unbelievable distance following Trinity, says, "That's impossible!" This is also the first hint we get that the action is not, in fact, taking place in the real world.
When Neo falls in the Jump Program. When he hits the pavement, it collapses under him, bounces him up in the air and becomes solid again.
When the helicopter slams into the building, the building ripples as though it were made of gelatin.
Run or Die: The strategy for dealing with Agents, at least in the first film. Morpheus tells Neo that he can eventually be able to fight the Agents rather than fleeing; Cypher flat out tells him to run away.
Sacrificial Lamb: Apoc, Switch, Dozer and Mouse who all die in about a five minute span in the first film.
Screaming Warrior: Morpheus, when he busts out of the wall to fight an Agent so that Neo can escape.
And again when he breaks his handcuffs so that Neo can rescue him.
Shoot the Rope: Multiple times in the first movie; most notably, when Neo shoots the elevator cables to drop it, and right before Trinity leaps from the helicopter.
Sneeze of Doom: During the crawl through the walls in the big escape scene, Cypher gets some dust knocked in his face and lets go of one of these, alerting the police to their location.
Stairwell Chase: The deja vu shootout features this travelling stairwell shot.
Stress Vomit: While in virtual reality Neo learns that his entire previous life has been an illusion and most of the human race is enslaved by the machines. He can't accept this, and after returning to the real world he throws up on the deck of the hovership.
Suicide Mission: Neo and Trinity's plan to rescue Morpheus is considered one by Tank.
Take My Hand: Neo jumping off a chopper to get Morpheus. The shot where you see the two men diving for each other from below, arms outstretched, was called the "I Love You, Man" shot among the crew.
Take That: Easy to miss. Cypher wants to be an actor who remembers nothing. Agent Smith calls him Mr. Reagan. If so, it could have a rather cruel joke: in 1994, Ronald Reagan disclosed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Though it could be a reference to Reagan's repeated assertions that he couldn't remember critical details of the Iran-Contra scandal.
Taking You with Me: Smith knocks Neo into the path of an oncoming subway train, then jumps down to hold him in place so he can't avoid it. Death Is Cheap for Smith, of course, but the immediate effect is the same.
Tempting Fate: Cypher tells Trinity that Neo can't be the One, since it would take 'a miracle' to stop him from killing him right there. A few lines later, Tank hauls himself to his feet with a gun and kills Cypher before he can unplug Neo.
The Oracle: Now I'm supposed to say "Hmm, that's interesting, but..." and then you say... Neo: But what? The Oracle: But you already know what I'm going to tell you.
Tired of Running: Throughout the movie, Neo is repeatedly told that anyone who has fought an Agent has been killed, and that he should run away from them. He follows this trope (without actually saying anything) in the subway station when he decides to stop running from Smith, turning and fighting him instead. He actually manages to defeat Smith, but defeating an Agent is meaningless as Smith simply body-hops to another person, so Neo ends up running away anyway.
Tracking Chip: Neo is implanted with a tracking-bug, which is later removed by Trinity.
Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Agent training scenario ("Were you listening to me, Neo, or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?"). Even Neo is fooled into thinking it was the real thing. The scenario is designed to always end with the trainee's death, because a human cannot beat an Agent. The only recourse when faced with one is to attempt escape, and even that is iffy at best.
Use Your Head: Morpheus and Agent Smith do this to each other during their climactic subway fight.
Viewers Are Morons: Responsible for some plot changes from the original script, particularly the use of humans as batteries rather than as parts of a supercomputer.
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Neo puking just before he passes out after The Reveal in the first movie. This is a case of Written-In Infirmity: During that take, Keanu was suffering food poisoning he got from eating some bad chicken. It caught up with him during the take that ended up in the film's final cut.
Wall Slump: The scene where Neo dies: Agent Smith repeatedly shoots Neo after he backs up and hits the wall but before sinking to the ground.
Wire Fu: The first film properly introduced this to Western audiences at large and led to more Hollywood movies utilising it.