In Matrix: Reloaded, the wall of screens inside the Architect's room shows various versions of Neo screaming and cussing as the Architect reveals that the prophesy is a lie and that there have been in fact five versions of Neo before him.

All the faces on screen look identical. How can this be if a person's residual self image inside the Matrix is a close approximation of that person's real physical appearance? Were all the "One"s clones, or are there people whose RSI is different from their real appearance or did the screens show something other than the previous versions of Neo?


Reopening the question after watching the scene again. As Neo says "There were five ones before me?", those on the screens are heard saying "Four?", "Two?" etc. It seems they're the predecessors.

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    What I always wondered was "If there were only 5 before him, how come there's a whole wall full of images of different Neo's?" My suspicion is that it is just a brain fart from the producers of the show. They needed something "trippy" that alluded to Neo not being unique, or even himself, just another cog in the wheel. So they went with this.
    – TLP
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 11:33
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    If you look closely, Keanu Reeves has slightly different facial expressions in each incarnation. This was achieved through CGI, of course. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 16:00
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    @MarkBeadles - I think that Keanu Reeves is capable of lightly different facial expressions without CGI... I hope... Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 22:11
  • Am I missing something? When was it ever defined that the wall's images represented prior/later incarnations of The One? My take on the scene is the same as @SystemDown's answer.
    – Iszi
    Commented Sep 25, 2012 at 19:34

10 Answers 10


The machines have no incentive to purposefully create new Ones. If they already knew the genetic material of Neo (resp. the 1st One) would create an anomaly (a One), again and again, they would certainly stop cloning that particular person. Also this is utterly incompatible with what the Oracle says. The anomalies are incarnations of humans rejecting the system, thus they occur naturally (or lets rather say automatically). So your cloning theory is out of the picture.

It has never ever been even hinted that the RSI of humans would be largely different from their physical appearance in the "real world". Since the Ones are not clones (and by induction their parents, grand parents and so on), their physical appearance is certainly different from Neo's. Thus their RSI must necessarily also differ from Neo's.

What we can see on the screens looks exactly like Neo (duh). However, the Architect never explicitly states: "These are recordings of your predecessors". He indicates however, that what is shown on the monitors are the reactions of Neo's predecessors.

What works Out-of-Universe, seems to be a likely explanation In-Universe; Mapping the reactions of the previous anomalies to the appearance of the current one makes it easier for the audience to understand what the Architect is trying to tell telling Neo. He is nothing special, just another iteration (we later learn that this is only partially true, but I digress). The similarity of Neo's reaction to the older Ones' becomes more apparent if you see the same face, expressing this reaction.

If we now return to the Matrix Universe, we see that the statement the Architect is making, is about the reaction of the anomalies, not the sizes of their noses. This is the same statement the director wants to make, and the reason why Neo's own face (well, Keanu's) is so much better suited than the faces of the older Ones.

You can even go further and speculate that these aren't actually recordings of the reactions of the older Ones, but a prediction of Neo's reaction, based on his predecessors. This would mean, the Machines were able to anticipate the most probable reactions Neo could have -- maybe even with help of the Oracle who got to know Neo quite well.

However, it should be noted again that the last paragraph is pure speculation and most likely impossible to either prove or debunk.

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    From TLP's comment on the question: "If there were only 5 before him, how come there's a whole wall full of images of different Neo's?" - so it's definitely not just reaction recordings, there's some sort of prediction going on. Reaction recordings may be mixed in there, though, hence the background "Four?" and "Two?" that the question's edit mentions.
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 23:05
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    The machines want an anomaly to occur. This is an essential part of the process.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 0:20
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    @bitmask - I disagree. If there's no anomaly, the systemic problem will grow out of control.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 9:52
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    The previous matrixes failed because too many rejected it. The current matrix didn't fail, because a small percentage reject it. But eventually it adds up. The One is a mechanism to make sure it fails in a controlled manner, allowing it to be reset when needed. Controlled Failure, its a technique of damage management.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 5:51
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    The entire Matrix is a virtual fabrication. It's not much of a stretch for the Architect to reskin the recordings with Neo's RSI. Having the recordings appear to be Neo would certainly help deliver his "you are not special" message.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 15:33

The way I've always interpreted that scene was that the monitors were showing all the possible reactions the current Neo would exhibit when faced with the architects revelations.

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    @HNL - True, that's the problem I've had as well. Then again, the Architect didn't know which one of the responses Neo was going to exhibit, which is something I guess the Oracle would be better suited for. So the Architect simply factored in all possible responses into his calculations. When Neo reaches a conclusion faster than the Architect anticipated, he acts quite surprised, "Interesting. That was quicker than the others." Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 1:58
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    The interaction is being strategized the same way a computer program strategizes a chess game. It forecasts every possible opponent move, plans the best response, forecasts the response to that response, etc. The Neos in the monitors are the Architect running forecast simulations.
    – Dan Ray
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 15:28
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    @SystemDown Houston, I have a problem. Checked that scene. As Neo says "There were five ones before me?", those on the screens are heard saying "Four?", "Two?" etc. It seems they're the predecessors.
    – HNL
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 13:49
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    @HNL of course that too could be the Architect strategizing. Drive the point home that he expects Neo to take the same path as all the others before him. The Architect used Neo's face for the representations of the previous Ones because the random faces of people that died long before he was born probably wouldn't have much impact on Neo.
    – Xantec
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 14:33
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    This answer, too. When Neo says "Bullshit," and all the screens behind him say it, too, The Architect's response to that gives the whole bit away. Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 3:31

First, a couple of quotes from the end of The Matrix Reloaded. The Architect says:

Though the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human.


Your five predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication, a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of the One.

As the Architect says, the One is a necessary part of the system of control of the Matrix. Each iteration of the war has the One show up, which sets into motion the "end of the war", which is in fact just destroying all the free humans. Then the cycle begins again, eventually the One shows up, ends the cycle, and it starts again. The behavior and arrival of The One isn't something that the machines can leave to chance.

Morpheus gives a speech which speaks to his own existence. Throughout the first two movies, he often speaks of destiny, especially his and Neo's. The mission to disable the systems protecting the door to The Source is what he was meant to do, which he speaks to as being providence that they had 3 ships and 3 objectives. After everything he's done - being freed, fighting the machines, learning he will find The One - the thing that actually matters is helping The One get to The Source. So I think this means his role in the war is really to find and guide The One.

The Architect says the difference in this Neo is that he was programmed to feel love for Trinity. This is a more personal expression of the programming that all Ones are given, which is a profound sense of connection to the rest of humanity. This normally ensures that the One chooses to reset the cycle instead of choosing to let humanity die. As part of this experiment, just as with Morpheus, the machines couldn't leave the role of Neo's love to chance. So I think Trinity is also part of the design of this iteration of the war. She was provided with the guidance from The Oracle that she would fall for the One, and so she ends up falling for the One.

The Architect also reveals The Oracle to not be a psychic guide to the free humans, but rather a program that helped design the Matrix. Given Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity's crucial involvement in the war (in previous iterations, it would normally just be Neo and Morpheus), I think they were all created by the machines. This presumably means genetically engineered, mentally prepared, and perhaps given neural implants that grant the machines access to their mental and physical states. The implants that I'm proposing would allow Neo to have the dreams of Trinity's death in The Matrix Reloaded fed to him by the machines once they had predicted the specifics of the mission to disable the building, along with providing a connection for him to stop the Sentinels at the end of the film. The Oracle is also able to effectively read their minds to provide them with the exactly correct influence at the exactly correct time to guide them on their paths.

In short, the Neos all look identical because they were built that way by the machines. The physical appearance of them is only a minor part of their performance (setting aside the allegorical significance of him being a white male), so the machines built them physically identical. In each cycle, adjustments are presumably made to the mental preparation of The One and/or the circumstances of his contribution to the war, which lead to the different reactions each of the Neos had on The Architect's screens.

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    Vote this answer up. +1 for: "Your five predecessors were, by design..."
    – HNL
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 2:52
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    I don't see how his being a white male is relevant to any of this. That little tag strikes me as both racist and sexist. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:08
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit The film is an allegory.
    – user1027
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 14:24
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    @Keen: For what? Slavery? Are you seriously telling me that the casting of Keanu Reaves is a commentary on the plight of historical black slaves? Do me a favour. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 17:41

Those monitors are exhibiting different sides of NEO'S thoughts - as in KEANU REEVES NEO, THOMAS ANDERSON NEO. THey are all how Neo COULD react in that situation. How is responding to the architects revelations of the matrix and the TRUE PURPOSE of the one, ANGER DENIAL, FRUSTRATION, etc etc.

If you watch, when he says 'either no one told me or no one knows' the camera ENTERS that particular scene meaning they chose to FOLLOW THAT PARTICULAR NEO REACTION. THEY all will lead to the EXACT same choice though. because as you can see. When trinity comes up EVERY SINGLE NEO REACTION in the room is the same. He chooses to go save trinity instead of being the 'saviour of zion'. So no matter what reaction Neo has to the architects revelations and whichever one the film followed, ultimately it doesn't matter because Neo will make the same decision by the end of it.


  • This is the answer. When Neo says "Bullshit," and all the screens behind him say it, too, The Architect's response to that gives the whole bit away. Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 3:29

As others have said, I believe the reactions on the monitors are meant to represent the Architect's predictions about Neo's response (or the predictions of some algorithm designed by the Architect, if there's a difference), not the "Ones" from previous cycles. This would fit with the Architect's habit of trying to anticipate what Neo will do next (lines like 'while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant' and 'But we already know what you're going to do, don't we? Already I can see the chain reaction, the chemical precursors that signal the onset of emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic, and reason'). It would also fit with the scene where Neo yells "bullshit!" and all the images on the screen do too, and the Architect comments "Denial is the most predictable of all human responses." Finally, it would fit with the scene towards the beginning of their meeting where the Architect was talking about the systemic "anomaly", and all the images on the screen give angry rebellious responses like "You can't control me!" and "You can't make me do anything!", and after observing these images the real Neo comments "Choice. The problem is choice."

I think the aspect that often misleads people is that after the Architect says "I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next, in which case this is the sixth version", we hear various Neos on the screen say lower numbers, which makes people conclude that these are old recordings of other Ones reacting to the Architect saying "this is the __ version" where __ was some lower number. But I think what's actually happening here is that one possible reaction Neo might make would be to mockingly count up from one to five. Go to just after 2:10 in the youtube video of the scene below, or 1:51:50 on the US blu ray, and listen carefully to the numbers being spoken:

For one thing, they are in order, and in spoken in the same flat rhythmic way, like someone counting aloud: "one, two, three, four, five" (there may be a 'six' after that, it's hard to tell). Also, although there is a cut as you hear "one", for the numbers two through five you can see that at the moment it's spoken, one of the Neos on the screens is holding up the same number of fingers, and then the image on the screen where he was holding up those fingers resets, so that would fit with the idea that it's just a single scenario of Neo counting up, but chopped up and displayed on different screens.

There's also the fact that in some shots of the screens, there seem to be more than six different reactions shown--for example, try pausing at 2:36 in the youtube video, or 1:52:14 on the blu ray, showing Neo in a bunch of distinct aggressive poses. I suppose you could imagine that some of these are just chopped-up versions of a series of aggressive gestures by a single previous One, but if you accept that a single reaction can be chopped up and displayed on different monitors, then the fact that he previously spoke different numbers could just be a single counting sequence as I suggested above.

As a final bit of evidence, there is the scene where the Architect offers Neo a choice between two doors, with the door on Neo's right (the viewer's left) allowing him to return to the "source" and reboot the Matrix as previous Ones had done, and the door on Neo's left (the viewer's right) allowing him to enter the Matrix to save Trinity, which the Architect had said would "result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix, which coupled with the extermination of Zion will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race." Neo, of course, chooses the door on his left, so the viewer sees him turning to the right...and all the images on the screen turn the same way! What's more, if you watch carefully from about 1:57:18-1:57:19 on the blu ray, they lift their head to begin turning slightly before the real Neo does, but then they begin turning their head to the left (the viewer's right) slightly after the real Neo does, so it can't just be that the Architect has altered the function of the screens to show a live playback of what the real Neo is doing. The fact that they all turn in the same direction as the real Neo isn't consistent with them being previous Ones, but it is consistent with them being predictions about his behavior, since the Architect already seemed to have been resigned to the fact that he was going to make this choice with the comment "Already I can see the chain reaction, the chemical precursors that signal the onset of emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic, and reason."

Update: I picked up a set of the official Matrix movie screenplays for help with Matrix-related questions, and I think the Reloaded script makes it pretty clear that the images on the screen were not intended to be "Ones" from previous cycles. For one thing, the non-dialogue, scene-setting parts of the script refer to the images on the screen as "Neos", and their lines are always headed "NEO". But more definitively, after the Architect's line that "this is the sixth version", the script reads:

The Neos respond in a barrage.

            NEO                                             NEO
There were five Ones before me!          That's impossible. It doesn't make sense.

            NEO                                             NEO  
You're lying. This is bullshit.                          I'm afraid.

            NEO                                             NEO 
      If that's true...                              How could that be?

               There are only two possible explanations...

We move towards a specific Neo, centered among the others, closing on a single line of thought.

               ...either no one told me, or no one knows.

I've tried to reproduce the script's formatting above--all the "Neo" lines except the "There are only two possible explanations..." and "...either no one told me, or no one knows" are printed off-center in the screeplay, as are all other examples of lines from Neos on the screens that are different from the lines of the real Neo (whereas the lines of the real Neo are centered on the page, along with those of other characters like the Architect). So this makes it clear that "There were five Ones before me!" was one of the lines scripted for a screen-image-Neo (and the counting of other numbers was apparently unscripted), which fits with the idea that the images on the screen were meant to be predictions about Neo's reactions to the Architect's lines, but it doesn't fit with the theory that they were meant to be Ones from previous cycles, since for the previous Ones there would have been less than five before them.

  • The screenplay is a solid evidence, thank you for finding this. The counting must have been a last minute change, with the (correct) idea that it would make more impact by directly showing ("Show, don't Tell") that Neo was nothing special but an anomaly among others, but they probably did not anticipate the ambiguity.
    – gaborous
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 21:43

This question reminds me of an interesting answer (the accepted answer and even the second one) from this question: In “The Matrix - Revolutions”, how does Neo stop the machine weapons in the real world?.

Taken that theory in consideration, it could be that all 5 Neo are the residual self image of his past versions. And so even in the hypothetically real world - which would be then just another layer of the Matrix.

  • Yeah I've always felt they punted when there was a good chance for a TD. Having multiple layers of Matrix would have made the most sense. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 15:26
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    Having multiple layers of Matrix would be the freshman moviemaker's way out. And it was the big reveal in "Gur Guvegrragu Sybbe" (rot13ed because comments don't have spoiler hiding), which came out right around the same time as the first Matrix movie.
    – Plutor
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 12:40

I believe all the Neo's on the screen aren't the ones before but all the possible responses he could have. The architect has to "balance the equation" so knowing all the responses Neo would say helps him equal everything out. That's why when Neo has to pick a door all the Neo's on the screen head for the same door also( saving Trinity) if it where the other "ones" and I remind you there where only five not including Neo why so many screens? There would only be a need for five. Also all the other "ones" made the choice to restart civilization by picking 23(not sure if that's the correct number) people to live, Neo made the opposite choice so the screens would move in the opposite direction


The conclusion is that "the real world" is really just the Matrix. The Architect mentions that the first version of the Matrix was too perfect. They found out that people needed a choice "even if only on an unconcious level" the Architect says. He said we've destroyed Zion 5 times and they've become very good at it. Because the "real world" or the Matrix is the choice. Thus Neo is just another computer program. If you remember at the end of the films, the little girl creates a rainbow. She's basically God in the Matrix. That's why she was so important. That's also why Neo could stop the sentinels in "the real world". Because they are still in the Matrix. That's the big show from the machines. People that don't need anything in their lives just live out a normal life. The other people that would have subconsciously rejected the Matrix and died in their pod, are given the other scenario. That they can escape the Matrix and live in "the real world". We basically find that out in the end scene with the little girl and the Oracle.

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    Please stop with that matrix in a matrix fan fiction, there is nothing in the canon that suggest that, else this would make for a very dull and lame work (ie, everything that happened was for nothing, totally meaningless and futile). matrixresolutions.com/… In addition, your answer is totally unrelated to the OP's question.
    – gaborous
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 9:16

I think the screens are about CHOICES: all possible reactions he can CHOOSE after every Architect's action. That's why he looks to all of them and realize that "the problem is choice!"


The Matrix is a visualization. We never see the real body of Neo since he never leaves the real Matrix. Anything in the movies (the earth surface, the body farms, Zion, the events "inside" the Matrix) - all that happens in the "real" Matrix.

Since Neo never leaves the "real" matrix, we never see his real body. Why invent a new icon/symbol when you already have one?

  • why even deal with the realm of Zion when you are inside the (green) Matrix.
    – n611x007
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 6:57
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    The Matrix within a Matrix (MWAM) theory is just that, a fan-theory. There's no basis in any interview or canon source to suggest that Zion isn't 100% real.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 0:21

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