In The Matrix trilogy, it was common practice for outsiders to exit using a hardwired telephone, for which they also went to lots of trouble.

Why couldn't they simply use a Red Pill to interrupt the matrix signal and awake in the real world? Why was the red pill only suitable for the first time?

  • 24
    The red pill is only a trace program, so they can locate the person in the fields. That's it's sole function. It doesn't teleport them anywhere. They use the phone, because it passes their digtal render of themselves, back to their physical bodies. At least that's what i grasped from it.
    – Chris S
    Feb 4, 2013 at 12:58
  • 2
    @ChrisS Tracing was one of its functions. Otherwise, Neo also needed to use telephone 1st time.
    – user931
    Feb 4, 2013 at 13:09
  • 1
    And, telephone didn't teleport them anywhere. It was hacked merely to invoke exit object.
    – user931
    Feb 4, 2013 at 13:13
  • You choose the red pill or the blue pill. You can only use the pill once, you take it when you are plugged in, each person that escaped the matrix took the red pill, it seems that taking the red pill is part of the process of being unplugged
    – user19598
    Feb 4, 2013 at 22:34
  • 2
    @SachinShekhar I think's it's been fairly conclusively shown that a red pill and a phone line are required to exit the Matrix
    – user11295
    Feb 9, 2013 at 9:21

5 Answers 5


A telephone was still used when Neo was first taken from The Matrix. Here's a transcript of the scene (emphasis added):

Neo takes the red pill. Morpheus smiles.

Morpheus: Follow me.

They walk into the next room.

Morpheus: Apoc, are we online?

Apoc: Almost.

Camera pans, revealing the room to be filled with cobbled-together machines, and Morpheus' crew.

Morpheus: Time is always against us. Please, take a seat there.

Switch takes Neo's jacket. Neo sits down. Trinity attaches vitals monitors to Neo. Apoc works on a computer. Cypher looks into a pair of goggles. Morpheus picks up a rotary phone handset, and places it on a device. The phone base has a device attached to it for automated dialing. A faint dial tone can be heard.

Neo: You did all this?

Trinity: Mm-hm.

Morpheus presses a button on the device the phone handset is on. The phone starts being dialed. Dialing noises begin.

Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It's designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signals so we can pinpoint your location.

  • 1
    @SachinShekhar I plan on fleshing it out more later. Just wanted to get it out there for now. Also, want a chance to review the film when I get home for a sanity check.
    – Iszi
    Feb 4, 2013 at 17:34
  • 1
    I added a transcript for the specific part with the phone. There's another minute of dialogue and action after the transcript ends, as Neo interacts with the mirror, and the crew work to free Neo.
    – user1027
    Feb 5, 2013 at 5:57
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    The mirror effect wasn't a part of the pill, it was implied to be the Matrix program attempting to thwart the disconnect of Neo. That's why Morpheus says they need to hurry.
    – Monty129
    Feb 6, 2013 at 17:56
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    @Monty It wasn't part of pill program. It was its effect, or say, consequence.
    – user931
    Feb 7, 2013 at 16:03
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    The mirror effect was similar to the later scene with the "Deja Vu" of seeing two cats. Trinity states that is when the Matrix changes something in it's programming. The mirror attacking Neo was to show that the Matrix was attempting to stop him from being disconnected. It may have been triggered by him taking the pill, but it was the Matrix doing not the pill itself.
    – Monty129
    Feb 15, 2013 at 0:59

The Red Pill was likely just an "avatar" of what was malware that attacked the hardware of the pods that the connected people were in and prevented a virtual death from actually killing the target.

As such, it was highly-specialized for its sole task.

When one of the crew sneaks back into the Matrix, however, it's not the hardware on the Nebuchadnezzar that is the problem. It's the systems that it connects to, that can't be manipulated into "telling" the person that they've woken up from the Matrix. And they may have no malware that can attack those systems, or perhaps the person has to be processed by specific nodes for the "awakening" thing to happen (regardless of whether the humans had gotten root on the nodes currently being used).

There are many things that are apparently possible within the Matrix that even Neo never learns to do: for instance, with all the evidence of non-mundane spatial geometries, why was Neo never able to teleport? Certainly it would be as simple as rooting some computer node or another, and overwriting his location with different x,y,z coordinates. In the same way, they must have not had access to tell the relevant computer node to release its connection to the human, at which point they could safely be removed from the simulation.

  • Interfacing hardware of both sides were same. Both were able to connect a person's brain to Matrix mainframe.
    – user931
    Feb 4, 2013 at 10:03

Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It's designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location.

Putting aside all issues of supply, use, side effects and so on the red pill is simply too slow to provide a useful exit. It takes a minute or two of helplessness to take effect, which, when you're being chased by Agents is a minute or two of being D E A D.

Addendum: (Appending additional detail from @Iszi's answer) The red pill in it's own is insufficient to exit the Matrix, you must also have a 'phone line' as we see in the scene where Neo is extracted from the Matrix:

Morpheus picks up a rotary phone handset, and places it on a device. The phone base has a device attached to it for automated dialing. A faint dial tone can be heard.

  • But still, it wouldn't have been fully out of practice.
    – user931
    Feb 4, 2013 at 9:54
  • In the first movie, they had enough time after Neo saw black cat twice. Atleast, Morpheus would proposed to apply it on Neo while others protected him.
    – user931
    Feb 4, 2013 at 9:58
  • If you knew that a red pill would take a couple of minutes to take effect would you risk taking one when agents might be on the way? Bearing that in mind it seems unlikely that they would take a red pill with them on the off chance that they needed a way out, had plenty of time, but no phone line they could get to.
    – user11295
    Feb 4, 2013 at 10:47
  • There were certainly situations where hiding for a few minutes would've been as-or-more reasonable a plot device as finding a landline phone.
    – kojiro
    Feb 4, 2013 at 21:02
  • I think that hiding from an Agent is probably not possible. In the movies the Agents seem readily able to track someone once they are in pursuit.
    – user11295
    Feb 5, 2013 at 8:22

This was never addressed in any of the various works, so any theory that allows the behavior we see in the movie could be accurate. Off the top of my head, it could be any one of:

  • The red pills are hard to manufacture and thus they haven't had time to manufacture another since Neo took his.
  • Agents can detect when a red pill enters the Matrix so the window of use is small.
  • Red pills can only work once per person.
  • Repeated red pill use causes an inability to interface with the Matrix and would be counter productive.
  • Red pills take longer to take effect than the phones, and thus aren't as useful as exits.

You should remember that this is matrix. There is no actual phones or pills. Everything is just computer abstractions. When someone takes a pill one program (or just some piece of code) is starting. When someone takes up the phone - another program is executing. It doesn't matter what exactly you do: entering door, touching mirror or just eating chicken - it's all instructions (signals) for matrix. They just programed to looks like usual things for matrix-connected people.

Why couldn't they simply use Red Pill to interrupt the matrix signal and awake in the real world?

It might be some restriction for logging off the matrix. Wired phones may be another type of programs that provides safe retreat. You want to "return" your mind into your body, not to architect controlled environment, aren't you?

Anyway, I think wires is some kind of references (in programming meaning) that leads to resources needed for safe logging off.

  • Read the question again... My question is: Red pills work for the first time. Why couldn't it be used again?
    – user931
    Feb 7, 2013 at 13:25
  • 1
    As @Iszi wrote, pills are part of tracking program. What do you want to track when you're connected to matrix from the ship? Again, question is not what you are using (pills or phone), but what program you're starting. As I wrote, I think that wire provides some mechanism for safe logging off while pills cannot. Feb 7, 2013 at 15:42
  • Again, I'd like to say that tracing was one of its function. After mirror effect started, Neo was in no condition to pick up the telephone. How do you think he get up in real world, then?
    – user931
    Feb 7, 2013 at 16:08
  • 1
    He don't have to pick up any phone because the telephone is just abstraction (trigger) that starts some code to execute. All outsiders (not the freeborn) are hackers so they can write programs like as Architect can. They wrote all that programs like the telephone escape, blue and red pills, mirror effect, etc. While red pill might be tracing program, mirror can be another program/code that made Neo to woke up in real world. Or that made matrix to think that Neo was kind of defective organism to reject him and drain him into canalization (?) where the Nebuchadnezzar pick him up. Feb 7, 2013 at 22:03
  • 2
    By the way, that moment after Neo took red pill. Some one from the crew pick up the telephone and place it on some kind of mechanism. Maybe, outsiders used wired telephones to insert their code in the matrix. Feb 8, 2013 at 12:02

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