I'm somewhat confused about the nature of Time in the Matrix, but I have 3 different possibilities, all of which are neither confirmed nor denied in the trilogy as far as I can see.

  1. Possibility 1: Time is fixed. By saying time is fixed, I don't mean it's constantly one specific point in time, but it is always the 90s (as I know the Architect stated that the 90s were the optimum time). The way I envisage this possibility, it goes from Jan 1 1990 to Dec 30 1999, then the next day is Jan 1 1990 again (an infinite loop). The people of the Matrix, however, are oblivious of this. In this possibility, humanity is in stagnation - no development of new ideas beyond those attained by 30 Dec 1999. (This would be denied if we see that the date in number 3 exceeds 1999, as the film itself was made post 1999).
  2. Possibility 2: Time repeats itself. Similar to Possibility 2, but instead of limiting it to the 90s, the Matrix runs from some point near the beginning of humanity (perhaps the year 0? Your guess is as good as mine here) and runs until the war between the machines and humans erupts, then goes back to the beginning again. Supported perhaps by Smith's statement in the first movie about Decartes being an evil genius or something.
  3. Possibility 3: Alternate timeline. Similar to the above possibility in that time for those in the Matrix begins from some point (an unknown point in time), but continues without the war between humanity and the machines erupting - a completely alternate timeline.

I'm not claiming to be an expert on The Matrix, but I'm looking for evidence within the movies to explain how time works for those in the Matrix itself - something that I've overlooked. (Note however: if this proves to be impossible i.e. there is no evidence to support one of these possibilities (or another one for that matter), I am willing to accept materials external to the trilogy).

  • 4
    For the record, the Wachowski brothers stated that the movies, the animatrix, the two games and the comic series were all fully canon. Restricting yourself to the three movies is pretty artificial...
    – Valorum
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 10:21
  • @Richard thank you for that: I was unaware. Commented May 5, 2014 at 22:34

1 Answer 1


In the film, we learn that the date is sometime after July 1998 but before December 1999. That date appears on Neo's Security file and Morpheus specifically references "the world as it was at the end of the Twentieth Century" in his 'desert of the real' speech.

I think we can be reasonably certain that your hypothesis 1 is the closest;

  • Time in The Matrix advances normally until it reaches late 1999.
  • The inhabitants are then memory-wiped and reset to an earlier date, say January 1st 1990.
  • Repeat ad infinitum

This loop has presumably happened at least 40 times since creation of The Matrix, factoring in the time between the end of the Machine War, the creation of the Paradise Matrix and the Nightmare Matrix and the present day.

Security Record

  • Based on the Matrix Wiki article you linked, I'm not sure we can say the memory wipe happens consistently around "late 1999". Each instance of the Matrix plays out until the population of Zion reaches such a threshold that it becomes a threat to the machines. It's highly doubtful, since this is highly dependent upon the "less than 1% rejection rate" among other factors, that this happens on such a consistent timeline.
    – Iszi
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 1:30
  • 2
    The duration of each instance of the Matrix is probably predictable to a certain degree by programs such as The Architect, but it much more likely varies by at least several years - if not a couple decades - in either direction from its mean.
    – Iszi
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 1:32
  • @Iszi - With memory wiping technology available, I see no reason why they couldn't simply have people running in a fixed loop.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 6:12
  • @Iszi - The Webcomic "Goliath" also suggests that the loop can go back as far as the 1950's but that may simply be an artifact of the way in which false memories are implanted.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 6:14
  • RE: Memory wiping - they could keep people in a fixed-length loop, but that would end up requiring more than one mass memory wipe per Matrix reboot when a generation ran longer than the time given for the loop. It's a fair bet the machines would try to avoid such inefficiency.
    – Iszi
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 12:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.