Audiences had never seen anything like The Matrix before when it first hit theaters in 1999, and while the Wachowskis had drawn their inspiration from all corners of culture and theology, they put a unique twist on some familiar tropes to deliver one of the most influential blockbusters ever made, loaded with jaw-dropping action and cutting edge visual effects.
Of course, by the time back-to-back sequels Reloaded and Revolutions arrived in 2003, we’d already witnessed a thousand pale imitators that had seen the groundbreaking elements of the first installment reduced to parody, with bullet time an almost ubiquitous presence in the action genre, while the overwhelming majority of characters sported the leather and sunglasses combination that had made Neo, Trinity and Morpheus look so effortlessly cool.
The decision to have all of the major players in The Matrix wear shades was largely believed to be little more than an aesthetic one, but a new fan theory now offers a solid explanation as to why they did so. You see, those that wear sunglasses are aware that they’re in a simulation of the real world, which differentiates them from those who remain oblivious.
When Morpheus and Neo first meet, the latter is still blind to the truth despite his eyes being uncovered, and it can’t be a coincidence that the red and blue pills are reflected in the lenses of Morpheus’ shades when John Anderson makes the decision that changes his life. Villains like Agent Smith and The Twins also wear sunglasses, with the theory speculating that this is done to deliberately dehumanize them.
Not only that, but The Architect , The Merovingian and The Oracle, three figures who have been around for a very long time, don’t feel the need for fashionable eyewear, which hints that they know much more about the purpose and history of The Matrix than everyone else, and the story makes it patently clear that they do.
As ScreenRant explains:
On a visual level, the sunglasses help to differentiate between those who are “awake” and those who are still part of the simulation. When Neo and Morpheus meet for the first time, the latter is wearing shades, but Keanu Reeves’ character is not. There’s an irony here, because while Neo’s eyes are exposed, he’s still very much blind to the truth, whereas Morpheus is obscuring his eyes, but sees through the deception.
This metaphor is clearest when Morpheus offers Neo the red and blue pills, and the two choices are reflected in the lenses of his glasses. Laurence Fishburne’s character is covering his eyes, the “windows to the soul,” but his sunglasses reflect the real truth. This plays on the central theme of The Matrix – that reality may not be what it seems, and feeds into one of the film’s most important lines: Morpheus telling Neo that his eyes hurts because he “never used them before.” Furthermore, Neo loses his sunglasses during the “there is no spoon” scene when he learns to see more fully.
The Wachowskis have always been known for their lofty ideas and hidden themes, and you certainly can’t rule it out that something as minor as a pair of sunglasses was deliberately designed to have a bearing on the world they’d created.