The meaning of the human city of Zion changes throughout the Matrix trilogy. In The Matrix, the city is discussed but not seen and works mostly as a metaphor for a promised land of sorts, and a goal that makes the fighting worthwhile. The Zion in the films recalls the biblical city of Zion. In the Old Testament, Zion is Jerusalem, the heavenly city God promised to the Israelites. The city sits on the top of a hill, commanding a distant view of the kingdom—both for meditative purposes and for safety. The people in Zion live in harmony and are unified in their faith. The word Zion suggests safety, since the city became a religious haven for the Israelites after years of wandering and enduring torture. In the Matrix trilogy, Zion is still a promised land as well as a safe haven, but the parallels end there. The Zion of the Matrix commands not a vast view of land, but is instead buried within the heart of the earth, and though it offers the illusion of safety, in The Matrix Revolutions the enemy infiltrates that safe haven and crashes violently through its borders.
The Zion in the Matrix trilogy contrasts with the illusory program of the Matrix. The Matrix represents a system of control that operates completely in the mind. As a complex, machine-driven program, it appropriates any personal, political, or ideological leanings and renders them wholly false. It allows illusions but no action. Zion, as a promised land, represents a real, tangible, human place fought for, worked for, and died for. Zion is a living sanctuary and a memorial to the efforts and faith of a chosen people. When Zion appears in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, its symbolic connotations intensify as its inhabitants fight for a true human community.
Everything in the Matrix is bathed in a green light, as if the camera were capped with a green-tinted lens. (The green in question is the color that characters on computer screens used to be before the advent of Windows and word-processing programs that used black-on-white color schemes to make the computer world look more like the “real” world of paper and ink.) This color suggests that, unlike in the real world, what we see in the Matrix is being shown, or filtered, through something else. When Neo finally develops the ability to see the Agents as code rather than as their fake human shapes, he sees them in the same menacing green color that saturates the rest of the Matrix. In all three of the movies, when something is evil, green light is involved—Club Hell, for example, is bathed in green light, and green flames surround Bane/Smith just before Neo kills him. We might expect, then, that Neo will see nothing but green when he approaches the supposedly evil Machine City. Instead, with his second sight, Neo sees golden spires of light reaching toward the sky—no hint of green. Whatever the machines are, they’re not only embodiments of evil indulgence and selfishness as are the Merovingian and Smith.
The Matrix trilogy itself is, of course, three films, and arrangements of threes and references to threes saturate the films. The number three has strong spiritual significance, which appears in the character of Trinity. The name Trinity suggests the holy trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which represents the divine nature of God. In the Matrix films, Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity form their own trinity, as do Agents Smith, Brown, and Jones. Three ships’ crews, another trinity, try to access the door of the Source: Soren’s, Niobe’s, and Morpheus’s. The reappearance of the number three perpetuates and emphasizes the idea of the trinity. The Matrix begins and ends in Room 303 at the Heart O’ the City Motel. Without the zero, the number becomes 33, which recalls the purported age of Christ at the time of his crucifixion and resurrection. Neo also has visions of three thick cables bound together in The Matrix Revolutions, and these power cables lead to his penetration of the heart of the city.