The Matrix: What Taking The Red & Blue Pills Do

Neo (Keanu Reaves) lives a life of monotony in The Matrix before choosing to take the red pill over the blue pill and experiencing firsthand what it does. The choice is conflicting for Neo, as he does not yet fully understand the effect of the pills or their true meaning. Before being presented with this choice, Neo lives alone. He labors through dull days as an employee of a software company, a role in which he clearly feels unfulfilled. His nights consist of the search for meaning, as Neo is on the precipice of self-awareness. Only when he meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) does Neo begin to free his mind and unlock the secrets of the Matrix.


In presenting Neo with the choice between red or blue pills, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) exhibits one of the film's central themes, duality. This duality is first portrayed through Neo's distinct identities, as he leads two different lives. During his initial confrontation with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the "normal" life of an employed tax-paying man in Thomas Anderson is contrasted with that of the alternate life of computer hacker Neo. This dichotomy is continually explored throughout the film, most notably through the pills.

Related: Why Agent Smith Always Calls Neo "Mr. Anderson" In The Matrix

What Taking The Red Pill Does In The Matrix

Lawrence Fishburne Morpheus the matrix Red pill

In actuality, the red pill functions as a chunk of code. The pill serves as a way to break the connection with the simulated world and as a method for Morpheus and Trinity to track down Neo in the real world. Symbolically, the red pill represents the journey of self-discovery that Neo must take to uncover the truth. Morpheus compares this journey to the adventures of Alice in Wonderland, as taking the red pill will plunge Neo down the rabbit hole and open his mind to the fact that he lives in a pseudo-reality.

What Taking The Blue Pill Does In The Matrix

Morpheus with the red and blue pill in each hand

Although less is revealed about the blue pill, Morpheus states, "You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe." This revelation implies that taking the blue pill essentially resets all traces of knowledge related to the Matrix. Based on Morpheus' claim, it can also be inferred that taking the blue pill is absolute. In The Matrix, the blue pill is important as it represents irrevocable resignation. By consuming the blue pill, Neo would surrender control of his life, accepting a perpetual state of imbalance and incompatible duality.

While the pills are paramount, the film's specific use of color as well as repeated visual imagery are also significant ways in which key themes are developed. Scenes occurring in the Matrix are tinted with green color grading, whereas scenes taking place in the real world are cast in a blue shade. Further, there are several instances of recurring visual motifs involving mirrors and reflections. When Neo is faced with the choice of taking the pill, two distinct reflections are depicted in Morpheus' glasses. Neo then studies his real-world mirror reflection while affected by the pill. Later, Morpheus takes Neo to visit the Oracle (Gloria Foster). Before entering the office, a shot of Neo and Morpheus is reflected on the doorknob. He meets a child in the office that presents him with a spoon, again mirroring Neo's image.

The Wachowskis utilize an array of creative filmmaking techniques to masterfully weave together themes of self-reflection, awareness, and fate. These motifs are prevalent, but the fundamental themes of The Matrix are choice and duality, represented by the pills. Neo makes a seemingly whimsical choice to leave his apartment. This leads him to a more consequential choice, red or blue. By taking the red pill, Neo chooses to leave his past life of duality behind. Thomas Anderson is gone. Instead, Neo has reached a point of singularity; he has become The One.