The Matrix is not a movie with an overdose of realism.

But parts of it take place in the normal "real" world. We see Neo at work in his software company in his cubicle before the Agents come to his workplace to arrest him. Neo is a programmer in his day job. So why does his cubicle not look like a programmer's? Whatever your view of what a programmer's workplace should look like, it should not be a sterile empty cubicle with no sign of any actual activity. There is no paperwork, no notes and no signs of any sort of activity on his desk. There are no reference books, manuals (and this is set before such resources as stackoverflow went online) or any other sign of activity. Moreover, his computer is turned off.

What explains this? Is it meant to mean something, or were the film makers just being lazy?

  • 3
    Nowadays, there are big tech companies that put people to work in rows, trying to create a good "work culture"...but instead, it feels even more like the Matrix.
    – user26024
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 22:22

5 Answers 5


I think it's safe to assume that Neo doesn't put too much effort into his day job, and probably does the minimum he can get away with. Notice the contrast between his cubicle and the computer desk in his apartment where he does his "real" work:

Neo's home desk

Neo's work desk

  • 8
    I like how his work computer appears not to be powered on.
    – user9311
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 0:53
  • 14
    @Snowman - Have a heart, he just got into work like 5 minutes ago
    – user7812
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 19:17
  • 3
    @Snowman: You know pointing a movie camera at a CRT often doesn't work right?
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 22:12
  • 1
    @Joshua correct, CRTs may flicker depending on how they are recorded as well as the refresh rate. However, that monitor is simply not showing anything in the movie, allowing for the possibility that a single frame may be dark.
    – user9311
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 0:27

As you can see on my SO profile stats, I'm not a terrible programmer.

  • I have zero dead tree books in my cubicle. They are all in electronic format for easier searching.

    On a related note, if you are a programmer and not familiar with O'Reilly Safari, I would strongly recommend you check it out.

  • My monitor (not computer) can be off for 50% of the 2-4 hours a day I spend outside meetings, since I design things and plan on paper (it isn't since I monitor SO feeds, but Matrix was before SO).

  • I don't have a single post it note - just a notebook and a Crackberry to organize.

  • I quit coffee long time ago, and try to keep the desk clear of old tea cups.

  • Pizza boxen go into a data center (of the Sun kind) or garbage (of the food kind), right after pizza is shared, which isn't often. I doubt I have pizza more than 2x/month.

Either I exist in the Matrix, or you're WAY overgeneralizing what a typical slob programmer workplace looks like

  • 4
    Don't forget the matrix is a recreation of the late 90's - so no electronic books. However I do agree that it is a generalization that programmers are slobs.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 0:50
  • 8
    @iandotkelly - huh? I have had electronic books in USSR back in early 1990s, never mind in USA in late 90s. Electronic books != iStuff
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 2:28
  • 3
    @AndrewLatham It isn't about having a professional looking desk: its about having a sterile desk where no work appears to take place. It's not tidy it's empty.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 15:39
  • 4
    @matt_black - I seriously frequently use NOTHING on my desk aside from a notepad. If I sit in a place with big enough desk drawers, nothing else will be on the surface
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 0:17
  • 5
    @DVK How can you quit coffee when you're a programmer? Shocking.
    – AlasdairCM
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 15:34

In addition to the possibility of a mere oversight on the filmmakers' side, it could also be intentionally. This way it emphasizes the sterile and unrealistic feeling Neo has about the world around him, which plays well with him wearing this average joe suit and the very contrast-less visual style of this scene (or many of the in-matrix-scenes).

Neo is a standard cubicle-drone walking through his 9-to-5-daylife without paying any attention or doing any (considerable) work. Something along those lines maybe.

  • 4
    Exactly. The cube is a cinematic representation of Mr. Anderson, dredging through work.
    – cde
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 22:48

Just because Neo works at a software company doesn't mean his cubicle has to look like that. Maybe he works at a software consulting firm. He is, after all, wearing a suit. As for the no books, maybe he learns it all at night? He's supposed to be a programming God, remember, so the lack of books just goes along with that.

  • 7
    God? He couldn't even crack an IRS D-Base!!! Pfeh.
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 23:04
  • 2
    @DVK Awesome programmer != Hacker. I seriously doubt whether Bjarne Stroustrup can hack into anything.
    – bobbyalex
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 2:39
  • He does work at a consulting firm. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 13:58

Where do you get the idea that a programmer's cubicle has to be cluttered? I've been a professional programmer for decades, and generally my cubicle is very nearly as sterile as Neo's. It's all a matter of taste.

  • 3
    Most programmers at least turn their computer on. Neo doesn't even do that.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 20:38
  • Every individual's reality ends at their nose. Neo could be in a temporary meditative state and analyzing streaks of thoughts created by neurons slamming against his synapses. "An unexamined life is not worth living" -Plato Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 15:17

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