The Matrix was responsible for blowing everyone's minds back in the '90s with a combination of kung fu, special effects, and Keanu Reeves' middle school philosophy lessons. Despite the collective will of humanity to forget about its sequels, the Matrix trilogy still is a benchmark of the "Reality is just a dream!" subgenre.
And then Christopher Nolan made Inception and told that entire genre to suck his balls. Fans everywhere debated whether or not the main character, Cobb (or, as I call him, "Chad Inception"), was still trapped in a dream at the end, despite every clue saying that he is actually in the real world. Both movies constantly draw comparisons, but the connections are always fuzzy at best. However, a unified Inception/Matrix connection makes a lot more sense than you think. In fact, I'd go so far as saying that Inception is a prequel to The Matrix.
#7. The Events In Inception Contributed To The Machine Uprising
In the first Matrix movie, Morpheus (Laurence Goddamn Fishburne) explains to Neo (Keanu Fuckin' Reeves) that there was a war against the Machine overlords. They don't know who attacked first, but humanity definitely "scorched the sky" because it was an abundant source of energy for the Machines. Now, forget for an instant about the stupidity of using humans as a source of energy and think about the humans' contingency plan: Pollute the world to starve the Machines.
For the whole Machine army to operate on only solar energy, the Machines should have huge solar panels. In our world, we reached 22 percent efficiency with Elon Musk's SolarCity, and while that's impressive, it's probably not enough to sustain the Machine army.
"But Cracked, it's sci-fi! It can bend some science in the name of story!" Of course! And that's the point: Let's suppose the pre-war Machines have access to 90 to 100 percent efficient solar panels. Who invented them? Fischer Morrow.
Fischer Morrow is an energy company in the Inception universe that's about to gain a monopoly over the world's energy supply. The CEO of a rival company named Saito knows that if this happens Fischer Morrow will become a new superpower. Maurice Fischer is a dying old man, and his son, Robert, will gain control over the company. Cobb (Chad Inception) and his team go into Robert Fischer's dream to implant the idea to end the monopoly and just chill the hell out for a bit.
Saito promises Cobb a get-out-of-jail free card and Park Place if successful.
What does it have to do with The Matrix? Cobb successfully makes an inception on Robert, so young Robert gives up the company's monopoly in order to make something else: a name of his own. So Robert turns his company toward making cheap, efficient solar energy technology to improve the world, the same technology that would be the Machines' main source of energy. That's why humanity had to pollute the sky. If the inception wasn't made, the solar technology wouldn't be developed and Fischer Morrow wouldn't be providing the Machines with what was necessary in self-sustaining them. Thanks, Leo, you unintentional dick.
#6. The PASIV Device Is A Beta Version Of The Matrix Technology
One of the main differences between Inception and The Matrix is how the characters enter the dream. In The Matrix, humans have plugs that allow them to be in the virtual world. In Inception, they have the portable automated somnacin intravenous device, which is not as invasive as the Matrix technology. They don't have to inject a guitar amp cord into the base of their necks. At first sight, they have nothing in common. But ...
The first thing we must clarify is that the Machines didn't invent the Matrix technology. We know this because in the Animatrix short "Matriculated," set during the Machine War, a group of rebels already have plugs to jack into the virtual world. In "The Second Renaissance," after all of humanity's armies are defeated, the Machines start to install machinery inside human survivors through forced surgery to begin the Matrix.
But the technology is far older. Arthur, from Inception, explains, "The military developed dream sharing -- a training program where soldiers could strangle, stab, and shoot each other, then wake up." So its original purpose was training, pretty much like this:
"Yo, is your chair sticky?"
"The kid ran the Woman In Red program before us."
War brings technological advancement, so to make the PASIV device more efficient, it is upgraded to be installed inside people. It makes the dreams more stable and allows remote access to dreams instead of giving someone a roofie.
On the downside, if you die in the dream world, you die in real life. This is actually beneficial to the Machines, because when the agents shoot a rebel, they'll die for good. It's somewhat the Matrix version of a planned obsolescence.
Despite being more advanced, the Matrix technology still shares the premise of Inception's Mark I, because someone had to construct the Matrix world for dreamers to live in. That's explicitly said when Inception's Ariadne asks how architects got involved, and Cobb answers that someone had to design the dreams. That's because ...
#5. Cobb Constructed The Matrix
When trying to get Zion's code from Morpheus' mind, Agent Smith explains the first Matrix was a perfect heaven, but nobody accepted it:
"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization."
This backstory is confirmed in Reloaded. Along with copious, rambling philosophical bullshit, The Architect says, "The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect. It was a work of art. Flawless. Sublime. A triumph only equaled by its monumental failure." Cobb designed this heaven, and he is literally The Architect.
After the events in Inception, Cobb is living happily ever after with his kids until the war starts. Humanity eventually gets their asses handed to them by the Machines. Cobb and his kids are among the humans about to be processed in the first Matrix crop. Since he is the best extractor and an expert in dream technology, he aligns himself with the Machines in order to build it. At least he can construct a perfect dream for his children to live in. When the first Matrix falls apart, we can just assume his kids, Phillipa and James, die.
Though with a name like Phillipa, middle school would have killed her eventually.
Time passes and Cobb's physical body is no more. Having lost everything, he is just a projection. A dream ghost (oh, holy shit, I just named my next band!). The Architect becomes the fulfilled prophecy that Saito said he would become: "An old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone."
Even being responsible for the Matrix layouts, Cobb/Architect is not the one dreaming. Not even Neo, or Trinity, or any other asshole is. They are all sharing the dream of ...
#4. An Unnamed Robot Idealized The Matrix
Don't punch me, but let's talk about another Animatrix short, because it's pretty important to this theory. For those who haven't seen them, here's a spoiler of a 13-year-old animation. In the aforementioned segment "Matriculated," a group of rebels lure in Machines with the intent of convincing them to fight on the human side. The protagonist, Alexa, puts a Machine into a dream world where they teach them about what humanity is, in the form of virtual sex and psychedelic CGI. The way it really should be taught to all middle school kids in health class.
Except for you, Phillipa.
One of the human characters remarks that they can't just reprogram the Machines, as it would be unethical (although much, much easier). They should convince them to stand by humans. What they do to captured Machines is basically implant an idea in their mechanical minds. They perform an inception.
Things go bad when the Machines invade the rebel base, killing everyone, except for the inception-ized robot that witnessed the destruction that war has brought. Now, you may wonder what the importance of this unnamed character is. Simply put, it idealizes the Matrix.
"Robo-boobs ... they let me dream-touch robo-boobs ..."
The Machines are engaged in a war they can't lose, and they have other energy options. We already told you why the Machines are actually the good guys. Humanity nukes them, starts a war, and destroys the planet. They owe us nothing, even though they keep humans in a safe world. It isn't perfect, but humans are jerks and want to live in a miserable shithole. Why?
All this because the robot that learns about human feelings faces a dilemma: how to stop the war and protect humanity but at the same protect its robo-bros. Robros? In its robot logic, the best solution is to put humans to sleep in a world where they can't do any significant harm to themselves and the Machines. You guys root for Neo and Morpheus? This little fellow is maybe the greatest hero of the whole Matrix trilogy.