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Machines As The Other: A Critical Reading Of The Matrix Trilogy Part III (of III)

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See The Code

Be The Code

Now that we have taken a closer look at the characters of the Merovingian and Persephone, as well as examining the nature of choice and free will as sources of conflict, it is time to round out this series of articles examining The Matrix trilogy with an exploration of the relationship between Neo and his primary antagonist, Agent Smith.

All of the information that Neo gathers before his final battle with Smith in The Matrix Revolutions, he uses to determine whether he will also try to remake a portion of the Matrix in his own image as an exile. The first steps he takes down that path are when he learns the language of the Matrix, a simple twist on the notion of learning a language in real life.

If Neo were actually going to China and he did not know how to speak Chinese, nothing would make sense until he learned how to communicate. In the Matrix, though, communication is possible without recognizing the code, which somewhat resembles Asian characters scrolling from top to bottom. However, once he is able to see the code, the Matrix opens itself up as a tool to be used and potentially dominated. Neo’s first action once he sees the code in the Matrix is to dominate Agent Smith, an action different from outright destruction. Instead of destroying Smith, Neo imprints his desire to conquer the Matrix onto Smith’s programming, creating a new example of the battle of the one and the multitude.

Smith acquires the ability to replicate and multiply his consciousness throughout any program, bluepill, or redpill. This is an example of trying to achieve unity through multitude. Before Neo imprints Smith, he is a security program charged with policing the Matrix, but afterwards, this purpose is coupled with Neo’s desire at the time to dominate the Matrix. Smith also speaks generally about purpose as the purest motivating force.

The fights between Neo and Smith after imprinting show an absolute equality in combat, despite Smith’s continued absorption of others. This is a metaphor for the power of the one, which exists simultaneously and in the same way as the power of the multitude, in equal standing as part of a cycle.

Neo’s desire to dominate the Matrix, however brief a goal, is a folly by which he literally loses sight of his own homeland. When Smith absorbs the redpill Bane, he is able to cross into the real world (or the West). There, he blinds Neo before Neo can kill Bane. Neo can still see Smith’s presence as gold code, and he can also see the presence of the machines. His lack of actual sight, however, means that while he has adopted portions of a new culture, he has lost a footing in the real world.

By the time Neo and Smith have their final brawl, Smith has completely hijacked the Matrix, remaking it into his own image as would be tempting to any “One.” But Smith is only half the equation, an imbalance if he does not also absorb Neo. Their fight, then, cannot end until Neo relents and allows himself to be absorbed by Smith. In this way, all become one, and the cycle can begin again as the code within Neo is disseminated. It is also in this way that Neo fulfills the promise of “Temet Nosce,” or “Know Thyself,” as written on the sign in the Oracle's apartment. Until he was forcefully connected to everyone else in the Matrix through Smith’s absorption, he did not know the meaning of his own individuality.

Agent Smith
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Definition of Six

Numerology and The Matrix

The importance of Neo’s absorption by Smith is magnified by his decision to have it done so late in the game, after Smith has already absorbed the Oracle. Because the Smith who fights Neo is the Oracle underneath, it is in this way that Neo is given the eyes of the Oracle, which the Merovingian says cannot be taken, only given. Hence, Neo symbolically replaces his own eyes with the ones of his adopted culture and is accepted as an integral part of the Matrix, as opposed to an integral anomaly. Whereas the Merovingian chose to be an exile, Neo's acceptance of Smith’s conquest returns him to the machine mainframe as source code.

Another important aspect of Neo allowing himself to be absorbed by Smith is that this can be assumed as both Neo’s destiny and his choice. Again, this sort of decision can only be determined by the audience through speculation, and what an individual chooses to think about Neo’s path is really a reflection of the reality that individual chooses to engage.

As the sixth integral anomaly of the Matrix, as well as Morpheus’ sixth potential candidate for the role of “the One,” Neo’s purpose is partially defined by the meanings of that number. Certainly much of the Wachowski siblings’ presented philosophy in the Matrix trilogy is informed by religion, and in Neo’s messianic characteristics this is most prevalent.

To start with, the number six is one associated in numerology with responsibility and choice. In the sphere of the gods and the tree of life, it is also associated primarily with Christ, the son, or the sun. And it was on the sixth day in Genesis that God created man. From these facts, the interpretations for the role of the matrix in relation to the real world are wide open. It could be that the Matrix developed Neo on the sixth try (day), and he is meant to save the machine world. This would connect well with the story of Jesus, who was God taken a human form; but it also works in reverse, with Neo as a human who takes the form of a machine to save mankind. As presented, the films allow for either the machine or human nations to be the protagonist. What this likely means is that the two nations should be considered equal. Since neither side clearly demonstrates a propensity for pure good or evil, and since no character possesses attributes that are not mirrored in someone from the other nation, the only conclusion that can be completely objective is the subjectivity of the situation.

Similarly, Eastern and Western influences cannot exist without each other, and they are as reliant on the cyclical nature of ideas and material goods between them as machines and humans are interdependent. The path of the individual in this climate can occur at any point along the cycle, as every point is happening simultaneously. Constant use of true perception, then, is the only reliable way to determine proper choice, because an objective environment can mean anything. At the same time, form cannot serve exclusively as content without being transformed by the individual into something meaningful. And the choice to deny meaning or allow another force to define meaning is still a choice that defines personal meaning, and thus, defines reality.



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