Why The Matrix is Just a Chess Game Between Computers (and Why Neo is Not The One)
Everybody who watches The Matrix to the end is angry and confused about Neo losing and Agent Smith exploding. It feels like a cheap ending to an otherwise awesome trilogy.
Let’s go over the reasons why those things happen.
Not for the reasons that you think, either.
When people think of The One, they think of Neo.
One is an anagram for Neo, after all.
We think of the man being reborn after death. We think of the man who believes to be greater than himself.
Who falls in love with Trinity.
Who follows the theology of Morpheus.
But Neo is not The One.
Alright, let’s go over what the hell this trilogy was about.
- Humans created Aritificial Intelligence.
- Artificial Intelligence grew far too smart.
- Humans struggled to control it.
- Nobody knows who first attacked who, but a war started.
- AI was winning, so humans ‘darkened the sky’.
- AI began to use humans as energy (this part is weird).
- AI puts humans into a balanced video game dream-scape called the matrix.
- The last of the humans that have been freed from the matrix ride around town in spaceship float-like objects and live in a place called Zion
- This movie has a lot of bad puns and story development.
Alright, so we find Neo to be Thomas Anderson, a computer hacker who begins questioning his reality. He is receiving messages on his computer that look weird. He thinks there is something more. Morpheus begins to tell him that there is something more and that he lives in something called the matrix.
He presents two choices for Anderson to take, which, of course, correspond to two pills. Remember what I said about story development and puns?
Morpheus believes that Neo is The One. What the hell does this mean?
It means that he believes Neo will help him to stop the war against the machines, the artificial intelligence that is after the last of human civilization. He thinks that Neo can end the war and bring about peace.
Trinity, another crewmember on Morpheus’ ship, is also in love with Neo.
Now, wait. Let’s take a step back. A lot of story is being developed, and it’s going fast.
Here is a question: What do we know about The One?
- The One is also called the Prime Program.
- The One is an intentional design to the original matrix.
- The matrix is about checks and balances. The One is the result of the remainder of those imbalances. As long as The One exists, there is a natural imbalance in the matrix.
- The One was born inside the matrix, inside the first iteration of the matrix, and he can change anything he wanted in it. Thomas Anderson was born into the sixth iteration.
“Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the Matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. — The Architect
As we understand, The One can change things in the matrix as he sees fit. Neo can do this. Not in the beginning, but his belief allows him to come back from the dead, fly, beat up many agents, stop bullets, etc.
But we also know that the matrix is not perfect. We know it is filled with imbalances. We know those imbalances are summed into what becomes The One.
So, why is Neo not The One?
- Neo was not born inside the matrix. He doesn’t know anything about the first version. He knows the sixth version. He was born inside those weird harvesting pods that the machines hold.
- The Oracle literally tells Neo that he is not the one, albeit that is part of a much larger story arch and game she is playing.
- We know that the matrix is not perfect. We know that irregularities in the code exist. We know that the machines have not perfected this world. Neo plays that element in the story well.
This raises the question: Who is The One?
- He was born inside the first version of the matrix: When he captures Morpheus, he talks about how the first version of the matrix was supposed to be perfect but failed miserably. He speaks about it as if he was there.
- Morpheus says that the programs the machines built have “strength and speed based in a world that is built on rules.” But Agent Smith has unlimited power by the end. And, if this was the case, Agent Smith wouldn’t be talking about smells, filth, and honesty. He wouldn’t be able to take his earpiece out if that were the case. And, yet, he does.
- I must get out of here. I must get free and in this mind is the key, my key. Once Zion is destroyed there is no need for me to be here, don’t you understand? — Agent Smith
- He is oddly human. He talks about smell, tastes, and honesty. He speaks to Morpheus about his willingness to get out of this place. He is talking about how much all these reloads into the matrix have messed him up. At one point, he takes his earpiece out. For a program, he doesn’t exhibit the qualities of working within parameters. He is changing things from the beginning.
- Neo kills him in the first movie. Yet, he comes back, reformed, in the second one. He can also duplicate.
- “You destroyed me, Mr. Anderson. After that, I understood the rules, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.” — Agent Smith
- He calls The Oracle his mom.
- ORACLE: You are a bastard.
- SMITH: You would know, Mom.
- Agent Smith changes the matrix. By the end of the trilogy, Agent Smith has rendered the matrix unrecognizable. He’s changed everything.
- Smith: You like what I’ve done with the place?
The story of The Matrix is closely related to chess.
The entire point is in checkmating the machines into a position that they cannot solve themselves. The machines need the matrix. They need to harvest humans for energy. They know that if Agent Smith corrupts the fabric of the matrix, they cannot live. He is threatening their livelihood.
When Neo arrives at the machine city, he presents them a deal: Agent Smith’s termination for peace. When the machine asks him if he fails, Neo knows that his death means Agent Smith’s death. Neo knows that Agent Smith’s computer ego will force him to absorb Neo, as he did everybody else.
And, that is checkmate.
Because we know that when the Prime Program enters the source, which is in the machine city, the matrix will reload. But, if Neo was The One, or the Prime Program, he could have done this without Agent Smith. He didn’t need the part where he fights and loses and gets infected. But, he did. When that infection happened, the code was finally uploaded, and you see Neo’s body violently convulsing.
Remember when that huge fight in Matrix Reloaded happened between all the agents and Neo? Smith said that he knew what he had to do after Neo destroyed him in the first movie. He says, “I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t, I couldn’t.” He is talking about returning to The Architect, the source, to reboot the matrix. Had he done this at the end of the first movie, the other two wouldn’t have existed anyway.
The trade goes from fighting the machines for peace to forcibly uploading The One for permanent peace.
Neo doesn’t beat Smith. Nobody beats Smith. Smith beats Smith. The entire story arch for three movies is in the hands of The Oracle, who is playing a game with virtually everyone involved. Agent Smith had absorbed her by the third movie, which gave him the vision of what was to come. Even with the infamous words “Wait. I’ve seen this. I stand here, right here, and I’m supposed to say something. I say, “Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.”
Agent Smith realizes how he loses, but, given his ego and unleashed hunger for power and destruction, he doesn’t see through his own deception.
The Oracle fools everyone long enough that her plan actually works.
Her objective is peace.
She was willing to go to any length to get it.
Hence, why The Architect says this at the end:
You played a very dangerous game.
This only makes the viewer wonder more: Did The Architect and The Oracle conceive of the entire plan from the beginning? Is this final scene The Architect acknowledging The Oracle’s plan the whole time?