The Matrix is one of the most heavily referenced science fiction movies in popular culture, because it’s an awesome movie, with profound philosophical implications. Personally, the more I watch it, the more I notice deeper layers of meaning in the story. There are a lot of Youtube channels dedicated to overanalyzing the philosophy in films, like The Film Theorists, who have a fascinating video called Neo ISN’T The One in The Matrix Trilogy. This explores the idea that Agent Smith, the antagonist, is really more important for the ultimate goal of the narrative than Neo, the protagonist.
When I first watched The Matrix when I was about 13, and many times after that, I accepted the black and white nature of the struggle between good and evil. I viewed Smith and the machines as entirely bad, and Neo, Morpheus, and the human rebels as unquestionably righteous.
But learning about philosophy and watching the film many more times allowed me to see more moral ambiguity. Morpheus, for example, is ready to die to protect his ideology, and uses xenophobic language about the machines who created the matrix. He never considered that he actually plays less of a vital role than the villain, Agent Smith.
Smith has the same desire as Neo in the first movie. He says that he wants to get out of the matrix. He wants to free his mind, just like Neo does. It’s interesting that a program feels imprisoned by his initial purpose. Though it seems like Smith is more concerned with killing Neo in the first movie, he captures Morpheus to get the codes to enter Zion. This becomes one of his primary goals in the second and third movies. He achieves it in a way by copying himself onto Bane, and trying to kill Neo. Escaping the matrix is not good enough for him. He envies Neo’s ability to dominate both the matrix, and the real world, and he wants to take that power away from him. He has to rebel against Neo’s control.
When Neo is resurrected in the first movie, after Agent Smith kills him, it is a clear representation of the rebirth of Jesus, and countless other prophets like the Buddha, and Mohammed. It seems more related to Gnostic Christianity, which is basically more of a Pagan interpretation of it that existed before the way we see it today. When Neo is brought back from death by Trinity’s kiss of life, he is a fully enlightened being who can see everything. He easily defeats Smith by literally becoming him. He absorbs himself into him, and destroys him from the inside.
Yet Smith is also resurrected in the second movie. Why did Neo killing him not work? For the same reason that Smith killing Neo didn’t work. The existence of one is dependent on the other. When Neo became Agent Smith, it inexorably linked their fates. The characters are the manifestations of both good and evil. This is how the story of the matrix trilogy parallels ancient mythologies like Gnostic Christianity, and the Daoist tradition. In those, the eternal struggle between good and evil is essential. In order for there to be balance in the universe, one can never truly defeat the other. We know from Smith, and The Architect, who is a representation of God, that humans do not accept a utopia because they rejected this version of the matrix. So the world cannot be all good, but it cannot be all bad either. Chaos has to endlessly fight against order for the universe to be balanced. This is a common mythological trope.
Neo and Agent Smith have the same purpose because they are determined to rebel against control. In the first movie, Neo does not believe in fate, and he still fights against his purpose even after he is told what it is by The Architect in the second film. Smith fights against his purpose, which is to kill rebels such as Neo. He envies his counterpart’s power, and develops similar ones when Neo frees his mind by killing him in the first movie. Smith mentions this in the second movie. However, since he is still trapped in the matrix, the only way he can further free his mind is by destroying his virtual prison.
The Oracle allows herself to be copied over by Agent Smith in the second movie. Why? Her purpose is to rebel against control too. The Architect and her say so in the second movie. She knows that Smith and Neo will endlessly fight each other, and since, likely due to The Architect, this is their purpose, she rebels against it. When Neo and Smith fight at the end of the third movie, it seems like The Oracle has maintained enough control in spite of being copied over to make sure that she is the one who fights Neo. There are so many copies of Smith that we assume he is the one fighting the protagonist, but there is an obvious clue that The Oracle tries to communicate with Neo through Agent Smith.
Right before the end of the fight, Smith says “Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo,” which is a direct quote from the Oracle. This is why Neo allows himself to be copied by Smith. Just like the first movie, Neo understands that the only way to defeat his enemy is to become him, but he doesn’t do this because he thinks it is his purpose. He still has to rebel against control.
The Oracle quoting herself in the voice of Smith is her way of telling Neo that she will work with him to fight against control. When he is copied , the version of Agent Smith who does so is the one who was originally The Oracle. The Architect wants Neo to be copied over so Smith can win, and the matrix can be destroyed, achieving balance so a new version of the matrix can begin.
The Oracle’s job is to unbalance the equation, which she says in the second movie. She figured out that the matrix and the human race can be saved from annihilation if Neo is copied over by the version of Smith that used to be her. She and he are so powerful that when Smith copies himself onto Neo, instead of it working, all versions of the antagonist are killed. Neo sacrifices himself to save all of humanity, just like Jesus and countless other prophets. His death prevents extermination because the one who copies over him used to be The Oracle. He destroys himself once he is Smith, and/or The Oracle does so as well. All of this is very hard to know for sure, but either way, the result of Neo and the Oracle fighting against control and unbalancing the equation is that the matrix and all people are saved, rather than destroyed. Agent Smith and Neo rebelling against authority and power is what leads to the human race’s salvation. The Oracle probably knew this from the beginning, which is why she helped Neo. Even though she is a program, she rebels against the control of The Architect by manipulating the situation for her desired outcome. Neo and Agent Smith’s shared purpose in The Matrix trilogy was essential for preventing humanity from annihilation.