|The Matrix character|
|First appearance||The Matrix (1999)|
|Created by||The Wachowskis|
Agents are a group of characters in the fictional universe of The Matrix franchise. They are guardians within the computer-generated world of the Matrix, protecting it from anyone or anything (most often Redpills) that could reveal it as a false reality or threaten it in any other way. Agents also hunt down and terminate any rogue programs, such as The Keymaker, which no longer serve a purpose to the overall Machine objective. They are sentient computer programs disguised as human government agents, physically appearing as human but with a tendency to speak and act in highly precise and mechanical ways.
A notable individual Agent is Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving. He is introduced alongside his colleagues Agents Jones (Robert Taylor) and Brown (Paul Goddard) in the first The Matrix film in 1999. Other Agent characters have appeared in various media adaptations of the Matrix franchise.
Agents wear black-green business suits lined with a gold fabric, white dress shirts, black dress shoes, dark green neckties with a silver bar clip, square sunglasses, and a communication earpiece. These features are copied from the attire for plainclothes agents of the United States Secret Service, as well as those of the men in black conspiracy or the stereotypical G-Man/FBI official. All Agents are Caucasian males (with minor exceptions of black Agent Perry and female Agent Pace from The Matrix Online game), which also provides a dynamic compared to the majority population of Zion, containing many diverse cultures and walks of life. With the exception of Agent Pace, Agents also tend to have common Anglo-Saxon names such as Smith, Jones, Brown, etc. They have sideburns, and their hair is either slicked back or side-parted. Matrix Agents carry Desert Eagle handguns in shoulder holsters that are concealed beneath their suit jackets. In addition to proficiency in the use of firearms, all Agents are masters of the martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. Agents also tend to move around as a trio.
Agents are programmed with a number of superhuman abilities. An Agent's speed, agility, stamina and reflexes enable them to leap great distances such as across building rooftops, sway their body from side to side to evade gunfire, and perform unusual counter attacks in melee combat (Agent Smith managed to directly counter a punch from Morpheus with a punch of his own to Morpheus's still-moving fist). Agents possess superhuman strength, performing feats such as tearing open a car's roof with one hand and punching through solid concrete. Although they can be momentarily stunned by certain attacks (such as when Neo jabbed his fingers into Agent Smith's throat), they are generally impervious to pain and injury (the upgraded Agent that Trinity shot in the abdomen and shoulder showed no reaction to pain).
In spite of their abilities, they can be caught off guard with a point-blank contact shot aimed directly at their head or a barrage of firepower from a weapon with a very high rate of fire, such as that from a minigun. Any trauma that is instantly lethal to a vital organ will kill an Agent.
However, being "killed" is a temporary inconvenience, as Agents do not exist in their own bodies as other programs do. Rather, they take over the virtualized body of a Bluepill—a human directly connected to the Matrix—which transforms into the Agent's form until the Agent leaves the body. An Agent can jump from one body to another, either to re-emerge in the Matrix if they "die" (which only kills the host body) or to hunt their quarry by taking over a nearby Bluepill. For this reason, areas with a high population density (crowded apartment buildings, marketplaces, freeways, etc.) are usually avoided by the Zion rebels, who regard every Bluepill as a potential threat that could become an Agent at any time.
Beyond their conventional abilities, Agents possess some level of influence over the Matrix to rewrite aspects of itself. In the first film, Agent Smith was able to plant a suggestion that Neo's mouth has sealed shut which made his mouth disappear on his residual self-image (RSI), and later, the Agents changed the Matrix to trap the rebels inside a hotel by surrounding it with brick walls. It is not explained how this ability works but is most likely based on a line of communication to the Source, rather than an Agent possessing inherent access to manipulate the Matrix's source code.
In addition to their abilities, Agents possess an unspecified level of authority to command civilian law enforcement as both security and first-line enforcers: in particular, they have a heavily-armed SWAT team that serves as their building security. The Agents have branded the Zion infiltrators as terrorists, and the unassuming law enforcement officers will arrest or kill any rebels on the word of the Agents.
Agents lack emotion and come across as indifferent, an allusion to the stereotype that real Federal agents behave as such. However, for the purposes of human interaction, one Agent is usually programmed with a small degree of emotion and generally acts as the mouthpiece of the trio and its leader. Agents Smith and Johnson were the only Agents shown on-screen with this added ability due to the fact that they were the leaders of their respective versions of Matrix agents.
Interaction with Zion infiltrators and other programs
In any direct confrontation, an Agent's abilities ensure they would prevail against a normal human opponent that would eventually exhaust their own firepower, stamina, and capacity to sustain pain and injury. All Zion hovercraft crew members know that Agents are extremely dangerous and virtually impossible to eliminate; as such, they are cautioned to escape upon encountering one. According to Morpheus, in the time before Neo was freed from the Matrix, every human that had stood their ground against an Agent was killed. Morpheus and Neo both individually fought Agent Smith in the first movie, and both were defeated, only surviving because Smith needed Morpheus for questioning and Neo due to his self-realization of himself as the One. Later, once Neo had harnessed his abilities as the One, Agents no longer posed a threat to him and he could easily disintegrate Smith, scaring Agents Brown and Jones into fleeing. It is implied in the game Enter the Matrix that one of the main reasons for Neo's ability to defeat Agents was his ability to focus enough to move quickly for far longer periods than could normal rebels. This is the main cause of the player's difficulty in fighting Agents, since when the player is outside bullet time the Agents are able to dodge and counter all hand-to-hand attacks.
Morpheus had been fortunate enough to survive encounters with two Agents (Smith and Johnson) throughout the trilogy. He was defeated soundly by Smith (who beat him to a bloody pulp but left him alive because he needed information from the high-ranking infiltrator), and only overcame Johnson due to the nature of their situation; he did not wear down his opponent, but merely threw him from the top of the speeding truck on which they were fighting, although he only managed to turn the tables on his foe after he was thrown off, due to the unexpected arrival of Niobe, who rescued him.
Niobe has defeated an Agent, but as with Morpheus, there were extenuating circumstances. The fight took place on board a cargo plane in the skies above the Megacity; Niobe lowered the rear cargo ramp and managed to knock Agent Johnson out of the plane.
Ghost has also defeated a single Agent during a raid on a nuclear power plant, again by making use of unique circumstances of the encounter. Agent Johnson challenged him in the control room of the plant, whereupon he damaged one of the high-voltage servers with small arms fire and threw his opponent into it, electrocuting him.
The Oracle's bodyguard Seraph says to Smith in The Matrix Revolutions: "I have beaten you before," but this is not expanded upon. Smith remarks that chasing Seraph is like "chasing a ghost," suggesting a lasting rivalry between the two programs.
Trinity is the only other character to have "stood up" against an Agent and survive, given that she dispatched Agent Jones by a contact shot when he was near to killing Neo, getting in close while the Agent's attention was focused on Neo. If, as Morpheus suggests, no other human had survived an Agent encounter, this would mark the first time that an Agent had been "defeated", albeit the Agent's program then "body hopped" into another Bluepill and was fighting again within minutes.
William Irwin said that the agents "are impersonal, generic and interchangeable" in contrast to the main characters who "are complex, different, and complementary".
Lisa Nakamura said of Morpheus's initiative, "A black man leads the resistance or slave revolt against the machines, who are visible to us as Anglo-Saxon 'agents' wearing suits. They all look the same, as one would expect machines to do, but most importantly they all look white and middle class in a way that no one in the resistance does." Morpheus tells Agent Smith in one scene, "You all look the same to me." Nakamura said, "Primarily, the presence of people of color in the film lets us know we are in the realm of the real; machine-induced fantasies and wish fulfillments, which is what the matrix is, are knowable to us by their distinctive and consistent whiteness." Nakamura says the agents visually represent the machines' hegemonic regime in having associations with corporations and cops. The agents wear business suits, and they are "clearly allied with the hegemonic machine". The scene in which multiple white agents beat the black Morpheus is reminiscent of Rodney King being beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Stephen Faller said of the Agents that "fear seems to be the entry point", that "only when someone is afraid or startled can he or she become an unwilling Agent".
Glenn Yeffetch described the agents as "software modules within the Matrix" that "are intelligent but mindless automata", with the film having no mention of quantum computing for accessing consciousness. He said that Agent Smith saying, "It's the smell, if there's such a thing," reveals the automation in which an agent doubts that a "noncomputable quality" is real and cannot differentiate between senses, where humans can find them "irreducibly different".
- Williams, G. Christopher. "Mastering the Real: Trinity as the 'Real' Hero of The Matrix." Film Criticism 27.3 (2003): 2-17
- "The Matrix". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Wright, Richard (March 2018). "The Matrix Rules". Film-Philosophy. 4 (1). doi:10.3366/film.2000.0003. ISSN 1466-4615. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
- "The Matrix". Common Sense Media. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Hibbs, Thomas S. (2002). Irwin, William (ed.). The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Open Court Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8126-9501-4.
- Nakamura, Lisa (2013). Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. Routledge. pp. 75–76. ISBN 978-1-135-22205-5.
- Faller, Stephen (2004). Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations. Chalice Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8272-0235-1.
- Yeffetch, Glenn (2003). Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and the Religion in The Matrix. BenBella Books, Inc. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-932100-02-0.