At the end of The Matrix Neo finally see the code and that makes him able to deal with agents easily, always faster, etc.

Matrix as it is

But why is that? Earlier we learn that there is just too much information in the Matrix for the deck computer to decode real-time. Thus the crew watch it in code form.

code terminal

It sounds like reading an .avi movie in a hex editor. The way they say their lack of decoding power sounds like that if they had the faster computers they would probably watch the Matrix decoded. Are there facts that prove or disprove this assumption?

In the end how does 'code view' help Neo? Does it actually mean less/filtered information or something else? Where is the difference coming from? If it's just a symbol/metaphor, what does it symbolize?

  • 21
    They must be using the on-board graphics. They really should invest in a graphics card.
    – BBlake
    Jul 1, 2012 at 13:35
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    Your metaphor alone (on watching a movie from an hex editor) deserves as many upvotes as it gets.
    – Marc.2377
    Feb 27, 2016 at 0:16
  • "Neo finally see the code and that makes him able to deal with agents". Massively disagree with this - the code is just a visual metaphor representing that he now sees through/understands the Matrix, and can thus control it intuitively. He's not manually reading each line and deliberately hacking to allow himself to fly etc. The code we see is a result of his breaking free, not the cause of it.
    – DavidS
    Aug 23, 2017 at 12:55
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    @Marc.2377 You can in fact watch movies in text :) telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl
    – ivanivan
    Sep 8, 2018 at 19:24
  • 1
    @ivanivan Yeah, now try watching the telnet ASCII stream in hexadecimal - have fun ;)
    – Marc.2377
    Sep 20, 2018 at 1:47

10 Answers 10


The code imagery, I think, is largely symbolic, but Neo really does have a unique perspective on the Matrix.

As Morpheus points out early on, even knowing that the Matrix is not real doesn't help the redpills beat the Matrix' programs, like Agents. The Agents have the benefit of being completely disconnected from the pseudo-reality of the Matrix, and thus aren't constrained at all by the "rules" of the world. The humans, even though they know its not real, can only progress so far into convincing their own minds.

Neo, at the end of the first movie, breaks past that barrier, and is finally able to fully grasp the illusion of Matrix while jacked in. This allows him to do things that no human has been able to do - defeat Agents, fly, etc. He sees the world he's immersed in the same way that a disconnected human sees the world on the monitors, and has the same control over his environment that the machines do - that of an outside entity looking in.

Of course, @PeterParker's answer is also part of it. By seeing the Matrix code Neo can more easily understand how the virtual world is being formed, and alter it. He can see, and rewrite, in real time, the flow of information that represents the virtual world around him. I think the debugger analogy is an excellent one.

But I think the choice to show the same falling-symbols visual as that on the external monitors, is meant to show Neo fully breaking free of the boundaries of the Matrix in a way that no other connected human can.

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    I disagree that the Agents aren't "contrained at all by the rules of the world". In fact they follow many of the constraints: they cannot fly, they cannot launch nuclear bombs out of their eyes, they cannot transform into dragons, they cannot teleport at random while in a fight, they cannot insta-kill their enemies, etc, etc.
    – Andres F.
    Jun 30, 2012 at 16:26
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    @AndresF. how do you know that they cannot transform into dragons? ;)
    – n611x007
    Jun 30, 2012 at 16:36
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    @naxa I dunno, I was just listing random stuff we don't see them do in the movies, but which I would do if I had such power! :P
    – Andres F.
    Jun 30, 2012 at 17:05
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    My impression was always that the agents are constrained only by their programming. Their main directive is to prevent someone revealing the Matrix, so they cannot turn around and do things to jeopardize that. But they clearly move at super-human speed, jump from body to body, etc., breaking the rules when there are no bluepills around to observe.
    – KutuluMike
    Jun 30, 2012 at 17:26
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    @MichaelEdenfield is right. The Agents are just programs -- programs that are programmed to be better than ordinary humans. Only Neo (and later Smith) can transcend their current state. Only they have limitless potential. Jul 18, 2015 at 18:31

It is like using a debugger. Neo does not only see the things in the matrix, but the inner mechanics, which make them tick.

Best to see in his last fight with (still) Agent Smith: He does not need to look at him, because he sees in the code which action(attack) the program (akasmith) does perform. Thats why he need just a single hand to defend and can boost(changing a variable in the matrix) his power on his final blows.

By the way: operators can also decipher the matrix, but not in the same deep understanding and they cannot manipulate it. Neo can now manipulate it in realtime(or even faster). Also he sses the code inside the matrix different than the 2d representation of the screens. He sees through the fabric of the matrix itself

  • why doesn't the information just [stack]overflows him? does time flow slower for him now?
    – n611x007
    Jun 30, 2012 at 16:08
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    I like the idea of a debugger view very much, but debugging generally takes much more real time than just running. The programmer needs time to inspect the aspect that interests him. Nowadays it already takes a lot of time to debug a program, how can Neo be faster by debugging something like the Matrix?
    – n611x007
    Jun 30, 2012 at 16:55
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    It is a much more interactive experience. He can act (and debug) much faster, because it is not a point&click or keyboard interface, but a full immersive thinking interface. By being "the one" he fully unlocks his (somewhat superpower) abilities to modify the matrix in realtime (and faster). Normal gifted hackers, like mouse, morpheus or trinity just can modify single aspects and mostly not in realtime, by uploading certain tools(eg. "weapons" or "vehicles") Jun 30, 2012 at 18:28
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    Thomas Anderson and the Assembly of the Matrix - the point&click adventure now in (green) color!
    – n611x007
    Jun 30, 2012 at 22:46

The Matrix, or more precisely its visual representation ("the green code") is an allegory for the control people are subjected to. Whether this control has its source in the people themselves, as the Matrix: Revolutions suggests or in a Orwell-like government/secret-society/background-organisation like The Matrix (film) suggests, is irrelevant.

Regardless if your (mental) freedom is limited forcefully by somebody else, or by your own inability or unwillingness to live without a given set of rules, if you want to to loose these restrictions (as all non-bluepills do) you have not only to be aware of their presence (as the redpills generally are) but understand their nature.

The most fundamental limitation of a human is their mortality. When Neo is shot by Agent Smith he realises that he can simply refuse to die. What you could call an epiphany, is what later corrupts Smith himself. However, this provides evidence of the artificialness of all restrictions that he accepted to apply in his previous life. This is their nature: they're entirely arbitrary. Just as their representation for the sake of the audience.

That's why it helps him, it concludes his understanding of first and only lesson Morpheus gave him; It frees his mind.


It's all about the rendering time. And Wikipedia conveniently provides a very nice graphic:

enter image description here

The "code" view that Neo is seeing, I think, is the Machine equivalent to the first or second image in this series. Adding the texture/shadows/etc in the lower images would be what everyone else sees when in the Matrix.

If cause and effect happened at the uppermost levels, there would be strange side-effects. Imagine a punch aimed at your face. The wireframes are a tiny bit ahead of the fully-rendered image, since they must be done first. If cause-and-effect happened at the wireframe level, you'd feel the punch before the image of it connecting to your face actually happened.

To prevent inconsistencies like this, the Matrix probably constrains cause and effect to the fully rendered images. Therefore, being able to see the wireframe version of the world would allow Neo to see a split second into the future, and react accordingly.

This explains Neo's view of the Matrix. Watching a debugger, as suggested in another answer, best explains Cypher's view of the code.

  • 1
    “If cause-and-effect happened at the wireframe level, you'd feel the punch before the image of it connecting to your face actually happened”... actually that's kind of what happens in real life. There's a delay between your eye receiving photons and the brain processing them (less than 1 ms, I believe), but for events fast enough, they're essentially invisible to humans. Jun 22, 2015 at 7:14

I think you're simply confusing cause and effect.

Seeing the code doesn't help him. It doesn't make him "The One". Instead, it's a result of him being The One.

The fact that he can see them in code is a sign that he's progressed to a certain point. It shows that he's let go and understands that there is no spoon at a fundamental level. up until then it was something that he understood conceptually, but hadn't understood fully.

Specifically, he's not able to defeat Agent Smith at the end of the first movie because he can see the code. He's able to defeat Agent Smith for the same reason he can suddenly see the code - because he's finally understood what it means to be "the one".


I'm a programmer. I can use any program in any way I can figure out and it is programmed to let me. But if I can see the code, I can find features I didn't know it had and potentially bugs that let me do more than it was designed for, and if I can change it, I can make it do anything. Just like Neo and the Matrix code.

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    true, but please consider the time needed to deal with the incrased number of details. it's a great power to be able to understand and modify the code, but it definietly takes time. the question is does it help if the debug symbols go directly to your brain? or profiling it would still show extra time spent dealing with the concepts and accidents
    – n611x007
    Jun 30, 2012 at 22:33
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    Here's the compiled Linux kernel, flip the right bits in the binary to make it prioritise processes who's owner belong to the group human but are currently not running any process which were started from a binary which has its suid bit set ("Agents"). Oh, while you're figuring that out, I'm shooting at you. Have fun :)
    – bitmask
    Jul 1, 2012 at 2:35
  • @bitmask: every programmers knows how to create tools to flip those bits at the right time automatically or semi-automatically.
    – Lie Ryan
    Jul 1, 2012 at 4:21
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    sudo rm -rf models/machines/humanoids/agents/AgentSmith.mtx
    – Stick
    Mar 30, 2014 at 21:48

Red Pill: Probably because the screen writer has no idea what "code" actually is and doesn't realize there is a huge time issue involved in parsing it compared to compiling and running it.

Blue Pill: Because Neo can see how to use the code to do things not intended by the authors of the code, very much in the spirit of "The Art of Hacking".


Neo can change things at will, remember? As The One, he has the ability to re-write certain sections of the matrix, to bend the rules, and quite often, to completely break them. He is not constrained by the normal rules of the matrix, thus his powers are limited only by his understanding of how things operate. Seeing the Matrix in base-code allows him to know exactly how, why, and under what conditions something operates. Thus, he is able to change things with a much higher degree of precision.

As an example, imagine a car. Every morning, you get into it, put the key in the ignition, and drive to work. One day, you lose your key, and must hotwire the car in order to get to work. On one path, you can blunder about it using only the experience you have of putting your key in and turning it. However, if you are an electrician, with inner knowledge of how a car's engine and wiring systems work, you could much more efficiently get it started, spending only a minimum of time and effort.

Neo already understands code. He understands programming. So, being able to read the base-code allows him to quickly ascertain exactly what changes and edits must be made for any needed result.

The better question would be, how does he carry out said changes?

  • that's another question. on the other hand, mine should be changed / narrowed down into why reading the matrix in code is faster for Neo than using a normal "full view". thanks for the answer! i like the electrician example
    – n611x007
    Jul 2, 2012 at 20:59

This question is clearly a huge deal to the storyline of the matrix movies. The climactic moment of the first movie that allows him to in some sense awaken to a large part of his latent powers that he will be able to call upon in the Matrix. I agree that seeing the code is not what necessarily makes him the one.

Does he actually see the code at all? I am not talking about a in-Matrix hallucination, i.e. has Neo, accessed a part of the matrix that is built in, sort of like a decompiler function that the robots have put in when they built the matrix, or is this a new version of viewing the code that is as a human would see it, and therefore, completely new!

In the history of the creation of the Matrix, humans originally created robots, so they actually would see the code probably still in 1's and 0's (a funny thought). If he is seeing the matrix code as he is imagining it based on how he saw it on the screens outside the Matrix, and he is just projecting that vision onto the virtual world around him.

Since he is the first person to view the Matrix as would a robot or program that lives in the Matrix world, he is therefore an unknown element to the databases of their knowledge of matrix behavior from human users, regardless of his ability to actually understand what he is seeing right away, and their inability to understand his actions are what allows him to defeat them easily. IN fact his first move with this new power is to "corrupt" the code of Agent Smith, which later turned out to not be the best thing to do!!


Honestly I do not think this effect is intended to be taken literally. The 'falling code desktop theme' is for our benefit, not his; it is the storyteller's way of showing the viewers at home that Neo 'gets it'.

Indeed, there aren't a whole lot of times onscreen where Neo is necessarily doing anything that is dependent on reading source code; he does note the difference in Seraph, can view Agents behind the thick metal door of the Resistance's secret clubhouse in Reloaded, and he does tell Morpheus that the hotel owned by the Merovingian is wired with explosives on every floor, but are these artifacts of his visual sight, or his altered awareness as The One (does he see the explosives, or feel them?) It isn't totally clear - what is made clear is that his outlook on the Matrix is unique.

It is NOT that Neo has decided to start viewing the Matrix in Lynx, or that he now has the horrible burden of deciphering inline assembly while kung-fu fighting. This is a visual cue for the audience that Neo's perception of the Matrix has been fundamentally adjusted.

  • Actually we know from the Animatrix and Web Comics canon that code view is intended to be taken literally. In "World Record" and "Sweating the Small Stuff", the main characters perceive the world as code.
    – Valorum
    Mar 30, 2014 at 22:12
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    Actually we know from my answer that I said onscreen but I appreciate the downvote for not referencing every piece of supplemental data associated to The Matrix trilogy. Honestly at some point there should be some recognition that an EU answer for any given series is at least "as bad" as one that is entirely speculative; nothing occurs during The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, or The Matrix Revolutions which suggests I am incorrect, and the two works you've cited are supplemental and incredibly subjective (the numbers at the end of World Record don't even look like Matrix code).
    – Stick
    Mar 30, 2014 at 22:39
  • If you're going to make a sweeping statement, you have to accept that you need to know the whole canon.
    – Valorum
    Mar 30, 2014 at 22:56
  • Nonsense - there doesn't even seem to be an authoritative source on how to declare things 'canon/non-canon' regarding Matrix-related material. There is so much split in the various works of fiction with their own EUs (Star Wars/Trek, Doctor Who, etc... have VAST EUs which their creators/producers often hesitate to acknowledge) that you cannot reasonably expect all "movie only" answers to be considered incorrect when not weighed against tangent works. The events of MxO or the Mega-Smith of Path of Neo should not play into trilogy-only answers. That's just crazy.
    – Stick
    Mar 30, 2014 at 23:09
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    Honestly, I think @Stick is right. Just because the sequels and offshoots are "canon", doesn't mean they reflect or change the original intention of the first screenplay. Writers will sometimes change the intention of a plot element at a later time. It's therefore possible, and IMO likely, that the code was merely an allegory at the time of writing the original screenplay; later in sequels and offshoots they could have revisited that plot element and changed its meaning as their plot intentions (d)evolved. Oct 6, 2016 at 22:59

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