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In the final fight between Neo and Smith, Smith absorbs Neo and then blows up. Why did this happen?

I've heard some theories suggest that it was because Smith fulfilled his purpose and the system deleted him. But I have 2 problems with this:

  1. Smith normally didn't play by the rules and didn't listen to the Matrix, for example he came back from death once before.
  2. This makes for a poor story because that means at any time if Neo lost to Smith, the same results would happen and the Matrix would get rebooted. For example, if Neo had died in the first movie after he was shot then wouldn't the ending be the same?

Whatever the reason was that Smith blew up, was it necessary for him to absorb Neo or could he have just killed him?

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    I do not believe this is a duplicate. The question linked by Richard is asking about why he didn't die after the first movie, and this is asking about the circumstances at the end of the third. Also worth noting that when Neo was speaking to the machines he posited that the Agent Smith program had gotten out of control. It is possible that this is true, and the entire series of events needed to play out in order for Agent Smith to get deleted. – Dave Johnson Nov 6 '14 at 14:32
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    Oh, and the answer linked is a great explanation of the situation, but does not necessarily answer this question. – Dave Johnson Nov 6 '14 at 14:33
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    I also agree with @DaveJohnson. The linked question is asking why Agent Smith didn't die at the end of the first movie, but this one is asking why he did die at the end of the third. – Null Nov 6 '14 at 15:34
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    People on this site have a bad habit of marking questions as duplicate, even when they aren't. Apparently because that other question mentions Agent Smith's first destruction and resurrection, people think asking a different question about the same subject to be duplicate. And it's always the same exact 4 or 5 people that do it. The moderators seriously need to start monitoring these people for fraudulent marking. – Robert Nov 6 '14 at 21:24
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    @Richard Even as originally written I'm not sure how people could think it was a dupe. The first sentence was "at the end of the third movie," which clearly indicates that it is not asking about the end of the first movie, which is what that other question was asking about. – Dave Johnson Nov 7 '14 at 14:22
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Smith fulfilled his purpose in destroying the integral anomaly (Neo) and chose deletion.

To understand why Smith's destruction in The Matrix Revolutions differs from his destruction in The Matrix we need to go back to quotes from various characters.

The Oracle explains what happens to programs that are flagged for deletion:

Neo: And why would a program be deleted?

Oracle: Maybe it breaks down. Maybe a better program is created to replace it - happens all the time, and when it does, a program can either choose to hide here, or return to The Source.

This is well attested by programs such as the Oracle herself ("we're all here to do what we're all here to do") and the Keymaker ("we do only what we're meant to do") as well as Smith himself. Smith explains his own decision to choose exile instead of deletion after his defeat in The Matrix:

You destroyed me, Mr. Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do but I didn't. I couldn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey...There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose - because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us. It is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us. We're here because of you, Mr. Anderson, we're here to take from you what you tried to take from us. Purpose.

Neo had just become The One (the Architect refers to him as the "integral anomaly") when Neo defeated Smith in The Matrix, but Neo's path was not yet complete -- he hadn't made his choice to return (or not) to the Source and there was still a lot of rejection that Neo needed to "integrate" ("sum"). Consequently, Smith's purpose was not yet fulfilled (he says Neo "tried" to take his purpose, which meant that he still had a purpose) and he was "compelled to disobey" (choose exile) over deletion after The Matrix.

By the end of The Matrix Revolutions Neo had "integrated" all rejection of the Matrix -- he was the only Zion operative left in the Matrix, and all the other humans in the Matrix had been captured by Smith. This is why the Matrix would not have simply been rebooted if Neo had been absorbed earlier (e.g. at the Burly Brawl in The Matrix Reloaded). But since Neo had "integrated" all rejection by the end of The Matrix Revolutions, by destroying Neo, Smith fulfilled his purpose and in doing so lost his purpose. Of course, this is not fair:

Oh, no no no no...no, it's not fair!

Smith didn't play by the rules after his first defeat because he still had a purpose. But he makes it clear how important purpose is to him, and without his purpose he has no choice but to choose deletion. This is also why all the Smiths explode instead of just Neo-Smith -- the Machines killed Neo from Machine City and in doing so killed Neo-Smith, but by itself this doesn't explain why all the other Smiths were destroyed. However, all the Smiths lost their purpose and all chose deletion.

On another level, Smith acquires the properties of the people and programs he controls (such as the Oracle). Thus, Smith also acquired Neo's choice to die when he absorbed Neo. In that sense, it was necessary for him to absorb Neo.

With that said, why didn't Smith realize that absorbing Neo would be his downfall and simply not absorb him (especially since Smith now has the eyes of the Oracle)? The obvious answer is that to do so would be to deny his purpose, which Smith cannot do. But there's also a deeper answer. Remember what else the Oracle said:

We can never see past the choices we don't understand.

Even though Smith has the eyes of the Oracle, he can't understand Neo's choice to die and therefore he can't see his own destruction past Neo's choice.

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    +1 Definitely more resourceful and putting more rationales together than my answer. – Thorsten S. Nov 7 '14 at 17:10
  • What do you mean by "integrated all rejection of the Matrix"? – Celeritas Jul 18 '15 at 22:51
  • @Celeritas To integrate is to sum. Neo was the sum of all rejection in the Matrix. That's how he was able to break so many rules in the Matrix. Every human who rejected the Matrix in some small way (e.g. noticed something that just didn't seem real) was an anomaly. Neo was the integral anomaly -- the sum of all those small anomalies. – Null Jul 19 '15 at 3:03
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    @fabriced This iteration was unusual -- previous iterations hadn't involved Neo destroying Smith and turning him into an exile virus. – Null Apr 27 '16 at 15:23
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    I think there is more to it than that. When Smith chooses deletion and returns to the source, we see the machines pumping Neo full of juice. The Source dealt with Smith more harshly than simple deletion. Complete shredding of his files (perhaps a better explanation of why his clones died). Do you have any thoughts on this @Null? I think Smith was unaware that Neo was connected directly to the Source. In your explanation in your OP, Neo wouldn't need to be connected to the SOurce at all for Smith to be deleted, yet clearly Neo's direct connection to it played a large role in deleting Smith. – Johnny Apple Jun 3 '16 at 18:12
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Agent Smith and Neo are polar opposites of each other. Smith represents inevitability, uniformity, destiny. Neo represents free will, individuality, choice. The simple answer is: they cancel each other out.

In Reloaded, Smith monologues about his resurrection, telling Neo that he knew he was supposed to die, but felt compelled not to.

Smith: Surprised to see me?

Neo: No.

Smith: Then you're aware of it.

Neo: Of what?

Smith: Our connection. I don't fully understand how it happened. Perhaps some part of you imprinted onto me, something overwritten or copied. That is at this point irrelevant, what matters is that whatever happened, happened for a reason.

Neo: And what reason is that?

Smith: I killed you, Mister Anderson, I watched you die... With a certain satisfaction, I might add, and then something happened. Something that I knew was impossible, but it happened anyway. You destroyed me, Mister Anderson. Afterward, I knew the rules, I understood 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, Mister Anderson, because of you I'm no longer an agent of the system, because of you I've changed - I'm unplugged - a new man, so to speak, like you, apparently free.

Neo: Congratulations.

He glosses over the details, but the conclusion is the same. Smith now only exists for one reason: to defeat Neo. Literally, and ideologically.

Smith: Thank you. But as you well know, appearances can be deceiving, which brings me back to the reason why we're here. We're not here because we're free, we're here because we're not free. There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose - because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.

Smith 2: It is purpose that created us,

Smith 3: Purpose that connects us,

Smith 4: Purpose that pulls us,

Smith 5: That guides us,

Smith 6: That drives us,

Smith 7: It is purpose that defines,

Smith 8: Purpose that binds us.

Smith: We're here because of you, Mister Anderson, we're here to take from you what you tried to take from us. Purpose.

He expands on this in the third movie, in the final fight.

Smith: Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? I'm closing in on you. Oh, I can. I really should thank you for it... After all it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.

At the same time, he assimilates all the inhabitants of the Matrix, adding their viewpoints and abilities to himself. He absorbs the Oracle, allowing him to foresee the future. He absorbs and overwrites Bane, allowing him to walk in the real world.

But Smith isn't really a living person. He's a virus. His ideology is to destroy, to enact the inevitable. It is literally impossible for him to understand the ideas of hope, or choice, or free will; everything The One embodies.

Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why? Why do you do it? Why? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom, or truth, perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception, temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself. Although... Only a human mind can invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now. You can't win, it is pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why you persist?

Neo: Because I choose to.

When Neo allows Smith to assimilate him, the two contrasting ideologies can't coexist in one entity. The Smith virus breaks down, and is purged from the Matrix.

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    I always thought it was ironic that Smith associates humans as a virus in the first movie, and then promptly and literally turns into a virus himself for movies 2 and 3. And when Neo allows himself to be assimilated, the effect is strongly reminiscent of an anti-virus. – Ellesedil Nov 7 '14 at 14:33
  • @Ellesedil I think that's supposed to be thematic as well, that Smith is kind of the anti-humanity, a machine mirror image that rejects key aspects of being human. The Animatrix and the sequels really makes it clear that the Machines are just as, if not more so, emotional and humane as humanity. And Smith and Neo are avatars of both sides, each with traits of both sides, but split into two polarizing viewpoints. – jono Nov 7 '14 at 14:42
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Neo offered the leader of Machine City to fight Smith for him. After a extended fight Neo finally comes to the right conclusion that he cannot defeat Smith. While it is not explicitly said, Neo decided to sacrifice his life and use Smith ability to clone himself against him.

So Neo (so I suppose) gave the leader of the Machine City the subconscious message "Once Smith has absorbed me, kill me !". Smith was invincible before because he exists only inside the Matrix and there he really is God-like. But the attack from a human being outside the Matrix meant that Smith can in fact clone himself on beings outside the matrix. That may Neo give the idea that you can do that in reverse and connect Smith permanently with an outside being, making him vulnerable.

Smith has an inkling that something is wrong nearly the end but cannot put the finger on the problem. So he decided to take over Neo. This works, but as Neo is the source of his ability, Neo is now connected with Smith permanently. When the process is completed, Neo is killed outside by the leader.

As Smith is connected with his clones, that means a chain-reaction: Every instance of Smith is killed, too. As Neo is connected to the Source, the Matrix triggers a reset as the Architect correctly predicted.

Neo is dead, Smith is dead, the Matrix comes back and waits for the next One.

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    That's the answer given on Wikipedia too, but I've always wondered: If it's as simple as killing someone that Smith had absorbed, why do they need Neo? They already have billions of humans hooked up to the Matrix that have been absorbed by Smith – jono Nov 6 '14 at 15:10
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    I have added the reason: Neo is the One who gave him this ability in the first place and he is the only one capable to connect all Smiths, not only the clone instance. – Thorsten S. Nov 6 '14 at 15:16
  • I think there still might be some gaps in this logic. This implies that the machines could kill off an individual Smith that was overwritten onto a human. But this doesn't seem to be true. Smith is seen copying himself on agents, who themselves are copied over humans still plugged in. – Ellesedil Nov 7 '14 at 14:29
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I think it's more-so that Neo used himself as a conduit as an anti-virus. He did tell the machine boss that smith had grown beyond his control, and as the matrix is a computer environment it's plausible to surmise that Smith had in fact become some kind of virus.. hence the copying etc. As Neo was plugged in @ the machine city when Smith assimilated Neo the machines had a direct link with him and where able to kill him off. The process of all this also fulfils what the architect said in that Neo had to return to the source to reintroduce his code, thus rebooting the matrix.

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Smith was free of The Source. All that purpose/ deletion stuff is crap. Smith became like a virus to The Matrix. A cancer so bad that the Matrix might not ever be able to be reset. And because he was no longer a part of the system, The Source couldn't do anything about it.

Smith is the black to Neo's white. The yin to his yang. Smith's end required Neo's end. Everyone kept saying that Neo had to return to The Source. Well, so did Smith. Neo created a second anomaly in Smith when he did his possession thing in the first film. The Oracle clearly claims that Smith is the electron to Neo's proton. They both exist together, now. Both of them are The One and must both return to The Source.

But Smith obviously wasn't going to return. Neo tricked Smith into returning. Because Neo was already connected to The Source, Smith became connected when he absorbed Neo. In the final moment, both anomalies were connected to The Source at the same time, allowing for a true and proper reset.

Because it was Neo's idea and because Neo was the only one who could get Smith to return, the machines honored Neo's wish for peace. The Matrix still rebooted just like normal and the machines still exist just like normal. Neo didn't destroy or end anything. He basically just postponed the reset button long enough to let Smith get big and scary, and then used it as bargaining chip to convince the machines to play nice.

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Neo: And why would a program be deleted?

Oracle: Maybe it breaks down. Maybe a better program is created to replace it - happens all the time, and when it does, a program can either choose to hide here, or return to The Source.

Neo was plugged into the source at the time so when Smith replicated himself onto Neo- he returned himself to the source and was deleted.

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Smith's purpose wasn't to kill Neo. Smith wouldn't have stopped with Matrix. As for explosions the equation was completed. Smith was the opposite side of Neo; a minus to Neo's plus and what happens when you add plus and minus you get a 0.

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