Upon its release, The Matrix (1999) took audiences to a new realm of cyberpunk science fiction unlike anything we had seen before. Just as computers and technology were becoming staples in American homes, and internet usage was showing signs of evolving into the force we know it today, The Matrix stepped in to posit the possibility that everything we think of as life is actually part of a massive computer program. It was crazy, it was bold, and it was relevant.
The Matrix also taught an important lesson: when watching, it is prudent to keep in mind the “fiction” component of science fiction. Films of this nature are entertainment above all, and trying too hard to dissect and explain the complexities of The Matrix’s world leads to no good.
So now, let’s do exactly that, by examining the question of why the Agent
The scene above finds Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) dispatching a gaggle of assailants with relative ease. Once they are put down, an Agent morphs through the body of a pilot and picks up the fight. Up to this point, the bulk of The Matrix has worked to establish the fact that Agents are not easily beat, as they possess tremendous reaction time and technical capabilities. They aren’t human, after all, and work as fast as a computer processor. This point is furthered here, as Neo fires a number of bullets at the Agent, all of which he dodges.
Neo fires 20 shots at the Agent in a matter of a few seconds using a Beretta 92FS. At a velocity of 1,250 feet per second, using an educated guess of the distance between the two, Neo’s bullets would be reaching the Agent within a twentieth of a second, to be conservative. Reasonably, then, the Agent can react even faster than that rate. To drive this point home, we are shown the effect of seeing about six of him at once. The Agent can recognize the bullet, process its location, and physically get out of its way in less than 1/20th of a second, repeatedly.
After Neo exhausts his supply of bullets, the Agent responds in turn. Neo attempts to dodge with the same bullet-time grace as the Agent but gets grazed by two of his shots. The Agent approaches Neo to finish the task up-close and personal, relishing the chance for an expository statement (“only human,” stated in a very non-mechanical way).
The Agent also seems to forget Trinity was nearby, so she then sidles up and puts a gun to his head. “Dodge this,” she says, fires the gun, and kills the Agent.
How does that work? Even if the Agent legitimately did forget about Trinity’s presence or decided she wasn’t a threat, and even if she did sneak up on him, why couldn’t he dodge her shot? She holds the gun to his head for a full two seconds before pulling the trigger. By earlier calculations, he could have dodged it over 50 times. Based on what we saw moments before, Trinity would have a chance of taking down the agent from across the rooftop if he had truly forgotten she was there. But once that barrel touches his skull, he had a more than sufficient amount of time (by his standards) to do something about it.
So why couldn’t the Agent dodge her bullet? Because that’s what the story says. Suspension of disbelief is required in viewing almost all films, and ones of this genre can be the most demanding. While the film certainly introduces provocative questions and concepts to a mainstream audience, The Matrix is not a famous piece of cinema for its logic as much as for its cinematography, inventiveness and spirit. Any foolish moments and indiscrepancies can be forgiven in the name of entertainment.