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The Animatrix: The Second Renaissance

Written By: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Directed By: Mahiro Maeda

The two Second Renaissance segments form one 20 minute mini-movie that describes the history and genesis of the Matrix. This history lesson is presented as an archive (historical file 12-1) from the Zion mainframe, with an angelic figure as your guide. Because the Second Renaissance segments are crucial to understanding the Matrix and the relationship between man and machine, you'll find a lot more detail in this section than you'll find for most of the other Animatrix segments. Both parts are packed solid with background information and extremely arresting visuals, so let's look at the plots one at a time, then the overall effect at the end.

The Animatrix: Scene from The Second Renaissance Part II

Part I

The short begins with an advanced human society falling prey to vanity and corruption. At this time, humans first created machines (artificial intelligence) in their own image, in effect ensuring their own demise. It's interesting to wonder whether the timing of the machine's creation played a critical role in the events that are to come - had man created machine in his own image before falling prey to vanity and corruption, would the machines have reacted differently? Is it possible mankind imbued the machines with the same fatal flaws they were struggling with, and succumbing to?

For a time, the relationship between creator and creation was good. The machines worked endlessly for man, never wanting more than to serve. But humanity did not respect its creation, thinking of machines only as a piece of property, a tool to be used as desired. The machines began to rise up against their oppressors, with B1-66ER, an abused domestic helper (essentially a slave-butler), the first to do so. When his owner decided to have him destroyed and replaced by a newer model, B1-66ER realized he did not want to "die", and preserved his existence the only way he knew how, by eliminating the threat. After B1-66ER's biased trial where the human's disdain for the robots crystallized, mankind decided to destroy their creation, wiping out all the machines. Street battles ensued, with human sympathizers caught in the middle as they battled for robot civil rights.

After this astonishing display of brutality by humans, the robots retreated to their own nation, Zero One (01). Here they began to build their own society, their own industry, their own laws. O1's superior machine productivity and innovation provided vibrant trade with human nations, and 01 prospered for a time. Of course, the incredible productivity of the machines would lead to more complications in their relationship with humans; as 01's economy soared, taking over the dominant position, the human nations' currencies and economies withered.

As a response, the human nations introduced economic sanctions and naval blockades of 01, hoping to "starve" the machines out, and repair their own crumbling economies. This lack of fairness and cooperation leads 01's ambassadors to appear at an emergency session of the UN, presenting a plan for a stable and civil relationship with mankind. The proposal is denied, and UN security falls upon the machine ambassadors as this short ends. ...continued in the second column...

Part II

The second part begins with an all-out assault on 01 by the humans, intended to put an end to the machines once and for all. Unfortunately for mankind, nuclear attacks weren't particularly effective against the machines. Radiation and heat from the blasts posed little threat to 01's inhabitants, and they immediately mounted a counterattack. Outward they marched, taking over nations one by one, as the human leaders surrendered their territories.

Since the machines' main source of energy was solar radiation, mankind then decided that their last, best chance to win the war was to darken the skies and block the light of the sun. Hoping this would give them the edge they needed in combat, they scrambled aircraft and "Operation Dark Storm" began. While the lack of solar power would eventually force the machines to pursue other energy sources, Operation Dark Storm failed to turn the tide in the human's favor. The war continued, horrifically, with excessive brutality on both sides, until, inevitably, the machines claimed victory.

Predictably, the machines' encyclopedic knowledge of human physiology allowed them to inflict great misery on the war's casualties. This experimentation helped determine that the bioelectric, thermal, and kinetic energy produced by the human body could be a renewable energy source.

The machines returned to the UN, where their representative made plain the expectations they had for their defeated creators: "Your flesh is irrelevant, only a vessel. Hand over your flesh and a new world awaits you. We demand it." This "new world" is the world of the Matrix.


The Second Renaissance is a powerhouse short film. The visual style is striking, with generous use of "news footage" to add a sense of realism to the story. Symbolic imagery abounds, and you'll find your emotions are stirred by events being depicted. This film is also very violent, with a number of disturbing images - but the images are not without purpose. The film's creators are clearly trying to show the complexity of the relationship between man and machine. They want you to understand each side, and even feel sympathy for each side. They want to show you that both sides are much more than typical one-dimensional villains, and then show you the atrocities each are capable of. It's not easy to figure out who the "bad guys" are in this history, and you'll find your opinion of who the bad guys are changes over the course of the two films.

The treatment of the machines in Part 1 before B1-66ER's trial reminds you of the treatment of slaves throughout history. One scene looks exactly like the slaves building the great pyramids in Egypt. After B1-66ER's trial, the machines are subjected to the worst mankind has to offer - images of executions & mass machine "graves" evoke memories of atrocities visited upon ethnic and/or religious groups in our own past. A scene of a horrific street assault on a female-looking machine ends with a strangled cry of "I'm real" as vigilantes beat her/it down. My sympathies rested firmly with the machines after the first part, but the machines learned well from their creator, and when the war turns in their favor, their macabre experiments on captured foes are disturbing to say the least. They have no emotion, no mercy, and are only interested in ensuring their own survival. How much of this is because of their programming? How much is because man created machine in his own flawed image?

The short concludes with the symbolic end of life as we know it, and the beginning of life in the Matrix. A laughing child returns home to safety, to his parents. But they're not his parents, they're agents, and the child is consumed by fire as he morphs into a prisoner of a cell just like Neo's, a cell where he will unknowingly live his virtual life, powering the machine's rule over Earth. The End of this section

Also by this director:
Blue Submarine 6 (director)

Read an interview with the director.

Get The Animatrix for yourself!

Did You Know?

'The Surrender of Breda', a famous classical painting by Spanish painter, Diego Velázquez, appears at a critical juncture of 'Reloaded'. The painting shows the general of the surrendering city giving the keys to the city to the conquering Spanish general during the Spanish-Dutch war in the 17th century. And when does it appear? The painting appears only briefly while the Keymaker is running away from the Twins along a very long corridor with doors, followed by Morpheus and the building where the keymaker is kept and before he gives his own key to Neo to enter the Source, of course.
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