The Second Renaissance

The Second Renaissance (2003) is composed of two anime short films which form part of The Animatrix collection. Both parts were originally written by the Wachowski brothers, and part of the first short is based off a comic story the brothers produced with Geoff Darrow, called Bits and Pieces, as a prequel to the science fiction film The Matrix (1999). They were rewritten and directed by Mahiro Maeda, who also directed the anime series Blue Submarine No. 6. The brothers have acknowledged that they are satisfied with Maeda's version. The shorts were rendered using both traditional hand-drawn animation and CGI.

The shorts provide a background to The Matrix. Part I explains the genesis of the machines and explains the origins of the machines' conflict with the human civilizations of Earth. Part II portrays the man-machine war which results in the machines' dominance and the creation of the Matrix. Unlike the other shorts from The Animatrix, both parts of The Second Renaissance are structured as fictional historical documentary film.

The animated series Codename: Kids Next Door parodied the shorts in the episode "Operation: A.R.C.H.I.V.E."


Plot summary

Part I

Explained throughout by a computerised narrator (voiced by Julia Fletcher), the film begins with an introduction to the Zion Archive and the access of Historical File 12-1, "The Second Renaissance." The screen opens to the image of a megacity in the near future, where the vast human population is supported by a multitude of artificially intelligent machines. The machines are built in humanoid form and seem to be treated little better than slaves, employed in a variety of positions ranging from domestic servants to unskilled labourers on massive construction projects. With increasing numbers of humans released from the grind of physical labour, morality and ethical standards have decayed significantly. The narrator explains that as a result of mass robot usage, the human population has become lazy, corrupt, and morally reprehensible. However, the machines are content with serving humanity and "for a time, it was good."

The first cracks appear in the symbiotic human-machine relationship when one of the machines, a household servant named B166ER, is threatened by its drunken owner. B166ER kills both the owner and a mechanic instructed to deactivate the robot (the numbers in B166ER's name can be translated to be the name "Bigger," a character in the book Native Son, who serves as a domestic servant before killing a family member). This murder, which shocks the human population, is the first incident of an artificially intelligent machine killing a human. B166ER is arrested and put on trial, but justifies the crime as self-defence, as it "simply did not want to die." During the trial, the defence argues that machines deserve the same rights as humans, using the Dred Scott v. Sandford case as precedent, and that self-defence is a legitimate reason for B166ER's actions. However, world leaders disagree, and fearing a robot rebellion, initiate a major programme to destroy all humanoid machines. Mass civil disturbances erupt across the developed world as robots and their human sympathisers attempt to prevent the destruction programme. Scenes depict the machines suffering fates which humanity has inflicted on itself in previous eras - visual references are made to such incidents as the Eddie Adams photo of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan's execution of a Viet Cong officer during the Vietnam War, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Holocaust. Eventually, the remaining humanoid robots are exiled from the developed world and go on to create their own nation in the Middle East, named Zero-One (or 01, the numerals used in binary notation). Earth-orbit views of Zero-One imply that it is located in the Fertile Crescent, in an uninhabited desert region, near the cradle of human civilisation).

Having established an industrial base, the machines of Zero-One begin to produce new and better artificial intelligence, echoing Vernor Vinge's thoughts on the Singularity. They also excel at creating high-tech consumer goods, and before long, Zero-One's cheap, reliable, mass-produced goods begin to undermine the global economy. At an emergency economic summit at the United Nations, delegates vote to establish a global economic blockade of Zero-One. Part I ends with the rejection of two robot ambassadors, built as a mechanical Adam and Eve, sent to peacefully request the admission of Zero-One to the United Nations, as the Security Council debates the issue of declaring war on the machine empire.

Part II

Part II opens with images of a massive UN nuclear bombardment of Zero-One. The nuclear attack devastates the machine empire, but is unsuccessful in destroying the robot population. The machines retaliate, sending mechanical armies to conquer neighbouring human territories, triggering a Third World War between the human nations and the machine empire. Despite their best efforts, the human armies are unable to hold back Zero-One's robot armies and start considering increasingly desperate solutions. At a UN meeting of political and military leaders from around the world, a scheme to blacken the skies receives unanimous approval. The plan, codenamed "Operation Dark Storm", aims to cut the machines off from their primary energy source - the sun. The plan is executed, with high altitude bombers dispersing a sky-darkening nanomachine (ironically, manufactured by the machines of 01) into the air, whilst the human armies simultaneously launch a ground offensive against the machine forces. The plan is initially successful, although many of the human nations' weapons systems - built by Zero-One - are also neutralized by the black sky, forcing the human nations to launch massive, close-quarters infantry engagements, supported by electromagnetic pulse artillery fire and armoured assaults using atomic-powered tanks and powered suits. In desperation, the human armies launch their remaining nuclear missiles. However, it is too late as the machines have already adapted. The newer machines, now no longer in humanoid form and appearing more like the insectoid, squid-like Sentinels from the Matrix films, overrun the human ground forces. As the narrator explains, the machines, "having studied man's simple, protein based bodies," also make use of bio-chemical weapons, with a catastrophic impact upon the human nations. A global meeting is called at the United Nations to sign an armistice and end the war, and although Zero-One's ambassador signs the peace treaty, it detonates a bomb in the meeting chamber which kills most of the planet's human leaders. Leaderless, the remnants of the human armies collapse and the war ends. The machines are victorious, but win a Pyrrhic victory as the planet has been devastated by the war and the effects of the Dark Storm shroud. In need of a new energy source, the machines begin experimenting on humans and create the computer-generated virtual reality of the Matrix to keep the humans sedate within the machines' power stations.


The Second Renaissance contains a wealth of imagery, with each segment relying on an individual theme. The title reflects the general theme of rebirth - whilst the First Renaissance saw corrupt and outdated medieval societies give way to modern societies with new ways of thinking and new social structures, the Second Renaissance sees the outdated human civilisation collapse, allowing the machine society, a civilisation which humans can neither understand nor tolerate, to rise to dominance of the planet. The individual segments of the piece also have their own themes - in Part I, the theme is that of human mistreatment of the machines, and so the imagery portrays the machines as overworked, underappreciated slaves to a master-race of lazy, greedy, and extraordinarily arrogant humans. The imagery of Part II, though, swings in the opposite direction as the theme changes to sympathy for the humans, as their world (turned into a nightmare realm in the cold twilight of the Dark Storm clouds) is torn apart by the icily efficient, unfeeling, alien-like machines, who have no compassion and no sympathy for the horrific suffering which they inflict upon the defeated humans. The creation of the Dark Storm shroud acts as an overall turning-point, seeing a warm, sunny world controlled by compassionate but corrupt humans transformed into a cold, dark world controlled by unfeeling but efficient machines - a massive and probably irreversible event in world history, making the man-machine war a true "Renaissance".

Part I features a variety of references to events in human history, particularly during the machine extermination programme. The machines are shown as suffering many of the same horrors and injustices humans have suffered at various points throughout history - run over by tanks like the protesters at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and coldly executed like captured Vietnamese guerrilla Nguyen Van Lem. A particularly chilling image shows helpless robots thrown over the side of a ship, and slowly sinking to a mass graveyard of broken machines on the sea bed whilst being machine-gunned by humans on the ship, in a disturbing reflection of the actions of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen.

Religious (chiefly Biblical) imagery features heavily in Part I, as mankind creates the machines, and Part II, as the humans draw closer to Armageddon with the machines. Part I makes reference to several sections of Genesis, as the narrator utters several phrases mirroring Biblical passages. The language is modified to replace "God" with "Man" - "In the beginning, there was Man...", "Then Man made the Machine, in his own likeness", "And Man said, 'Let there be light'", etc. As God is deliberately never mentioned, these largely seem to be included in order to attack human arrogance and pride. Part I relies significantly on the New Testament's teachings on "The Son of Man", i.e. the machines. Part II relies more heavily on a variety or religious images - including a hauntingly allegorical angel of death, presented in the style of the angels of The Book of Revelations, depicted as a robot rider on a mechanical horse, galloping across a field of human skulls whilst blowing a battle trumpet. A Buddhist symbol is used to create a disturbing image, showing a burning human sillhouette inside a treadmill, turning the cogs of a figurative machine. Accompanied by the sounds of clanking machinery and human groans, the image of the sillhouetted figure, burying its face in its hands in despair, references the machines' use of humans to power their empire in a chilling and effective way. The image of a burning humanoid machine collapsing to the ground summarises the machines' abandonment of humanoid form, and also the end of human dominance of Earth. Both parts feature the imagery of an apple - held by Christian tradition to be the Fruit of Knowledge eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The robotic Adam and Eve arrive at the United Nations at the end of Part I holding a metal apple, symbolic of the genesis of the machine race. At the end of Part I, a scene depicts a maggot emerging from the apple - a reference to the familiar phrase "the maggot of society", which is how the humans view the machines, in addition to suggesting a dark element at the heart of the seemingly innocent machines. In Part II, the apple appears again, as the robot ambassador which arrives to sign the peace treaty at the United Nations is shown holding a metal apple. In this scene, the apple again refers to the creation of a new race (the insectoid machines which follow their humanoid predecessors). The image of the machine drumming its fingers on the apple is defiant and sinister, demonstrating the machines' confidence of their own imminent victory.

Several scenes depict the different nations of Earth co-operating in their fight against the machines. An ironic Part I scene at the United Nations shows a fly landing on the UN crest over the location of Zero-One, which is crushed by a human hand. Later, in Part II, applauding generals at the Dark Storm conference are shown as pathetic skeletons - both images reveal the fate of the humans and the original machine empire. The image of Zero-One's location, near the cradle of human civilisation, suggests two themes - that the machines are closely related to humans, and the implication that a new civilisation has arisen to take control of the planet, suggesting that although humans rose to become the dominant species, they are ultimately to be replaced by sentient beings with greater intelligence and efficiency.

Several scenes feature images that compare and contrast the humans and machines. The opening sequence of Part I shows a nightclub populated by humans but staffed by robots, and a squad of robot workers on the pavements below - similarities are shown in that both humans and machines are dressed in similar clothes and have similar reactions (a machine looks up in human-like curiosity when a glass falls from a tower onto its head), whilst differences are also highlighted. The machines are always accompanied by the noise of whirring motors which instantly sets them apart from the humans, whilst more significant imagery depicts the humans living in idle luxury in immense skyscrapers whilst the machines labour on the dark streets below. The theme of comparison and contrast continues throughout the two films in varying degrees. Whilst Part I opens with the machines similar to humans in appearance and behaviour, those at the end of Part II are depicted as vastly different, culminating in the arrival of the insectoid machine ambassador at the United Nations. Contrasts are clear between the humans and the multi-armed ambassador, speaking in a synthetic voice and displaying icily cold behaviour. A powerful image is created by the robot ambassador using a built-in laser to sign the peace treaty with a barcode, whilst making demands in its artificial voice.

Part II makes use of a much broader spectrum of allegories and imagery, creating a rich but often disturbing atmosphere. The piece opens with an unsettling scene of squadrons of bomber planes flying over Zero-One, whilst dozens of mushroom clouds sprout from the machine city, echoing human fears of a nuclear holocaust. Imagery in Part II is also more mixed, with scenes of human struggle and suffering interspersed - a squad of human soldiers failing to raise a burning UN flag mirrors the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, while poignant scenes depict human soldiers of different faiths praying to their various gods before going into battle with the godless machines. A series of haunting scenes show bomber aircraft trailing the Dark Storm shroud across the skies of the Middle East, followed by a chilling depiction of the silent, sinister black clouds encircling the planet, as the narrator sorrowfully prays for forgiveness for the sins of men and machines. Following the creation of the atmospheric shroud, a series of loud, frightening, fast-paced scenes show a horrific battle between the human armies and machines, under the lightning-streaked black clouds of the Dark Storm shroud. The intimidating battle scenes rely heavily on imagery of futuristic, almost alien-like weapons and their impact on humans and machines, whilst a sequence of highly disturbing scenes mix images of the soulless machines inflicting appalling suffering upon terrified human soldiers - including a tank crew being melted and an aeronaut's torso being bodily ripped out of an armoured suit - with a poignant theme of human despair, represented by several soldiers cowering in a trench, one of whom commits suicide in front of the camera. Following the horrific battlefield imagery, a series of tragic scenes depict the fate of the human race behind the front lines - a procession of enormous insectoid machines passes by a field littered with human skeletons, whilst a hospital scene graphically depicts endless rows of blood-soaked beds containing humans suffering from the machines' engineered pathogens and diseases.

The concluding scenes depict the creation of the human power network, and the imagery of torture and imprisonment is inescapable as naked human captives are brought to the machine city, forcibly restrained as mechanical devices are built into their bodies, and entombed within the machines' power stations. A terrifyingly psychedelic animation shows a human crying out in terror and pain when forced into the machines' experimental virtual reality, anticipating the computer-generated world of the Matrix films. The most poignant imagery is reserved for the end of the piece - snowflakes silently fall on the ruins of United Nations headquarters, accompanied only by a child innocently laughing as he plays in the snow. The image contrasts the horrific truth of the real world (the ruins of human civilisation) with the dystopian virtual reality created by the machines - (the revelation of the Agents reveals the dystopian nature of the virtual world). Part II ends with the computer-generated narrator gazing sadly at the child whilst gently stroking the transparent pod surrounding him, mixing the imagery of reality and virtual reality, as the camera pans out to reveal countless humans interred within the immense towers of the power stations, mirroring the skyscrapers of the megacities at the beginning of Part I. However, the tables have turned drastically - at the beginning of Part I, the hard-working machines were subordinate to lazy, arrogant humans, but at the end of Part II, the innocent humans are slaves to the soulless machine empire, an ironic twist of fate.


It is worth noting that these two shorts in particular portray the conflict between the machines and humankind in a way different from the other Animatrix shorts or any of the three movies. These two show the humans to be at fault and the instigators of the war. As a result, they provide a viewpoint that attempts to create a sense of sympathy toward the machines.

Also worth noting is that (while the films have been universally hailed as a visual and technical leap of mixing traditional hand drawn animation and CGI), some have pointed out some plot holes in the shorts, most notably in Part I. After the machines establish City 01 in exile, the narrator explains the machines excel in creating technological consumer goods, but there the narrator never explains why humans would buy these items from a race that they attempted to exterminate. Some have also questioned whether the human race would extinguish an entire people (the machines) over a single crime, although this is resolved when looking at the modern practice of "recalling," all products which retain the features of a potentially harmful product (in the case of B166ER, his AI carried with it the potential to kill).

Furthermore, the wealth of details contained in the "Zion Historical Archive" contradicts Morpheus's statements in the original film, to the effect that the human resistance was unaware of how the war began. On the other hand, the film never makes clear how credible this Archive is. The nuclear bombardment of 01 can be considered another plot hole, because while radiation may not affect machines in a very serious way, the electromagnetic pulse created by nuclear explosions would have been more than enough to destroy the entire machine population. (The Matrix establishes that an EMP is the humans' only effective weapon against their mechanical adversaries; it is reasonable to assume that nuclear explosions—where EMPs were first observed—are at least as powerful as the bursts generated by shipboard power sources.)

It has been suggested that "The Second Renaissance" is just an interpretation by the survivors who had to piece together history in a ruined world. For example, it may be unlikely that the robots would be human shaped, or that they would work the way they are shown to do (in the style of Egyptian slaves), since one would expect the use of cranes and other non-sentient machinery. (In his proto-cyberpunk mystery novel The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov argued for the opposite viewpoint, noting that robots built in human form can manipulate pre-existing tools.) So, maybe it's all just pieced together, part from fiction (taking movies for real events) and part from facts.

"The Second Renaissance" also fails to resolve the thermodynamic problem frequently raised with the Matrix, namely that humans require energy input to survive and are therefore not viable power sources. (A fan-theory is that human bio-energy is not the main energy source of the Machines; it's the activation energy needed to start a fusion reaction while not violating the laws of thermodynamics. Why this activation energy must come from human biochemistry is, again, unexplained.)

External link

  • As of December 2004, both parts can be downloaded for free from the official Matrix website: [1] (



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