World Record - Dan wakes up from the Matrix

After more than a decade, The Matrix just returned to theaters for it’s 20th anniversary, and we’re finally getting a fourth Matrix movie. The new movie will still star Neo and Trinity, reprised by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss respectively, and will be directed and written by Lana Wachowski. Further details are unknown at this time, but we can certainly be excited and do some wishful thinking for what direction the fourth movie will go in. Looking to the franchise’s many excellent spin-offs, we’ll focus on THE ANIMATRIX here. THE ANIMATRIX is an hour-and-a-half animated movie released in 2003. It’s a short film anthology created by different well-known animation directors, with the Wachowskis contributing to some of the scripts.

Below, we’ll explore THE ANIMATRIX and highlight the standout short films that have compelling directions we’d love to see the new Matrix movie go in — from prequels, to new Matrix rules, and even to robot protagonists. 

THE ANIMATRIX

THE ANIMATRIX poster
Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers

So, there’s not a single miss in THE ANIMATRIX. By that I mean every short film in it either asks very interesting questions of the Matrix world or showcases killer animated action scenes. A few of them do both. The shorts do an incredible job of exploring the Matrix world with impressive action sequences, giving them the edge over the latter two films of the trilogy that were way too dependent on CGI-heavy action scenes at the expense of the ideas of the Matrix world.

Be it a kid skateboarding to escape agents or two characters playing a flirty version of strip-sparring in a simulation, the action scenes are all surprising, well-animated, and incredibly dynamic. I recommend watching all of THE ANIMATRIX. That said, I still have my personal favorites.

ANIMATRIX Selection: THE SECOND RENAISSANCE PART I and PART II 

The Inciting Incident

These two short films stand out because they are the only direct prequels to the Matrix universe among the short films. Mahiro Maeda — contributor to multiple Studio Ghibli films and, notably, did the concept art and design for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — directed both. THE SECOND RENAISSANCE PART I and PART II dive into reality pre-Matrix, before robots started harvesting humans for their energy. Inspired in part by the BITS AND PIECES OF INFORMATION story — that the Wachowskis contributed to — from THE MATRIX COMICS, the film revisits the B1-66ER incident that kicked off the robot independence movement.

B1-66ER kills his master, paving the way for the Matrix
B1-66ER Kills His Master. Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Robots, at this point, work faithfully for The Man and do it’s bidding. B1-66ER is one such domestic robot. He ends up killing his owner and a broker when he learns his owner was about to scrap him. During his defense in court, B1-66ER cites that his personal drive to live. The robot, in essence, is claiming self-defense. The plea, unfortunately, falls on deaf ears. B1-66ER is found guilty and destroyed.

The World To Come

Robots and human robot-sympathizers take to the streets all over the world to protest. It’s an unexpected framing of the historical events putting responsibility for the horrors that are to come fully on humanity’s actions. By refusing robot’s independence and autonomy, they set off the chain of events leading to the dystopian reality in the Matrix. After repeated conflict with humans, the robots establish their own country due to sheer necessity. Called Zero One, it ironically finds a home in the cradle of human civilization. Still humans refuse coexistence, though, and the world descends into unending human-robot warfare.

Animatrix- War between Humans and Robots
Killing Robots. Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

As stated in THE MATRIX, humankind eventually create a last ditch plan to actually destroy the sky to deprive robots of their energy source, the sun. In addition to forcing the robots to turn to humans as batteries, this reveals the shortsighted bigotry of people. Did they even pause to consider that they need the sun to grow food? 

However, all is for naught, and robots succeed in subduing mankind and turning them into fuel source. As a prequel to the Matrix universe, it complicates how we feel about the oppression of humans in The Matrix. Largely, humankind is to blame for their own reality of bondage. Their refusal to coexist and recognize robots as independent set off the slow weaponization transformation of robots. The initial domestic robot models who helped with labor and household chores evolve into machines of destruction and violence, the very machines that we see in The Matrix, due to the war waged on the robots by humans.   

ANIMATRIX Selection: WORLD RECORD 

WORLD RECORD is directed and written by Takeshi Koike — director of LUPIN THE THIRD: THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE — and produced by Studio Madhouse. The short stands out to me for both the questions it asks and the incredibly dynamic animation it showcases.

Animatrix- World Record sprint
Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

WORLD RECORD begins with a narrator stating that one needs “a rare degree of intuition, sensitivity, and a questioning nature” to be able to detect the Matrix. The story explores an alternative method of awakening through the protagonist, Dan Davis, a world-class track athlete. Dan wants to prove himself by breaking a world record after a doping scandal. During Dan’s race, his muscles rupture violently, as warned by his trainer. However, he pushes past the pain and runs even faster. The exertion of near superhuman effort “awakens” him the reality, and he opens his eyes to the fluid-filled pod he’s contained in. A Sentinel reacts quickly, reconnecting Dan.

Animatrix- Dan Wakes Up
Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Dan, back in the Matrix, wins the race and sets a new world record. However, it has resulted in permanent leg injuries. The Agents monitoring him conclude there’s nothing to worry about. In the film’s last moments, however, Dan suddenly stands once more. He stumbles a few steps forward while groaning, “Free.” He collapses and the film ends as snarling Agents seem ready to subdue him.

The animation team figured out how to make a track scene fluid, dynamic, and engaging. You can feel Dan’s desperation and energy with closeups of bulging muscles and extreme distortion of perspectives. Further motivating factors are made compelling through cross-cutting with Dan’s running. A simple track race scene keeps us at the edge of our seats. Dan racing becomes as engaging as flashy simulation battles and human versus Agents scenes in the other shorts.

ANIMATRIX Selection: MATRICULATED 

Written and directed by Philip Chung of Aeon Flux fame, MATRICULATED is uniquely animated and asks an interesting question, “Can robots be convinced to rebel against one another?”

In search of inspiring that revolution, a group of human rebels capture enemy robots. They then plug them into a human-made Matrix in the hopes that it will convince robots to change their allegiances. The people dangle the carrot to each robot that changes side of free that they will need never to worry about forced reprogramming.

The Human Matrix interior
Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

After capturing a Runner robot, the humans launch themselves and the captive into a trippy virtual world. In practice, the human made Matrix is a different beast than its robotic counterpart. The animation and the colors, are way more surreal, colorful, and organic. The robot’s matrix is fluid, unpredictably changing– concept of time and space is uncertain and ever-shifting. 

There the rebels take upon a particularly robotic sprite look. In contrast, the robot takes on a more human form. All of this is in the name of creating connection and, thus, empathy. If the robot can see itself in the humans, perhaps it can embrace human values such as compassion, trust, and companionship. During the simulation, the Runner develops a bond with one of the female rebels, Alexa.

Animatrix- Alexa and Runner
Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Abruptly, the rebels’ headquarters comes under attack. Enemy robots slaughter the humans and their robot allies. The Runner attempts to save Alexa, returning them both to the simulation without fully understanding “the die in the Matrix, die in the real world rule.” Alexa gasps in horror, and then fuzzes out into oblivion before Runner’s eyes. The film ends with Runner, alone, looking out to the sea. His pain frames the short’s key question: at what point do humans and robots becomes indistinguishable from one another in every way except their physical form? 

Possible Directions of The Fourth Movie?

What makes the standouts from THE ANIMATRIX exciting is the exploration of existing lore and expansion of the Matrix universe. Taking inspiration from that, here are some avenues we’d love to see the fourth movie go down:

  1. Pre-Robot Dominated World. THE SECOND RENAISSANCE elaborates what is a presumably canon world pre-The Matrix trilogy. This idea has particular intrigue because it presents a time when the relationship between robots and humans were fraught but not actively, uniformly antagonistic. The Matrix depicts one type of robot and human relationship — with a hint towards change in the last movie — but a further detailed look back offers many potential storylines concerning the evolution of human-robot relationships.
  2. Different Humans’ Relationships to The Matrix. A number of the short films in THE ANIMATRIX are about different people’s relationship to the Matrix and their differing experiences. In WORLD RECORD, it is about a racer’s ability to literally break out of the Matrix due to sheer physical force. In BEYOND (another short in the anthology), the story is about a group of children and teen’s discovery and interaction with an unstable part of the Matrix. The MATRIX trilogy has explored this pretty in-depth, using Neo as the avatar. But it’s worth investigating how other characters and people experience the Matrix. Love Neo, but we need some diversity!
  3. Robot Protagonist and Point-Of-View. With Neo and Trinity back as the main characters, it’s unlikely The Matrix is going to go in this direction. But we want a robot protagonist! MATRICULATED really shows the incredible potential of a robot as the main character and robot point-of-view. The human view point and resistance frames The Matrix movies. MATRICULATED flips that upside down. The short shows us the fascinating journey of a robot trapped in a human-matrix rather than a human in a robot-matrix.

Time to Jack In

In any case, whatever the plot, a trip back to the Matrix world is full of promise. It is a place of instability and possibility. Reality and the virtual, the relationship between humans and robots, and even the relationships between humans and humans all teeter on the edge. Massive upheaval always seems just around the bend. And then there are the questions unanswered. Perhaps even unposed. We’re also hoping that the new Matrix movie can balance exploring new questions of the universe while also giving us the strong visual language and action scene the franchise is so well-known for. 

Stay tuned for the next article looking at THE MATRIX COMICS!

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