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THE SECOND RENAISSANCE part one
Directed by Mahiro Maeda
Lacking both dialogue and a main protagonist, "The Second Renaissance" immediately stands apart from the rest of The Animatrix shorts in two respects. Liberated from the basic requirements of narrative, the short story format is traded in for an ambitious god's eye view of how the hellish man-versus-machine world of The Matrix came to be. Framed as a historical document from the Zion archives, "The Second Renaissance" unfolds in metaphors and dream-like transitions facilitated by a glowing goddess female figure who narrates in cold mechanical fashion. Both parts begin and end by visually referencing the eastern religious art tradition of the mandala, a symbol used to evoke wholeness, completion, and eternity. But this spirituality is immediately contrasted by a parade of shocking images that deliberately invoke the social ills and traumas of the 20th century, such as Vietnam (the famous execution of a Viet Cong prisoner by South Vietnamese general Nguyen Ngoc Loan is replayed with humans and machines), race riots, and Tiananmen Square (here, a lone robot is crushed under the treads of an unrelenting tank). Rebellion dominates the imagery and our sympathies side with the machines even as they murderously turn on their owners and, in setting up their own nation-state called 01, upset the world's balance of power. The machines that populate the Matrix films lack much in the way of characterization (their tyranny is instead personified by Agent Smith), but "The Second Renaissance," written by the Wachowski brothers in conjunction with director Maeda, succeeds in delivering us an alternate morally challenging perspective. Even if there are no real politics on the table here, but rather a series of provocations, "The Second Renaissance" is visually spectacular enough to be something more than a mere "origin story." This is a remarkable, and remarkably dire, piece of science fiction that suggests that even those who already know history back and forth are doomed to repeat it.