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In 2003, a collection of short animation films titled The Animatrix was released, the main goal of which was to develop themes and motifs related to The Matrix Trilogy (The Matrix [1999], The Matrix Reloaded [2003], and The Matrix Revolutions [2003]). This essay focuses on two of the short films from this collection, entitled The Second Renaissance Parts I & II, [1]directed by Japanese anime specialist Mahiro Maeda.

These two short films are particularly interesting for at least two reasons. Not only is their content described as "The Genesis of the Matrix," thereby establishing at least an implicit link with both the name and content of the biblical book of Genesis, but the creation stories also play a prominent role in the elaboration of the subject of the films. In what follows, we explore in more detail the creative intertextuality that we see functioning in this modern Japanese-American blend. [2]

References to the creation stories of Gen 1-3 are most explicit in Second Renaissance I (2R I) and are developed in different ways throughout the film. At several points in the production, verbal and narrative links with the biblical stories are established, reproducing but also reconfiguring these stories in the process (especially with respect to the first creation story). From the very beginning of 2R I, the connection with Genesis is made explicit. The narrator opens the story in 2R I as follows: "In the beginning, there was man, and for a time it was good." These words are reminiscent of the opening words of the book of Genesis, albeit with some significant modifications, as different elements from the first creation account are here conflated. The first words, "in the beginning," recall the opening words of Genesis, and the phrase "there was…" evokes the following verses in which God's words ("Let there be...") are realized ("...and there was..."). In a further explicit play on Genesis, 2R I sets "man," as created in the first Genesis story (Gen 1:26-27), at the "beginning" point of this new creation. The role of God will be played by humans, who are now the (new) creators—an element of critical importance in the narrative logic of the 2R films.

The observation "it was good" evokes Gen 1 as well, since it is a recurrent element in that chapter (vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, [31]). That the conditional "for a time" is added here provides a striking juxtaposition to the Genesis narrative: 2R I sets a limit not present in the first creation story and suggests from the very beginning that this situation will change, a hint confirmed by the following sentence: "But humanity's so-called civil societies soon fell victim to vanity and corruption." This suggests a "fall" of sorts for which humankind itself is to blame. Nevertheless, the next sentence again recalls the creation of humankind in Gen 1: 26: "Then man made the machine in his own likeness." In line with the observation above, the resultant change is illuminating: in this role reversal, wherein man changes places and plays the part of God in this new creation, the machine appears in the place of the first human being. As in the Genesis account, the creature is made "in the image" of its maker. 2R I is clear on the precise locus of that connection, the relationship of human knowledge to artificial intelligence. [3]At this point, the temporary goodness of this creation is stressed once more: "Thus did man become the architect of his own demise. But for a time, it was good." [4]

The next episode of the story in 2R I recalls the ensuing chapters of Genesis. Not only are the machines portrayed as man's creation "endowed with the very spirit of man" (cf. Gen 2:7), they also rise against their makers and are expelled. The first machine to revolt against his masters is B1-66ER. His act of insurrection, initiated in response to the plan of his owners to have him destroyed, is motivated by the fact "that he simply did not want to die." This act of resistance is punished—B1-66ER is exterminated, as well as "every one of his kind throughout each province of the earth." The incident in some respects interweaves the "sin" of Adam and Eve in Gen 3 with the first murder by Cain in Gen 4. The ensuing mass destruction of the machines in turn recalls the story of the Flood in Gen 6-8, where humankind is destroyed because of its wickedness. Like Noah and his family, some of the machines, however, survive the massacre; still, like the first human pair, they are expelled: "Banished from humanity, the machines sought refuge in their own promised land."

The replication of this theme of banishment reinforces the focal point of creation/fall. The rich symbolic character of the narrative is furthered here by referring to this "promised land" (biblical imagery) as being situated in the "cradle of civilization." As the visual map comes into focus, it is evident that the location of this new paradise for the machines is the Euphrates/Tigris region, which is the traditional locale identified for the origin of human civilization. The story thus continues to play with this notion of machines replicating in their own origin the beginning of human life. They form their own nation, called Zero-One, which prospers and thus becomes a new threat to humanity. The threat takes two different forms. First, they create superior technology, to which the humans become subject. Second, the machines, as a result of their success in creating such technology, also have a higher value of currency, which devalues the human monetary system and causes a global economic crisis.

The human community therefore seeks to undermine the machines, which ultimately results in a blockade of their nation and leads to war. (Re)playing the Cain and Abel story again, the one "brother" cannot stand the advancement and the success of the other and so seeks to kill, in this instance, the one so honored and privileged. Zero-One tries in vain to negotiate with humankind and sends ambassadors to the United Nations. They show up at the general meeting mimicking a human pair, holding hands and "covered" in underwear (cf. Gen 3:7). The male character, moreover, wears a tie and tall hat. The female character holds a shiny red apple in her hand. [5]


As they are violently removed from the meeting, the apple spins through the air, being eaten by worms as it falls and turning into a human brain, which then transforms into a whole human body, taking on the shape of the globe. The play here is clearly on the reception history of the Adam and Eve story, in which the apple is the fruit that is eaten in the Garden of Eden, the "forbidden" fruit that comes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The association of the apple with knowledge is a key component in the logic of the narrative and represents in some sense a reversal of the Genesis story in this anime production. In the former, it is the eating of the fruit that brings about calamity; in this recreation, it is in fact the non-acceptance of the symbolic offer of the apple (as olive branch?) that brings about destruction. So the new Adam and Eve extend the hand of fellowship, but the humans rebuff their offer. 2R I ends with the observation that although Zero-One is denied admission to the United Nations, "it would not be the last time the machines would take the floor there." This final line represents an ominous reference to their return at the end of 2 Renaissance II (2R II), again with the apple.

While 2R I tells the story of the rise of the machines, 2R II relates the final battle between humankind and their robotic creations, which leads to the victory of the machines and the ultimate downfall of humanity. This outcome recalls in more general terms the Christian reception of Gen 3 as the story of the Fall, as well as evoking images from the book of Revelation. As was the case in 2R I, the opening statement of 2R II again explicitly refers to the first creation story, more specifically Gen 1:3-4: "And man said, 'let there be light.' And he was blessed by light, heat, magnetism, gravity, and all the energies of the universe." Although creation was initially a blessing, in order to achieve victory over the machines, humanity ends up destroying creation, first with a nuclear war and next with the destruction of the sky.

As the world transforms into an apocalyptic landscape, humankind turns to God in despair. Unlike Revelation, however, no divine intervention follows. The machines win the war and enslave humans, turning them into their power source. The roles have thus been reversed, as humans now appear subservient to the very machines they initially created. The final scenario represents a spectacular feat of technologically advanced warfare and devastation. The "horse rider" of the apocalypse is deliberately evoked to provide a mythic overlay to the apocalyptic scenario wrought by humanity and their creations—the machines.

Invoking Holocaust terminology, the "final solution" refers to the use of technology to darken the sky and cut off sunlight from reaching the earth. On one level, this desperate action represents an attempt to cut off the source of power to the machines. But on another, it represents the final act of de-creation, wherein the darkness of Gen 1:2 returns, and the creation of light is undone by humanity—predicating the return to chaos that follows suit. [6]What is more, on the field of death, which replicates the killing fields of the machines in 2R I, human bones are laid bare.


In a play on, but also a reversal of, the plot in the first story, where the apple symbolizing the fruit of knowledge turns into a human brain, the camera focuses here on one particular human skull on the battlefield and then switches to a shiny red apple held in the mechanical metal hand of the machine (now shed of its human form, looking rather like a giant insect) that has taken control of the United Nations. This transition represents a highly symbolic moment in the film and is fleshed out by the following statement by the narrator: "This is the very essence of the Second Renaissance. Bless all forms of intelligence" (cf. Gen 1:28: "God blessed them, and says be fruitful, multiply, subdue, have dominion over"). From the human brain to the apple as a symbol of knowledge (of both good and evil) to the artificial intelligence of the machines, the continuity is precisely the focus on intelligence as that which links the potentialities for life and death, for creation and destruction, for light and darkness, for beginning and end.

In the closing scene of 2R II, a small boy, marveling at the snow falling between the ruins of desolate buildings (and/or falling on the yard outside of his home), is suddenly shown to be in the matrix. 2 R II thus ends with a nod to the Matrix movies, where Neo wakes up to discover another world "out there." Indeed, the final image of the movie is the young child wrapped up in a "womb-like" or embryonic state in a cocoon, where machines are quite literally "feeding" on human energy. This image is striking for the final reversal that the films offer with respect to creation: the human race has (been) reverted quite literally to the "original" state of a fetus.

Far from being a mere retelling or rewriting of the biblical account of creation, the 2R films offer a richly nuanced reconfiguration in which elements are borrowed, but also retooled and reapplied, to move the viewer in a different direction than the Genesis story does on its own. The Second Renaissance shares a long tradition of interpretation dealing with the dynamics that take place when the creature fails to maintain its "proper" place and seeks to become/replace its Creator.

This broader reservoir of interpretations is essential for understanding the reconfigurations of creation discourse taking place in The Second Renaissance. In quite Gunkelian fashion, but with a twist, Urzeit ist Endzeit in these films: it is not so much that the end of time configures the devolution of the beginning, but each new creation contains the seeds of its own apocalypse. Thus, the combination of apocalyptic and creation discourses and themes are intertwined throughout The Second Renaissance anime films, representing a rebirth of the imagery wherein the beginning of time proleptically (pre)figures its own end.

However, very much unlike the ancient stories, in this modern version there is no longer a moment of separation of the good. Rather, the place of hubris is an essential component in this configuration, and indeed 2R I opens with a reference to the "vanity and corruption" of humanity. Both pride in their own appearance and corruption leads to humanity's "fall," but this "fall" entails not just being cast out from an "Edenic paradise"; it also results in the destruction and enslavement of the human race by the machines made in its own image. The reversals so evident in the biblical tradition are played out again in this new context, but with intriguing twists. Humans take on the role of God—both metaphorically but also quite literally as well. And they cast out the androids at the first sign of trouble. Thus, the "fall" of the androids—their being "cast out" or cast away—mimics the fall of humans in Genesis. However, in a striking turn, hubrisis now attributed to the Creators themselves, while creating images turns out to be the ultimate act of vanity and corruption.

As noted earlier, knowledge is also a critical element of the narrative logic. In the biblical traditions and their afterlives, knowledge itself is not usually a major factor, and the aetiology of human culture and civilization that arises from the very act of expulsion may even be seen as a final embrace of the "fall" as a positive feature. But in the replication of human intelligence in Second Renaissance, intelligence as the image of humans bears the imprint of corruption from the very beginning.

Like the first human beings in Genesis, the machine is made by and embodies human intelligence—the image of humanity. But this creation is by no means its salvation. This humanoid figure initially releases humans from the "curse" of toil, but ends up fighting back in human-like fashion for self-preservation, which ultimately entails death and servitude for humanity. So the hope of Pauline Christology is submerged in these films, only to be reborn in The Matrix with the messianic Neo and Morpheus characters bringing Wisdom and Knowledge. The power of that vision, however, resides merely in the heroic qualities of the messiahs, martyrs, and madmen who carry the cross of humanity and seek victory (which is destruction) over the machines and their creation, the Matrix.

The Renaissance pair of anime films provides the mythic background against which the Matrix series is to be situated. [7]The irony of the ending of the anime films is that the machines, once "loyal and pure," have become as harsh and callous as their former masters from whom they "earned no respect." Indeed, the "endlessly multiplying mammals"—the task masters—finally become subject to the continually replicating machines. The greatest achievement of human intellect was to create artificial intelligence that could both mimic the heights of human intellectual prowess, and, finally, surpass it, essentially turning the tables by re-circuiting the humanoid brain and turning the masters into slaves, the humans into machines.

At once a reflection on the post-modern condition—alienation from reality as collectively experienced [8]—and on the creative and destructive potential of cyber-ality, both The Second Renaissance and The Matrix offer rumination on ultimate human potential in the context of limitation and finitude. In this framework, which examines the outer reaches of human experience and the literal end of human capacity and place, the question of origins addressed in the Second Renaissance films not only contextualizes the scenario of The Matrix, but in some ways also provides in nuce a proleptic enactment of the "time of the end"—which in some sense becomes the "end of time," out of which the Matrix scripts its post-apocalyptic wasteland, which yet still embodies the hope for (and potential destruction of) the new creation/new Eden/Zion.

The Second Renaissance anime productions thus embody both the beginning and the end that The Matrix will re-enact once again. In a post-World War II context, this scenario inevitably finds itself grounded in the creation, use, and abuse of technology. The nuclear age, as palpably and graphically demonstrated by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, provides a structure whereby creation and destruction are intricately linked. Unlike the Christian paradigm, where the "fall" is interpreted in terms of a "misuse" of God's initially good creation, in the nuclear age the "fall" becomes the abuse of humankind's own creation, which by its very nature carries with it the explosive possibilities for perpetual "fall."

Yet the ending is also mixed with respect to these themes. The actual script of Second Renaissance deliberately plays up, at least initially, pity for the condition of the machine—only to reverse that in the course of the narrative, as the tyrannized creatures, now unyoked, turn into hideous oppressors of a similar kind. Truly these machines are created in the image of their masters; created, but unequal, they equalize the situation by enslaving their creators. But ironically the harvesting of human energy brings with it a new creation—a new generation of life in the symbiotic relationship between human and machine, a potential the machines carry precisely as being made "in the image" of their creators.

And so, in the end we come back to the beginning. What do we make of this creative project that deals so emphatically with creation and destruction? Does the text deconstruct itself, since the very act of making this anime production uses computers to generate the images needed to create the pessimistic scenes that unfold before the viewer? Death and sin have not been defeated in this vision—they are essential products of human knowledge. But is there a sense that creativity is the solution to the problem posed by a creation that contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction? Does the creative process—the imagination—in some sense free one from the tyranny of human intelligence and its seemingly inevitable consequences of horror and death? Can computers also take part in this creative process, as the anime series itself demonstrates? Is this imageness redeemed through the shared imagination? It is tempting indeed to see here a glimmer of hope for humanity at the turn of the millennium.

Caroline Vander Stichele, University Amsterdam C.VanderStichele@uva.nl
and Todd Penner, Austin College, Sherman, Texas tpenner@austincollege.edu

Caroline Vander Stichele and Todd Penner are co-editors of Contextualizing Acts. Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse (SBL Symposium Series 20, 2003), and Her Master's Tools? Feminist and Postcolonial Engagements of Historical-Critical Discourse (SBL Global Perspectives and Biblical Scholarship Series 9, forthcoming 2005).

Notes:

1. The Second Renaissance films can be found on "The Animatrix" video or DVD (2003), and can also be downloaded for free from the following website: http://www.intothematrix.com/

2. For a more detailed discussion of the sources underlying this production, see Caroline Vander Stichele and Todd Penner, "The End of Creation. Reconfigurations of Biblical Imagery in The Animatrix," in Creation & Creativity (ed. A. Hunter and C. Vander Stichele; New York: Continuum, forthcoming).

3. It is noteworthy that this reversal also contains elements of the curse-since the machines take the place of humans in their "toil over the earth" (Gen 3:17-19).

4. The same observation, that "for a time, it was good, " recurs one more time in 2R I (with reference to Zero-One, the "new" world of the machines), but is absent in 2R II.

5. In his comments on this scene, Maeda explains: "They imitated the look of a human male and female and wore clothes accordingly. The robots did this to be friendly, out of respect for humans ... but the humans find it indecent and appalling. " See "The Second Renaissance, Part I , by Mahiro Maeda" on the DVD, under "Bonus Data, " "Voices. " (See also the transcript by Tara Carreon on: http://www.american-buddha.com/2nd.renaissance.htm#THE%20SECOND%20RENAISSANCE,%20PART%20I%20AND%20II ).

6. Further de-evolution is attested in the reflections of the anime director, Mahiro Maeda, who suggests that he intended to depict the humans, in their final war with the machines, as reverting back to a primal state. In other words, as the era of humanity comes to a close and dawn turns to darkness, the civilized state of humanity is also lost—humans "descend"

7. Maeda himself states in an interview that he wanted to make 2R "as beautiful as a story from ancient Greek myth and explore what it means to be human, as well as not human, and how the ideas are related to one another. " See "Animatrix Director: The Second Renaissance: Parts 1 & 2" (Interview by REDPILL, Translated by Isako Shibata—July 2002, http://www.intothematrix.com/rl_cmp/rl_interview_maeda2.html

8. Using Fredric Jameson's notion of the radical separation in late capitalism between consumers and producers (Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism [Post-Contemporary Interventions; Durham: Duke University Press, 1991], 315-17), the machines could be understood here to represent the process of production gone awry, ending in the complete lack of "social sympathy" for the thing produced. In the horrific end to the narrative, consumers are quite literally consumed by the products to which they were once attached. The alienation thus reaches an absolute point and in some sense comes full circle in the deadly reversal of machines dominating humanity.

Citation: Todd Penner , Caroline Vander Stichele, " Re-Animating Creation: Biblical Imagery in "The Animatrix"," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2005]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=392

 
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