Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Karl Marx, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tze-Tung, Joseph Stalin, Hannibal, Peter the Great. Tears for Fears had it right when they said everybody wants to rule the world.
The Animatrix, a seamless blend of American storytelling and Japanese animation, is actually just a modern Hegemon. It’s The Prince for the electronic age. Whether The Matrix, which spawned this newest guidebook to world domination, is anti-Communist (à la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), capitalist (“I can only show you the door; you have to walk through it.”), or priestly doesn’t actually matter. For unlike its politically biased predecessors (see Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto), The Animatrix and its “Eight Easy Steps to Global Domination” can work for you—at home or on the job—regardless of your political affiliations.
Just add manifesto.
“Fly, Baby. Fly!” These are the last words the captain of the Osiris speaks to his lover as she enters the Matrix.
The image of the Osiris peering over the ocean of Sentinels as they dig toward the last human city of Zion may seem like a simple prologue to The Matrix Reloaded, but in fact it is the most striking image of Evil Superpower vs. Benevolent Little Guy since the Tiananmen Square riots.
“The Final Flight of the Osiris” is a tale of love, honor, bravery, sacrifice, the dream of every true warrior: to die in the throws of savage combat against an innumerable enemy. It is the story of Alexander the Great’s father. It is the story of Russia’s class system as told by Marx. It is the story of Napoleon’s checkbook.
As Machiavelli so eloquently noted, it is best to be loved by your subjects and feared by your enemies. Militarily, fear gives you a strategic advantage, while loving subjects will protect you from assassination. Cinegraphically, this is best seen in Enemy at the Gates. The Russian army, threatened with death if they retreat, is facing the German army, which has caviar brought in with the rest of their rations, and it’s losing until the heroic shepherd boy from the Urals becomes the loved figurehead of the resistance.
When you’re starting a revolution, a story like “Osiris” has two important effects. First, it makes you look like a one-man army that is faltering, with magnificent valor, against the endless hordes it opposes. Second, it shows you as an indomitable warrior who sees impossible odds and gets on the guns saying, “Come and get some.”
People, especially Americans, love underdogs. It makes sense given our national heritage. And what is more frightening to an evil empire with half-hearted soldiers than a berserker with convictions he’s willing to die for?
Unfortunately, the noble warrior isn’t enough to inspire a nation. You need to give your would-be followers a reason to follow you. This is where a manifesto is helpful, but the real key to starting a following is to make them think you are one of them. For this, you have to have some mutual reason for being a victim.
Cue “The Second Renaissance,” the story of how the Matrix came into existence. Man creates machine, “and for a time, it was good”; man tries to deactivate machine; machine kills man; the machines get pissed and try to kill the rest of mankind. It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times. It’s the classic “sins of the fathers” scenario. Our ruthless, unbending, unloving fathers were offered peace but because of their bigotry and ego, refused. Now we must correct their mistakes. Is there any story more attractive to the I’m-sixteen-and-angry-at-my-dad group?
The use of imagery in “Renaissance” is telling. The news footage following the trial of B166ER resonates with the echoes—of Tiananmen Square as a robot stands in front of a tank that rolls over him; of the Montgomery riots as an army of police in riot gear marches toward a mob overcome by tear gas; of the Holocaust as the bodies of thousands of robots are piled into a mass grave. These icons of repression are supported by the retrospective Zion Mainframe’s repeated Biblical references. The narrator says “it was good” about six times in Part 1, a reference to the Genesis account of Creation. In Part 2, as the battle rages between the humans and the machines, a mechanical rider on a robotic horse blows a long trumpet, an image of the Apocalypse torn straight from Revelation.
Catholicism, the gentile child of Judaism that emerged from the ashes of the fall of the Roman Empire to become the superpower of the first Renaissance, may very well be the institution represented by the Matrix. Humanity (Judaism) creates a version of itself (Catholicism) that becomes corrupted (remember that Spanish Inquisition that no one expects? Or Pope Alexander IV, Rodrigo Borgia?) and rules the world with an iron fist for three hundred years until a group of insiders (Protestants) rebel and are forced away from what has been their home into a new promised land, a New World, a new Zion (America).
A stretch? Maybe. But couldn’t Neo be Martin Luther? He’s got the monk robes and at the end of The Matrix he uses a public telephone to give his ultimatum to the oppressing forces. He says that he’s “going to show these people what you don’t want them to see . . . a world without you.” The 95 Theses basically ended the omnipotence of the institutional church in one fell swoop. The Matrix could just be an analogy for the Reformation.
This is, of course, just one of many theories. It could be showing the internal struggles of Christianity. It could be a call for the denominations of Christianity (think back to Morpheus’ speech in Reloaded where he calls for the walls to be shaken all the way to the suburbs of Zion) to rise up against scientific secularism. It could be the struggle for Communism, or against it.
Basically, The Matrix is the universal story of any rebellion or revolution in history, ever. And it is one that is needed for any new revolution or rebellion to gather a following.
Up to this point, “you” has actually been “your cause.” Because, as anyone who has tried to take over the world knows, you and your cause become completely inseparable. In the case of the real William Wallace (as opposed to the legend in Braveheart), the cause of freedom was Scotland’s and, more specifically, Robert the Bruce’s. Wallace was simply a hunter who became the everyman figurehead. He was the boy down the street who became a hero.
To this end, The Animatrix gives us “Kid’s Story.” Teen angst at its finest presented in rough images that shift even as they hold still. Kid has no contact with Neo, the embodiment of the rebellion against the Matrix, yet he writes in his notebook “Neo help me.” He is not recruited, but rather instinctively knows that something is wrong in his world and that somehow Neo is the way to correct it. Neo’s only interaction with Kid comes when the Agents of the Matrix come to eliminate this rogue element inside the system. Kid’s cell phone rings and Neo is on the other end, warning him of the impending danger. It is Kid who runs, or rather skateboards, from the Agents and then hurls himself off the roof of his school.
So Kid understands, on some level, that the Matrix exists and that he must get free. But does that mean that only a select few are able to come to this knowledge? Absolutely not. What kind of revolution is only open to a chosen few? Enter “World Record.”
Much like Kid, the hero of “World Record” is a man who seeks to break the rules of the Matrix. What is different about the Record Breaker is that he hasn’t even the slightest inkling that he is a prisoner in his own mind.
In what is arguably the most telling image in The Animatrix, a group of runners suddenly morph into Agents just as our hero is about to cross the threshold of reality. The Agents, whose speed is legendary and can supposedly only be matched by Neo, reach out desperately to halt the Record Breaker, but they get only air as he speeds away from them. And in that moment he is free. For a few brief seconds he sees the truth, he sees the Matrix for what it really is. It is short-lived, however, and our hero is restricted to a wheelchair hearing a nurse drone on about pie while he dreams of pushing past the limits and being free forever.
So, what is the message? We’ve already seen Kid escape, now we’ve been shown how to get Kid’s sight. We’ve been instructed in how we can become like our everyday figurehead of the rebellion.
The thing that separates every good rebellion from the evil empire it opposes, is choice. Most empires are evil simply because they say “this is the way it is, and if you don’t like it, too bad.” Now that we have given the people a hero and shown them how to become like him, we must give them the choice between the empire and the rebellion.
The choice between freedom and contented servitude, of which we saw both sides in The Matrix with Neo and Cypher, is established as a pivotal element in gaining a loyal following in The Animatrix’s most stylish piece: “Program.”
This is easily the most blatant of all the shorts. Not only is the animation textbook Anime, the message is presented on a silver platter. But this message is made easier to take with lots of the medieval Asian-style action sequences that hooked us on The Matrix to begin with.
Two freed minds, inside a construct program, debate the pros and cons of being free and living in the Matrix while they sword-fight in ways that would make the characters from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon drool. When our protagonist kills the man who would go back into the Matrix—a neo-Cypher if you will—she is released from the program and told it was all part of the simulation. It was a test.
Such a test is indispensable to any rebellion. Rebellions imply great danger, hard work, and leaving behind previous lives. They thus require a great deal of work and faith to join. But you as the leader must still weed out the infiltrators and those who have lost their initial passion as the early romance is stripped away to reveal the harsh reality.
Literature, the most elevated form of communication any society can have, is also a great tool of a rebellion, though not for the reasons you might think. Yes, literature can spread your message to potential recruits. But because it can spread your message to potential recruits, any evil empire worth its salt will try to stop it and will attempt to censor your literature. When they do, the empire has just handed you your most potent weapon.
“If they censor this,” you can tell your followers and possible converts, “what will be next? They will censor anything they don’t like.” If you are going to be a world leader, you have to learn that you cannot mess with art.
The Animatrix illustrates this in the most enigmatic of its stories: “Beyond.” “Beyond” is the story of a group of children and a young woman who find themselves in a “haunted house” where the rules of physics do not apply. It is an anomaly of pure beauty inside the Matrix. In another stroke of brilliant biblical reference, a white dove flies across the screen at the zenith of the games in the house. The dove, which also appeared at the baptism of Christ, represents peace and the Holy Spirit, the entity who ties humans to God the Father.
This articulation of art as a universal connection to God makes it all the more precious. This “haunted house” appears in the same way as a conduit to the “world without rules or boundaries” that Neo speaks of at the end of The Matrix—a world that he himself is introduced to by Trinity.
The haunted house is a haven of beauty among the chaotic streets where the dreamers and innocents pushed aside by the society around them can live their beautiful dreams, if only for a few short hours. In the end, the evil empire steps in, destroys it, and puts up a parking lot. (Instead of Juno Reactor’s “Conga Fury,” a much more appropriate soundtrack for the credits roll for this piece would be the Counting Crows–Vanessa Carlton version of “Big Yellow Taxi.”)
“Detective Story” is probably the most poignant analogy for modern romance out there. A detective is hired to find the criminal, Trinity. Trinity, as played by the beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss, is the representation of modern society’s perfect woman. Attractive, healthily thin, but apart from the anatomy could be a guy. For most guys these days, there is no greater aphrodisiac than a chick who can kick your butt.
Our detective manages to track down Trinity, the perfect woman, who promises him that she will open his eyes to a world he never dreamed of. But when he does make contact, their meeting is cut short by Agents—or reality, for our detective. Ultimately, we leave the detective lighting a cigarette and getting ready to face down the Agents while Trinity escapes her hunters.
Most guys over twenty on this planet can look back on that perfect girl who got away because reality stepped in and tore us apart. We all have our Trinity. But what does this have to do with taking over the world? Plenty.
Trinity promises to free the detective from the Matrix, but freedom is ultimately unattainable for him. Up to this point, you haven’t promised your followers much, other than something better than what they have. A world of freedom where there once was oppression. Love where there was hate, life where there was death, beauty where there was only bleak ugliness.
Now that you have a strong following and have thoroughly demonized the evil empire you’re opposing, you have to lay out the details of your better world. You have to paint the picture of a utopia—and you have to show them the road that leads there. But your utopia cannot be something attainable, ever. There’s really no telling how fast these people will work. If they reach your utopia in your lifetime, you’re bound to have trouble from some young buck with even bigger dreams than you. But even if you’re dead when they finish, you still have to worry about your legacy. What’s the point of conquering the world if you’re later usurped by a greater empire and forgotten?
You have to leave a mark so deep that it will never be forgotten, so you must give your followers a dream so great they can’t ever quite reach it, to keep them working toward it forever. This will leave you with an immortal legacy. Now there’s just one more thing to do.
This last step is critically important because of apathy. In the early days of your revolution, you had a handful of dedicated and militant followers. By now, you’ve got a couple of armies’ worth. Earlier you were riding the wave of David vs. Goliath. Now you’re almost equally matched with the empire you oppose.
You suddenly realize that you’ve moved beyond the romantic image of the righteous Ronin that you wore when you started out. Since your followers no longer feel like rebels, since they’ve become a nation unto themselves, you could definitely have a problem with people feeling like they’re exactly like those that they fight—just with a different dogma.
To learn how to prevent this, we look to “Matriculated,” the final segment, and the most difficult to wrap our heads around. “Matriculated” begins with a woman and some kind of monkey thing in a jar, looking out at the ocean. They are waiting for robots, and they get them. They flee, with the two robots behind them, and lead them into a trap. One robot is destroyed, but the other is salvaged and hooked into a Construct program, built with the purpose of convincing the machine to change sides.
After a sequence that can only be described as Tron on acid, the machine meets with the “residual self-image” of the woman he was chasing earlier. She takes his hand and they go flying through a flurry of light so psychedelic I expected “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane to start playing (either that or Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” but “Rabbit” fits better with the whole Matrix mythology).
On this groovy trip, the robot falls in love with the human who leads him. Thus, when more robots attack the base the humans have set up, our robot hero joins the fight with the humans just in time to save his human guide. With the two of them the only ones left alive, the machine plugs the human woman and himself into the Construct. The robot attempts to restart the romantic episode was interrupted by his evil brethren, but the human woman flees and—apparently—dies.
This longest of the shorts (“Renaissance” was in two parts) ends much as it began, with the robot sitting on the beach, still focused on his mission, waiting for the next of his kin to come and be converted. This job is what the robot must do, because he is the only one left to do it.
To maintain the drive of your followers, they must see themselves as different in some way from the rest of humanity. Hitler used racial-superiority propaganda on his Third Reich, and if it hadn’t been for Uncle Sam stepping in to kick some Aryan ass, he might have succeeded. True, Britain held them off for a while, and the Russians did the same. But the attitude evoked by invoking “Uncle Sam” is an illustration of another effective tool: patriotism.
Patriotism, religious zealotry, genetic “superiority”—all are effective ways of convincing your followers they are special, that this group of which they are a part is somehow chosen. That it is their divine duty to bring about the utopian vision you have painted for them.
Once this is accomplished, you get to sit back, relax, make the occasional morale-boosting speech, and watch as your world is shaped just the way you want it. Vive le roi.
Za’chary Westbrook, 18, was homeschooled and is an incoming freshman at Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon.