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Animatrix: Matriculated

Matriculated is the last of the Animatrix short films and one of the most potent.

The story begins with a woman in a powered suit, sitting on the shoreline, watching far out to sea. The eternal clouds shrouded above her and crackling lightning identify this as the Matrix 'real world'. She's bored, and so is the cybernetic monkey in the jar beside her. She's a sentry, waiting for any intruders to arrive on the island.

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The light she sees by is siphoned from a hacked gas pipeline, burning dull and blue. The monkey sees them before she does; two shapes wading through the surf, coming ashore from the deep sea. An operator, in an interior control room is linked to the feed the Monkey sees. Likely linked in by the monkey. He speaks on the radio. "Your baby's spotted two machines. Headed in fast."

She sees them, they are a type identified as 'runners' - machines built for land travel, manoeuvrability and speed. She dashes off, trying to outrun the machines. At first, hiding behind the ruin of a giant metal hand, it doesn't look like they have seen her, but as one removes flotsam from its eyestalks, they narrow at her. She gasps and runs; dodging the machines on a landscape that would make H.R. Giger proud.

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She coots up an old, flexing antenna, monkey jar in hand, and disappears into a hole in some pipework. Speaking over the radio she says, "I'm in." The robots cannot follow up the antenna, so they scurry, spider-like over the pipework, losing ground.

Eventually they reach the top and spy a hollowed out robot head, perched on other junk, at the top of a gentle rise of broken pipes. Zooming in and using infrared, they make out the heat signatures of several human bodies inside. There are too many of them, so the machines radio for reinforcements. To do this, one of them 'poos out' another tiny droid, which anchors itself to the ground, and disgorges a small radio dish. It then uses this to beam data about what is happening, back to the machines, and only to them.

Two sentinels and three much heavier versions of the sentinels respond, flying from some miles away, to aid.

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The two runners meanwhile, head into the structure. There they find a small room, with the cyborg in a jar, dangling from the ceiling. All exits close as they stare at the monkey. One of them spies a key laying on the floor and strides over to pick it up, then inserts it in the closed door leading further in. It turns the key. The door opens to reveal a larger runner robot standing there, filling the doorway.

Confused, one of the robots tries to edge round it, but is rewarded with a punch that sends it flying. Landing next to its companion, both hit the floor with their eyestalks and raise their legs into the air. Their eyestalks become their new legs, with heavily armoured bellies being their new front, and their long spindly legs being attack claws. Truly a versatile robot.

The robots attack as a team. One leaps forwards, which the big brute grabs, and thumps to the floor, crushing its torso. The other leaps a fraction of a second later, tearing the big one's sensor cluster off and smashing it on the floor. One of the runners is dead, so is the big one. The remaining runner moves further in. Before it can get very far, the woman from before, fries it with a tesla cannon. It's all over.

A curtain pulls back on the side of the 'arena' and several other humans' clap, having enjoyed the show.

The machine is smarter than others they've seen and they think it is quite a catch. The woman asks, "Do you think it will convert?"

To which a voice replies cryptically. "To convert is its choice to make."

Everything fades to black.

It comes back to a workshop. The woman is speaking again. "Do you think we ought to reprogram it?"

To which the lab technician, same voice from before, replies. "No, we can't make slaves of them."

"Because that would be simpler."

"We won't beat the machines by making them our slaves. Better to let them join us by choice."

"But we make them believe their choice is the one we want them to make."

"Alright, yes, machines are tools that are made to be used. It's their nature…"

"…To be slaves."

"That's why we can show them a better world. Why they convert."

"But that world we show them, isn't real."

"It doesn't matter."

"Well, I'm afraid they'll figure out its all in their heads."

"They can't tell the difference. To an artificial mind, all reality is virtual. How do they know that the real world isn't just another simulation? How do you?"

"Well, I know I'm not dreaming now, because I know what it's like being in a dream."

"So dreaming lets you know reality exists?"

"No, just that my mind exists. I don't know about the rest."

The scene fades out to be replaced sometime later, by a strange apparatus, in the middle of a dedicated room, up on the surface. Behind it are the green glasslike windows the machines first saw cut into the old, giant robot head. This room then, is the inside of that head.

The runner is in the middle of the machine, and two people are preparing it, opening up access to its data port, so they can connect it straight into their own little private simulation. The rest of the machine is the computer to run the sim, and the data nodes for the humans. An entirely self-enclosed system.

One stays outside to monitor things, the others sit cross legged around the machine, and plug one another in.

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Inside the local area matrix, a glowing, psychedelic landscape bearing more than a passing similarity to landscapes such as 'the eternal night fish'. The initial room, is a glowing, organic dome inside which sits the robot's avatar, its 'digital self' which matches how it perceives itself, the same as its actual external shell. The avatars of the human participants float nearby, as energy forms; each coloured that person's favourite colour.

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The humans all wave or giggle or otherwise acknowledge the machines' presence then one by one they run into one of the organic looking open doorways that litter the room. As soon as a person passes through a doorway, the two sides move together and it seals shut. There are just enough doorways for all the humans, plus one.

Two of the human avatars are making love on the floor. The robot goes over and tries to grab one. The woman gets away, but it grabs the man by his head. The man laughs, pulls his head back from the robot's pincers, somersaults over it and leaves, leaving the robot alone in the room.

Beyond the one remaining open door a figure darts, one of the females, laughing. The machine sees this and turns to pursue. Beyond, the corridor is bright like neon, and has a definite mechanical feel to it. It's a lot like a Tron set with extra glowing edges.

A male and female human figure run up from either side of the corridor. Both laughing, the male disappears down another corridor, but the female stops, and giggles, looking at the robot. The male reappears and together they run into the glowing structure in the middle of the corridor, and vanish. All power to the structure vanishes with them. Curious, the machine pokes its neck into a hole in the structure, to see what is left inside.

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It's a cinema, and the robot has just thrust its head through the screen and is staring at row after row of tiny, miniature seats. The robot is confused further and tries to pull its head back, but it can't. The screen pulsates, and begins merging into the robot's skin. The outer layer of skin peels off, leaving a red layer underneath it, as if the skin had peeled off over muscle.

The cast off forms itself into a ball, and drops into a funnel that has suddenly appeared in the floor. It spins round and round, whilst the machine's facial pincers try to grab for it, to no avail. It falls through the hole in the funnel, gone.

With the loss of its mechanical outsides, the robot feels vulnerable, and needs to protect its inner workings. With that thought, tendrils erupt from its body, its avatar-form, and begin to cover it in an organic shell. Its as if the environment was just waiting for the robot to make that realisation, and knew what to do when it detected that thought pattern.

The tendrils wrap around the robot, constricting, changing its form, removing anything that was machinelike, and changing it into a human-like form. To it, all of its body behind the movie screen was lost, so the tendrils are allowed to reshape it into anything that is mobile. The new form slowly turns the same golden shade as its own body, to ease the transition, and the artificial mind accepts that this is its body now. The simulation responds by returning human tactile responses to the robot's struggling mind.

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A metallic worm crawls down the outside of the new body's arm. Tactile responses suggest it should not be there, so the robot plucks it off and places it in a vase full of water it sees on the floor. Another aspect of its machine nation personality has just gone - that was a tracking device, external to the main mind, like the radar bot from earlier.

Walking carefully through a large doorway, the AI is stunned when the walls slam shut behind it, and a tunnel of nodes descends. On the far side of the tunnel, a human plays with a ball, a shape which the machine now recognises as similar to its own self image. The figure smiles at the machine and tosses the ball down the tunnel to it. The ball freezes halfway. Shocked, the machine can see its it's own discarded skin. All the old familiarity, its old body, everything that made it who it was, its all there!

The ball falls to the floor, is accelerated off of a bumper there, and hits the ceiling where it is again accelerated. It bounces on and on faster and faster, till the machine knows it cannot catch it without damage. The ball slams towards its new body and the AI gets out of the way. The ball slams into a target on the wall that closed earlier and everything flashes excitedly.

The human lets out a whoop, and the AI peers at the target to see it's a crystalline cube, the ball has cracked it, and moved to the middle of the block, where it is just floating. The cracked block slowly resealing itself.

Suddenly the block slides out of the wall, and falls on the far side. Another human has it. He smiles and carries the robot's previous existence off. Distraught, the robot follows through the hole.

It's a brand new environment, totally different to the ones before. Physics seems to have no meaning, walls floor and ceiling all moving independently of one another, as fractured crystal shards. The human with the cube is in the distance, and a hot pursuit begins.

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The robot runs past a strange cuboid room, uncaring, it has lost sight of its pursuer. It turns left at the edge of the room then left, left, and left again. Back at the entrance to the room, it sees the cube! Left in the doorway, the sphere of skin still inside it. Triumphant, the AI picks it up.

It walks into the room, which seals off behind it. Trapped, the AI looks for a way out, and sees a small hole in the middle of the floor, the exact same dimensions as the cube. The metal snake from earlier rises up out of water at the bottom of the hole; all its machine parts are together again! The machine tips the box so the impact hole is downwards, and places it into the hole. The worm surges up through the hole and into all the cracks, consuming the skin, as both turn to viscous blackness.

The cube shatters and tendrils of this blackness reach out into the room, under the room, through the floor, grasping for the AI, with suffocating dark. The AI backs against the door, watching the malevolent tendrils creep ever closer. The door judderingly opens and a human is there, forcing the door open. He's trying to rescue the AI, save it from this thing!

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The human reaches out a hand, the AI grasps to take it, but a tendril is too quick and wraps around the AI's neck, pulling it back. More tendrils follow, and then more. All is dark, and the AI bobs on a sea of blackness, slowly pulled under. It feels everything it is, ebb away inside a terrible monster.

The darkness is blasted back by a light. IT coalesces, a human female, holding the evil at bay. She reaches out a hand and the AI takes it, pulling itself to her, to safety. The humans saved its life; it has more in common with them than it ever-dreamed possible. It even feels like one of them now.

The simulation changes to wondrous colours and soft voices, peace, freedom, escape all reinforcing the artificial mind's conditioning. It sees it all.

A little money avatar hops up onto the woman's shoulder in this space, identifying who she is, as she leads the AI out of the clutches of the absorbing Machine Empire. A wondrous grotto of psychedelic colouring. They embrace passionately, and the simulation ends.

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The AI is back in its own body, in the rebel hideout.


Alarms blare urgently. A force of robots is descending on the hideout. Everyone to battle stations. It's the sentinels and heavy sentinels from earlier; the floaters have finally reached the island and are closing on the compound.

With the click of a button all the previously mentally reconditioned machines are awakened from their simulation states. The evil Machine Empire is attacking, they have to defend their human friends, their brethren.

The sentinels smash through the glass windows, and are met by the other robots in fierce pitched battle. Humans join in with tesla cannons, but it is a slaughter.

The new AI sits in serenity in all this chaos. Newly awake, it is not sure what to do. It sees the woman with the monkey. She asks it directly to help her, the last human as a sentinel closes in. Also the last.

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The sentinel captures her, and ruptures her body. This drives the runner to act. It slashes out. One arm grabs the sentinel, the other smashes through the faceplate into its electronic brain. The flying warrior collapses, the woman it was carrying dropping from its arms, to lay unmoving.

The runner picks her up. She is still alive but badly damaged. It reaches for the neural jack closest to it, and plugs her in, and then it does the same for itself. All other robots and all the humans have been destroyed. They are the only two left. Via the simulation they can be together. Where they left off.

Her unconscious mind wakes in the simulation, she looks around fearfully. Realising its just her and the machine, she panics, and pulls away, screaming, as it advances closer, jut wanting to hold her and enjoy.

Her consciousness fades as her body dies, and her avatar winks out. Alone, and confused, feeling the walls of reality crumble and with nothing left, the AI emerges from the simulation, taking the last coherent image from her mind, it heads to the shore and sits, next to the dim blue burning fire, waiting for more machines to come, waiting for oblivion.


Running time: 16:20

Written by Peter Chung,
Directed by Peter Chung,


Purchase This

The Animatrix

The Animatrix is a collection of nine short animations, a mix of CG and hand drawn animation, starting with this one, and moving through eight others, each with a unique point of view. Some are deeply philosophical , some wax poetic. All are filled with information on VR, on what it could and can quite easily be, beyond the matrix series itself.

Ironically, Flight of the Osiris is the odd one out, as it is the most plot-canon of the nine, and has the least to offer in philosophical or technical musings about VR. That said, the CG still gives us a great deal to muse over visually, but the others too, are well worth a look.

Review also links to all nine short films.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection

The 'Ultimate Matrix Collection' is actually rather less than ultimate, since it does not include the Matrix philosophy books, and other add-ons. However, what this bumper DVD collection does include, is all three films, and the Animatrix.

Other Links

Resource List: Everything Matrix

A resource list held on VWN, attempting to index everything we have, Matrix related. It continues to grow steadily over time

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