Science Fiction

Watch These Robots Work Themselves to Death in This Sci-Fi Short

'Vicious Cycle' is a look at mindless work and automation.

Caroline Haskins

No one is having a worse day than the robots in this animated short.

In “Vicious Cycle,” written and directed by London-based animator Michael Marczewski, we’re introduced to boxy but human-like robots with wide, vibrant eyes, only to watch them be violently torn apart.

Each robot has a task which seems incredibly cute at first. One robot waves hello! One robot carries tiny batteries that are big for its body! (It’s possible they’re just big batteries. I don’t know.)

In an email, Marczewski told me that the robots’ tasks were designed to be mundane, but visually satisfying.

“I've always been intrigued by intricate mechanisms,” he said. “Then the idea of connecting them to helpless robots came, and it evolved from there.”

However, there’s no clear purpose to each task, and the robots can’t actually stop. Each metal-clad fellow is locked into pretty, pastel machinery that almost blends into the background. In contrast, the robots look dirty and neglected.

Image: Michael Marczewski

The robots’ arrangement seems excusable at first, since they work slowly. But gradually, the machinery entrapping the robots forces them to work more quickly, sloppily, and desperately. The poor robots can’t do anything about it.

It’s easy to find humanity in the overworked robots. As one robot puts tiny sushi bows on a conveyor belt, it’s hard not to imagine human workers for companies like Amazon, working fast-paced, repetitive tasks that drive workers to poverty and exhaustion. But other animations by Marczewski have explored people’s extreme reliance on gadgets and appliances, so maybe this short was meant to explore the demand for these technologies.

But when I asked Marczewski what he wants people to take away from the film, I rethought my analysis a bit.

“People tend to read into things too hard,” he said. “Most people equated it to being trapped into a mundane repetitive job. Essentially I just wanted to make a visually pleasing film that spins out of control and turns amusingly horrifying!”