When Callum Lynch arrives at the Abstergo facility in in the opening scenes of Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed movie, he’s introduced to a world he didn’t know existed. The Assassin Brotherhood and the Templar Order have been at war for as long as history can remember, each group with their own ideals and beliefs for how mankind can reach its greatest potential and trying to trace artefacts of a precursor civilisation that was wiped out before the first humans walked the Earth. Through the Animus, the Templars hope to tap into genetic memories, sending individuals back through history to relive the experiences of their ancestors. But what does it all mean? For a newcomer to the world of Assassin’s Creed, here’s a primer to get you up to speed.
THE ASSASSIN BROTHERHOOD
The Assassin Brotherhood trace their roots back to the dawn of Age. A secret sect of silent warriors, the Assassin’s have three key rules:
Stay your blade from the flesh of the innocent.
Hide in plain sight.
Never compromise the Brotherhood.
It’s through these Three Tenets that the Assassin’s have operated over the centuries and waged a clandestine war against the Templar Order. An Assassin must show restraint, and take lives only when necessary; an Assassin must show subtlety, and blend with the crowd; an Assassin must show integrity, and never bring harm to the Brotherhood.
It’s through these tenets that they distinguish themselves from the Knights Templar, who value control over free will. Assassins believe in free will, and recognise the inherent contradiction their Creed causes to that end. They take their inspiration from the Eagle, surveying cities from high vantage points, scaling rooftops and taking the lives of their enemies with hidden blades.
THE TEMPLAR ORDER
With a similarly expansive history, The Templar Order have long desired to be the puppet masters of history. Believed to have existed since the dawn of humanity, the Templars and the Assassins once shared the same beliefs and ideals for society, but over time their enmity has seen them wage a war that has lasted a millennium. Both factions believe in a better future for humanity, but the Templars are wont to achieve their ends with the pursuit of power and wealth, corrupting governments and bending religion to their own ends. They have been responsible for the greatest conflicts in Earth’s history, everything from the Crusades to the Cold War.
As the 20th Century dawned, and the power of religion, which had proved such a useful pawn in the Templar game, waned, so the Templar Order sought to wage technological war through the application of science. Believing progress would grant them the control they so desired, they invested heavily in breakthroughs that they applied to their own ends, through a mega-corporation with tentacles in many different industries, called Abstergo. By the time of the events of Justin Kurzel’s ASSASSIN’S CREED movie, Abstergo believes it is on the cusp of a breakthrough, but to reach the answers they seek, they must draw on the knowledge and experience of the Assassin Brotherhood – by force if necessary.
It’s in Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender) that Abstergo believes it will finally achieve its goal. Under the direction of her father, Alan Rikken (Jeremy Irons), a promising young scientist at Abstergo, Dr. Sofia Rikken (Marion Cotillard), arranges for Lynch’s release from Death Row, where he is being held for murder. A troubled man, who witnessed his mother’s death at his father’s hand when he was just a boy, Lynch is lost and struggling to understand his place in the world. Sofia promises to answer his questions, if only he’ll take part in her experiments with a device known as the Animus.
The most iconic of Abstergo’s scientific developments is a machine that unlocks the genetic memories held in a subject’s DNA, allowing them to regress to and experience the memories of ancestors thought long lost to history. It’s a complicated and fraught procedure, requiring full ego-integrity (read: sanity) from its participants, and synchronisation is maintained on a knife’s edge. Extreme events, and emotional responses can cause synchronisation to waver, and full desyncronisation can have devastating effects on a subject’s psyche. The eventual end result of prolonged exposure to the Animus is “splitting”, or the complete lost of mental faculties and irreversible damage to the memories contained within. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to page directly to the most relevant memories in a subject’s psyche, and much can happen on the road to the answers being sought.
THE BLEEDING EFFECT
Prolonged exposure to the Animus can result in the latent imagery of their ancestors’ memories presenting themselves even when they are not in the Animus. It presents through extreme hallucinations, nightmares, nausea and pain, and effects intensify as exposure to the Animus increases.
15th CENTURY SPAIN & THE SPANISH INQUISITION
It’s through the Animus that Cal relives the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar de Nehar, who lived in 15th Century Spain and fought against the might of the Spanish Inquisition, and its grand inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada. It’s through Aguilar’s memories that Lynch discovers he is part of the Assassin Brotherhood, but in a country torn apart by a violent attempt to maintain the Catholic orthodoxy, Aguilar poses a real threat, particularly when it is revealed that Torquemada is a Templar, manipulating the Inquisition for his own ends.
AGUILAR DE NEHAR
Aguilar is one of Callum’s ancestors. One of his first visions of Aguilar comes at his initiation ceremony into the Brotherhood. We watch as he makes his pledge to uphold the Three Tenets and as his ring finger is severed, the final sacrifice to become a Master Assassin, necessary for use of the hidden blade. From there, Cal follows Aguilar through subsequent regressions as the Master Assassin attempts to stem the blood spilled by the Templars, and uncover their plot to seek the “Artefact”.
THE HIDDEN BLADE
A compact and deadly device that has become the hallmark of the Assassin Brotherhood, the hidden blade is a bracer concealing a piercing dagger, that can be extended and retracted by the wearer in a flash, just long enough to take out an opponent and hide all evidence that points to the Assassin bearing it. It requires the removal of the Assassin’s ring finger to operate properly, but while the blade is retracted it is nigh on undetectable, the perfect weapon for an order that believes in secrecy and hiding in plain sight above all things.
A mysterious piece of precursor technology, Rikken believes learning its whereabouts will grant the Templars power over the Assassins – and all of humanity. It’s his true motivation for putting Cal through the Animus program, even as his daughter believes she is there to do some good. It is believed that Aguilar was the last known person to handle the Artefact. If they can find out, through Cal’s regressions, where he hid it, they need only recover it themselves in the present day.
THE LEAP OF FAITH
Of all of the Assassin’s physical skills, learnt through years of training and focussing on Freerunning, a type of movement only revealed publicly in the 1980s, the Leap of Faith is perhaps their greatest feat. It allows them to escape from danger and navigate the verticality of a life lived on rooftops. Demonstrating their adherence to their core beliefs that an Assassin’s life was worth only as much as it served the Brotherhood, the Leap of Faith was the final test for initiate Assassins before they could take their oaths to the Brotherhood.
Assassin’s Creed is in cinemas now.