What is ''The Matrix''? For some fans, it's not just a hyperviolent movie fantasy. It's also the basis for an insanity defense. According to the Washington Post, murder suspects in at least four recent cases, including alleged DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, are fans of the franchise who've cited the 1999 movie in their defenses.
It's not too surprising that suspected killers might find resonance in a violent popular movie about a mind-control prison where it's hard to distinguish the real from the simulated, and where anyone who's not a freedom fighter is potentially an evil agent. According to the Post, Malvo wrote, ''Free yourself of the matrix'' in his jail cell. Similarly, John Cooke, a Virginia man accused of shooting his parents in February, believed he lived inside the Matrix, his lawyers told the Post. An Ohio woman, Tonda Lynn Ansley, and a San Francisco man, Vadim Mieseges, both claimed they were living in the Matrix, killed their landlords, and were found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The filmmakers have been quick to disavow any connection to such real-life crimes. Distributor Warner Bros. issued a statement expressing condolences to the victims' families but added, ''Any attempt to link these crimes with a motion picture or any other art form is disturbing and irresponsible.'' Producer Joel Silver, at a Monday press conference in London to promote ''The Matrix Reloaded,'' noted that countless moviegoers have seen both films without killing anybody. ''I only can comment that 15 million people have seen the movie and I don't know what the links are,'' Silver said. ''It's a wonderful fantasy story that doesn't take place in the real world, so I can't comment on what makes people do what they do.'' Sounding like his character, Morpheus, Laurence Fishburne told reporters, ''There is no Matrix, there is only what is real.''