'The Matrix made me do it!'
After I posted my take on The Matrix a couple of weeks back somebody sent me this 2003 report on the use of the film as a defence by people accused of murder. When the report was filed Lee Boyd Malvo was preparing to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to several counts of murder. Malvo had been the junior partner in the 'Washington sniper' shotings that captured the world's attention in 2002. Malvo's lawyers claimed that The Matrix had a great deal to do with the young man's pyschosis:
More than a hundred drawings and notes found in Malvo's jail cell, as well as the testimony yesterday of a social worker who met with the teen-age sniper suspect, indicate that the youth had an obsession with The Matrix. He told detectives and his social worker to watch the film to understand the motive behind the sniper shootings...
[In his] ink sketches on blue-lined notebook paper, Malvo creates a heroic portrait of Neo, the central character in The Matrix, and makes numerous references to the film's slogans of freeing one's mind. "The outside force has arrived, free yourself of the Matrix 'control,'" Malvo wrote on one drawing that depicted him handcuffed with the word Bondage on his chest. "Free first your mind. Trust me!! The body will follow."
The argument might sound odd, but it had precedents:
In the San Francisco case, a 27-year-old Swiss exchange student said he dismembered his landlady in May 2000 because she was emitting "evil vibes" and he was afraid of being "sucked into the Matrix," according to news reports. The case did not go to trial after the judge accepted the insanity plea.
Last year in Hamilton, Ohio, a 36-year-old bartender shot her landlady three times with a pistol. She said her landlady had been controlling her mind and justified the killing by telling the court: "They commit a lot of crimes in The Matrix." Her insanity plea was accepted.
A jury didn't buy Malvo's lawyers' argument, but it did at least spare him the death penalty meted out to his sniping partner John Allen Muhammad.
A 2004 TV documentary called The Matrix Defence played up the supposed connections between the Wachowski brothers' trilogy, mental illness and murder, and led to calls from America's religious right for more restrictions to be placed on the films. (Well, I guess I half-agree: I think that the second and third films should be banned on aesthetic grounds...)