The Matrix Defence

by Suw on November 20, 2003

I watched a documentary last night about murderers in America who as part of their defence had claimed that, effectively, ‘The Matrix made me do it’. In one case, the defence attorney claimed that the defendant was so obsessed with the film that it had made him take a gun and kill both his parents in cold blood. His friends and remaining family, however, said that they had no idea at the time that The Matrix was exerting any influence over him and, after the fact, they remained sceptical that he was obsessed by it.

Asked what indicated to her that her defendant was obsessed by the film, the attorney said that there were all sorts of Matrix related things in his bedroom, like a poster, a long black trench coat and the film, which he had ‘obviously watched a lot’.

I’m not sure how you can tell how many times a film has been watched, but I’ll let that ride.

What scares me is if those three items are all it takes to turn you into a homicidal obsessive, then pretty much everyone who knows me should be very, very scared. I currently have the video and the DVD, (which I have watched at least a dozen times – not a huge number really), the official sunglasses and somewhere kicking about are some magazines that include Matrix-related features; on my PC you will find 24 different trailers, the soundtracks, the script, the transcript, the MTV spoof and a picture of Neo as my wallpaper; and on my blog you will find a number of posts about the film.

I also have a long black coat, if you’re going to go for tenuous references, although it was bought before I’d ever seen the film and has fluffy furry bits round the edge, so not really like the one Neo wears at all.

There is no doubt that the amount of Matrix memorabilia I own will increase as I am almost certain to buy Reloaded when the price has fallen a bit, if only to drool over the car chase and for the extras. Revolutions we’ll have to see about. Animatrix, well I’ve seen it and wasn’t overly blown away. (No pun intended.)

I can probably give your average person a good run for their money when it comes to discussing the film, the philosophical ideas behind it and the various theories to explain it, but I really don’t consider myself to be obsessed, or even a proper fan. I would say that I’m mildly ‘into’ it, but I recognise that there are a lot of fans out there who would thrash me to within an inch of my life in a serious Matrix discussion.

So far, I’ve had no urges to get a big gun, like Neo’s or otherwise, and blow anyone away. Let’s hope it stays like that then.

Thing is, being a fanboy doesn’t make you mentally unstable, and that’s why I think that the defence of ‘The Matrix made me do it’ is inherently flawed. You have to be already unhinged to believe that reality truly is nothing more than a facade covering the machinations of evil, er, machines – watching a film can’t make a normal person come unstuck. If you are mentally unstable then you will believe whatever fits in with your existing delusions, so you’ll filter out the evidence that doesn’t work within your worldview and cling on to the evidence that does.

If the defence attorneys are going to enter a plea of insanity, then they should do so based on the medical evidence available, not by way of roping in a popular movie on the premise that its content might confuse the vulnerable. The Matrix was cited, I suspect, because it was popular, made a good reference point and gained lots of press. How seriously would the courts have taken the claim ‘Baudrillard made me do it’?

This is not to say that I don’t believe that film makers don’t have a responsibility to include only content appropriate for the target audience, but I don’t think that it’s very responsible for attorneys to start using films as a tool to win an insanity plea, particularly when defendants have mental health problems which significantly predate the movie that’s supposed to have ‘made them do it’.

Josh November 20, 2003 at 9:02 pm


…and before that it was “Blackboard Jungle”, The Rolling Stones, professional sports and non-sports, Marilyn Manson, Grand Theft Auto III, “Natural Born Killers”, Rammstien, etc.

My experience is that someone with those tendencies HAVE those tendencies already and if something like the Matrix Revolutions is sufficient cause to go on a spree I say two things:

1) It's only a movie

2) If in the event you're willing to disregard Thing #1, than at least base your homicidal tendencies off, you know, a GOOD violent movie. Go rent The Wild Bunch and thank me later…but not using your one phone call from prison. 🙂

Like I said, if they had said delusions/tendencies, they could be put in a sensory dep chamber for a year and come out looking for a 9 MM. Doesn't matter whether said forms of entertainment exists or not.

Suw November 20, 2003 at 10:06 pm

Exactly! If you're nuts, you're nuts. If you think the Matrix is real, you're nuts. It's symptomatic, not causal.

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