Influence of `Matrix' on trial again

December 06, 2003|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Peter Casazza is big on The Matrix and its two sequels, knows all about the world the Wachowski brothers created, where machines rule, using mankind as fuel for their grand designs, and where human experience is only an illusion.

He can relate to the movies' themes, gets caught up in the idea of fighting against the established society and its mores, understands the notion that free will is worth fighting for. But he's not planning on going out and killing anyone.

"Entertainment is entertainment," says Casazza, who works at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda. Some people, he says, "take it too far."

This week, attorneys for accused sniper Lee Boyd Malvo introduced The Matrix into their defense. More than 100 drawings and notes found in the teen-ager's jail cell testify to his obsession with the film, which he suggested detectives and a social worker should watch to help them understand the motive behind the shootings.

The so-called Matrix defense has already been successful in two murder trials, one in Ohio, the other in San Francisco. In both cases, insanity pleas were accepted.

The Matrix, written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski and released in 1999, depicts a world where all experience is fake. Jobs, families, lives are all an illusion meant to keep people docile servants of the Matrix; humans are really asleep, hooked up to a giant computer. But some humans have unplugged and fight the machines, fight for their freedom.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

"The philosophical premise of the movie comes from Rene Descartes, who wonders if we could be ultimately deceived about reality," said William Irwin, editor of The Matrix Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Descartes' philosophy is often summed up with the buzzwords dreams, demons and madmen.

"The movie does a particularly good job at prompting us to ask about the nature of reality," says Irwin. "In a dream, one might be deceived by reality, or if one is a madman, one might be deceived about reality."

Discussions of just what constitutes reality, when mixed with the clash of good and evil and a considerable amount of violence, can prove toxic, especially to young boys, says Sheri Parks, associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland.

"Young boys, younger than Malvo, lock in to good and evil," she says. "The idea of being violent in defense of goodness is something that boys are familiar with."

The movies also suggest that violent opposition to the sort of subjugation imposed by the Matrix computers is not only necessary, but heroic. Such ideas can have a profound effect on young minds, experts say.

"There are literally thousands of studies linking violence in the movies and media with real violence," says Michael Brody, media and TV chair of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "The Matrix has the ridiculous amounts of violence that goes on and on. There is no consequence to killing in The Matrix. The violence is justified to win, the good guys are justified to do what they need to do."

Even fans of the movie concede it could prove inflammatory.

"There was a lot of destruction and railing against society," says Carazza. "Their point is the society tends to be an evil thing in a lot of ways - you have to fight against that. Society is forcing people to do things they don't want to do, and part of your job is to fight against that."

But even for a fan like Carazza, the fight only goes so far. "I have a job and I just bought a house. When you are 15 or 25, it is easier to fight against these things."

Malvo is 18.

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