Diana West

Fashion designers expect movies to influence taste, otherwise they wouldn't be hanging "Matrix"-y trench coats on the racks this fall. CEOs think movies influence consumption, otherwise they wouldn't pay to place their products on a movie set. Movies affect the way people talk (cuss), comb their hair (or not), kiss and make up.

Almost everyone admits a link between reel people's habits and real people's habits except Hollywood, particularly when it comes to the connection between screen violence and street violence.

"I don't know what the links are," said producer Joel Silver.

Mr. Silver, of course, is the man behind "The Matrix" series, in which anti-gravitational bouts of violence punctuate human efforts to liberate themselves from an omnipotent computer network -- the Matrix. The producer was reacting to a Washington Post article about several murder cases in which "The Matrix" has emerged as "a central theme." Not possible, according to Mr. Silver. The movie, he said, is "a wonderful fantasy story that doesn't take place in the real world" -- a catch-all description roomy enough to include "Snow White."

"I can't comment on what makes people do what they do," added Silver.

Not everyone is tongue-tied. A poll of parents commissioned by Common Sense Media, a new media monitoring group, finds that 80 percent believe movies (such as "The Matrix") -- along with television, music and video products -- promote violence in their children. Not all of which remains under control.

Rachel M. Fierro, currently defending Josh Cooke, a 19-year-old Virginia man accused of murdering his parents, described her client as being "obsessed" with "The Matrix." According to a court-appointed psychiatrist, Mr. Cooke "harbored a bona fide belief that he was living in the virtual reality of 'The Matrix'" when he allegedly gunned down Mom and Dad. So, too, did Vadim Mieseges, who, police say, described himself as having been "sucked into The Matrix" before killing and dismembering his landlord in California. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Tonda Lynn Ansley, who, curiously, also murdered her landlord, later told authorities in Ohio she "lived" in The Matrix. She, too, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Maybe pleading not guilty by reason of "The Matrix" would have been more appropriate.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).