Diana West

There's more: "Wake up! Free your mind, you are a slave to the matrix 'control,'" Washington sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo wrote from a Virginia jail cell this year. "The outside force has arrived. Free yourself of the matrix 'control' ..." Blah, blah -- you get the picture.

No word on whether the suspect's defense team will enter an insanity plea. But maybe that's beside the point. While a significant legal decision on the sniper case lies ahead, the Matrix-ing of the culture is already here.

The movie's inspirational role in a rash of murders makes all the headlines, but its wider impact probably lies with the law-abiding population.

The fact is, even though most of us will never see a single "Matrix" movie, all of us live with their influences -- what one (approving, if ironic) write-up said becomes "our characteristic pose in the history books: sullen, dystopian, jaded." It's bad enough when you pay to study that pose on a two-dimensional movie screen, but perfectly awful to encounter it, say, in a three-dimensional clerk at the hardware store.

However, that is our lot, to live in a time when the biggest cultural influence of the day isn't, alas, "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" with Gary Cooper (characteristic pose: courageous and downright noble), but is "The Matrix Reloaded" with Keanu Reeves -- one more numbing dump of violence and a very pretentious foray into darkness that is embarrassingly empty.

It is also, as demonstrated by the murder cases to date, quite potent. Experts may not directly pin crimes to "The Matrix" -- or "Natural Born Killers" or "The Basketball Diaries," to name other movies associated with murder cases -- but they tend to believe, as the Post pointed out, that movies "with suggestions of hidden evil and uncertain reality" encourage violent behavior in the mentally ill "by helping unhealthy fantasy worlds to flourish."

Which isn't so edifying for anyone else, moviegoer or homebody. Not that movies have to be edifying, exactly. But we find ourselves at a strange bottleneck, a stranglehold of the sullen, dystopian and jaded -- a cultural matrix in need of an overhaul.

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).

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