Fraud in the Matrix

The Matrix confronted audiences with the question of whether they would choose freedom over slavery, even if choosing freedom meant sacrificing the comforting illusion of material security. Sometime prior to the events in The Matrix, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) convinced Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) to take the red pill and escape the Matrix. However, once he realizes the depressing and terrifying reality of existence outside of the Matrix, Cypher strikes a deal with the evil Machines to be reinserted into the computer simulation.

But what if, instead of betraying his crew to the Machines in exchange for reinsertion, Cypher took a slightly less dastardly approach and sued Morpheus for fraud, alleging that Morpheus’s promises of freedom and truth were misleading?

Generally, fraud is any unfair means of deceiving another and is typically associated with misconduct in inducing a contractual agreement. However, fraud may also support liability for personal injury. For example, Cypher might allege that Morpheus’s misleading recruitment practices exposed Cypher to lethal risks of physical harm, such as the relentless pursuit by demonic flying robots bent on the extermination of every free human being on the planet.

Assuming that the free human society of The Matrix has adopted California law, proving intentional fraud may be an uphill battle for Cypher. To establish this kind of intentional deceit, Cypher would have to prove that Morpheus’s enticement to take the red pill involved an intentional misrepresentation of fact that was made with Morpheus’s knowledge of the fact’s falsity. See Kumaraperu v. Feldsted, 237 Cal. App. 4th 60, 70 (2015).

However, The Matrix establishes Morpheus as a man of profound faith who sincerely believes the prophecies of The One as factually true. Morpheus genuinely believed that “the truth,” a life free of the Matrix’s lies, was objectively better than the alternative, and he never said that he was offering anything other than the truth.

In that case, Morpheus’s conduct may be better described by the type of fraud that involves nondisclosure of material fact. See Cal. Civil Code § 1710(3). Specifically, Cypher would allege that Morpheus did not disclose the major downside to choosing freedom from the Matrix: a refugee-like existence in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

But this kind of legal liability for misrepresentation by omission arises only in the context of fiduciary or confidential relationships. Ordinary salesmanship, even if not entirely forthcoming, is not unlawful misrepresentation by omission unless the defendant is in a unique position to unfairly exploit your trust. There’s no evidence in The Matrix that Cypher and Morpheus had that kind of relationship at the time Cypher swallowed the red pill.

Ultimately, Morpheus’s mysterious but technically accurate salesmanship would likely prevail over Cypher’s allegations of fraud. Perhaps the moral of Cypher’s buyer-beware story is to never trust salespeople in cool dark sunglasses, no matter how much kung fu they know.