Battling the Dark
By Carl Kozlowski
“Where was Batman when we really needed him?”
That was the comment posted on Facebook by one of the victims of the last week’s massacre inside an Aurora, Colo., theater showing the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
Of course, the victim didn’t “believe” in Batman in the same way that the alleged gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes, seemed to believe in the Joker, Batman’s comic-book nemesis whom Holmes dressed up as while carrying out his evil plans.
Rather, the victim was speaking metaphorically, crying out in an imperfect world for a hero who could make things better. What he and the rest of his fellow audience members had gone to the movies to see was not just entertainment, but to enjoy the sense of transcendence and ultimate justice that only superhero movies can provide.
Instead, he was shot in the leg as people around him fell—a dozen murdered—in an incident that could fundamentally alter the way Americans enjoy the national pastime of going to the movies.
Many have speculated that, as a nation, we’ve lost our sense of security in darkened theaters and that it will be hard, if not impossible, to ever again fully immerse ourselves in a film’s plotline. This theory posits that we will always have our survival instincts on high alert, keeping one eye on the exit and the other scanning the audience for suspicious activity.
Some say the shooting will only spur people to watch more movies on Netflix or pump up their home-theater systems. Folks have already been doing this for some time, with studios and theater owners complicit in their own decline with outrageous ticket and concession prices.
Still others wonder whether The Dark Knight Rises distributor Warner Bros., or its filmmakers, such as co-writer/director Christopher Nolan, would be blamed for this atrocity. Thankfully, this has not happened, indicating we probably won’t see filmmakers and studios suddenly censoring themselves.
While it is understandable that people want answers as to why Holmes allegedly committed this atrocity, as well as swift and sure action of some sort to feel some sense of justice, the fact is that all of these attitudes are wrong. One deranged madman’s actions in one theater simply do not add up to every theater around the country being unsafe.
After struggling to find a seat at a showing of the film at the Arclight Hollywood Monday night, three days after the tragedy, it was obvious that Americans are resilient. Sadly, we have been through massacres before, and it’s a safe bet that the communal movie-going experience will live on in some fashion.
Does this mean that Nolan and Warner Bros. are at fault for the actions of Holmes? Other than creating a picture that could pass the standards of the film ratings board, which they did, they owe little if anything to anyone beyond that. There are hundreds of other films far more irresponsible and offensive than The Dark Knight Rises. Think of slasher films like the Friday the 13th series and its dozens of knockoffs over the decades.
It is tempting to take potshots at Nolan and Warner Bros., and privately I did initially, jumping on the bandwagon of those who said the creative forces behind this film were irresponsible and owed anything from an apology to money to the victims. But if one actually watches the film, it is undeniably a serious work that ambitiously explores many profound issues of our time; not just good and evil but the battle over wealth distribution initiated by the Occupy movement.
All we can do is acknowledge that there are sick and even downright evil people in the world.
However, we cannot—must not—allow incidents like this one, which seem to occur every five to 10 years in this country, affect what we do in our lives on a daily basis.
On Monday, actor Christian Bale—Batman—went to Aurora to visit some of the wounded, including the man who made that Facebook statement. A picture of him and Bale at his bedside is now displayed on his Facebook wall.
Batman may not have been able to save the day this time, but it appears that he actually did make things better, if only a little bit.