The most anticipated movie of the year, The Dark Knight Rises, opened this past weekend and as expected, it topped news headlines. Unfortunately it was not because of the long line ups and record breaking box office receipts. This past weekend the Warner Bros. summer tent pole was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred during a midnight screening of the film at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. A gunman, dressed in protective gear and clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. The sole suspect, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, was arrested outside the cinema minutes later.
Chaos and confusion followed for the rest of the weekend as people tried to make sense of the apparent random act of violence. Flags were flown at half-staff while the U.S. President met with the victims' families and gave a nationally televised speech from Aurora. Warner Bros. elected not to release box office figures and cancelled an upcoming red carpet premier in Paris. The director and several of the film's stars released statements expressing their condolences and compassion.
The incident is not a showbiz news story. But because of the setting of the crime, a movie theatre, Hollywood is in a panic.
The motion picture industry along with millions of movie goers, are scrambling to uncover "what this all means". Movie theatre security has come into question. Correlations are being made between the dark and violent subject matter of the film and the actions of the gunman.
Did The Dark Knight inspire the gunman to kill? Art can certainly inspire people to do crazy things. In 1981, in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C. Hinckley was apparently obsessed with the film Taxi Driver (1976) which starred Foster as teenage prostitute, Iris, and Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a psychotic loner who attempts to assassinate a presidential candidate.
Movies inspire. Movies move people. They illicit emotion. They bring me joy and they can bring me to tears. For years, I've been preaching my message that movies can be so much more than just escapism. Yet, for the first time I want to downplay my message.
At the time of this writing, no one knows why the gunman did what he did. If it's found out that he was somehow inspired by The Dark Knight, the media's focus will turn to the movie and its dark themes of terrorism and violence, ignoring the important issue – the well being of the victims' families.
What about the people who were working that night? They must be incredibly traumatized. I worked at a movie theatre for twelve years. Suffering through years of people complaining to you can turn you into a bitter, impatient cynic. I dealt with drunks, mallrats, con men, condescending pricks and whining cheapskates. Yet I never once felt my life was in any danger. The only security we ever really needed was to look out for movie pirates. I never had to search someone for a weapon, but I stopped many people from bringing in outside food or drinks. I've worked dozens and dozens of midnight screenings over the years, many of which were populated with obsessive fans decked out in costumes. Eerily, I never realized until now how easy it would be for someone to pull off what Holmes did.
I'm not trying to tell anyone where to place their blame. I don't have the answers. There are too many factors to consider for such an unprecedented event. Are Violent Movies at fault? Maybe it's Gun Control? Should Movie theatre security be increased? What about the anti-social behavior of the Fanboy culture?
It doesn't matter because all will be scrutinized in the weeks to come. Which is sad because that won't bring back any of the victims.
I can write for days analyzing the correlation between The Dark Knight and the events that occurred in Aurora. But I choose not to because that would be a total misdirection of my energy. I'm just trying to keep my priorities straight through all this and I hope the media does too.
I fully believe that Christopher Nolan's trilogy is a work of populist art of the highest order.
But to the victims' families, it's just a movie.
Movies are forever. But your life on earth isn't.