‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ Violence, the Shooting in Colorado, and What It Means For Movies and America

I was awakened early this morning to text messages and phone calls from my sister and dad at 5:30 AM MST. I missed the call, but read the texts asking me to call home immediately and asking if I was ok. Completely confused and now panicked, I checked the news to hear about the horrible tragedy that had taken place just a few hours earlier at 12:30 AM, just 10 miles from my home in Denver.

As you have probably heard, during a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises last night in Aurora, Coloardo (about 9 miles directly east of Denver), a 24-year-old man named James Holmes (source) opened fire on a packed theater killing 12 and injuring 50 as of 8:00 AM MST. The facts as reported so far are that Holmes released two tear gas canisters and then opened fire with a shotgun, a rifle, and two handguns. He was apprehended by Aurora and Denver Police shortly after in the parking lot and did not resist arrest.

It’s a horrible tragedy and one that hits close to home as friends and family have reached out all morning via calls, texts, and Facebook checking to make sure that my wife and I are ok. (I just want to say a quick thank you for those that shared their concerns for us.) Those closest to me know that I write and am the Digital Director for Cultural Transmogrifer. They also know that I’m a huge movie guy and the odds were very high that I would have attended a midnight premiere. Thankfully, my wife and I were not at the premiere. But immediately after reading the news this morning, the fear and unease of what I was reading really took grip.

Sadly and quite unfortunately, shootings have become far too commonplace in our culture. We hear about them happening at schools, colleges, and universities across the country nearly every year. Schools are a place where everyone should feel safe and that’s what is so terrifying about the shootings—they’re unexpected and many times unprovoked in a perceived place of safety. Which brings me to this post. For the first time in my life or as far back as I can remember, people were attacked and killed at a movie theater.

Movies have and always will be a cultural mainstay. Seeing a movie in a theater is a wonderful experience. It gives the audience two hours to leave this world and witness another unfold on the big screen. The action (and many times violence) on the screen is fake, we’re safe in the seats, and what happens onscreen cannot touch us. When the screen goes blank, we can walk out and go back to our lives. That’s the terrifying consequence of this tragedy. A shooting at a place where NO ONE would predict that such violence would unfold off the screen has stripped that sense of security. Going forward for likely the rest of the year and possibly longer, people will have the thought in the back of their mind that “this could happen to me.”

The magical ability to separate yourself from reality when watching a fictitious movie has been stripped for some, and likely most in the near future. Filmmakers rely on the ability of audiences to forget reality and fully immerse themselves in the story. The Dark Knight Rises is no different (I haven’t seen it yet though). From what I’ve seen in the trailers, it is filled with violence (as were Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). But filmmakers create movies knowing that an audience can be engrossed and yet removed enough to know that it’s just a movie. Nothing horrible can happen while you’re in your seat. (The discussion of whether movies have desensitized us to violence is another discussion all together and I won’t go into it here.)

No one at this time can possibly guess why Holmes committed this horrific crime. If he’s told police, it hasn’t been announced yet. I’m sure that the coming days may shed more light on it, but this weekend for the most anticipated movie of the year will now always be remembered with bloodstains and violence. The victims of Holmes’ actions have now been affected for life with violence and loss. Very little can be said other than that the country is thinking of them, with thoughts in their hearts and for many prayers.

What this means for America and movies is unpredictable. It is entirely possible that metal detectors will pop-up at entrances of theaters. Security guards or police will likely be hired to patrol more often. The physical architecture of theaters may change. Currently, the majority of theaters have emergency exits at the front of the theater in front of the screen. In the case of the shooting this morning, this setup would have required the audience to run directly at Holmes. It’s possible that theaters may add additional exits at the rear of the theater as a precautionary measure for these types of terrible events as well as other emergencies.

What is guaranteed is that going to a movie will never be the same. Holmes’ actions directly affected his victims and those in the theater lucky enough to escape with their lives and without injury. But his actions have also indirectly affected the rest of the country. Until we know more, we can only tell those around us that we love them and continue to keep the victims in our thoughts.

Thanks for reading and be safe.

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  1. Thank you for writing this. My thoughts were exactly the same as yours and I immediately began to think of the greater ramifications. Movie premiers for movies as big as "The Dark Knight Rises" are going to be forever marred and like you said, probably forever changed with security guards, metal detectors and any other number of preventative measures in a means to try to prevent this from happening again. (Don't get me wrong, preventing something like this from happening again is an excellent goal). This will in turn alter the experience. It saddens my heart greatly and has blackened what was otherwise supposed to be a very TGIF kind of day.

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