The Dark Knight Rises

Last Thursday night, I had a memorable conversation with my son. I mentioned that he seemed pretty excited about his plans for the evening, and he said that he had been waiting for four years for this to happen. The tickets printed and waiting in his pocket had been purchased weeks ago, and now all that was left was to get through the hours until the show started at midnight. I haven’t been excited enough about a film to stay up past 10:00pm in years, but I was happy for him as he bounced off into the night.

The next morning, I turned on the local morning news in mid-story, hoping they weren’t going to tell me it was going to be 100 degrees again that Friday. And heard the report that a masked gunman had opened fire in an AMC Theatre at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. For at least three minutes, they recounted the horror of what had gone on without revealing where this theatre was until finally – finally – they mentioned it was in a suburb of Denver. Relief flooded my system; Chicago has had a horribly violent summer but this one time, it was somewhere else. But for just a few agonizing moments, I got a taste of what those parents in Aurora are going to be dealing with for a very long time.

There has been a great deal written about this tragedy in the past few days, and I don’t think I can add any new perspectives on gun control, mental illness or the existence of evil in the world. Friday it was a movie theatre – the next time it will be a baseball park, or an outdoor concert or Disneyland, until all the places we gather in community will start to have a vaguely sinister feel about them, kind of like the Gotham City that Batman inhabits.

Or perhaps not. Even though the potential for violence is constantly around us, it hasn’t really stopped people from going to the movie. I don’t know if Batman will have the record-breaking opening Warner Bros. was hoping for, but the theatres were still full. The old adage “If you don’t go see the movie, then the terrorists have won,” seems kind of disrespectful given the gaping open wound of the event, but there is some truth to that. The showing I tried to see on Sunday was sold out.

My favorite part of going to a movie is being able to totally lose yourself in another world; watching a DVD at home may be cheaper and easier, but it is almost impossible to achieve that sense of immersion when the laptop is right there to update your status and the dog needs to go out. You are swept away in a theater, putting your own issues aside for two+ hours as the story unfolds around you. That is one of the most heart wrenching details that the surviving victims mentioned – they initially thought the smoke and gunfire were part of the movie. They were already in that celluloid dream, and the intrusion of reality must have been all the more devastating.

I have read many of the reviews of the movie and they all have mentioned what a dark, violent film it is. What I haven’t seen much of is anyone blaming the shooting on the plot of the film, and that surprises me because the correlation could be made. Here is an impassioned argument by a self-professed Batman geek who says that if you are a fan of this comic book character, then you must be a fan of gun control. Unfortunately, I doubt that the shooter spent this much time on a thoughtful analysis of the Caped Crusader.

The night before the shooting, my son and I were discussing the film and why he was so pumped about it. He said that to his generation, The Dark Knight trilogy was the equivalent of the original three Star Wars movies, and that going to see The Dark Knight Rises for him was like going to see The Return of the Jedi had been for me. (I actually went to the midnight showing of that one.) His initial reaction was positive, but I asked him if that had changed after he heard about the tragedy in Aurora. He said he had read a few articles and things that made him look at the film in a different way, but that the shooting was an isolated incident and didn’t think it would stop him from going to movies. But mostly it just made him terribly sad, because “they were just a bunch of geeky Batman fans who couldn’t wait to see this movie.”

Just like him.

(Full disclosure: The author of the article that I linked to in the above column is Abraham Riesman, a remarkable writer whom I’ve known since he was about eight years old. He carried a ham in a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever that we were in together.)

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