I knew I had to write something about The Dark Knight Rises today.
Informally the holiest release date on the 2012 calendar, July 20th could not pass without me addressing the phenomenon in some way on The Audient.
At first I was going to write another post about how I was all "geeked out," how the anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises had caused a huge amount of personal backlash for me. Then I was going to write about how I had grudgingly accepted that I was more curious about it than I liked to admit, as I had surprised myself by leaning in and listening to a review of the movie by Bob Mondelo on NPR in the kitchen last night, despite the fact that my son was creating an awful din in the background. (And despite writing yesterday that I preferred to avoid reviews of movies before seeing them, unless it was inconvenient for me to do so.)
But driving in to work this morning, I heard that a gunman had walked into a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado last night and opened fire during a midnight premiere of the movie, killing 12 (so far) and injuring an unfathomable 50 others. He was supposedly wearing a riot helmet, bulletproof vest and goggles. He started the whole thing by tossing a gas canister, presumably just to create confusion and a cinematic backdrop for his killing spree.
So now I'm writing about something I'm wondering about, not for the first time:
Are Christopher Nolan's Batman movies too intense for people with a hazy understanding of the difference between right and wrong? Or, perhaps, with an active disdain for that difference?
It's not overstating things to say that Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and now The Dark Knight Rises have presented some of the darkest flavors of villain we have ever seen at the movies. It's been long enough since I've seen Batman Begins that I can't recall the level of sadism of the Scarecrow, as played by Cillian Murphy. But Heath Ledger's Joker has become legendary for his amoral sense of anarchy. He derived much of his power from the fact that you could not ascribe ordinary criminal motivations to him, a fact he demonstrated amply by burning a stack of money that surely totaled in the tens of millions. One of his other calling cards was that he would do simply anything, no matter how horrifying or cruel, a fact he demonstrated amply by blowing up a hospital.
I have specifically not learned very much about Batman's new nemesis, Bane (Tom Hardy), but his appearance alone suggests he subscribes to the same school of chaos as the Joker and (to a lesser extent) the Scarecrow before him.
Undeniably, one of the most visceral effects of these movies is the way Nolan hasn't flinched from staring deep into the soul of evil. What has catapulted them to the level of greatness accorded them by their fans is that moment went those viewers first felt the envelope being pushed past the point of turning back. Unlike most "safe" superhero movies they had seen before, these movies were going to have real blood, real death, real horror. No one's intelligence was going to be insulted, and no one was safe. Even "the girl" might die -- suddenly, horribly, in the middle of the movie.
You might say that what Nolan has presented on screen is toxic for the wrong type of person with a fragile type of mind. In fact, come to think of it, I'm kind of surprised that more high-profile mischief has not been inspired by Ledger's no-holds-barred portrayal of the Joker. I don't know that your average deranged movie fan has the wherewithal to blow up a hospital, but I'm surprised more people haven't tried that trick of slamming someone's face down into an upward-pointing pencil.
What's more dangerous than any individual act dramatized in these movies (let's be honest, we're really talking about The Dark Knight) is the sociopathic mindset Nolan endorses. And by "endorse," I certainly don't mean to suggest that Nolan believes the Joker is his hero, or that any of his actions would be acceptable under any circumstances. More than anything I mean that by merely presenting such extreme actions as something somebody could do, he may be unintentionally birthing copycats. It's like how people worry that Hollywood movies about terrorism will accidentally be giving real terrorists real ideas about how to effectively commit their terrorism.
It's easy to see how the maliciousness, the instability, the downright derangement presented in Nolan's Batman movies could concoct themselves into a dangerous stew in the brain of an unhinged person. And it seems reasonable to assume that this deadly stew was percolating in the brain of James Holmes, as he (allegedly) walked into that Colorado theater last night and started shooting. For someone like James Holmes, Nolan had made it all too easy for life to imitate art. He had inadvertently created the conditions where that imitation would not only be possible, it might actually be probable.
Purely in terms of the business of movies, I wonder what effect this incident will have on the opening weekend of The Dark Knight Rises. Surely, most rabid fans will not be deterred by the possibility of a copycat. But some might. And I know at least one friend who has tickets for a show tonight, who will probably read this before he goes, who must be distantly wondering whether Nolan's movies may bring a sociopath out of the shadows and into his theater.