I think we can safely assume that there will be no changes in gun control laws after this morning’s shootings at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Gun fetishists have too much control over the political process to allow that to happen. Another conversation point that will come up when the initial shock and horror over the events in Aurora, Colorado wears off: that violent films cause violent behavior. Fear of copycat crimes has prompted the New York City police to beef up patrols of movie theaters showing the Christopher Nolan film. Still, considering the pervasiveness of violence in American cinema, it’s hard to argue that violence in one particular film pushed somebody into a violent act. At worst, a film lends a sheen of narrative coherence to an act of madness. It took John Hinckley, Jr. five years to reinterpret Taxi Driver as an allegory of thwarted love before he attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
Nolan’s Batman trilogy features a lone avenger, and something of that narrative may turn up in whatever account the authorities produce. The narrative elements of the Batman movies are spacious enough to allow for reimagining as an act of mass murder. The movies pit a troubled (and strange) good against a vividly colored evil. Nolan’s trilogy presents vengeance as a moral imperative, but it’s never entirely clear for whom the vengeance is enacted. It would be hard, one would think, for even a deranged mind to draw strength from the damp gloom and antic ambivalences of the Batman movies.
Of course, at the time of the shooting The Dark Knight Rises was making its general release premier. However, even before the first frame audiences were in a frenzy over the film. Rottentomatoes.com had to suspend user comments for the film because of the vitriol aimed at critics who dared to point out a flaw or two. One critic, Marshall Fine, of Hollywood and Fine, was told by readers that he should “die in a fire” or be beaten into a coma.
Still, even fanboy fury can’t be blamed for what happened at the theater in Colorado. It’s possible that the gunman was drawn by the event itself–the midnight premier of what Hollywood calls an event film. Possibly he felt alienated from the general good feeling of the midnight screening. Possibly he wanted to steal some of the theatricality of the premier of a comic book movie: only the most popular film of the year is worthy of the defining act of his life. Who knows.
All I know is that midnight screenings are sure to attract the oddballs of movie fandom, the ones who identify most intensely with the action. I’ll never go to one again.