America awoke to terrifying news this morning with reports of a shooting at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado that has left at least 12 people dead and some 50 people injured. The gunmen, identified by authorities as James Holmes, allegedly entered a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" wearing a gas mask and fired upon the crowd during a loud scene that led many audiences to initially believe that the uproar was a part of the movie.
Given the immediacy of the event and its deeply tragic connotations, the prospects of exploring how the incident may or may not relate to the movie in question present a troubling challenge. Nevertheless, writing from the U.K., the New Yorker's Anthony Lane wrestled with the ramifications of the event in a blog post early this morning:
Talk of a masked gunman will have instantly reminded anyone who has watched trailers of “The Dark Knight Rises,” or who saw its predecessor, “The Dark Knight,” of the villains who bestride those two films. The first is masked merely in smeared makeup, the second in a crab-like device, (as I describe it in my review of the film), which obscures half his face. Both men are indiscriminate in their use of violence, and find only pleasure, or the thrill of power, in the taking—whether random or carefully planned—of human lives. And so the thought arises: were the terrible events in Aurora suggested, aided, or in any way inspired by matching events onscreen?
We have been here before, many times; once, very specifically, when John Hinckley, Jr., became fixated on “Taxi Driver”, which came out five years before Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. What holds true then remains the case today: no film makes you kill. Having a mind to kill, at least in any systematic fashion, means that your mind is ready-warped; that the warping may well have started long before, perhaps in childhood; and that you may perhaps seek out, or be drawn to, areas of sensation—notably those entailing sex or violence—which can encourage, inflame, or accelerate the warping. Whatever we learn of the Aurora murderer, whatever he may profess, and whatever the weaponry, body armor, and headgear that he may have sported, and however it seems like a creepy match for what is worn, by heroes and villains alike, in the Batman movies—despite all that, he was not driven by those movies to slaughter.
What we can say, for now, is simply this: he took advantage of those movies.
In my own review of "The Dark Knight Rises," I pointed out that the extensive misdeeds of the movie's masked villain, Bane, have "far greater impact than any of Batman's achievements, which makes you wonder where the filmmaker's sympathies truly lie." However, I must be absolutely clear about this: I would never endeavor to imagine that director Christopher Nolan or the movie itself could have actively encouraged the type of lunacy that took place in Colorado early this morning.
Nevertheless, countless news commenters will almost certainly seek to find a connection. Let's put that one to rest right now: At Indiewire, we believe that movies command great personal and cultural weight, but they do not have the power of mind control. Whatever the motives or inspiration that drove Holmes to commit these horrendous murders, they unquestionably stem from his own twisted impulses and nothing else.
It's endemic of the current information age that even at the start of the day, we've already been inundated with unsettling coverage of the shooting cobbled together through morbid details like cell phone footage and victims' Twitter feeds. The media story is a far scarier one than anything offered up in "The Dark Knight Rises," and any attempt at this point to connect the content of the movie with one person's insane behavior would be an atrocious act of disrespect to everyone impacted by him.
Today, we will run an insightful conversation between two critics and myself about some of the prominent issues surrounding the movie's release. [Editor's note: The conversation in question is now available HERE.] While I have given both critics the opportunity to respond to this incident, we have decided that it is best left aside to make the distinction between the tragedy and the movie in question as clear as possible.
Please direct your concerns about the Colorado incident to the comments section here. We will publish the discussion of the movie later today.