They were, in all likelihood, people like you. Many more of you, like ourselves, are planning trips tonight, or over the weekend, to see Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. But the keenest went to the very first midnight screenings last night (some of you right now are waking up bleary-eyed from the late night). In the Aurora suburb of Denver, Colorado, several thousand moviegoers did the same on Thursday, heading to the late-night screening at the Century multiplex cinema.
And then something terrible happened. Reports are still coming in and being confirmed throughout the day, but what's clear is that about half an hour into the film, a man in a gas mask stood up, set off what appeared to be tear gas, and opened fire into the crowd. Shots pierced the wall into the theater next door, and moviegoers were hit there too. As it stands, 12 people have been reported dead, and at least 38 injured. The suspect was found sitting in his car behind the theater, and has been taken into custody. More details will emerge as time goes on, with a further press conference by the police scheduled for around 11 AM Denver time. And it should go without saying that our hearts go out to the victims, and their families.
There will be a lot of discussion over the coming days, inevitably. Endless op-eds will be written. Some of them will be valuable, some of them won't. Arguments about gun control, and the link between movies and violence, and the terrible phenomenon of the mass shooting (the theater was only 20 miles from Littleton where the Columbine shootings took place 13 years ago) will be brought up, and these questions should absolutely be asked. We don't have the heart right now. Ultimately, this was a senseless, random, terrible incident. And what we keep coming back to is what we opened with; these were people like you. And people like us.
We've had our frustrations with fandom, as a phenomenon, but more often than not, it's a wonderful, laudable thing. People drawn together over a shared love for something, be it music or books or sports or, in this case, Batman. Given the anti-social hours of the screening, many of those in the theater were likely among the most fervent fans, and footage from the scene has already shown more than one person in full costume. The victims were there to see something they loved, and something they'd likely been looking forward to it for months, years even.
And one of the marks of Nolan's films is the way that that love for the character has been shared with an even wider audience. Many of those in the audience wouldn't have ever read a Batman comic, or know who Bane is. They were there because they loved movies. And that's why this stings particularly for us, right now. The cinema is our church. Our temple. It's where we go to be comforted, and challenged. And it's always felt like a safe space.
And we're determined for that not to change. We'd be lying if we thought that we wouldn't feel a little uneasy when we stepped into the theater tonight. And we're going to see increased security in movie theaters in the short term, at least. But again, this was a terrible, random incident, likely picked because it was where a large number of people were gathered, more than anything else. It's not going to prevent us going to the movies, just as Columbine didn't make us afraid to go to school. So this weekend, go and see a movie. Or watch one at home. That's all the audience in Aurora were trying to do.
There's a quote that lingers at moments like this, that gives us a little comfort. After the massacre in Norway last year, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, told a press conference, "If one man can create that hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create."
And we put it to you — Batman fans and film lovers alike — to prove him right. The Batman myth has remained potent for over 70 years in part because he's a man born into wealth and privilege, who rejects complacency, and stands up for those who can't help themselves. Thanks to the internet, we're capable of coming together and organizing over the most meaningless bullshit, so let's do something that actually matters. For the people directly affected by the shooting. And for those who might be affected by similar events. Alan Cerny of Ain't It Cool News has already suggested on Twitter that movie websites do something for charity, and we're on board for whatever that ends up being. And we're optimistic that you, the readers, can do something too. Let's let something great come out of this. The night can be darkest just before the dawn.
Update: "The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher Nolan has released a statement.
"Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of 'The Dark Knight Rises,' I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie.
I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."