Following the tragic events last week in Aurora, Colorado there has been a wave of horror and disbelief felt across the globe. The effects are being experienced amongst every possible demographic of the social spectrum, and sat in the middle of it all are 71 victims, one very sick individual and a few thousand feet of film reel entitled The Dark Knight Rises. The press have begun doing what they do best, speculating and pointing the finger. In a frenzy to ‘create’ a story, lots of attention has been drawn to the ‘Second Amendment Issue’ (the right to bare arms) and blame is being placed on Christopher Nolan’s film in an ever so unsubtle way. Despite this whirlpool of conjecture and opinion, the Dark Knight seems to have taken on a different meaning to some, and is beginning to rise out of the darkness as a beacon of inspiration.
No one could have anticipated what would happen during the early hours of 20th July 2012 at 14300 East Alameda Avenue. History has been littered with unspeakable acts, committed under the most appalling of conditions and by the worst examples of humanity. There is no doubt that the gun issue must be discussed, but I feel that right now it is not stringent to just this scenario. That individual (who I refuse to name) had access to an arsenal of deadly firearms, and a strict review of guns laws could prevent future instances. However, he also had explosives at his apartment. This begs the question, “what if?” Had he chosen the bomb instead of the bullets, this argument about guns would not even exist right now; and there stands the frailty of that discussion. To put it simply, the American government should have discussed and rectified gun laws long ago; restricting who can buy munitions, the quantity they can have, and the places they can be purchased. To drag it out and headline it under the banner of the Colorado massacre, is just an attempt to sensationalize and divert attention from the victims and their families due to a lack of readily available information. That old adage of, ‘no news is bad news.’ In my following of this incident, I have seen very few publications offer ways in which the public can help or assist the victims (however, you CAN help here and also here); instead the media focus has been fixed on the gunman and the obvious scapegoats surrounding the event.
Alongside the gun argument is, of course, the usual suggestion that cinema has once again ‘inspired’ the actions of the wicked. This dispute rears its ugly head every few years or so. Sometimes the connections are logical and seem to make sense, whilst at other times it feels random and unreasonable. There is an interesting (if not slightly irreverent) article at brainz.org that details 15 real life crimes supposedly influenced by films. Amongst these are the Columbine High School Shooting (Natural Born Killers), the James Bulger murder (Child’s Play 3), and the attempted Regan assassination by John Hinkley Jr (Taxi Driver), to name but a few.
The arguments for and against this issue are both equally strong, and both equally relevant. It is a thorny topic, and it would be bold to suggest that no one has ever taken a cue from something they’ve seen in cinema. But then again, people take cues from almost anything. Anders Breivik (the Norwegian mass murderer) had intense political interests and a manifesto including writings from Thomas Jefferson, George Orwell and Jeremy Clarkson. Timothy McVeigh (one of the Oklahoma bombers) had his own spin on The United States Declaration of Independence, and Charles Manson was a huge fan of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’; most notably the song ‘Helter Skelter’ which he saw as prophetic to his cause. There is no reason or rhyme to the actions of these people, and it’s impossible to predict what they will take from any given stimulus. To suggest that the Batman franchise is directly responsible for the event in Aurora is akin to wild accusations. Just because the killer said he was “the Joker”, it doesn’t mean his actions rationally correlate with that individual creation and that world. Somewhere along the way, this became more than just an imitation of one specific character.
However, in a sad turn of events, the film does seem to have moments that are now just a tragic reminder of the Colorado shootings. Many reports have suggested that the incident took place approximately 20 minutes after the film had begun. There is indeed a moment about 20 minutes into The Dark Knight Rises, where S.W.A.T storm a building in a hail of gunfire. Watching it, one cannot help but feel of the chaos and fear that would have swelled amongst the victims of that fateful night whilst this played out on screen; gunfire surrounding them. As the sequence unfolds, it is easy to see how a sick coincidence would make this a prime opportunity to create confusion and chaos. The scene now stands as a detached memento; hindsight has turned the footage into ‘that moment’. A second instance comes in an exchange between Batman and Catwoman. After chastising her for using guns during a fight, it becomes clear that the Caped Crusader is not an advocate of killing henchmen. Later on in the film Catwoman shoots a character and kills them, she looks at Batman and says; “I never did quite agree with you on that whole gun thing.” How unfortunate this line has become. What was intended as a pithy one-liner now just taps into the controversy surrounding firearms and The Dark Knight Rises.
Despite this macabre connection between fact and fiction, there was something I saw yesterday that speaks volumes about Batman and what he truly represents. In a recent article, Sky News displayed the following image:
How touching this image proves to be – the symbol of Batman juxtaposed with the memorialized writing for the victims of Aurora. To me, this image gives strong connotations of the relationship these people share with the film that has now become synonymous with tragedy. As we know, families were in that screening; fathers were with their sons, mothers with their daughters, brothers with sisters, and husbands with wives. They had stayed up late and excitedly attended this occasion in celebration of the film, to experience escapism and entertainment. Batman has always been a symbol of good, and the true message of The Dark Knight Rises is that Batman can become a symbol of hope. To suggest that Chris Nolan’s universe encourages negative behavior is a total misunderstanding of what it truly means to the fans. Not in recent memory can I think of a film that has attracted such universal excitement. In the weeks leading up to the film’s release, I have seen complete strangers exchange conversations on trains, I have seen children connect with parents, I have seen a unified interest in the world of film (something I have loved for so long), and the source of it all has been excitement about The Dark Knight Rises. Anyone who watches Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and sees the reaction of audiences, cannot honestly believe it is the rational source of psychotic inspiration. If anyone were to watch these films and take it as influence to do evil works, then it is because they have a mental illness, and as such, would find inspiration wherever they wanted to.
And when all is said and done, that is the truth behind all of this misdirection and sensationalized reporting. People do bad things because they are sick in the head. No rational person watches Reservoir Dogs and then decides to cut off an ear. No rational person sees A Clockwork Orange as the blueprint for an exciting existence. No rational person takes The Dark Knight Rises as a cue to kill innocent people (or anyone at all). The one thing that is for sure, the one fact amongst all this confusion is this; bad people exist, and they are prone to doing bad things for no reason at all. It is not a glamorous or even an explainable issue, it is just a truth that few people seem to acknowledge.
No one can predict what will and wont gestate within the minds of the mentally ill. Whether it is music, film, literature, art or advertising – no single rational input provides logical output amongst the insane. An unfortunate truth is that sick individuals will likely find moments of clarity and inspiration in the world they watch. Film can be used as a tool to entertain, inspire and intrigue. And at a time when people need him most, Batman is providing what he has always intended to provide, a symbol of hope. Hope against the tyranny and the irrationality of the few. Hope that when people stand together, they can withstand anything. In the end, that is the message the media should be sending out. Instead of pointing the finger at this excellent piece of cinema and saying “bad.” Let us instead point at it and take the message that its maker, Christopher Nolan, intended. Though evil may try to tear our world apart, hope will get us through. Hope may not always come in a black cape and a mask, but it will come all the same. Just so long as we are ready to act on it and remember the good people that fell along the way.
Dedicated to the memory of:
Jonathan Blunk (26)
Alexander Boik (18)
Jesse Childress (29)
Gordon Cowden (51)
Jessica Ghawi (24)
John Larimer (27)
Matthew McQuinn (27)
Micayla Medek (23)
Veronica Moser-Sullivan (6)
Alex Sullivan (27)
Alexander Teves (24)
Rebecca Wingo (32)