By Virginia Farrell
Sitting in a darkened movie theater, waiting for the start of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, many people’s minds will undoubtedly drift to the Aurora, Colorado massacre. Thirty minutes into the darkly violent film, the shooting may press even more heavily upon their consciousness. Nolan’s final installment in his Batman re-boot is a taut action thriller, perhaps even darker than the first two films. The main villain of the film, a mask-wearing, psychopathic revolutionary named Bane, uses martial arts, guns, and explosives to terrorize the citizens of Gotham City, breaking Batman’s back and nearly breaking his spirit in the process. Although James Holmes, the primary suspect in the shooting, dyed his hair orange and compared himself to “the Joker,” the villain of the previous film, it’s hard not to think of his actions whenever Bane or one of his minions opens fire in a crowd or kills senselessly. Whatever identity it takes, evil remains the same.
At the start of The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham is in “peacetime.” Organized criminals great and small have been put away in the bleak Arkham prison, thanks to Batman and the ethically-dubious Harvey Dent Act. Bruce Wayne is in reluctant retirement. Commissioner Gordon is on the verge of stepping down. The police department has gotten lax and self-congratulatory. A storm is brewing, however, in the form of the rumored mercenary, Bane.
“The idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
Similarly in the real world, the U.S. is in “peacetime,” and has been for a very long time. It’s been almost one hundred and fifty years since we had a war on U.S. soil, seventy since we were in a war that dramatically altered life for the average American, and forty years since the last military draft. Aside from a few national tragedies, America is in a comfortable position as a strong, peaceful, and dominant world power.Tragedies like the one in Colorado, however, shake up this peacetime, leaving us, as a nation, fragile and frightened of the Banes and Jokers in our own midst. At moments like these, one of our best options is to follow the people of Gotham City and turn to Batman.
In response to the Colorado shootings, Christopher Nolan said, “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 theater 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.” For Nolan, and for many Americans, the theater is a transformative place of escapism, where people can go to experience the strange for a few hours before returning to their daily lives. It is joyful, even when the films are not, which is often the case with Nolan.
Perhaps the most important part of Nolan’s message in both his press release and The Dark Knight Rises is the “hope” of movie theaters. Early lessons in the film seem to teach the debilitating deception of hope. Selina Kyle desperately hopes for the “impossible” clean slate. Pennyworth hopes for a peaceful end to “Batman.” Bane puts Wayne in a prison whose most sadistic feature is the skylight at the top—a constant reminder of the “impossible” escape option. Wayne escapes the prison, however, gives Kyle the so-called “clean slate,” and meets Pennyworth abroad, not as the dark brooding Batman, but as a joyful Bruce Wayne.
It’s difficult to find hope in peacetime complacency. Hope is a response to darkness, like Bane’s ticking time bomb or Holmes’ theater massacre. It is faith in the near-impossible, in a superhero without guns or powers or in a nation without terror. Holmes’ actions may have destroyed the innocence of the theater, but they have not destroyed its hope. For every person who finds an outlet for their anger in the Batman villains’ senseless killing, many, many more draw hope and inspiration from Batman’s triumphs.
The Colorado shooting has been called senseless many times over, and in the respect that a dozen innocent civilians have been slaughtered, that term is appropriate. How we, as a nation, can begin to make sense of such violence, however, is by looking past the violence of the film to its message of hope and change. As with Batman, every dark night must end.
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