Matt Domino on watching "The Dark Knight Rises" after the Aurora Massacre.
I don’t really like comic books and I find it difficult to go to the movies, but I’ve known for months that I was going to go see The Dark Knight Rises. I had penciled in a viewing of the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series on July 20, 2012 on the same day I scheduled my trip to see Prometheus on June 8. I wasn’t disappointed by either movie. I sat through every beautiful, tense, dread-filled minute of Ridley Scott’s space thriller and felt my heart rush during Nolan’s epic conclusion to Christian Bale’s run as the Batman. At each movie, I sat in the theatre with my large popcorn and soda and took solace in being able to openly feel like a child sitting in front of a large screen in the dark.
However, we all know that The Dark Knight Rises took on a different significance after last Friday’s massacre, which stands out to me as the strangest and most difficult to comprehend American public shooting. When I was in junior high, I went through the post-Columbine fear that swept every American suburb. In college, as a senior, I walked around the patio outside of the student center while the rest of my classmates cried or stood in shock waiting to hear more about the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The Aurora Massacre felt different, though, because not only did it take place in a movie theatre—one of the only public spaces that truly feels safe and sacred in some way—but also because it coincided and was plotted to align with perhaps the biggest pop culture event of the summer, if not 2012. After the tour de force of The Dark Knight in 2008, every comic book aficionado and layperson alike were awaiting the final installment in the series; everyone was waiting to see The Dark Knight Rises. And then at a midnight showing, 24-year old James Holmes shot and killed twelve people in cold blood. Even as you saw the footage and the breaking news on Friday morning, it was hard to comprehend that the massacre had actually happened. Mass shootings don’t happen at blockbusters, especially not at the biggest movie of the year. One of the tenets of our society is going to see summer blockbusters, it is a ritual that is held on a pedestal each and every May through August—it is a ceremony of entertainment, and people aren’t supposed to die; not in America.
Yet people did die and it pains me greatly. Perhaps the most talked about casualty was that of Jessica Ghawi (aka Jessica Redfield), who was an emerging sports journalist and whom had just barely eluded another public shooting at a mall in Toronto last month. A lot of journalists and bloggers have pointed to Jessica’s last post on her blog where she explained her thoughts after escaping a tragedy. At one point Jessica says, “I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.” And then a month later, she was a victim of the gunfire.
I had Jessica and all the other victims on my mind as I went to see The Dark Knight Rises one night after work this week. I had been delayed in seeing the movie for a variety of reasons since the tragedy and this night was going to be my last good chance to see it for awhile. I had been thinking about the tragedy, about my own struggling career, the lack of love in my life and was feeling lonely, so I was looking forward to the dark of the theatre, the popcorn and the soda and a long, epic movie with heroes and villains and good looking movie stars (read: Anne Hathaway. I swear her engagement is a sham.). It was a late showing, but I arrived towards the start time right after a long day of work. The theatre was crowded, so I took my concessions and sat along the wall towards the front of the theatre. The lights dimmed, the previews started, I ate popcorn, drank cold soda and listened to the loud theatre sound in the dark. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the sound being so loud; if there was a chance of attack, I wanted to be able to react quickly and none of my senses disoriented. The previews ended and the movie began. I silently cheered Tommy Carcetti’s opening cameo and then remembered that Holmes had opened fire during the opening sequence of the movie, his gunshots blending in with the gunfire from the film. I kept back propped against the wall, facing outward; one hand on my soda, the other on my popcorn, my legs flat to the floor. I wanted to be able to have a good view of anyone walking along the aisle. I watched Bane make his entrance and wreak havoc; I watched Bruce Wayne stagger and become Batman again; I watched Joseph Gordon Levitt and Gary Oldman give fantastic performances; I was swept up in the story, but felt uneasy the entire time. Whenever someone moved around the theatre, to switch seats, to get up to make a soda or bathroom run, I tensed up, ready to spring into action or spring into hiding. As Bane performed archetypal terrorist actions, I slightly cringed and thought if it was still too soon after 9/11, but decided it was good for Christopher Nolan and the story to go there because its just the potential reality of the world we live in. I thought about what the victims must have experienced as they felt the adrenaline and sheer dread of the gunshots in that dark theatre in Colorado and I wondered what turned James Holmes’ disconnection from the world—which many of us experience in our own doses—from sadness to violence and I had no answers, no answers at all. Watching The Dark Knight Rises was one of the unique viewing experiences I have ever had.
While I watched the movie, my mind went to a variety of places. I looked at Anne Hathaway and Marion Cottiard on the screen and thought about how I loved them and about how I am the worst kind of romantic there is because I am forever in love and yearning for women who are on a screen; how I want a woman like that to come into my life and make me whole, but that will never happen. I remembered all the parties I gave at my old apartment in Williamsburg where dozens of people streamed in and out, milled and drank free beer on my roof and how I was always looking at the door for some woman to come in, some woman I could never picture, but who I knew existed and who I was always waiting for. I love the Gatsbys and the Batmans and the Banes of the world. I love men and characters who stand out from the rest of humanity with some ill-fated or ill-designed purpose and who are destined to find an end in tragedy. I thought about how I have always been waiting for my own Wilson to come and shoot me in my pool while I floated quietly at the very end of summer.
The Dark Knight is all about themes I have been turning over in my mind for years. It is a movie about, obviously, rising—being broken, having things torn down only to put them together again. It is also about the fear of death pitted against an acceptance of death. Ever since Tolstoy’s character Levin and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger entered my life in college, I have been fascinated with accepting death, accepting the origin of life and understanding that life is nothing but a movement back toward the origin, toward the energy of the universe that is only represented by death, the return to the source, the return to the dwelling. And that is what The Dark Knight is partially about. A character at one point tells Bruce Wayne that he is not stronger because he doesn’t fear death; his lack of fear makes him weak, because it is only our fear of death that keeps us going, that makes us try new things, new restaurants, buy new albums, see new movies. Because we don’t want to die, there is too much to enjoy and distract ourselves with because we are having too good of a time. And even during the movie, I looked at the two girls sitting one seat over from me. In the dark, I thought they both looked impossibly beautiful, so I composed myself, even if in the light they would prove no match for my own romantic inclinations.
The Dark Knight (and all superhero movies really) is about creation, creating a myth and that is something else that has constantly appealed to me. Like I said, I like characters that are larger than life and have always wanted to be one myself, so I gravitate towards that kind of literature, that kind of music and those kinds of friends. However, it is also about the choice of love and of life, about stopping the myth in favor of love. It’s about the people around us each day, the people that ride the subway with us to work. When I ride the subway each day, I look at my fellow humans and revel in their existence, I revel at them each being a part of creation. So, I furtively smile at a small child who chirps to their very tired parent at eight in the morning; I gently turn my mouth in sympathy for a crying baby at the far end of the subway car who just doesn’t understand; and I empathize with the parent who has found a way to embrace life, the very nature of living—which is creating—more than I have found myself able. And I tip my hat at the cooing couples of all different races and sizes because I may forever fail at love, but I can at least excel at appreciating what the universe is. And meanwhile, on the screen, Bane and Batman and Joseph Gordon Levitt* battle for the fate of Gotham.
(*Editor’s Note: Look, I think he’s a really good actor, alright? Plus I've got a slight JGL vibe going on. Just sayin'.)
Then, after nearly three hours, the movie was over. I was still alive. The lights came on and the two girls next to me immediately filed out. I didn’t even have a chance to get a look at them in the light. I made my way immediately to the bathroom and relieved myself in one of the two urinals while a line of unrest crowded behind me. I pushed my way through the crowd and made my way out of the theatre. I entered into the surprisingly cool New York summer night and looked around. The city streets were covered in the purple and orange light of post-midnight. The buildings of downtown Brooklyn rose and stood ominous and uncaring like the beautiful and efficient structures of Gotham. I felt strong and at peace with the world and my mind started turning again.
And as I turned the corner from the theatre, entering a quiet, pleasant residential street and leaving the impossible Gotham architecture of Downtown Brooklyn behind, I noticed an ace of clubs lying on the sidewalk in front of a brownstone stoop. I stopped for a moment to look at the card before keeping on. In front of me, a little boy walked next to his father, excitedly moving his hands and feet.
“The buildings gonna blow! We’ve gotta go! It’s Batman!”
The boy jumped a little in the air and his father smiled. For despite the violence in James Holmes and the disconnect we may feel from the world at some time in our own way, that small boy’s excited dance in the wake of a blockbuster movie is what life is really about: moments of creation at every little turn of the street.