A gunman in a gas mask burst into a Denver cinema during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises. He threw a canister of gas and then began shooting, 12 people were killed outright including a six year old girl and another 58 were wounded. Apparently the audience thought the sound of gunfire was part of the action on screen.
James Holmes was arrested outside the cinema. Over the past 24 hours bomb disposal experts have been dismantling booby traps in the 24-year-old former PhD student’s home. He has been in solitary confinement since. The New York Police announced they would be keeping an eye on Big Apple cinemas to prevent any copycat incidents.
Common sense says there is no reason to make a connection between the film and what the gunman did but it is impossible to deny the connection exists now, as unshakeable as a shadow. He could have chosen other films, we saw a trailer for The Expendables 2 before our showing of Batman. Full of shooting and killing, balletic slow-motion carnage crafted with lingering care to be savoured as a thing of beauty.
He could have chosen that film or any number of others but he didn’t, he chose Batman, his gas mask eerily reminiscent of Batman’s masked nemesis Bane. The villain has a sociopathic contempt for the innate corruption of the Gotham residents and there is a sense that the havoc he wreaks on the city is in some way a punishment for the rotten edifice it has become.
The destruction in the film is spectacular: an American football field collapses into a crater, bridges and buildings are pulverised by explosions, vehicles are thrown around like toys and an aeroplane is gutted in midair like a shot gamebird. The violence matches it, from large melees of police and mercenaries to set piece confrontations between Bat and baddie, there was even something sexy about the way Catwoman kicked away Bruce Wayne’s walking stick.
You begin to realise that this is our generation’s version of the big song and dance movies of 50 years ago. Instead of sets crammed with showgirls and slick-haired leading men the choreography is now about hundreds of punches being thrown, thousands of bullets being fired.
Our culture does this. The catharsis is up there on screen: the release of violence after the building tension of the plot. We love it, it would be a lie to pretend otherwise. I loved this film. The bits of it I thought were weakest were the bits when the peril and threat were least convincing. It’s an uncomfortable truth against a backdrop of real horror.
So is there a sense in which the shooting in Denver was in some way a culture that venerates violence reaping what it had sowed? Let’s take the bleakest view and say yes, but even if that is the case it still requires a broken mind and someone to sell that broken mind a gun to make the fantasy real. We can’t stop broken minds but we can stop selling guns. It seems like a no brainer to me.