Don’t Blame Batman

A tragedy occurred last night. Twelve people were killed and over fifty more were injured when a 24-year-old man in a gas mask opened fire on an audience at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO.

As a result of this horrific event, people will be afraid to go see this film, or they’ll feel that it’s inappropriate to see it, insensitive even. Still others will call for screenings to be shut down — they’ll blame the violence of film for the actions of last night’s gunman.

I believe that this is a mistake. I believe that people who have been looking forward to this film for months, years even, shouldn’t hesitate to go see it. I believe this for a few reasons.

First, when tragedy strikes, we cannot stop living. We must move ahead, reverent for what is past but unafraid to step  forward. We cannot let the darkness we encounter keep us from seeking out light.

Second, I think people should continue to go see The Dark Knight Rises because it’s a great film. Granted, I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but if Christopher Nolan‘s past work is any indication, I can’t doubt that this film will be a visual masterpiece, a layered exploration of human frailty and strength, of our darkness and our light.

It’s a mistake to blame violent films or video games for violent actions. We all have violence and discord within us, to some extent or another. Weak-minded people, lonely people, sick people — they latch onto figures that they recognize a piece of themselves in, and they do terrible things. This has been the case long before video existed.

But violent films — the good ones, at least — are not actually about violence. They’re not about inciting vigilantism, or desensitizing people to death.

Films like The Dark Knight Rises are a dramatic magnification of the internal battles that we all fight. They’re over-the-top, outrageous, cinematic expressions of struggles that are mundane, typical, and universal to the human condition. Christopher Nolan put it well:

We all wake up in the morning wanting to live our lives the way we know we should. But we usually don’t, in small ways. That’s what makes a character like Batman so fascinating. He plays out our conflicts on a much larger scale.

The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a movie about fighting evil villains with fists and weapons — it’s about finding strength within ourselves to face the world with integrity and a sense of responsibility.

I don’t know the circumstances that led that 24-year-old man to go on a rampage last night — to identify, it seems, with Bane rather than Batman. But that’s not the fault of film. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s simply a tragic reality of our humanity. There will always be people who lose sight of reality, of right and wrong, of empathy. Such people are the exception, not the rule.

The vast majority of us, we want to be Batman.

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