The reason I love movies is the escapism. I might choose a beautiful story or a purely ridiculous one, I might laugh or cry or even rage afterwards about the ineptitude I perceived onscreen, but the value of that increasingly expensive ticket price is the ability to lose myself for a couple hours. There is a comforting ritual to it all -- the dimming lights, the crashing sensory overload of the previews, the definitive moment when I click the mute switch on my phone and settle back in my seat. It's two-plus hours of existing in a pretend world instead of the real one, where we all sit in companionable silence and share the experience of giving ourselves over to what's happening onscreen.
It wasn't like that last night, as I watched The Dark Knight Rises. I don't know what everyone else in the crowded theater was thinking, but I suspect I wasn't the only one who was forcibly tethered to earth by the horrific mass shooting that happened in Colorado last week.
Never before have I sat in a theater seat and calculated my best escape route. I don't mean to sound histrionic, it was just a thought that I couldn't push aside once it entered my mind. What would happen if--? Where are the emergency exits? Would it be better to duck down behind the seats, or race to the aisle?
A Call of Duty commercial played before the movie started and everyone seemed to shift uncomfortably at the eruption of gunfire onscreen. A man wearing a bicycle helmet came in during the previews and stood at the front of the theater for a very long time, slowly scanning the rows, and I could feel people turning their heads to look at him. Find your seat, dude. Stop standing there. You're making us nervous.
When the movie got underway, I found myself wondering which scene of staged violence preempted the real bullets that flew in Colorado. The theme of a masked villain unleashing terror and pain onto innocent people wasn't quite as fictional as it might have been a week ago. A Wall Street scene involving bad guys firing automatic weapons into a crowd was particularly effective at pushing me out of the movie and back into my seat, hyper-aware of recent events, unsure how to process it all.
In no sane world should a much-anticipated summer popcorn flick be connected to one man's unspeakable act, and yet at this point the two are inexorably tied together. One has nothing to do with the other, but the events of last week force us to consider our complicated relationship with violence. Our ability to compartmentalize fantasy and reality. Our freely-given vulnerability when the lights go down.
Dark Knight was a great movie. It should be seen in the theater, where the sights and sounds can come to life around you, where you can spend a few hours pretending -- just for the fun of it, just for the story -- that it's real. But when the lines feel blurred, it's hard to know what we're pretending, exactly. That violence is real? That violence is fake?
I can tell you this, I felt a surreal sense of discomfort through many scenes in Dark Knight, but the point where I finally gave myself over completely was at the end. We all long for hope, don't we?
Have you seen Dark Knight Rises? Did the shootings affect how you felt about the movie?
Image via Warner Bros