The same thing happened to me in the wake of Columbine. I was in high school at the time, and despite the number of school shootings that had taken place in the years leading up to Columbine, I never really thought about it happening at my school. I did after Columbine. And for those readers who have been reading this blog since the beginning, you may even remember some of my posts on school shootings – whether it was comparing two very good books about Columbine, to reviewing books and movies about school shootings. I have fascinated and horrified by these types of events for years now, and will continue to be.
As in the wake of all of these tragedies, we have already been swamped with people trying to place blame on this tragedy on things other than the shooter himself. We will hear it is about a lack of gun control, and then we’ll hear the pro-gun lobby trot out the old saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. We’ve already had one crackpot Congressman from Texas saying that it was “another attack on Judeo-Christian values” and wondering why, even in Colorado where you can get a concealed weapon permit, no one in the audience either had a gun, or at least tried to take down the shooter. Yeah, because what was needed last night in that packed, smoke filled theater was more than one person firing a gun into the crowd.
But none of that really interests me. This debate happens after every one of these shootings, and the end result is almost always nothing. The sad reality is in a few weeks, this story will be all but forgotten, and all the rhetoric being thrown around by both the pro and anti- gun lobbies will result in a whole lot of nothing.
I do want to address what is means for the movies, however, as this is a movie blog. We still don’t know why the shooter did what he did, although as I sit here, Wolf Blitzer is reporting on TV that the murderer colored his hair “red” and told the police he was the Joker. We’ll have to see if that turns out to be true or not, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Even if, in his warped mind, he was inspired by the previous Christopher Nolan Batman films to do what he did, that doesn’t mean the movies themselves have any responsibility for what happened. One of my favorite films of all time is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a film we know John Hinkley was obsessed with before he tried to assassinate then President Ronald Reagan. We know that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters, referred to their rampage in their writings as “NBK”, standing for Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone’s film about two mass murderers, and the media’s obsession with it. And they were not the only ones apparently inspired by Stone’s film that has faced several lawsuits over the years (none of which were successful). Hinkley also apparently was obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece novel The Catcher in the Rye, as was Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon. That book is actually a favorite of angry, young white men everywhere, none of whom apparently understand it.
These movies and books (and countless others, like The Basketball Diaries, which was much debated in the wake of Columbine because of a fantasy sequence in which a high school student opens fire in his classroom while wearing a trench coat, or Oldboy, which was talked about in the wake of Virginia Tech, because some of the photos the killer sent to the media seemed to resemble that movie) were not responsible for the actions of those sad, pathetic men who wanted to garner fame for themselves, and thought that murder was the best way to go about that. The truth, as I see it anyway, is that if you are the type of person who is violent enough to shoot up a school or a movie theater or murder a famous person you have never met, your mind comes into those movies or books pre-warped. The may have grasped onto these things, and used them for “inspiration”, but if they didn’t exist, something else would have. A movie or a book doesn’t make you into a killer – you do that.
This senseless tragedy will remain senseless, no matter what we find out in the next few days and weeks about the killer’s motivations. Placing the blame on any outside factors other than the killer himself is silly and wrongheaded. We naturally look for some larger reason why these things happen – and ways we can prevent them in the future. But there really isn’t any. The bottom line is that in a society where sad, pathetic, violent people have access to guns, incidents like this will continue to happen no matter what we do.
For me this has been a sad day – a day where I cannot help to think about what would happen if I was in a movie theater where this happened, and even scarier, what would happen if my 10 month old daughter were in one (she hasn’t gone yet, but with me as her dad, she will go see many movies during her childhood). This incident, as horrifying and tragic as it is, will not affect my movie going habits. As my wife is away this week, I am not going to have a chance to see The Dark Knight Rises until Tuesday – which is when I was able to get a babysitter. And you know what? I’m still going to go on Tuesday. I’m not going to let some pathetic loser with a gun scare me away from doing one of things I love the most – going to the movies. Movie theaters are places where magic can – and sometimes does – happen. Places where we can see our hopes, dreams and yes, our fears, projected in front you in larger than life size– where you can go and share a communal experience with people you don’t know. The great movies give us this – and that experience cannot be replicated sitting on your couch, no matter how great your system is. This pathetic little man is not going to take that away from me.