I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fifteen Minutes: Thoughts on the Aurora Shooting

I may have even been reading a Batman digital comic on my iPhone when Amy first addressed the issue.

"The only people I know on Facebook who are talking about the shooting are my Arizona friends."

I don't think we even had a chance to talk about the massacre that took place at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in the Denver area suburb of Aurora until we were seeing the movie ourselves.

There were very few people in the theater. The three people who accompanied me thought to explain this phenomena as a fear reaction to what happened. Having worked in a movie theater for three years, I was leaning toward the fact that you're not likely to pack a theater on a Wednesday evening in the middle of summer.

In the end, I think it's unclear. Do you, the reader, think that the shooting effected The Dark Knight Rises crowds negatively (fear reaction) or positively (a la Heath Ledger's death)?

We discussed some of the salient facts of the assailant James Holmes' story.

Some reported that his outfit - a gas mask and camouflage clothing - was reminiscent of the film's antagonist Bane. There were people in the theater who thought his appearance was part of the show. When I saw The Dark Knight in IMAX, a theater employee dressed as the Joker walked in, did his best impression, and asked us to kindly move toward the middle of our rows so others could find seats. Oh, and "Why so serious?" Back then, nobody would have thought to question the intentions of such a costumed individual.

I'd overheard that Holmes had begun calling himself The Joker, and this is why he appeared in court with his hair dyed. He had looked distant and unconcerned, making most of America wonder if he's a sociopath, plain and simple, with Dexter monologues repeating over and over in his head to tell him how to interact with the emotionally available. What intrigued our friend Garret and myself the most was that Holmes was apparently a Ph.D. student in neuroscience. Garret mentioned that he was studying brain pathology, which made us wonder aloud if everything that happened was some experiment meant to be explained in a Ph.D. dissertation.

As the opening credits began to roll, I leaned over and whispered: "They say it happened during a shoot-out fifteen minutes into the movie."

Fifteen minutes.

As it turns out, I was so captivated by The Dark Knight Rises that I wasn't thinking about whether or not a killer would enter our theater when the fifteen-minute mark rolled around. I guess I have something in common with the people in the Aurora theater. Amy later pointed it out that the fifteen minute mark probably would have corresponded with a shoot-out involving Selina Kyle and Bane's crew in a pub. But by that point it was clear that we had escaped the terrible fate that would have come down were a detail-oriented copycat to target that Grand Rapids theater.

I will admit that later on I had a moment of terror. Seemingly beyond my control, I found my gaze shifting slowly to the left, from the screen to a bright EXIT sign aside the screen. That's where he would have entered the theater, I thought. But my mind drifted further. If I were a copycat, I'd come in the same way other movie-goers come in. I'd use the element of surprise. At that moment, a man stepped into the theater and it looked like he was staring directly at me. There was no way he could have seen me in the dark auditorium, but I was frightened nonetheless.

I imagine that I am not the only impressionable viewer who felt that kind of fear at some point watching The Dark Knight Rises. Maybe my crew was right to predict empty theaters and plummeting box office sales. Prior to this man entering the theater, I had taken my own bathroom break, and I had potentially re-entered the theater to the dismay of one of my fellow viewers.

I sit safely in front of a computer in a duplex in Lowell, pondering the repercussions of James Holmes on our world. As I type my first draft of this post, it occurs to me that James Holmes himself might be doing the same thing from some prison cell somewhere in the Denver metropolitan area.


  1. If James Holmes went crazy because of a dissertation experiment gone wrong, his lab and the University of Colorado are going to be in serious trouble. It is highly unethical (not to mention illegal) to use grad students as lab rats. I also think this scenario, while not impossible, is unlikely... Maybe I'm just too desperate to keep my faith in the academia, but it seems like something like that would of been noticed and stopped by someone at the school.

    I know some mental disorders can start manifesting themselves in people's 20s and I wonder if that's the case here. Also, it is possible his research was not going well and he slipped into depression... he had just failed his qualifying exams which is a big deal. They say he was being treated, but maybe it wasn't enough...

    When I went to see Batman I had a moment of panic too when someone came in through the emergency exit about 10 min into the film. Turns out it was just an employee, but I wouldn't be surprised if the shooting had a negative impact on ticket sales...

  2. I'm glad to see you're giving Cavemen Go some attention again. Sarah and I went to see Ted a few days after the shooting and she was definitely showing some anxiety going to the movies. I was trying to tell her the odds of such a thing happening are next to zero.

    Makes me wonder why intelligence seems to always be a prerequisite for madness.

  3. I would add that passion also seems to be a prerequisite for madness. I think you'll find that the same things that make what we would call a "great" individual are the things that make what we would call a "terrible" individual.