This is the joke that I have repeated several times about my anxious anticipation for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”, the final movie in his Dark Knight Trilogy: “There is no reason that a grown man should be as excited as I am for a movie about Batman.” People laugh politely, as it is not a good joke and they roll their eyes because they know that I am being honest. A grown man thrilled by Batman.
This is the backstory: My younger sister and I both have birthdays in the month of February. This year, we decided that our gift to one another would be to take a road trip and see a concert together. We’ve tried several times to make this happen, all to no avail. Seeing The Black Keys in April didn’t work because of a scheduling conflict. Seeing Bon Iver and Feist (at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater, no less) in May didn’t work because she suddenly had to move. Then, as if by fate, I discovered that mewithoutYou, a mutual favorite band would be touring through Denver in mid-July. Tickets were purchased immediately and, after a brief scare that she would again not be able to make it due to scheduling conflicts, she called two days before the concert and shouted barely discernible syllables of exultation, “ICANGO!!! WE’RETOTALLYGOING!!! GAH!!!!”
How the concert and “The Dark Knight Rises” are even remotely connected: I have anxiously awaited Nolan’s final Dark Knight film since the closing credits of his masterful “The Dark Knight” featuring a dumbfounding performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. “The Dark Knight” quickly became a favorite of mine and- I’ll admit this only to you, dear reader- I have scoured the internet for traces, rumors and teasers of Nolan’s final film. This scouring, of course, serves only to heighten anticipation and anxiety and I have managed to work myself into a barely containable frenzy that I have, out of propriety and fear of disrepute, kept to myself (until now).
Needless to say, it’s been a long four years between films and so, when 20 July was cemented as the release date, I immediately began searching for ways to purchase prerelease tickets. Of course, as with anything, life is a confluence of varying circumstances, coincidences and happenstances and the following struck me as particularly sweet: the mewithoutYou show was 19 July and my sister and I would already be driving the six hours northward from our small southwestern Colorado mountain town to Denver and so, why not stay an extra day and see “The Dark Knight Rises” in iMax?!
What a 48 hours that would be! A favorite band and what was sure to be a favorite film?! I felt as though G-d was spoiling me.
Why seven dollars is now far more than a monetary value: I immediately scoured the internet for iMax theaters in the Denver area who would be participating in a midnight showing of the film. As we were planning on staying with our aunt overnight, I thought it most advantageous to find showings within a few miles of her house. Entering her address in Google maps and searching for theaters quickly procured several options, two of which featured iMax screens and midnight showings. One was in the AMC Century 16 Multiplex in Town Center at Aurora. Tickets were $16.50 to their midnight showing. The other was in the AMC Arapahoe Crossing 16 in the Arapahoe Crossing Mall. Their midnight showing was also $16.50. They also had what they referred to as a “Breakfast” showing at 9 the next morning. Tickets to this showing were $9.50. Being on a budget, the lower price appealed to my wallet, though I still badly wanted to be among the first to see this film.
This is a moment that has stuck with me over the past few days. I remember thinking that $7 wasn’t really that much of a difference. Two coffees at Starbucks. Not a big deal, but I found myself unsettled. My stomach turned and something didn’t feel right about going to the midnight showing.
A conversation: “So, there are two options, Jess. We can either go to the midnight showing, which is a bit more expensive, or we can go to a breakfast showing the next day,” I said into my cell phone to an audibly excited sister who was, more than likely, shaking with delight in her office chair at work.
“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! I don’t know! Idon’tknow!!!! Wait, won’t we have to leave the show early to get to the movie on time?”
“Maybe a bit, but they’re pretty close to one another,” There is a long pause, punctuated by the sound of her fingers tapping on her desk in frenetic rhythm.
“Maybe we should probably go to the morning show, I think. ‘Cause I want to dance at mewithoutYou! We’re gonna shake what our mothers gave us and we’ll be tired afterward!”
“Right. Well, you probably will. I don’t do such things.”
“Yes you will. I’ll MAKE you!”
“Okay, so the morning showing of Batman, then?” Though I’m a little disappointed, I know that she’s right. Going to a concert and then a movie after a six hour drive would be too much. I’d certainly fall asleep during the film- which is totally unacceptable. “That’s probably a good call, actually. It’s a bit cheaper, too.”
“How much cheaper?”
“Seven dollars. Something like that.”
“Oh, then definitely. That’s what we’re doing! And we’ll make the seven dollars coffee money!”
I laugh at her and say that we’re certainly related.
What you’ve probably figured out by now: The Century 16 theatre in Aurora is where James Holmes, wearing SWAT team-like armor and wielding weapons of varying calibers, senselessly opened fire on the unwitting crowds gathered to take in the the spectacle of the final “Dark Knight” film, killing 12 and injuring 58 others.
That my sister and I were seven dollars- mere coffee money- away from being in that theatre astounds me. Seven dollars.
Of course, my sister and I had no idea that this had occurred. We were at a concert until close to midnight and went straight to my aunt’s house to fall into a coma-like sleep.
What I woke up to the next morning: My cell phone went off to its standard ascending bell tones and I didn’t bother to press the SNOOZE button. I sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Cyle? You awake?” my sister’s voice came from the other side of the door.
“Yes. I’m up,” I grunt a little irritatedly, as I assume she’s checking to make sure that I’m awake. I’m a notoriously hard sleeper and an even more notorious aficionado of the SNOOZE button, but for “The Dark Knight Rises”, I have made a concession and am being responsible, though I’m still half-asleep. “If you want to shower first, that’s fine.”
“Well, okay. Um… but you might want to call the theatre to see if the movie is still happening.”
“Of course it is, Jess. We already bought our tickets and reserved our seats. It’ll be fine, I’m sure.”
“No, I know. But uh, well, apparently there was a shooting.”
“A shooting. Somebody opened fire at a midnight showing last night.”
I am completely awake now.
The slightly surreal dichotomy of violence as entertainment and violence as tragedy: Though all of Nolan’s films involve violence to some degree, “The Dark Knight Rises” is absolutely brutal. The audience sees Batman raised over the head of the super villain, Bane and dropped- nay, snapped in half- over Bane’s knee. The city of Gotham, after its hostile takeover, does not resemble a war zone- it is a war zone. Extras are shot in the head, characters torn limb from limb or forced to walk on a barely frozen lake only to fall through the ice and drown in the frigid waters. And we, the audience, take these sights in as we might take in our next breath- despite the very real and very brutal violence that occurred no more than ten hours before.
Was I entertained by this film? No. I was enthralled by this film. Completely hypnotized by it. Every scene, every piece of dialog. I drank in Nolan’s Gotham as a man parched by the desert- even as I was thinking about that seven dollars.
Not knowing what to say, but wanting to say something: Typically, I try to conclude these essays by attempting to articulate which direction my moral compass points in regards to various events. I somehow feel obligated to express myself in light of just how close my sister and I came to attending the Century 16 showing.
Perhaps this is where the concert and the tragedy collide most.
My sister and I believed that the doors for the concert would open at seven o’clock and the show would start at eight. We had it wrong, however. The doors opened at eight and the show started at nine and so we were very, very early to the venue- amongst the first there, even. So, we took our place in line outside the venue and waited. As we did, a group of young men several yards behind us were approached by a man identifying himself as homeless and asking for anything that they might spare. They casually brushed him off. He moved forward along the line asking each person in turn for dimes, nickels, quarters, or pennies and each person in turn brushed him off. I am ashamed to admit that my sister and I braced ourselves for the inevitable meeting with this man who would inevitably ask us the same question. Though I had money in my pocket, I lied and told him that I didn’t carry cash.
He moved along.
No more than two minutes later, another man, this one rougher looking than his predecessor, moved along the line in a similar fashion, asking for spare change. Again, each person in line denied him- some of them not even speaking civilly to him.
I should probably mention that mewithoutYou is a bit of an odd band in the modern musical landscape. They are not pop music, nor even indie rock, but rather some confluence of folk, hardcore, rock, indie and spoken word poetry. They do not sing about wealth, nor the accumulation of material goods but rather are extremely concerned with sustainable living- touring in a bus fueled by vegetable oil and even going as far as to living amongst one another in a commune at one point in their career. Moreover, their frontman and lyricist is a man who routinely draws from religious allegory and imagery, probing the fabric of the world for G-d and love and faith and social justice. He is extremely well-read and is as likely to quote Jesus as he is to quote Friedrich Nietzche.
In the span of no more than ten minutes, a third and fourth beggar came along, each asking for money and, in the case of number three, accusing the others of being “f**kin’ crackheads”. By this time, many people in line grew tired of their requests and began to insult and degrade these beggars. Two young men in their late teens even went so far as to offer one beggar a dollar for his shoes, laughing as they did. I would have been angry, had I not felt so guilty. I, the hypocrite waiting to see a show by a band espousing their belief in social justice. I, the pharisee unable to look a beggar in the eye as I lied to them.
Perhaps this is what most bothers me about our reaction to this crime and to its perpetrator. James Holmes has been described as a social isolate, a loner, a “man who kept to himself”. He was in the process of dropping out of his graduate studies and many reports have insinuated that his world was collapsing around him. He couldn’t find work in his field, despite graduating with honors. He couldn’t find a place to belong to, despite being an intelligent guy with varied interests and even athletic abilities.
If “The Dark Knight” centers around the psychopathy of evil- and its personification in its antagonist, The Joker- “The Dark Knight Rises” centers around the sociopathy of evil. Its villains manipulate Wall Street and brokerage deals to create havoc, they take over Gotham’s courts and give them to the people who immediately begin handing out punishments to those formerly in positions of power. These villains even blow the doors off society’s tiers of wealth, throwing people from their homes and handing those homes over to the homeless- the 99% finally getting their wish and taking from the 1%.
The film quite literally centers around how the society that we have constructed helps to create evil rather than to ward it off.
I suppose my question then is what have we as a society done to create this evil in James Holmes? How have we, in our various pursuits of happiness, downtrodden and made those around us destitute and desperate? Was James Holmes, like those beggars in front of the concert venue, simply looking for someone to notice him? To engage him in discussion? To welcome him in?
I do not consider myself an idealist. I recognize the inherent problems in socialism, in the 99% and “everything for everyone”. I understand that, in the case of James Holmes, Occam’s Razor is probably correct. He is simply insane, a sociopath for whom nothing could have been done. Furthermore, I recognize that sin is a part of each of us, part of our fallen nature and rotten hearts.
But, in the same breath, I must believe that we- you and I- are G-d’s hands and feet and the physical face of His love. That we can, with a simple nod of the head, a sincere “How are you?”, or a firm handshake, affirm someone’s humanity and acknowledge them as a fellow human being- someone with worth, with joys and sorrows and contributions to make to society. I must believe that something can be done each day to show these things to one another.
To James, to the beggars and to you.