Sunday, July 21, 2013

One Year Later...

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the opening of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's final film in his grand Caped Crusader trilogy.  It also marks the one year anniversary of one of the most wrenching acts of violence in recent American history.  Everyone who went to the first midnight screenings of The Dark Knight Rises at 12:01 AM on July 20, 2012, was unearthed by the news of the horrific acts that took place in Aurora, Colorado, at the Cinemark Century 16 multiplex.  I remember specifically-- walking out of my sold out auditorium, still shook from the events that transpired over the course of the intense nearly three-hour Dark Knight conclusion, and turning on my phone and pulling up Facebook (a force of habit) and being instantly shaken by the events.  As a lifetime lover of the film, and a purist to the point that I still prefer viewing films in theaters alongside others, it felt surreal, but also like a severe violation, as if my own home had been terrorized.  Where are we and where has the cinematic culture and the landscape of the theater experience one year removed from the tragedy in Aurora?

Politically nothing has changed-- regulations over gun ownership or possession haven't changed one bit, but I haven't the faintest interest in talking about that.  That's for another place.  The culture outside the movie theaters haven't exactly become safer either as Newtown and Boston can attest in the year since, but again those are subjects left for other writers to ruminate on.  What's changed in the cinema?  The first cinematic effect to the Aurora crime afflicted the Warner Bros. film Gangster Squad, a violent mob cartoon which starred Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling.  The film, which was to have been released last September featured a shooting in a theater-- a scene of which was glimpsed before The Dark Knight Rises midnight shows as an eerie foreshadowing for what the poor moviegoers in Aurora would later be faced with.  The movie was pushed back in order to re-shoot the climatic shooting sequence and later opened in January to dismal reviews and box office-- the violent quotient of the film remained heavy regardless.

One of the biggest industry shifts directly tied to the events in Aurora was the studios allowing theaters to screen new product during Thursday evenings as well as midnight screenings.  The feeling, perhaps, was a fear that The Dark Knight Rises tragedy might directly result in lowly attended midnight performances, which can be highly lucrative and necessary in the launching of major tentpole product.  It was perhaps a quick change face approach the studios enacted to preserve weekend box office goals.  On this end, nothing seems to be have been damaged.  Sure theater prices are raising and attendance is shrinking, but record box office receipts are still taking place at generally the same flow of things since well before Aurora.  The hopeful news is that the majority of audiences aren't afraid to go to the movies, a sign of relief for all.

The bigger question and the more complicated one in reflection of one year removed from this senseless and terrible tragedy is one of violence itself.  I've never been one of hold much salt to the argument that violence in films, television or video games is responsible nor a correct pointed finger at violence in real life.  The pop culture has always held a mirror to the real world and while that reflection may perhaps go both ways, violence in art will always exist as long as there is violence in reality and not the other way around.  The question comes in the form of violent imagery being used for the sake of art and a deeper understanding of why it's necessary to a certain story or subject versus violence is merely exploitative or made under the guise of "fun." For instance both Zero Dark Thirty and Jack Reacher were R-rated, heavily violent films that were released last Christmas, developed and shot well before Aurora occurred, and yet both are not equal.  The same can be argued on the big summer extravaganzas that have come out in recent months like Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, all of which feature global villains encased in real-world horrors for the sake of popcorn-y fun.  The Dark Knight Rises, whether that film has any right to be correlated to the methods of the mentally ill real world villain in Aurora, was a similarly intense "fun" movie that included terror thematically, eerily recalling a post-9/11 America where rules were different and the game had changed.  The difference between Nolan's films and the countless blockbusters that have followed his template is that he at the very least seems to anchor his films with a moral intelligence that seeks to question the motivations of its characters rather than delight at endless inconsequential explosions.

I'm not exactly sure this makes much sense but where do you think the cinematic culture is one year after Aurora?  Where do think it should be? 

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