Friday, July 27, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Did The Bat Make Him Do It?

Debate has been raging on Reverend’s Facebook page since last Friday’s “midnight movie massacre” in Aurora, Colorado. Some believe Christopher Nolan’s hyper-realistic, post-9/11 take on Batman in his Dark Knight series of films may have played a part in the alleged gunman’s decision to shoot up a theater full of opening night moviegoers, killing 12 and injuring 59 others. However, other FB friends — including several fellow film critics — are certain that nothing in Nolan’s movies or any movie can compel one to commit acts of violence.

I hadn’t seen The Dark Knight Rises, the concluding chapter of Nolan’s series, prior to the shootings. Now that I have, I want to share my reflections not only on the movie but on the (far from new) argument over the effects of violence in films that is being waged in media and government spheres with renewed vigor.

The plot of The Dark Knight Rises is complex, drawing in elements from and allusions to 2005’s Batman Begins as well as its most immediate predecessor, 2008’s The Dark Knight. To summarize most simply: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman persona and become a recluse in the wake of his physically- and mentally-bruising battle with The Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. After eight years of low crime and relative peace in Gotham City, two new troublemakers enter the scene. One is Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a masterful thief with who is occasionally referred to as “The Cat” but never Catwoman in her Robin Hood-esque effort to rob from the rich and give to the poor. The other, definitely more dangerous threat is Bane (Tom Hardy, who seems to be channeling Sean Connery vocally), a hulking, mask-wearing terrorist out to first lead a people’s uprising against Gotham’s wealthy 1% and then destroy the city with a clean energy generator-turned-nuclear weapon he has craftily commandeered.

New alliances are forged and surprising betrayals occur as Batman strives to take Bane and his henchmen down. Following their first instance of hand-to-hand combat, which Bane decisively wins, Wayne is exiled to a decrepit underground prison where he uncovers hidden truths about his foe as well as about himself. It’s a good, dramatic sequence but it also slows The Dark Knight Rises down in its middle third (the film runs nearly three hours). The movie’s first third and final third are well-paced and undeniably exciting.

All in all, the gifted Nolan’s latest epic is typically well-constructed (despite a plot hole here and there) and beautiful to look at. I loved Batman’s new flying vehicle and Batcycle with extremely versatile, multi-directional wheels. If I were still 10 years old I would totally want those toys for my birthday and/or Christmas. The stock company of actors who have appeared in one or more of Nolan’s previous films is exceptional, and newcomers Hathaway and Matthew Modine (as Gotham’s new police chief) are excellent. (The role played by actress India Wadsworth, interviewed here last week, turns out to be fleeting but fairly pivotal.)

Viewing the film in the wake of last week’s Colorado incident, I was relieved to discover that while it is violent (though relatively bloodless) it doesn’t glamorize violence or anarchy and make them look as “cool” as I thought The Dark Knight occasionally did. Heath Ledger’s deranged but charismatic Joker blew up hospitals and fired guns and missiles indiscriminately, by and large making it look fun. Is it any wonder that James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of the Colorado shootings, dyed his hair and identified himself as “The Joker” to arresting officers? Meanwhile, the standout sequence of chaos in The Dark Knight Rises occurs when Bane detonates a series of explosions that demolish Gotham City’s football stadium and other locations, while simultaneously trapping most of the police force underground. While impressive, it is on such a scale and magnitude that imitating it in real life would be virtually impossible. At least, I hope and pray so.

Many critics (myself included) and filmmakers consider the movie theater to be a hallowed, sacred space. Nolan noted this himself in his post-shooting remarks last weekend. The Century Aurora 16 multiplex where the shootings took place has remained closed since July 20th, and some locals are calling it a memorial that should not be re-opened. I’m inclined to agree with them in part that auditorium #9, site of the fateful Dark Knight Rises screening, ought to be designated as memorial space but the remainder of the theater should go back to business as usual. Otherwise, the gunman will achieve an even greater victory than the horrific loss of life he caused.

The film industry, however, does indeed need to do some soul-searching in the wake of this catastrophe. Warner Bros. has responded well in the short term, immediately cancelling most ads for The Dark Knight Rises and pushing back the release date of its gunfire-imbued Gangster Squad to next January. The studio is also reportedly cutting a scene from Gangster Squad that depicts a gunfight in a movie theater. Moving ahead, I hope the studio takes steps to ensure that next summer’s Man of Steel Superman reboot, which is being produced by Nolan, isn’t as grim an affair as The Dark Knight trilogy has been. I also hope they take a lighter approach to any future Batman movies. I’m not recommending they resurrect the over-the-top camp sensibility evident in 1997’s Batman & Robin, but I at least would appreciate a villain who prefers — impossibly — to freeze Gotham City than gun down its police force, execute its wealthy citizenry, and blow it and the remainder of its inhabitants off the map.

Of course, Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio making movies, superhero-themed or otherwise. All studios and producers run the risk of unintentionally glorifying the violence their storylines are in most cases attempting to denounce. It’s a delicate balance in this world of computer-generated mayhem in which any large-scale disaster can be executed to terrifying yet awe-inspiring effect. Even if the movies themselves aren’t emphasizing violence and bloodshed, their trailers frequently are doing so. The stream of trailers prior to The Dark Knight Rises screening I attended seemed like an endless assault of gunshots, bone-crunching punches and explosions, with their sound effects and volume jacked up for maximum effect. The trailers in question were for The Watch, The Bourne Legacy, The Expendables 2 and Total Recall. Their representative studios are undeniably using violence and mayhem to sell their product.

Do movies make people go out and commit acts of murder and terrorism? No. We each have free will and can choose to live violently or not. Can movies at least partly inspire the motives, methods and/or settings of those who choose to act violently, especially if such people already have less-than-healthy psyches? Yes, I believe they can, and the Aurora tragedy is just the latest example of this. Hopefully, it will be the last.

Reverend’s Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris.
I read your review. Mostly agree with you. With the possible exception, that I believe this movie went a bit deeper than Violence is fun and glorifying it. Batman redeemed himself in his own eyes. He found the balance that had lacked for so many years and he can finally allow himself a future where violence is no longer necessary and he need not sacrifice his life at the hands criminals to find the final fulfillment...

I am conflicted on the closing of the theatre. My wife and I had planned on taking the kids to see it Friday night. After the shooting, she and I had a long talk. We both agreed. We refused to have that nutjob(sorry if it offends, all I feel is anger if I think of this coward. He hurt and killed defenseless, innocent people, including children) dictate how we ran our day and enjoyed our lives. I refuse to even look up his name and remember it if I run across it. I will not have a hand in making him a celebrity...

Anyway, be well old friend.


Ole Mattis said...

"Can movies at least partly inspire the motives, methods and/or settings of those who choose to act violently, especially if such people already have less-than-healthy psyches? Yes(...)"

In this phrase, replace "movies" with "videogames", "music" or even "books". It doesn't really affect the rhetoric at all. In fact, replace "movies" with any form of consumable entertainment, and the meaning doesn't change. The pattern that emerges is that society can never rid itself of individuals that are susceptible to ideas and impressions that make them do horrible things. Entertainment and impressions is a part of life... Unfortunately, so are psychotics, psychopaths and people who have trouble seperating reality from the images in their own heads.

How do you deal with something like that?
Well, turns out Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist before the incident, treating symptoms of schizophrenia. And all his firepower was bought legally over the last couple of months. Yep, you heard that right. So is really the "grim realism" of Nolans Batman-films to blame, or is it something else?

You could ban all forms of "grimly realistic" violence-themed entertainment... Or you could enforce tougher restrictions on just who gets to carry enough firepower to start a little war.

Saulo said...

I'm amazed no one seems to remember "Bowling for Columbine" final thoughts, in which Michael Moore tries to imply that society is always on the need of justifying violence by blaming different sources instead of questioning the real issue: Why is it possible that a teenager can buy a semi-automatic weapon as easy as a candy? What makes a human being crack up and go killing innocent people?
Blaming Batman or any source of media, is just running away from the real issue... we live on a society so rotten, that people crack up without advice.
We need to understand and attack that problem and stop blaming creative media. Because on that basis, we should ban the bible, for all the people that has killed someone on the pretext of reading the bible and understanding it wrong.
Banning violent films or toning down things won't help.
Banning the sell of weapons and having a less apathic society is the real answer.

Reverend said...

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Obviously, the issues are complex and, perhaps, mostly unknowable. There have been other incidents at screenings of this film, which still leads me to believe there is something about it as a film/phenomenon that demands continued examination.