In the wake of the devastating events that occurred in Aurora, CO in the early morning of Friday, July 20, it’s hard to know how to feel about anything. As a nation, as moviegoers and as human beings, it’s hard to just pick ourselves back up after something like this. Sure, we engage in collective mourning, and begin what will undoubtedly be a long, and difficult healing process, but it’s hard not to question several things at their core.
Let me say right off the bat that while I do have strong feelings on gun laws in this country, politics is not my main area of expertise, and I’ll leave opinions on firearms and the legislation surrounding them to those who really know what they’re talking about. The only area in which I do have a modicum of knowledge is arts and entertainment, so that’s what I’m going to stick to.
I love Batman. I have been a fan of Batman for as long as I can remember. No character has meant so much to me for so long as Gotham’s Caped Crusader. And I loved The Dark Knight Rises and the rest of Nolan’s trilogy too. Yet in discussing the Dark Knight films, it seems almost impossible to avoid the sadness that now seems tied to them forever. After all, what do any of our opinions about movies even matter, right? When the very institution of the cinema, a place that so many souls hold sacred, is desecrated in such a severe way, it seems that our focus should be less on what films we watch, and more on the society around us. But alas, psychology isn’t my field either. The psychology of film I could at least hold my own in a conversation about, but in general, I think it best that I keep focused on American pop culture, rather than American criminal culture.
But to echo my sentiment above, it is difficult to separate Rises (and to a lesser extent, The Dark Knight, which was released following the death of Heath Ledger) without feeling a profound sense of tragedy. I can’t imagine the people tied to the events in Aurora will ever be able to look at Batman the same way again. I know I wouldn’t. It would be impossible for me not to tie the horror of that fateful night to Nolan’s franchise, and the entire universe spawned by Bob Kane. But here’s what’s important to remember for the rest of us: what happened had nothing to do with Batman. The world is a place full of both beauty and ugliness, and sometimes that ugliness manifests itself in unexpected ways. Like I said, I don’t know much about psychology, but I know that whatever would cause someone to attack a theater full of innocent people has less to do with a fictional comic book character than it does with other factors.
I think the reason that I have always loved Batman is that besides being profoundly good, he is also profoundly human. He struggles with right and wrong, and yes, most of the time right wins out, but at the end of the day he’s not an all-powerful being that feels distant from regular people. Sure, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, but he’s also just a man. And I always liked the idea that heroes can be regular men and women. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to undervalue all the real heroes in this world, the ones who perform acts of courage on a daily basis. But that being said, if I’m going to pick a fictional hero to look up to, it’s probably always going to be Batman.
The other reason that Batman has had a profound impact on me is that his actions always seem to mean something. As opposed to the bleakness of the real world, Gotham, amidst all its dark shadows and murky morality, is always going to be okay, because they have a hero who gets the bad guy, no matter what. And that doesn’t always happen here in the real world. Batman has sacrificed much over time, but in the end, he always wins; his sacrifice always means something. It’s hard not to feel like the sacrifices that we make for good go unnoticed most of the time, that whenever someone steps up to save the day, they’re forgotten two minutes later and we have to go back to square one. I guess that’s just life. Without getting too preachy, let me say that we should take the time to recognize and remember all the real heroes in this world. Just because they don’t wear capes doesn’t mean they aren’t super.
I hate to think of a world where children don’t have someone like Batman to look up to. Sure, in some iterations he has a few screws loose, but in general he’s just a man trying to do the best he can. On top of that, I hate to think of generations denied a wonderful story because of some senseless crime. It’s going to be hard, but someday, we’ll be able to walk away from the events of last Friday, and learn to pick ourselves up. I hope someday the main discussion revolving The Dark Knight Rises will simply be about whether we liked it or not. Real heroes are important, but so are fictional ones. They contrast our reality by giving us something to aspire to. After all, why else would we create them? We look to our real heroes for guidance, and our fictional ones for comfort, both of which are essential for existence. So yes, Batman is still a shining beacon of hope for me. He’s a dark knight in an equally dark world. And right now, he’s the hero we deserve, and the one we need.