When this essay gets posted, I’ll be at the midday showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Santa Monica, Calif. I made a fake appointment to get out of work. I saw Batman Begins three times in theaters. I saw The Dark Knight four. If pythagorean theory is somehow applicable to movies, I’ll go see The Dark Knight Rises five times. But this first time, I’m afraid, and in the most selfish way possible. I’m not afraid that what happened last night will happen again, but that I’ll be unable to slip into the disconnected state that makes movies so great, that escapist’s respite between self-awareness and the sub-conscious that makes the best movies more than just entertainment.
Like everyone else, I woke up to the horrific news coming out of Colorado. I started by thinking about the families, their loss, their terror, the questions that are flooding their heads, the answers they won’t find. Then I thought about the story itself. A lone gunman entered a theater and set off a tear gas grenade and opened fire during a midnight screening of what should be one of the few collective cultural events of the summer, on par with the Olympics. He preyed on not simply their vulnerability, but their disbelief. He hijacked their imaginations, using them to keep the audience in their seats when the shooting began. He used the wonder of the movie-going against them. He took something that brings us together and used it to push us apart. He tried to steal our ability to share this experience.
The Dark Knight Rises will still be a cultural event. I will still feel connected to the people around me, I will still share something with them. But today it will be very different. We won’t simply share the awestruck inability to take our eyes from the screen, we won’t just share the incredible ability of stories to transport us. We will share the silence that precedes the first frame like no time before in our lives. We will sit in the abyss, in the momentary stillness, and we’ll think about the lives that were taken. We’ll think about the strangers screaming in their seats as a blind-muzzle flashed in the murky night. And we’ll feel sorry. But more than anything we’ll feel lucky. We’ll take a breath, and another, and we’ll sit still as the world moves us forward. We’ll sink into our seats and out of our thoughts and we’ll find ourselves as we have so many times before in a theater, lost.
And when the credits roll, we’ll talk about the movie, and we’ll talk about what happened, and what it means. And we’ll step out of the darkened movie house and into the bleached streets of mid-afternoon, and we’ll remember today and how we felt and how lucky we were.