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Eleanor Ringel Cater

A commentary on movies and violence, ‘Dark Knight’ and Colorado tragedy

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

A Dark Knight rose in Colorado last week.

Except he wasn’t a knight. And he was worst than dark. And the only way he “rose” was by climbing up the steps at the stadium-seating theater.

We know the rest. Or enough of it. The acts of valor, the names of the dead, the stories of near misses and dead hits. We know what the guns were, how much ammunition he ordered and where he got it. We even know his name.

I’ve written about the “perils of movie-going” in a humorous (hopefully) manner bunches of times over the last several decades. But mostly they were about bad manners and sticky floors, sprinkled with quotes from “Seinfeld” episodes about Jerry and the gang at the movies.

But there’s nothing funny about what happened in Aurora.

There have been shootings in movie theaters before. Sadly, they often happened at urban theaters (Hollywood code for African-American) during films with urban themes.

However, before sheer bigotry raises its dark head, you should know that one of the most bullet-ridden opening weekends ever — 30 wounded, 1 fatality — was linked to John Singleton’s “Boys in the Hood,” a tremendous (and tremendously responsible) picture that earned John Singleton a best director Oscar nomination. It was the first ever for an African-American (and long before an American woman was ever nominated).

So, how did Hollywood deal with the problem back then. Or when “New Jack City” had similar bullet-riddled problems? The studios started opening “urban” movies on Wednesdays, the idea being, I guess, that the gun-toting kids would have to be in school the next day, so maybe they’d save the rough stuff for the weekend.

Hollywood has dealt with the “Dark Knight Rises” tragedy by…at least so far, publicly — by announcing they would forego their treasured box-office totals for at least a day.

Gosh, I’m touched.

“The Hollywood Reporter” released them anyway.

What those busy little West Coast bees have been pretty successful at is, as much as they could, keeping The Dark Knight’s name out of it. For the most part, the media is referring to the movie massacre or the tragedy in Colorado. I think I heard the word “Columbine” more last weekend than I did “Batman.”

The question of Hollywood and its relationship to violence is relevant. Chris Nolan’s series is dark and violent as opposed to Tim Burton’s, which was cartoon-dark and violent. It’s the difference between Jack Nicholson’s airy-scary Joker and Heath Ledger’s pathologically twisted and tormented version.

But blaming the movie is too easy. Besides, the killer hadn’t even seen “The Dark Knight Rises.”

I haven’t either. I tried to go to Cinebistro near Oglethorpe, but I couldn’t find a parking space. That’s how sold-out they were. And I think a lot of that was due to the very public presence of a Dekalb County police car sitting in the roundabout in front of the theater.

Still, you don’t need to have seen any of the “Batman/Dark Knight” movies to know the players. The coward with the guns certainly did; in one of his few statements, he dubbed himself “The Joker.” And they later found a batman mask in his booby-trapped apartment.

So there is a connection. Hollywood didn’t create this 24-year-old psycho. But it may have coddled him. I’ve seen things in movies that most regular moviegoers can’t imagine. That even nasty gore-obsessed fan-boys can’t imagine either.

Raise your hand if you saw “Tetsuo The Iron Man?” Or “Cabin Fever?” Anybody?

Now, I applauded (but would never see again) “Cabin Fever.” It did what it meant to do and did it well. I also decided I’d proved my tough-girl credentials and didn’t need to plunge into the director’s “Hostel” series.

I think the main thing that’s occurred to me since the shooting is, why hasn’t this happened sooner? A pile of people, confined to one place, jacked-up and media-massaged.

I’m afraid, when it comes to blame, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Or maybe I have too many. Theatre impresario George Lefont, as he often does, said it right:” The movies are a microcosm of the American culture.”

So yes, something is askew if what brings in the big bucks at the movies is, almost always, connected with violence. And no, Warner Brothers didn’t set out to make a movie that would forever be linked with a massacre.

Twenty or so years ago, there was a shooting at Atlanta’s Perimeter Mall in the Food Court. Five people were shot (one died) by a nutcase named James Calvin Brady. I mean, he really was a nutcase; he’d been released from a mental hospital earlier that day. The incident contributed to my life-long fear of food courts. But nobody blamed Burger King or Subway.

I remember one more shooting from the early ‘90s. A loony named James Michael Kirby shot a woman (not fatally) during a screening in San Diego of…”Schindler’s List.”

His motive? He said he was testing God.

How in hell does a filmmaker prepare for that?

Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.



  1. Kay Powell July 24, 2012 9:51 am

    One of your best pieces, Eleanor. You put the horrible incident into perspective with your depth of knowledge and experience.
    Kay PowellReport

  2. Zuzana July 24, 2012 10:44 am

    No, there is no dog in this fight.  It’s nonsensical to even talk about “blame” – it certainly does NOT belong to the film or the theater.  Whenever something is linked to a film in even the flimsiest way, the question of responsible movie-making always comes up. But it’s like asking, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Film, like other art, is a reflection of society; it might get reflected in society in turn. But it is not the source, nor is its censure ever the answer to changing the course of outcomes. This is akin to the idiotic banning of trans fats when in fact people need education about proper nutrition, and need to be held responsible for their actions, not have government do it for them.  The true sources of tragedies large and small might begin in a the home, with lack of instilling a sense of right and wrong, or in an unbalanced brain that cannot see that distinction, and it continues with community needing to be vigilant and responsible. But let’s stop going in the direction of trying to legislate safe and sane society, or we’ll all soon be stripping down before going into theaters, grocery stores, or even work, as we already need to before getting on a plane.Report

  3. bobj July 24, 2012 1:33 pm

    Me, I want to believe very, very few of the folks who seriously believe that the movie is mainly to blame for the crime will never see this thoughtful column or most anything else in print.Report


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