Dark Knight Rises Shooting Raises Many Issues

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A horrific shooting spree, punctuated by graphic eyewitness details both in the press and on Twitter, has left many struggling for a meaning behind the deaths of 13 people at a Colorado midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

In the hours since news broke that a masked gunman had gained access to a theater through an emergency exit, then fired tear gas into an audience before firing upon the disoriented crowd, there have already been dozens of stories ranging from the important and the tragic to the downright ridiculous.

One thing that’s still unclear is how the gunman gained access to the cinema; while police and witnesses seem to agree that he gained access through an emergency door at the back of the theater, that still doesn’t tell the whole story. Obviously emergency exits cannot be routinely accessible from outside of the theater; not only is that a public safety hazard, as seen this morning, but it’s also just an atrocious business model. If the door was damaged or unable to be locked, that could mean a serious lawsuit for the theater owners, while the possibility that the gunman’s entry was planned, either by going to an earlier movie and leaving the door unlocked or some other means, doesn’t seem farfetched.

There’s been some discussion of various different Batman plot points that seem similar to the shooting—in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a gunman opens fire on a crowded adult movie theaters, for example, and of course there’s the basic idea that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed outside of a cinema in most versions of the mythology (Christopher Nolan, who directed The Dark Knight Rises, had it as an opera). These may be interesting footnotes in the long run, but at present it seems as though (barring a statement from the shooter that he was actually inspired by something particular) trying to connect his actions to a specific story is fruitless and will be more likely to result in a Wertham-style vilification of the medium than anything meaningful.

Ditto for crass attempts on either side of the political alley to connect the events of last night to the well-publicized Rush Limbaugh controversy surrounding the film. That particularly plot thread doesn't seem to have found much traction in the media yet, but it's hit my e-mail a couple of times, and seems an inevitable and somewhat preposterous extension of the conversation.

A political conversation that's probably somewhat more valid, but no less frustrating, is the one about gun control that inevitably arises after a tragedy like this. Fans have taken to Twitter and Facebook to pick sides, with many saying, essentially, that if there was someone armed in that theater, that person could have defended themselves and others from the attack. Author Salman Rushdie, meanwhile, offered his own view. "Here's the thing: Gun ownership in America is out of control, and leads to tragedies like today's," tweeted the controversial author, who has worked with Virgin Comics in the past. In any event, it seems unlikely that a lone gunman could have overtaken a man in a bulletproof vest, carrying a semiautomatic weapon and carrying out what was likely a meticulously-planned attack. People on either side of the issue would likely do well to avoid aggessively politicizing the tragedy.

There has also been some discussion about the wisdom of allowing children to attend midnight screenings; while some heartwrenching details have leaked out of early screenings, saying that children may be among the dead and wounded, it seems essential to note that even the best-intentioned discussion of that aspect of the story runs the risk of blaming the victim for the crime. In a perfect world, of course children would never be involved in a tragedy like this, and when it happens in a PG-13 movie after midnight it's an easy, knee-jerk reaction to ask what they were even doing there. Certainly parents of the children in attendance, and especially those hurt or killed, will torture themselves with fruitless "what-if" questions.

The issue may be a moot one, though, as one assumes that theater security will be tightened in the near future, and one of the first things that's done in situations like that is to increase ID checks at the door. That's something that makes entering any film as an unaccompanied minor harder to pull off.

Which of course ties into the next question that's on the mind of Warner Brothers and the entertainment media: how will this affect the opening weekend box office of a movie that the company needs to succeed, and while has been tracking so high that recent numbers suggested it may be the biggest opening in history? Nobody has any clue yet, although since the attacker appears to have been working on his own and not as part of an organized movement, it seems less likely to have a major impact outside of the theaters that proactively cancel screenings out of respect.

Certainly all of these issues pale in comparison to the tragedy that's very immediate in Colorado. ComicBook.com extends our condolences to the victims, their friends and families.