Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora, Colorado: It’s (Not) Only a Movie

Part of what we love about movies is that they can seem so real. Far more than a book or a stage play, a movie can suck us into an alternate reality, making us feel we are in the presence of more excitement and drama than our own lives usually have to offer. Even back in the earliest days, filmmakers played upon the cinematic paradox that the shadows projected on a movie screen affect us on a visceral level. When Edwin S. Porter made The Great Train Robbery back in 1903, he ended with an outlaw, in close-up, leveling his pistol directly at the audience. I’m told early moviegoers screamed and sometimes fainted (then came back for more). We smile now at their naïveté, but I think we too are looking for that sort of thrill when the lights go down.

Over the decades, inventive movie honchos have tried to take advantage of the audience’s eagerness to be drawn into the action. In the 1950s, CinemaScope and other wide-screen formats were designed to envelope viewers in a huge image. I faintly remember 1952’s This is Cinerama, a plotless extravaganza made up of a series of you-are-there thrills and chills, like a stomach-churning ride on Playland’s “Atom Smasher” roller coaster. Later in the same decade, horror director William Castle used gimmicks to rouse audiences. In The Tingler, for instance, he got moviegoers to scream on cue by wiring some of the seats in the auditorium to suddenly vibrate at just the right moment.

By the late Sixties, a dark time in American history, filmmakers were reeling in audiences by upping the violence quotient to levels never before seen on film. The bloody Technicolor finale of Bonnie and Clyde was quickly surpassed by the extended orgy of bloodletting that ended The Wild Bunch. Coming out of a movie theatre with an adrenalin rush was nothing new –- Jimmy Cagney gangster films had long given us that -- but we were now starting to expect greater and greater sensations. Movie studios were increasingly in the business of “Can you top this?,” and some filmmakers were obliging with films (like the gruesome but popular Saw franchise) whose entire purpose was to get viewers to recoil in disgust and horror.

Personally, I believe there’s a place for movies that are grim. Not every motion picture needs to be uplifting: the Disney take on life is not always appropriate. There’s a case to be made for films that can to shake us to our core, that can remind us in a fist-to-the-gut way that life can sometimes turn terrifying in the blink of an eye. The saving grace of such movies, of course, is that we normally emerge from them unscathed, counting our blessings. What’s shocking about what happened in Aurora is that a dark tale of make-believe was suddenly interrupted by real-life horror. A man with an arsenal of weapons suddenly emerged from the shadows and made a movie experience tragically real.

It’s beyond me to know with certainty how to prevent more Auroras. Personally I don’t believe in censorship; I do believe in gun control. I mourn the victims. At the same time, I wish there were some way to stop the easy access to guns that enabled one twisted soul to try making a horror movie of his own, a movie that no one bought tickets to see.


  1. It's such a tightrope - give up some perceived rights in order to prevent a psycho easy access to the tools of slaughter. But then feel oppressed, especially when you can't see the results - in other words, if successful, there are no psychos killing people, and everyone forgets the reason why those perceived rights were given up and rail against authority for imposing limits.

  2. Right . . . though for me, at least, owning your own arsenal is not a right that seems worth having. I was gratified by a comment on Facebook from a horror movie fan who says, "I'm a gun owner, but I don't need an assault rifle and 6000 rounds of ammo to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights. That's nut-case bozo insane if you ask me." It's good to hear that not all gun owners are fans of the NRA position on gun ownership.

  3. I own no guns, nor do I care to, but eliminating gun ownership is not an answer to such a problem, at least to me. A crazy person, or anybody who wants one, will get a gun regardless someway somehow. Colorado already has very strict gun laws as it is, especially after Columbine.

    Also, the presidents 'Fast & Furious' plan of actually GIVING high powered weapons to Mexican drug cartels only to use them to kill innocent Mexicans and our own border patrol agents isn't the answer to push for tighter restrictions, either.

    I am curious, though, how this character was able to get three(?) such weapons into a movie theater especially considering cops were already around the theater. Two were large rifles. Not sure how he was able to conceal those without somebody noticing.

    Also, I don't see how the court will go with an insanity plea. The man was wearing a bullet proof vest for crying out loud. He obviously was of enough sound mind and body to know he didn't want to get shot, yet showed no compunction at taking out as many people as possible.

    I know people who own a variety of weapons because they like collecting them. Either that, or they have a military background. I find nothing bozo insane about it, in my opinion. One is a close friend, another is a relative who was in Vietnam. But as I said above, I own no guns and have no interest in ever owning one. Although for safety reasons, having one would likely be logical especially in this day and age.

    And taking into consideration we are in a society where so many want things given to them without working for it(such as the violence perpetrated by the so-called Occupy "Movement"), civilization has become spoiled on technology. And like a child who wants something they can't have, some of these loons take things to extremes to get what they want, whatever that may be. I don't know what all goes into determining how you obtain a gun LEGALLY, but perhaps a routine psychological examination would prove beneficial in weeding out the good from the bad.

    Aside from this being a thought provoking post, Beverly, what a nice, thoughtful gesture for Christian Bale to visit the survivors of this incident.

  4. Brian, I agree with some but not all of what you have to say. In any case, I do appreciate your thoughts. Yes, it was a gracious gesture on Bale's part, but how little his actions make up for all those lives that have been needlessly ruined.