On Film in the Wake of the Aurora Century 16 Tragedy
By now, whether you are a movie fan or not, you’ve almost certainly heard about the horrific shooting at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado. If you somehow haven’t, it pains me that you’re hearing about it from me. Nobody likes being the bearer of bad news. And this news is so much worse than merely “bad”.
In the past 12 hours, a fairly coherent narrative has come together regarding the tragedy. Simply put, about 20 minutes into this morning’s midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, a lone gunman named James Holmes kicked in the front emergency exit of Theater 9, threw a couple tear gas canisters inside, waited for the smoke to begin filling the theater, and began indiscriminately gunning people down. At the time of this writing, 12 people are dead, 58 people are wounded, and Holmes is in police custody. It will, quite obviously, take its place as one of the strangest and most terrifying footnotes of American crime history.
Other details have emerged about Mr. Holmes, all of which may or may not be true. But I digress. I’m not writing this in order to play armchair psychologist, or rant about national gun laws, or scrutinize police response (which, from what I’ve heard, was exemplary). I want to talk about why I needed to write this piece and I want to talk about the people in that theater and why they were there.
The condo that my family has lived in for four years is just down the road from the Denver/Aurora city boundary. My address says ‘Denver’, but if I drive a half mile east, I’m in Aurora. I do my grocery shopping in Aurora, my daughter goes to kindergarten in Aurora, and my wife works in Aurora. And so, as you might imagine, we live fairly close to the Century 16; only 4.5 miles away, to be exact. Before we became a couple, my wife lived even closer, within walking distance. We have both patronized the Century 16 many times, always without incident. Regardless of whatever source may attempt to sensationalize this story and paint Aurora as a creepy and dangerous place, I can tell you that they are wrong. Aurora is a fine city and is full of many, many good people, as all cities are.
And, just like all other cities, Aurora (and Denver, by proxy) has a large and thriving population of movie fans. Many of those people stood in line at theaters across the city last night, including the Century 16, some for hours, to await the premiere of a film that many movie fans have awaited for years. I’ve been in line for many a midnight screening. It is the haven of the diehard, the unabashed fanboy. The crowds at midnight screenings revel in their hardcore status. Have to be to work by 8 a.m. the next morning, but you won’t even get home until 3? No problem. It’s a sacrifice that they are willing to make, because that’s how much they. love. film. It’s important that they be there. I know. I’ve been there. You probably have, too.
It’s not about the bragging rights; that’s just what ends up getting mentioned the most. Ask somebody who’s been in line dressed like Yoda for 11 hours waiting for a Star Wars movie and they’ll tell you – they’re not standing there so they can brag about how they saw the movie “first”; it’s because they love the world they are about to inhabit for a couple of hours. It’s the particular kind of fantastic, pure joy that only movies can bring. Such joy is only heightened when you’re around people who love it as much as you do, in a packed house at a midnight show, for instance.
And at such a show, 4.5 miles from my home, hundreds of patrons took their seats, faces alight with expectation and the sense of community that movie fans can only feel when surrounded by other movie fans, and watched as a man dressed in riot gear and armed with an arsenal of weapons burst into the theater and killed a dozen people. Maybe more, when all is said and done.
What comes next, Aurora? I’ll tell you.
Grieve. Remember those taken long before their time. Wait for the courts to dispense their righteous justice towards James Holmes, as I don’t doubt they will. And then go to a goddamn movie. At the Century 16, if you wish to do so.
There are a handful of reasons for why Holmes did this, but they eventually boil down to a central crux – he wanted attention. Whether he was mentally ill, lost in a hazy dream world of fantasy, or simply an angry loner, this murderer did this so you would remember his name. Now you need to ask yourself – will the name James Holmes cross your mind every time you ponder buying tickets to a movie you want to see?
And I don’t just ask that of my fellow citizens of the Denver Metro Area. It pertains to everybody. America isn’t quite the ‘love thy neighbor’ land of picket fences that some people like to think existed in some bygone age. There have always been maladjusted and dangerous people out there and there always will be. Even now, some crackpot could be watching the aftermath of the Aurora tragedy and wondering if he should do the same. There’s nothing we can do about that.
There might be some things that people think can be done about it: metal detectors at cinemas nationwide, patdowns, security, police in every screening; all which would only serve to suck the joy and innocence out of a trip to the movies. AMC Theaters announced today that they will no longer allow patrons to attend shows dressed in costume at their theaters. I respectfully opine that is a short-sighted decision. Warner Brothers already cancelled today’s Paris premiere and is considering cancelling an undetermined number of screenings nationwide. I respectfully opine that everything go ahead as planned. Turning theaters into prisons or cancelling screenings are knee-jerk reactions, wrongheaded decisions. And they must not happen.
Because what needs to never be forgotten is that a packed house of film lovers – my people – sat down to do something they loved to do last night. That’s the story. When you make movies important to your life, as I have striven to do during my writing ‘career’, then all other diehard movie fans become your brothers and your sisters and your friends. Friends that you may never actually meet, but friends that you know are out there, witnessing art and understanding its importance just as you do.
James Holmes took 12 (and counting) of my friends and I’ll never forget that. But fuck that guy. He’s a non-entity. He’s nobody. He killed people so that you would know him, maybe be scared of him. And I reject that, in the name of cinema and rationality. Don’t be afraid. If you’re a movie fan, go do what makes you happy and watch a movie, just like the victims of Century 16 were doing in this morning’s early hours. Don’t give up that sense of ‘being’ and connection with the world around you that a beautiful film can make you feel. Ben Franklin warned over 200 years ago that those who would give up liberty for safety deserves neither. Truer words never spoken. You can’t control the world around you, so just live. Don’t live in fear because of one hateful little man. Live to create. Live to share. Live to love. If you love movies as I do, don’t let one asshole prevent you from loving it still.
Watch a movie today. Theater, Netflix, DVD, doesn’t matter. Make it a happy one. Feel that film feeling. And remember those lost at the Century 16 this morning who were killed while they felt it, too.