I don’t think the comic-book violence embedded in Batman movie mythology caused the horrible movie-theater killing spree in Aurora, Colo., turning mass excitement at the first showing of The Dark Knight Rises into mass terror. Assault weapons and a mountain of ammunition, pathetically easy and legal for an average American evil madman to obtain, did that. While the attack took place at a suburban multiplex on a summer’s night, the same horror could have been unleashed somewhere else — a baseball stadium, a shopping mall, a music arena, any place we gather as a group, feeling trusting and fortunate.
I do think, though, that a very specific kind of bullet-free brutality employed at length in TDKR ought to disturb viewers a lot more than it does. This desensitization has been on my mind since I saw the movie, and it bothers me now, even as the weekend is filled with debate, yet again, about American gun laws. The physical, hand-to-hand ferocity with which Batman and his latest nemesis, Bane, try to kill one another is documented at such length, and with such lavish visual and aural attention paid to pain and bone crushing, that, even within comic-book superhero parameters, it’s an agony to watch. Or at least it should be.
It’s no secret that, aside from his plan to pitch Gotham City into anarchy using weapons of mass destruction, Bane is, personally, a monstrous thug. Just look at the guy! His flesh tank of a body is built to withstand pummeling that might cripple your average villain, and Bane is capable of delivering damage so intense that, for a time, Batman is truly out of commission. This vulnerability is meant to parallel the good guy’s own existential exhaustion, etc. etc. etc., yet the rain of oofs and pows had me flinching for so long that at some point I became inured. And then angry. Why is this exhibition in our faces? Why must we look?
To complain about oofs and pows in a movie about superheros and supervillains is arguably silly. I get it, that’s what these stories have been built on since the first kerSPLAT sound effect was inked on a pulpy page. We know the difference between what can break a real human body and what make-believe beings can endure. Yet the pitiless determination with which these drawn-out scenes of human-scale violence have been so carefully, even obsessively, staged and filmed in this comic-book production, built on the scale of a modern epic, kind of broke my spirit. And my heart.
This weekend, as millions of hearts across the country are broken in the wake of such extreme real violence, I feel like I never want to see another orchestration of fictional oof ever again. How about you?
Follow Lisa at @lisaschwarzbaum