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The Right Film At the Wrong Time

The Dark Knight Rises bloodstained by tragedy


When historians chronicle the events of July 20 in Aurora, Colo., they will no doubt shackle one of the worst singular moments of American violence with the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Therein lies another tragedy, for the film does not exploit violence but rather asks us to consider the insanity of evil incarnate.

And its protagonist, Bruce Wayne, is not a poster boy for vigilantism but a man blinded by anger in a quest for order. But in that journey, Wayne, played with great taste by Christian Bale, concludes that a terrorist is not to be marginalized but vanquished.

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The Dark Knight Rises is much more than a superhero movie. More opera than cinema, the film achieves greatness on many levels but has been, in a twisted bit of irony, linked to the events at the Colorado cineplex. It's a shame that the movie may never be accepted on its own merit.

Popular culture allows us--possibly even invites us--to accept fictional violence in stylized fashion. Violent acts in movies, television and virtual gaming specifically target young American men, many of whom have an unhealthy hunger to be noticed. Ham-fisted directors such as Quentin Tarantino and James Wan too often exploit that blood lust, numbing our senses to the real-life consequences of loss.

But to his credit, writer-director Christopher Nolan gives us a fully realized tragedy in The Dark Knight Rises, inviting a discerning audience to visit Gotham City, which appears all too lifelike: a shell of a city masked by a facade of prosperity while chaos simmers beneath its streetscape.

But violent reckoning does come to Nolan's Gotham, personified by Bane as a non-negotiable, scorched-earth terrorist. The villain, at first glance, may not seem as bone-chilling as the Joker from 2008's The Dark Knight, but he is menacing nonetheless thanks, in large part, to Nolan, a master artist who brings nuance to the eternal conceit of good vs. evil.

"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable," said Jodie Foster in 1989, when accepting the first of her two Academy Awards.

Her words haunted my thoughts as I watched the aftermath of the Aurora shooting at The Dark Knight Rises premiere. Foster's role as a child prostitute in 1976's Taxi Driver reportedly inspired John Hinckley Jr. to shoot President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Hinckley later confessed to an obsession with Foster and the lead character in Taxi Driver, who devolved into an assassin. Much later, Foster reminded us that our culture all too regularly showcases cruelty, and that what evil men do should be regarded with great care when dramatized by actors and directors.

Our cultural attention will soon shift to the London Olympic games, set to begin Friday, July 27. But we should also take note that just beyond the spectacle, British Army troops will be poised atop London's buildings in full body armor, presumably to keep evil at bay.

The facade lives.