Batman in Aurora
by Christopher J. Knorps
On July 20, 2008, I went to see The Dark Knight at the movie theater at CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood with my two friends Mike and Molly.
On July 21, 2012, I called my friend Emily. I told her that, while Mike and Molly’s wedding was surely going to be a beautiful occasion, I was a tad upset that I would have to miss seeing The Dark Knight Rises during its opening weekend, given that Mike, Molly and I had done it four years previous. Emily responded that I should be happy that I hadn’t gone to a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado, as a massacre had taken place there the previous night.
This was the first news I heard of it, and the last for a few days. The wedding took place in Big Sur, CA, and the majority of its attendees did not have cell phone reception or internet access. When I got back to Chicago and put the final touches on my ACA Analysis, I saw that far more releases had been posted on the www.whitehouse.gov website in regards to this massacre than in regards to the passage of the ACA. Clearly this is no small matter.
For those of you that do not already know, I am filming a shot-by-shot remake of the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman, which will be titled Batman in Brooklyn. While I do not care to get into the particulars of my inspiration here, I will note that Charles Hynes has tentatively agreed to play himself (in the analogous role of D.A. Harvey Dent) and we will be needing student volunteers to play extras in one or two of his scenes, so please stay tuned.
Only July 27, 2012, my friend Joe texted me. Joe has recently taken a job in Albany, NY and is leaving Astoria. His text read as follows:
“Jack, i know this is late, but i think this whole shooting Colorado thing just made what you are trying to create all that more incredibly prescient and important. I know i cant be around for your production. Can i shoot some b-roll or secondary stock footage for your movie....”
He went onto describe the cobblestone paths of Albany, but I have since deleted the texts. Regardless, many people doubt my ability to pull this off next year since it will be such an incredibly busy one, but this has become a personal mission. As soon as Hynes became involved, I could not let the project peter out. Now that a mass-murderer (whose name I will not even deign to learn) has taken the “corporate opportunity” provided by a multi-billion dollar franchise to immortalize himself with a heinous act, Batman has undoubtedly become the most notorious comic book superhero of all time. And another Batman remake must be filmed.
Batman’s moral compass is not at issue here, though it is a subject of frequent debate amongst his fans. Superman is essentially a government tool (and probably a Republican if one takes Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as his “true story”) and Spiderman is a nerdy kid whose morality is rarely, if ever questioned. It is unlikely that this killer was a fan of Batman, but more likely a fan of the Joker (I have seen his hair).
In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger cemented his status in the pantheon of American cinema with an iconic performance of that role and led many to write-off Jack Nicholson’s virtuoso accomplishment (which also made him the highest paid actor of his time) as nothing more than a footnote. But Ledger’s performance was seriously dark, the type of thing to spur imitation (in contrast to Nicholson’s--which was much funnier, and more inimitable). He also made it seem “cool” to be criminally insane. He supposedly took inspiration from Sid Vicious in the similar way that Johnny Depp took inspiration from Keith Richards for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean films. Sid Vicious died young of a heroin overdose; Keith Richards lives on; Heath Ledger died young of an “accidental” overdose; Johnny Depp has been a Hollywood heart-throb for the past thirty years (and worked with Tim Burton more than any other actor); Jack Nicholson lounges in Los Angeles, and goes to far less Lakers games.
Kurt Cobain once said, “Punk rock is freedom.” Sid Vicious is a more popular figure in punk culture than Johnny Rotten because Johnny Rotten lives on, lounging in Los Angeles, collecting on the commodity he helped to create by branding himself an “anarchist.” Kurt Cobain also died young of a heroin overdose.
It’s no secret that “living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse” has been a mantra of the counterculture for the past sixty years, and while it is doubtful that this massacre will prevent similar future acts of self-destruction, it reinforces the “Columbine” issue, raised some thirteen years ago, raised on the campuses of Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech more recently, and now in the national spotlight again.
Do video games make people more violent? Do films make people more violent? Can we blame a film for the deaths of 14 innocent people? Should Warner Brothers pay for their funerals? Does Christian Bale have a duty to visit the injured victims in a hospital?
No. In Video Software Dealer’s Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger, the 9th Circuit held that California did not have a compelling interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm to minors allegedly caused by violent video games and that even if it had a compelling interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm allegedly caused to minors by violent video games, the law was not narrowly tailored to further that interest. John Hinckley tried to shoot President Reagan to impress Jodie Foster, but no one goes around trying to be like Patrick Bateman (because he is a “dork”). Warner Brothers doesn’t have to pay for the funerals, but the movie theater showing the film offered to do so. And Christian Bale is not required to visit the victims, but he did because he knew it would mean a lot to them, and it probably did. It was the right thing to do.
This murderer was clearly imitating the Joker (the Ledger version) but his regime is over. The murderer will not escape from prison, or a home for the criminally-insane in Colorado (one of which incidentally housed my younger brother’s assailant after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, after being previously tried for attempted murder, and allowed to work in the school cafeteria). The Dark Knight Rises will still be an enormously successful film. Batman will remain as popular a figure as ever, and Batman in Brooklyn will be shot this Fall and Spring.
I will be playing the Joker in Batman in Brooklyn. And to me, there is a fine line between Batman and the Joker. Batman does not hate the Joker, and does not want to kill him, but feels that he must for the good of Gotham City. The Joker kills hundreds of innocent people. Batman’s fans hate it when Batman kills, but he only kills when he has good reason to do so. Perhaps an analogy can be made to cops who shoot when presented with a threat to bodily injury, but Batman is never overzealous in his defensive measures. The fine line comes in where writers draw psychological parallels, namely, childhood trauma as a cause, and violence as an effect.
The Joker, this murderer, the Columbine shooters, et. al. have been traumatized (as have many others who alternatively make positive contributions to society). The Joker has been disfigured by Batman. The Columbine shooters were bullied. And I don’t know about this murderer except I think he was getting his PHD in something and that he told his psychiatrist that he was planning some kind of “big event” (while graduate degrees may not be considered traumatizing, I think everyone at BLS knows earning one can drive you at least a little bit insane).
The interesting legal issue that arises to me is not gun control (which will be debated until the end of American history) but tort liability. Nobody had a duty to anyone in this case, except perhaps the psychiatrist. And while Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California held that a psychiatrist has a duty to report to the police if their patient expresses a desire to inflict harm upon a particular person, a potential civil action may arise in this case which may extend that policy to generalized groups of people. This is now certain to be a moral dilemma for psychiatrists: at what point does the patient cross the line that demands notification of the authorities?
As the Joker states in The Killing Joke, an excellent story by Alan Moore, all it takes is one bad day to cross that line. Whatever it is that drives these people to violence may be one small remark (a stray gay joke, a slight regarding choice of clothing), or something more major (being forced to assist the Mob with an inside job after you’ve just learned of the deaths of your wife and unborn child), but it can be enough decimate hundreds of people’’s lives.
Very few lessons, if any, can be learned from this tragedy. But I can think of one: we all need to be more sensitive to the needs of others. Hate breeds hate and if these people were happy, if they never had their “one bad day,” then they might have lived to help improve society, rather than harm individuals within it. It is entirely possible that The Dark Knight glorifies criminal violence and insanity, but the attraction towards that glorification is felt most strongly by the disaffected, the outcasts, the losers. This is not to say that any semblance of a glorification of violence should be purged from every film. The catharses that art can provide are every bit as valuable as the laughs derived from a stand-up comedy routine.
The solution is not to stop telling stories with morally ambiguous characters, but to ensure that people treat one another with love and respect. We are all on this bumpy ride together and we are all going to die anyways, and we shouldn’t be mocking people that have problems: we should be looking out for them and trying to improve the conditions for happiness across society as a whole. Once the most disaffected among us have the opportunity to attain happiness, senseless crimes will subside.
Christopher J. Knorps is a 3L at Brooklyn Law School. He enjoys studying bankruptcy law.