On July 20th 2012, an incident took place at a movie theatre in the town of Aurora, near Denver, Colorado. A man dressed in black protective gear, including a bullet-proof vest, gloves and a gas mask, walked into a late night screening of The Dark Knight Rises and began randomly shooting at the cinema patrons. Reportedly, the gunman set off two devices which released some form of tear gas into the theatre before starting to fire.
According to some of the surviving cinema patrons, the gunman (thought to be James Holmes, a 24 year old medical student who is currently being held by police) started firing during a shootout scene, causing confusion amongst his targets. Ten people were killed in the theatre itself; another two died in nearby hospitals. More than fifty other people were injured.
This terrible happening has sparked upset and anger from many quarters. Some have spoken on the need for greater gun control in the US, while others are concerned with more social issues; we still don’t truly understand why people decide to commit this type of mass murder, or how to prevent them from doing it.
As with many other atrocities committed by young people with guns, the discussion has inevitably turned on cinema itself. This particular gunman’s selection of a film screening for the scene of his crime, as well as his carefully chosen combat attire, is hard to ignore; once again, people are blaming it on the movies.
Films, like all other works of art, have the ability to inspire us as viewers. They can inspire us to an idea, or to a feeling, or to an act. The act that a film inspires us to might not necessarily be a good one; many people have been known to injure themselves or others when stupidly attempting to recreate a favourite stunt, for example. But can films, even very violent ones, really be the catalyst for real-life massacres like the Columbine High School shooting, or the atrocity that took place just a few days ago in Aurora?
The answer to this question is both complex and simple. Complex because these sorts of crimes, although similar, are not all alike; each one is subjective, relating to its own particular circumstances. And simple, because of the plain fact that every true film fan knows for sure: movies don’t destroy; they only create.
Films, even if they feature violence and hate, are not responsible for the decisions of the individuals who watch them. The person who relates their own issues to a film, and then acts upon that relation through murder, has made that decision themselves and will have to live with the consequences.
The gunman who murdered 12 people and wounded many more in a movie theatre last week is not the victim of violent media saturation, although some may view him that way. As soon as he decided to pick up a gun, he forfeited his right to victim-hood. The true victims are the people who decided to go catch a film and ended up losing their lives. The true victims are the people who will never be able to walk into a movie theatre again without thinking of that fateful screening. The true victim is cinema.