Why I Saw “The Dark Knight Rises” Today

I imagine anyone who’d stumble on this post has an idea why I wouldn’t have, why I would have prevaricated and debated. The shit which went down at a midnight show of the third Nolan Batman flick happened about 2 hours from my house, and while that’s hardly close enough to catch a stray bullet, it is frighteningly near in ways both geographic and ideological. This is the first “national tragedy” to actually strike home for me: Oaklahoma City was bombed when I’d barely ever left my home state of Wyoming, so it might as well have happened in fairyland; The Twin Towers are in New York, where I’ve never been and never wanted to be…terrifying shit happening there is what I assume constitutes 20 hours of every day, and as someone from a town of about 15,000 people I can’t imagine big cities behaving any other way; hell, even though Columbine happened almost exactly the same distance away, it didn’t fill me with fear of the black-trenchcoated…those kids were all already my friends, and thus I knew them too well to think they’d become monsters overnight.

But this shit scared me. I’m not saying it scared me in any rational way, as there’s no indication that the gunman involved was part of some vast cabal with inky tendrils reaching towards every theater in America. But my wife and I almost went to the midnight showing…and actually, we almost went in Colorado because this weekend is the Daddy of ‘Em All here in town. Of course, we wouldn’t have gone to Aurora, we’d have gone to Loveland or Fort Collins. But who’s to say the shooter couldn’t have done so too?

In addition to the proximity warning, there’s the fact that I just got married–which is second only to “two days til retirement” for ominous dramatic foreshadowing. I was nervous as hell leading up to the wedding, terrified something would happen to me or my fiancee. I figured that would go away after the ceremony, but now I just worry about leaving her widowed. My wife did not attend the film with me today, despite her enjoying the previous two and our seeing The Dark Knight at midnight, together, the first midnight showing I believe we attended.

I won’t say I didn’t let her join me, because that paints a picture of our relationship with an almost completely inverted power structure. But I will say I didn’t want her to join me at the film (and her tendency towards anxiety makes me look positively sedated, so it probably wasn’t on the table anyway). But leaving her at home (actually, letting her drop me off at the theater) meant I got to play through all these images of her getting some terrible phone call and coming to identify my body.

Those images joined many others rattling around in my head as I slid into a nearly-empty theater for the 3pm show. I hadn’t been this terrified to see a film since I tried to watch Interview with the Vampire when I was 10. I actually had permission from my parents to go see the film, and had already read the fucking books…but it was an R-rated movie. I wasn’t actually scared, then, of the movie; just terrified someone would single me out in the crowd and drag me away from the screen.

I ended up walking out to the lobby, then watching the entire movie through the crack between the doors. The whole thing. I didn’t walk home, though I could have since I was maybe 10 blocks away. I just crouched in the lobby while my three friends chilled in their seats.

No rebel, me.

So I that in the theater, ears perked like a rabbit’s, twitching at every movement anyone made. The guy down the row from me had visible tattoos, and suddenly he was the greatest threat in the room…even though most of my friends have tattoos. At one point, a teenager in a black shirt with white writing stood up five rows down and walked towards one of the aisles. My heart froze, all of my attention focused on this dangerous stranger…despite the fact that I was also wearing a black shirt with white writing. I felt like every Fox News-watching alarmist I normally chuckle behind my sleeve at, and every time I started to relax and enjoy what I was watching someone would go to the bathroom and I was back on full alert.

No set of trailers has ever run so long. That’s even with the removal of one of the coolest trailers I’ve seen this year, due to the whole “a bunch of people in a theater are shot by gunmen” thing. I was twisting in my seat, wishing that I could just get to the movie and get it over with.

Get it over with. A film I’ve been waiting years to see. A film whose import was heavy enough that I joked with my wife it was fortunate our wedding happened in June, not July, or I wouldn’t have been able to attend—and I wasn’t necessarily joking. I started composing this post right around that point, as I reflected on how surely I’d been gripped by fear and how weird that was. But I stayed in the seat because it was important to me to attend the film, and enjoy the film, and not let the actions of a single asshole in a place which happened to be nearby ruin something I’d been anticipating for years–years which stretched out well before Batman Begins, into the agonies of the shitty-era Batman movies. I didn’t want to stick Nolan with a shitty box office, I didn’t want to do a disservice to this film not seeing it at open when I’d caught so many others on the day off; including fairly wretched films…Percy Jacksons and the like.

I wanted to pay homage to a director, and a series, that went beyond just entertaining and made superheroes accessible and cool. There’d be no Avengers without this trilogy, and the esteemed John Cheese would have been missing a pillar from this article. I resisted allowing this tragedy to stamp the film anymore indelibly than it already has, because that’s something we struggle with in this society. I’ve spent my entire life hearing how the games I play will drive me to violence and deviltry, with the hidden messages in the music I listen to providing an ominous backdrop.

However, I also went to see The Dark Knight Rises for somewhat more metafictive reasons. The gunman, his acts, and some of the rumors flying about the name he gave himself—it’s all very reminiscent of the shit Gothamites deal with every day. Certainly people in the world which exists experience horrible, brutal, heart-wrenching violence every day…but generally without that air of theatricality one expects from the villains in a comic book.

So I went to the movie in an effort to shake off the fear I felt settling around my shoulders with every news report and facebook post…because that’s exactly what the movie is about. Nolan’s whole series, really, has been about addressing fear, recognizing fear, confronting fear, and rising above it. When I sat down in the theater I was anxious for the film to be done, so I could say I saw it and made it. I nearly bolted for the door a few times, because what if?

But, folks, it’s a really good fucking film. I was weeping and laughing simultaneously by the end, tapping hands on knees and folded double in my seat as though I could better devour the action if my eyes were closer to the screen. While I started out jumping and wincing at every gunshot, pulling myself back from any scene that engaged my attention because “this is when someone might strike,” I ended the experience with no desires but to find my wife, hug her, and get her a ticket.

Shit went really fucked at a midnight showing of an anticipated film. Shit may go really fucked again, either as a result of copycats or reactionary censorship or any of a million other causes. But I’m glad I went and paid my money and sat in my seat and had my shit rocked, and I hope others do the same.

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