I know this may be controversial. As such, I make no request that you agree with me. I only ask that you give it some thought and, if you feel strongly one way or the other, respectfully share your reaction…
Not quite two days ago, something truly tragic happened.
Just after midnight, 24-year-old James Holmes walked into Theater 9 of a packed-out Aurora, Colorado Cinemark movie theater, and opened fire on hundreds of unsuspecting moviegoers.
Twelve people died on the scene. Over fifty others were shot. As I write this, many remain in critical condition, while police are still attempting to avoid the intricate booby-traps set by Holmes inside his home.
No one likes assigning blame when it comes to such tragedies. At least not for the first couple of days, when we prefer to be more reverent. But even if they aren’t yet asking it, many are thinking about a simple, yet profoundly important question:
Is The Dark Knight responsible for this dark night?
The Question Of Story
Let me begin attempting to answer that question with another:
Where do stories come from?
In my own journey to find an answer, I’ve found great wisdom in people like Robert McKee, perhaps the most influential teacher in all of Hollywood. McKee’s former students include 36 Academy Award winners, and he’s been teaching his same world-famous “Story Seminar” to sold-out audiences since the early 80′s.
The contents of his seminar were later included in his aptly titled book, Story, which is often referred to as the “screenwriters’ bible”. Here’s a small sample of what he has to say about story:
All fine films, novels, and plays, through all shades of the comic and tragic, entertain when they give the audience a fresh model of life empowered with an affective meaning. To retreat behind the notion that the audience simply wants to dump its troubles at the door and escape reality is a cowardly abandonment of the artist’s responsibility. Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on a search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.
Here we begin to delve into the deeper matter— the relationship between story and reality. Elsewhere in this same chapter, McKee digs deeper still:
Cinema’s master storytellers give us the double-edged encounter we crave. First, the discovery of a world we do not know. No matter how intimate or epic, contemporary or historic, concrete or fantasized, the world of an eminent artist always strikes us as somewhat exotic or strange. Like an explorer parting forest leaves, we step wide-eyed into an untouched society, a cliche-free zone where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Second, once inside this alien world, we find ourselves. Deep within these characters and their conflicts we discover our own humanity. We go to the movies to enter a new, fascinating world, to inhabit vicariously another human being who at first seems so unlike us and yet at heart is like us, to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality. We do not wish to escape life but to find (it)…
The stories we tell are inextricably related to the lives we lead. The real question is how.
The Merging Of Fact And Fiction
They say James Holmes liked to call himself The Joker. If so, he chose his moniker well.
The Joker became more than a comic book character long before Friday morning’s shooting. To illustrate this point, I’d suggest you ask Heath Ledger.
The only problem is… you can’t.
Heath Ledger signed up for a job as an actor, a performer. To play a role in a work of fiction. What actually happened was something very different.
There’s fiction, and then there’s real life. Like Heath Ledger before him, it seems that James Holmes had a hard time recognizing this obvious distinction.
Then again, are we certain the distinction is really all that obvious?
Better yet, are we entirely certain the distinction truly exists?