I just returned from seeing the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. And yes, I have an opinion about it. Truth be told, following the tragedy in Aurora, CO, I was anxious waiting for the movie to start. I'd lie if I told you I didn't glance at the exit door more than a few times, wondering if I hadn't seen some reflection. But, my own fears aside, I have noticed two things. The first I noticed in the wake of the shooting in Aurora. The second I noticed shortly after watching the movie.
The first thing I noticed is that in the aftermath of the shootings, an age-old debate has been drummed up––the one about violence in the media. It seems that movies (and other media) are just getting more violent, more sensational, more in-your-face. It's not to say that there wasn't, and hasn't always been, violence in media (it certainly makes for a good, exciting story). But what I think is probably measurable is the amount––or better said, the intensity... more fight scenes, more heinous crimes, more graphic portrayals, and so on. There's also the questions going around about whether it is appropriate to take young children to a movie at midnight. Maybe a better question is whether it is appropriate to take them to a movie like this at all. Now, no doubt the question has come up: does violence in the media (or in video games, or in music, etc.), and its growing intensity, have an effect on violence in society? Does violence on the screen cause violence in society? And, as I'm starting to think, is movie violence––that is, fake violence––a socially acceptable kind of pornography? Does it get us riled up to watch others get beat up?
Now, before I am accused of simply being too uptight... consider the second thing that I noticed, just today after watching the movie. The film itself presents its own view on violence and its effects on the pliant, adaptable, and impressible thing which is the human mind (and soul). (At this point two disclaimers are in order. The first being that I am no expert on the Batman franchise. The second is this might include some movie spoilers.) In the film, Bane, Batman's principal foe, is portrayed as having been born and 'raised' in a prison––a deep pit otherwise called a living hell. There is no denying that Bane is portrayed as a violent and ruthless man. I hope I'm not being presumptuous in saying that the movie intends a causal connection here. Bane is "pure evil" (as he is called in the movie) precisely because of the suffering that he has endured since birth and the suffering that he chooses to inflict on the self-proclaimed innocent (there's another blog post). His own innocence was robbed of him because of the intense suffering he had undergone because of, presumably, his grandfather's hard heart and the evil deeds of the men he was surrounded by in prison as a child. Not only was he wounded, his will became corrupt––he desired to inflict pain on those whom he presumed had never suffered as much as he and so many others had. What's more, the movie suggests that people do bad things because they are compelled to by their suffering. Well enough, for the most part, I would say. Knowing what little I know about sin, abuse, and human nature, I'd be willing to agree (with distinctions, of course).
What's my point? The Dark Knight accuses itself. Wrapping up a very violent film (but non-gory, as if the lack of blood made it OK) with a tidy ending does not exonerate the central force that makes the plot go: evil must be fought with violence, and stronger violence. The way to solve problems is to get bigger guns than the enemy. Sure, there are themes of honor and redemption and goodness and all the rest. But are as a society simply ignorant of the extreme influence that the arts (music, film, etc.) have on our responsive and adaptable minds and hearts? If we surround ourselves with appalling violence, if our entertainment comes by way of gruesome murder, extravagant plots to destroy the world and mankind.... I'll stop there––just because it is fake, is that what separates us from the foul gladiatorial practices of ancient Rome?
And last, my caveat. I'm not providing an answer, and I am aware of that. Simply censoring will not solve the problem. What's more, Flannery O'Connor had no time for Catholics (the prudes!) who wanted to censor literature, afraid of ruining the most innocent of innocents. Is there room in our entertainment for violence and all the rest––sex, crime, bad decisions, drugs, gangs, and all the other awful things? I think there is. But these are powerful, powerful drugs, not toys.