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One thing that's as horrible as it is precedented about the act of terror perpetrated in Aurora is the apparent lack of any motivation, besides delusions of grandeur, for the shooter's intrusion into our dreams. Whether or not the choice of the new Christopher Nolan Batman movie was a deliberate element of the mad calculations leading up to the attack, that's a link to The Dark Knight's self-described "agent of chaos" The Joker—whom the shooter in question may or may not have declared himself to be before opening fire, as Ray Kelly took such relish in suggesting last week. (I dislike The Dark Knight because in its zeitgest-grabbing invocations of hot-button political issues, it raises questions that, within the inherently black-and-white superhero format, can't help but beg solutions resembling the policy proscriptions of our actual Manichean political party. Although if The Dark Knight actually is an allegory for the necessity of weapon-carrying sovereign citizens willing to stand firm against the assaults of unmotivated chaos, well, it should be noted that stopping the Aurora shooter would have demanded the efforts of an actual superhero.) At this juncture, it needs to be said, though it's been said before, that this would hardly be the first time a disturbed mind has found, in the cinema's syntax of the spectacular, a form for his pathology. (Any more than it would be first time anyone found, in the movies, a way to dream about nobility, charm, transcendence, glory, prosperity or sex.)
That the Aurora shooting is inherently cinematic in nature is true whether or not the Joker proves to be a red herring. I say this not to condemn cinema, but to try and draw as clearly as possible the line that movies walk right up to—it probably goes without saying, but the fact that movies and acts of terror use similar means in the service of similar aspirations doesn't mean that they're actually morally equivalent. (Though Nolan, in his self-mythologizing way, seems increasingly obsessed with the potential dark implications of his own apparently unfathomable power, especially in his grim, flagellant meta-movie Inception.)
What we acknowledge and permit, when the football stadium blows up onscreen, is that the jolt comes from the recognition that if the football stadium bombings are crypto-movies, then the victims are, well, us. And the terror can be genuine and visceral: the terror is in the violation of our trust in public space. We permit this violation of on-screen audiences, our mirror selves, because, after all, it's only a movie. The particular horror of this attack—which is not to say the primary horror, just a distinguishing characteristic—is that our contract with our public spaces and our public art has been violated. How awful and unfair, to die because you went to a movie.