Today, the majority of Americans awoke to the tragic news of a shooting outside of Denver by James Eagen Holmes, 24.
Holmes apparently burst into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others (71 all told). Though reports continue to stream in as news sources interview witnesses, neighbors, and officials, it is clear that this was a premeditated act of violence by a methodical planner – akin to the “Joker” he called himself when taken into police custody.
Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan released the following statement:
“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community.
I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.
The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.
Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.“
I confess that my initial reaction to the news was of the same nature. The primary offense of mass murder is sufficient enough to elicit our collective shock and horror, but this heinous act is compounded all the more in the way that it violated the sacred space theater provides.
It is a tragic circumstance that the recent run of violence in America has been located at holy places, sacred spaces – a theater, a church, a preschool, a college, a high school (see link) – all places with high concentrations of people are found to be sure, but places also holy in their own way. Temples of education, places where we entrust our most valuable possessions – our children, our very hearts and minds, to the expected goodwill and better natures of humanity.
The theater is a place where we go to get away from the stressors of “real life.” We attend the theater – indeed all centers of the arts – for a reprieve, for something beautiful. We relax as our souls become open and vulnerable, we hold hands with loved ones, we become part of the zeitgeist to experience something deep and spiritual, to feel something deep and abiding, to experience terror within a safe space and thus work out our inner turmoils towards catharsis.
In short, we go to the theater to anticipate, re-enact, and experience the divine. Not to have our trust betrayed.
Though terrible in their own right, today’s events are all the more egregious for the ways in which they violated not just the trust of those in the theater, but the trust of the entire world. East. West. Young. Old. What was done was inexcusable. It proves afresh our need to not only withstand evil in all its forms but to protect the holiness our sacred spaces, wherever they may be found, provide.