There's something innately special about going to see a movie. It's an act of escape, like attending a sporting event or a concert, but one that's made so much more profound by the design of the experience itself. Movie theaters are crafted to make us forget the fact we're sitting inside movie theaters. Think about what happens when you walk into one: The projector whirls on, the lights dim, and for a few hours, you're entertained by something outside of yourself. It's a safe, comfortable place to give your heart and mind over to someone else's story.
Nowhere is this vulnerability more evident than at a midnight showing—especially in the aftermath of this morning's horrific massacre in Aurora, Colorado. As Alyssa Rosenberg explained earlier today:
Midnight screenings are big, hyped, advertiser-driven events that have become a source of new information to feed the Hollywood data beast, by indicating how motivated audiences are to see a movie. But they're also a product of genuine enthusiasm and an expression of collective joy. Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has meant a lot to an enormous number of filmgoers. And as someone who writes about movies, and who cares about the big, flawed thing we call fandom, I'm saddened by someone turning that shared enthusiasm into a weapon. [...]
We are vulnerable when we go to the movies, open to fear, and love, and disgust, and rapture, surrendering our brains and hearts to someone else's vision of the world.
Forgetting is the key to achieving this vulnerability, to experiencing the moviegoer's illusion. The best films are the ones that create such vivid universes that they supplant reality. For a few hours, if you're willing to let go, you can lose yourself.
I made plans to see The Dark Knight Rises tonight with friends, but now, I don't think I will go. It's not that I'm scared of going to a movie theater, even if I understand the irrational fear that may keep some away. It's that this morning's tragedy is too troubling to forget, even for a few hours.
Others, of course, feel differently. That's fine: We all react to tragedy in different ways, and film offers an opportunity to escape. But right now, I'm not ready to escape. It's too soon for me to enjoy something that was manipulated so recently to cause pain. It's too soon to let go of the part of myself that hurts about a madman who massacred people when they were most helpless. The audience in Aurora, like every audience at every midnight showing around the country, made a decision to throw themselves into a movie they loved. I don't know when I'll be able to do the same without remembering them.
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