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Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight Rises, released a statement after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 people and wounded more than 70. This part of what Nolan had to say really stuck out to me:

The movie theater 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.

Isn’t this the same Christopher Nolan that has sited Michael Mann’s ultra-violent crime films as a huge inspiration for his take on Batman? The same Chris Nolan who decided to go more the Sin City route of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight than the original, much more kid-friendly version, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger? So what innocence is he talking about? That innocence was violated long ago by filmmakers like him, trying to sell tickets and make money off the old American Hollywood trick—combining sex and violence. Nothing like Anne Hathaway bent over and shooting the shit out of whatever’s in front of her to titillate and make more money. Maybe Nolan is The Dark Knight Rising.

I’m not saying there are not psychotic people with guns—particularly in America—who will be inspired to cause calamity by God knows what. And there’s nothing to do about those people except make firearms and ammunition far more difficult to acquire, while simultaneously continuing to refine our understanding of mental illness. That said, Nolan’s statement, where he washes his hands clean of the whole matter and acts like he’s making films where everyone isn’t killing each other, and proclaims his cinema a place of innocence, well, that’s so far-fetched as to be laughable.

There is violence in the world. So there is a place for violence in film. Of course there is. If movies didn’t reflect that violence, we’d all be in even more trouble. But there’s a big difference between the realistic, gut-wrenching violence of, say, Mean Streets, and the video game violence of Chris Nolan. In Nolan’s Inception, on the snowy mountains, we’re told it’s all a dream, or some such shit, and so all the people getting killed aren’t really getting killed. Regardless, the images blazing at us from the big screen show our hero picking off nameless, distant enemies who have no meaning or value—they are simply vague threats in human bodies that need to be put down. If Nolan thinks scenes like that are not part of the numbing and anesthetizing of America, he needs to think again and not take cover behind his alleged blamelessness.

When A Clockwork Orange came out in theaters, it supposedly inspired real life copycat crimes. But Kubrick, throughout his career, was interested in exploring violence—not just featuring it for its sexiness. Kubrick was really looking at it and trying to understand human nature. And if someone misunderstood his exploration, that’s like Mark David Chapman quoting Holden Caulfield after shooting John Lennon. It’s simply a disturbed person misunderstanding the art. That’s very different than a disturbed person who is constantly inundated by images of guns taking down one person after another person after another person. These violent films are not explorations of violence. They are exploitation of violence. They are the numbing down of violence. They are effectively advertisements for the Army. They are anti-human and soul deadening.

I know there are those people who think Nolan’s Batman films are full of meaning because there are some references to Wall Street and anarchist thought and blah blah blah. You’ll have to excuse me if I think the only thing separating any of Nolan’s trilogy from standard summer popcorn pap is Heath Ledger. And even if you are among those who feel that The Dark Knight trilogy is The Godfather of comic book films, they are still comic book films. Kids are going to these movies. They are not even rated R—too much money would be lost with an R rating. Nolan’s proclivity for guns, as shown in Memento and Insomnia, should have been holstered a lot more to go with a PG-13 rating, but no.

We keep buying the summer popcorn shoot ’em up tickets, so Hollywood will keep making the summer popcorn shoot ’em up films. Why do we keep buying these tickets? I suppose it is that hope for good old-fashioned escapist entertainment. But maybe what we’re learning, or what we could be learning, is that escaping real world violence with video game violence doesn’t work. The video game violence will come back to the real world. And young people will shoot up the real world like they’re in a dream sequence in Inception. Like none of it is real, except them, the lone hero (or villain) of their movie. That doesn’t mean that movies are to be blamed for what happened in Aurora. But movies have to be factored into the equation. It was no accident that the horrible violence of Aurora took place during The Dark Knight Rises.

— Noah Buschel

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Born in Philadelphia in 1978, Noah Buschel grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village. After spending some time as a contributing editor for Tricycle Magazine, he made his feature film debut with Bringing Rain, starring Adrian Grenier and Paz de la Huerta. Bringing Rain was produced by Belladonna Productions, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003, and was released by Plexifilm. His second feature, Neal Cassady, was produced by Jean Doumanian Productions. It starred Tate Donovan and Amy Ryan, and was released by IFC Films in 2008. His third film, The Missing Person, starred Michael Shannon and premiered at Sundance. Buschel was nominated for a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Director and the film was on IFC.Com's 2009 Ten Best List. His upcoming film is Mu, starring Jena Malone, based on Maura O'Halloran's Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Zen Saint.

  • Seriously?

    You’re kidding, right? There’s a part in TDKR where Batman literally says “no guns or killing.” This is PG-13 movie violence with no blood or gore and, considering you’re a filmmaker, I’m especially shocked at the nonsense you’ve just spewed. In the future, would you prefer for Nolan and others to pre-emptively censor themselves because we have a shitty gun culture here?

    You’re right, it _isn’t_ an accident that this took place where it did: in a place where a mentally ill person with stupidly unrestricted access to lethal weapons knew hundreds of people would be sitting in the dark. The way you’ve shifted blame from the actual killer to a movie is so intellectually dishonest I’m having trouble believing it’s sincere.

    August 8, 2012
  • Rawhidefinale

    Read the piece again, Seriously. No one putting blame on Nolan. But Nolan has to see his part in grand scheme. If he wants to make his money on movies where people shoot each other and guns are made cool and sexy and life is made frivolous then he needs to not call himself innocent.

    August 8, 2012
  • Tim

    I think it’s fine to critique the presentation of violence in cinema, and actually am sympathetic to your comments about the realistic presentation of consequences versus fantasy “video game violence.” but any direct connection between that presentation and events like the one in Aurora is bound to be tenuous and speculative at best, and conspiratorial at worst. my problem with this essay though isn’t just that the argument doesn’t hold water. with a line like “You’ll have to excuse me if I think the only thing separating any of
    Nolan’s trilogy from standard summer popcorn pap is Heath Ledger”, you’ve gone beyond merely the opportunistic use of a national tragedy in order to dredge up a reheated argument leftover from the Clinton-era culture wars, and have actually had the gall to opportunistically use a national tragedy in order to make a critique of the abilities of a filmmaker you don’t like. I also happen to think that Christopher Nolan is a less capable director than his fans make him out to be. but that has nothing in the world to do with those twelve people shot to death in Colorado. I find the mere title of this post to be hundreds of times more offensive than any of the films you mention.

    August 8, 2012
  • Kevin Ringgenberg

    Great piece Noah. It’s about time more people come out and speak the truth about these empty, violent spectacles. I wish all of the people who see these movies would watch Funny Games. I know Haneke has his detractors ( I’m a fan of his work) but you did sit around and enjoy the violence, he throws that enjoyment back in your face. Beware of the Angry Fan Boys who will forget all about free speech and try to shout down anyone who disagrees that these films are helping to numb the minds of people all over the world, especially Americans.

    August 8, 2012
  • Zack Wheeler

    Tim, the reason it is important to mention Nolan as popcorn pap director is because there are those who make his Batman trilogy out to be this really deep series that is exploring the meaning of life. So it is important to point out that Nolan is not Kubrick. Nolan wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to shoot people up like in James Bond films, but he also tries to be ponderous and political. I think it is definitely worth mentioning that his films are lacking in regards to their moral merit.

    August 8, 2012
  • Tim

     again, this has nothing to do with the twelve people murdered last month and to imply that it does is offensive and opportunistic

    August 9, 2012
  • Tim

    since when did “free speech” come to mean “the right to not have anyone disagree with me”? you’re right that the lack of civil discourse surrounding these films is disappointing, but it’s a devaluation of language to equate a bunch of trolls on a movie review website with the vice squad. only the government can violate your right to free speech.

    August 9, 2012
  • Ghost Forest

    Um Tim, the piece is about Chris Nolan proclaiming his innocence and how in fact he is someone who makes a living off of people shooting each other on screen. Do you even know what you’re ranting about? The point made in the piece is pretty clear. You don’t have to agree with it, but you seem to be spinning off.

    August 9, 2012
  • Mcgeecreative

    Dead on.

    August 15, 2012
  • Hakuin

    All the fake sympathy for the victims of the Aurora shooting is annoying. Americans LOVE violence. Every time I heard ” I can’t believe how horrible….blah..blah…blah” coming out of someone’s mouth I could simultaneously hear the real uncensored brain wanting to say “WOW this was reaaaally awesome dude!”.

    August 16, 2012
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