A Slow-Burning Fear

Thoughts on seeing The Dark Knight Rises after the tragedy

But showtime was less than 24 hours after James Holmes opened fire during a midnight screening in Aurora, Colo., and for the three hours I sat with my fiancée and two friends at the Green Valley Ranch theater, that darkness never left my mind.

The theater was nearly full for the 10 p.m. show, and the nervous energy among the moviegoers was palpable. It began with the fact that there were two of Henderson’s finest stationed outside of the theater entrance near the box office. Even if you managed somehow to block out thoughts of what happened in Aurora, it was hard to ignore upon arrival.

In the 45 minutes before the movie, I heard at least two other conversations about the horror that unfolded when 12 innocent people were killed and another 58 were wounded. That’s what we were talking about, too. Maybe venturing to the theater was a way for people to come together, in public, to deal with the unthinkable.

The good news on this bleak day: The movie itself lived up to its early hype (see review on Page 144). But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t take my eyes off of the screen a couple of times and look to the front of the theater, envisioning what went on in Colorado and trying to imagine the horror those people must have felt.

Two hours into the movie, I noticed someone circling the theater’s perimeter with a clipboard. Sitting next to the aisle, we were able to make out that it was an employee, but the people in the middle of the theater began to stir and fidget. Some even yelled in his direction to find out what he was doing. It certainly riled up my fiancée, who had been hesitant to go to the movie.

Afterward, she summed it up perfectly: It was a great film, but it was too soon to see some of the action unfold on the screen in the way it did, with gunfire being spit into crowded venues in two gruesome scenes.

We were not alone in this dilemma. The Dark Knight Rises made $161 million on its opening weekend. So there were many theaters across the country just as packed as ours—and many moviegoers struggling together through the anxiety and sadness of cinema’s darkest night.

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