John Ostrander: Aurora
What do we say? How do we react? A guy named James Holmes slipped into a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in a suburban town in Colorado and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun and two 40-caliber handguns. He set off what may have been tear gas as he started his killing spree. According to CNN, the suspect was dressed head to toe in protective gear including a gas mask. CNN also reported that a federal law enforcement official stated Holmes had colored his hair red and told the police he was “the Joker.”
He killed 12 people and wounded 58. As I write this, eleven are in critical condition.
His apartment has been booby trapped with incendiary and chemical devices and trip wires. Residents in the surrounding five buildings have been evacuated. It may take days to defuse it all.
What do we say? What can we say? Should we say anything at all at this point?
If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be writing this column. I was working on a different one but I’ve let it go for now. Why?
Words are important. It’s how we take something that is inconceivable, incomprehensible, horrific and give it a shape and form. We communicate thoughts, beliefs, fears and give them a human shape. Some will misuse the power of words and cast the events in terms of their own ideology. They will try to shape the narrative to support or further their views. The events will not be described; they will be twisted. You can see some of this already on the Internet. I know I have.
In the past I have said that nothing that is human is alien to me, that I am capable of understanding anyone on a human level, that somewhere within myself I can find something of that person. Is that true in this case? Am I capable of understanding Holmes?
If I was writing the Joker, I’d have to find somewhere inside of me where I felt like the Joker. And that can take me to very dark places, not places to where I am eager to go. When I was writing Wasteland, I wrote a story from the point of view of a serial killer, or at least what I thought was a perspective a serial killer would have. I now think it was a little naïve. The story was interesting but I don’t know if it was successful in what I set out to do. Would I really want to be successful in that sense? Could I?
The Joker in Nolan’s previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, was not a “criminal” as much as an anarchist forcing Batman and the entire city of Gotham into choices that would reveal that, at heart, they were not better than he was. He would expose them as what his own dark twisted concept of humanity said they must be. Is that what James Holmes thought he was doing? If so, what more appropriate venue that the opening night of the next Batman film?
I’m speculating, of course. Guessing. That’s all any of us can do at the moment. It may be all that we can ever do. I think it’s important that we try. I don’t want to dismiss Holmes as an aberration, a freak, a monster – something that is not me. That’s too easy. He is human. Yes, a very screwed up human but human nonetheless. If I deny him his humanity what happens to mine?
I don’t have answers. Maybe I won’t be able to find any. Maybe the only answers will be the ones I impose on the situation. Maybe I’m wrong and there are monsters. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s not possible to find a common humanity with this killer. In the days and weeks to come, we’ll have more information. Maybe that will help; maybe it won’t. The attempt, I think, is necessary.
We also need to look at a basic fear underlying all this, one that hits home.
The Dark Knight Rises’ director, Christopher Nolan, was quoted as saying, “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.” I think that’s true for all of us in this little community. This is our home, too, and this weekend was supposed to be a triumph for us in a summer of triumphs – the best summer of comic book movies ever. Now it’s sullied, bloodied and sullied, and whatever sales records the film sets, whatever awards it may win, that opening night in Aurora will be forever linked to it.
And I think that what we fear, deep down, is the possibility that the killer may have been one of us – a deranged, twisted version but one of us nonetheless. That’s the fear we need to name and only words will ultimately serve.
Let’s talk – and listen.
Monday: Mindy Newell