To this day, my wife has not seen The Dark Knight.
Though not a geek, strictly speaking, the lady of the house has a soft spot for geeky pursuits (as well as the pursuit of geeks). She has bogarted every volume of Scott Pilgrim from me. At her request, our second date was a screening of X2: X-Men United at the last second-run theater still showing it. A couple of years later, it was she who bought the tickets and dragged a spouse into the Galleria multiplex when Batman Begins came out, and she loved it as much as I did, if not more.
When it comes to geekery, the missus is at best geek-adjacent. When it comes to parenthood…? The missus is All In. When it comes to moms and kids, she’s like some kind of mutant empath. She doesn’t just feel a bond between herself and her kids; she feels the bond between every mom and every kid. I have to actively intercept Amber Alerts in my house, snatching phones and changing channels, because my wife reacts to stories of missing children as if every single one of them is ours. Her heart goes out to them so much that she hears a news story about child abuse and cries harder than I would if I actually knew the people.
And that’s why she won’t watch The Dark Knight, even now. She bridles at the very suggestion to this day.
When he died, Heath Ledger had a little girl that was about two years old. When the movie came out, my wife and I had a little girl that was about two years old. As much as she loved Batman Begins and wanted to share my interests, my wife could not look at Heath Ledger’s face without thinking about everything he had left behind, and all the trauma his premature drug-related death would cause that poor little girl for the rest of her life. There was no performance compelling enough or film entertaining enough to make her forget that. The real world had intruded on the moviegoing experience, and she would never be able to get past it.
At the time, I told her I understood and respected her point of view, while to myself I muttered that I had married an irrational crazy person.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this weekend. I owe my wife an apology.
As I queued up for The Dark Knight Rises on Saturday, I thought, “Yesterday, about twenty-five minutes into this movie, a guy armed himself and started shooting dozens of people who took too long figuring out they were in danger because the gunfire started during the first big action sequence. As long as I live, how will I ever watch that sequence without thinking, ‘Yep. This is the point when all those people got murdered’?”
Forty years from now, I will be flipping through the stations on TV, see a snippet of this movie and say, “Yessir, you whippersnappers, a fella took his six year old to this movie back in my day, and right here’s where some monster blew her brains clean out.”
Back in the Here and Now, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises this weekend anyway. I have been looking forward to it all year, and we owe it to ourselves not to be cowed by terror. A lot of people go to the movies to “turn off their brains” and escape from the horrors of the real world, so I thought I might give that a shot.
About three previews in, my eye caught the exit sign and the thought came into my head, unbidden: “Given the seat I usually choose in this theater, I’d almost certainly have been one of the first to go.” It took the rest of the previews to switch that part of my brain off.
The film was engaging and well-made. It drew me in. Then, about twenty-five minutes in, there came a big action sequence where everyone began shooting at one another, at which point I had a spontaneous breakdown and began bawling uncontrollably for ten minutes.
I started up again when Bane took the stock exchange. As the masked man barged into the room full of strangers and began firing indiscriminately, I thought, “This is what we do to amuse ourselves, but we’ve seen what this looks like in real life.” How could I think anything else? How long will it be before I do again?
I will never know whether or not The Dark Knight Rises was a good movie. It had its thrilling moments, its powerful moments, its tedious moments, its silly moments, and its so-idiotic-it-completely-takes-you-out-of-the-movie moments. Ultimately, I brought too much into the theater with me to judge it on its own terms. Maybe I’ll see it again one day, when I’ve come to terms with what senseless violence looks like in real life and how to reconcile that with the senseless violence we make up for fun. For now, my thoughts are too disorganized; within minutes of crying my eyes out for people I’ve never met, I was watching Batman fight Bane and thinking, “This would all be over by now if Batman would just shoot him.”