Note: I wrote this as a post for the NPR intern edition blog. They opted not to publish it, and suggested I write an article about modern nuns instead. But I am quite proud of it, so I thought I’d share it here anyway. No footnotes, because, as said, I didn’t write this for my blog. I wrote it for another, normal blog. And normal blogs don’t use footnotes.
Last night, at 3:02 am, the screen went dark, the lights went up, and The Dark Knight Rises crowd in auditorium 19 at the AMC River North went berserk. People stood up, they cheered, the flung their bat-masks in the air. Then they swarmed towards the doors, leaving a trail of empty soda cups and half-eaten popcorn in their wake, and out into the night.
As I joined the mass exodus through the lobby, I listened to the many opinions about the film we had just watched flying around me. Most of them seemed to be along the same theme, namely:
Except it wasn’t.
It wasn’t a great movie. It was a good movie, sure. It was entertaining. It was engaging. It was exciting enough to keep me awake in spite of the fact that I was watching during that awkward time between late night and early morning after a twelve hour day at work.
But it wasn’t a great film. There were plot holes, unbalanced storylines, a villain with a speech impediment that gave him the diction of an intercom announcement on the subway. And let’s be honest – it’s a movie about a guy in a suit that looks impossible to put on, with a flying tank. Come on.
And yet there were twenty-two theatres with sold out shows in the AMC River North theater alone, and I felt myself to be the only person there who hadn’t really loved it.
We experienced the exact same phenomenon a month ago with Spiderman, and earlier this year with the Avengers, and we will again with Man of Steel next year. We are emptying our pockets to watch ridiculous movies with cheesy dialogue about people who wear spandex.
What is it about the superhero movies that draw crowds like that?
This morning, I read about the shooting at a Colorado movie theatre just like the one I had sat in, and a creeping nausea settled in my stomach. As I watched newsreel footage and grainy cell phone videos from the scene, I was sickened by how closely they resembled Gotham in chaos from The Dark Knight Rises. What I had just hours earlier watched with the thought, “Thank God I don’t live in that world,” was suddenly reality.We are Gotham, I thought. We are that population who turns against each other. Who murders.
So where was our Batman last night?
The shooting last night in Colorado, no matter how horrific, is an illustration of why we are obsessed with the idea of superheroes: it is because when things go south, we wish there was someone to drop out of the sky in his flying car and save us. We wish for our own superhero.
As a human race, we seek out saviors. We want people to look to, to rise to, to aspire to be like, but are secretly grateful that we never will have to be. We want permission to be cowardly because we know that there is someone else out there who will be brave. We don’t always want to be the heroes of our story, but we want there to be a hero none the less.
And, as unrealistic as superhero movies are, the largest and most appealing element of truth within them is that in times of tragedy, people will rise. They always do. Horror creates heroes, and ordinary people prove themselves to be extraordinary through their actions. Superheroes and the movies that feature them reflect the hope that lies within every heartbreak: the hope of transcendence. The hope that we can rebuild something better than we had before.
And I have no doubt in the days following the shooting in Colorado, heroes will emerge. They may not wear capes and spandex, but we will know them anyways.
Our heroes don’t choose us, we choose them. We decide who to worship, who to idolize. We choose the morals upon which we build our foundation, and we choose who we look to to protect that morality.
We keep going to see superhero films so that we remember that there will always be people around us who, like phoenixes from the ashes of a tragedy, will rise.