In the hours after the Aurora, Colo. shootings, it didn't take long for at least some commentators to suggest that the violence that's part of "The Dark Knight Rises" was partly to blame.
What do we expect, the theory goes, when young people are bombarded with violent imagery at the movies? Hollywood just throws gratuitous violence on the screen and this is what happens.
My first reaction was that it was a kneejerk reaction and not the first time that's happened when there's tragic violence at a concert or a film showing. It's always difficult for people to get their brains out the idea that another human being can walk into a theater and simply start shooting at people. So they look for a reason -- any reason -- and sometimes they go to the place of thinking the murderous actions were triggered by the violence on the screen or in the lyrics of rap or hip-hop.
Some later reports did give me some pause, particularly one that the shooter, alleged to be 24-year-old James Holmes, called himself the Joker. That would be the scary, clown-costumed psycho who has Batman's greatest nemesis over the decades and was played with extraordinary power by the late Heath Ledger in 2008's "Dark Knight," the second of the Dark Knight films by Christopher Nolan.
As details often are in a tragedy like this, it was unclear late Friday whether Holmes really was channeling the Joker. But after a pause to reflect, I think my initial reaction still
Certainly, there are some eerie similarities between the fiction of "Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises and reality.
Anyone who has seen the trailers for the new film (and it's been hard to miss them the past few weeks) has seen the images of Bane, the brutal villain who wears what appears to be a gas mask while leading a violent attack on the Gotham stock exchange and blowing up a stadium during an NFL game.
The shooter wore a gas mask, threw a gas canister into the theater, stepped out of the smoke and then started shooting. It was enough of life imitating art that people in the crowded theater at the Century 16 in Aurora thought it was a publicity stunt.
I saw "Dark Knight Rises" earlier this week and it is not a particularly violent movie. There is a reason it is rated PG-13 and not R. Yes, people fight, people get hurt and people die. But there is very little blood and none of the grotesque shredding of human flesh you'll find in slasher films. At one point, in the midst of a fight with the bad guys, Selina Kyle (aka the Catwoman) pulls a gun, only to have Batman snarl at her, "No guns, no killing."
It is comic book violence. It is perhaps a little more real than, say, the violence in "The Avengers" which pits big green monsters against Norse gods and guys in iron suits against killing machines out of the "Transformers."
And as frightening as Ledger was as the Joker, "Dark Knight" was also PG-13 with bloodless violence.
In the end, does anyone really think James Holmes was pushed to unleash the horror of what took place in Aurora by having seen Batman films? I'm no psychologist or FBI profiler but it sounds for all the world like Holmes was the classic lone wolf shooter -- a troubled, paranoid loner who decided to take it out on the world on the largest stage he could find just as Jared Lee Loughner found his stage in a Tucson supermarket parking lot the day U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot just last year.
In this case, the stage was the biggest cultural events of the summer: the opening of "The Dark Knight Rises." It could have been a political rally or a high school at the start of a school day. Instead, the killer picked a darkened theater at in the early morning hours of July 20 and 12 people died.