A Truly Scary Movie: A Response to the Aurora, CO Shooting

I hate scary movies and I will go to incredible lengths to avoid them. I simply have no desire to be startled, surprised or shocked.  I honestly cannot even remember the last horror film I saw.

But last Friday night, I saw a scary movie of a "different" sort.

I vowed to not blog about James Holmes and his inexplicable and deranged decision to open fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I suppose my decision to avoid reflecting on the massacre mostly derived from my complete disinterest in contributing to Holmes' infamy (I even stated I would not write about him in a previous blog post). By now you have inevitably seen pictures of Holmes in the courtroom with erratically dyed red and orange hair, seemingly heavily-medicated and blankly staring at the floor. Whatever his motivation, and despite my desire to better understand this tragedy, I mostly wanted this story to go away. I didn't want people to talk about the shooting. I just wanted to stop thinking about it (a near impossibility with all the media coverage, but still something I wished for).

But then I heard about Timothy Courtois. Courtois was pulled over Tuesday (July 24) for going 112 MPH down the Maine Turnpike on his way to Derry, New Hampshire. Courtois confessed to the officers that he was on his way to Derry to shoot his former employer and that he carried a loaded gun with him into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises on Saturday (July 21). Although the Maine State Police stated it was unclear why Courtois brought a loaded weapon into the movie theater, the fact that he had an AK-47, four handguns and several boxes of ammunition in his car (in addition to the machine gun and ammunition found in his home) suggested some sort of violent intent. This story was particularly jarring, as I realized we saw the film in the same exact theater in Saco, Maine.

We missed each other by twenty-four hours.

Although we avoided talking about the shooting prior to seeing the film, we all admitted afterwards that every gunshot and explosion caused us to quickly scan the audience and exits just to make sure it was the movie's soundtrack we were hearing. This was a scary movie in the truest sense of the word; even more so retrospectively in lieu of Courtois' arrest.

So despite my best efforts, this story forced its way back into my mind. Mostly, it feels like something has to be done. Inevitably people will suggest that we need stricter gun regulations. And we probably do. But as Mitt Romney stated on NBC's Nightly News yesterday, what Holmes did was already against the law and new laws would not necessarily "make all bad things go away" (though it is a little hard for me to understand how apparently easy it is for civilians to get assault rifles). 

Inevitably someone else will suggest that movies are too violent. Like the guns laws, there is probably fragments of truth in this. But as a blog that I recently read pointed out, the somewhat ironic thing about scary movies is that they more often than not end a positive note with the "bad guy" getting caught. Not to mention the fact that censorship in art, media and literature is an age-old debate that doesn't appear to be losing any steam.

So we are thrown back into thinking about, processing, debating and arguing what should be done. For some reason my thoughts continually return to the movie, and the interesting paradox that has developed because of this shooting. In the films, Gotham City is overrun by evil, greed and violence. When things appear to be at their worst, in swoops (in the case of Batman, quite literally) the unwavering superhero to save the day. To unabashedly and utterly plagiarize from a recent documentary, aren't we all just "waiting for Superman?" Sometimes I think about what I would have done if I was in the movie theater. Hopefully I would have done what Alexander Teves, John Larimer, Matthew McQuinn and Jon Blunk did. Each man threw themselves over their girlfriends, using their body as a shield against the shots. In doing so--in being a hero--each man lost his life.

Maybe our answer is found somewhere in the story of these men. In The Dark Knight Rises Bruce Wayne's (i.e. Batman) butler/assistant Alfred pleads with Wayne to figure out "another way" to defeat Bane. By Alfred's estimation, it was simply too dangerous to attempt to defeat Bane with sure brute force. Maybe this is a call to us too. Perhaps Courtois was bringing a gun with him into the theater for self-protection. Doubtful, but possible.  But I think this is the point we are all missing. Superhero movies are popular because "good" always wins, and usually this occurs because of one man/woman's ability to supernaturally endure, fight, and "take a stand" against some terrible force of evil. This isn't uncommon in literature. The Christ figure motif in literature is about as overused as "guy meets girl." Yet, by waiting for our heroes to make the ultimate sacrifice, we totally miss humanity's collective role in restoration. We like the movies because evil looses but we don't have to get our hands dirty. Can tragedies like this be prevented? I honestly have no idea. But I do know that yesterday at Walgreen's I stared at my shoes as I walked past someone that looked different than me. I know that instead of reaching out to a few old friends that seems to be hurting, I make sarcastic and condescending comments about their facebook posts. Am I claiming that these folks are potential threats? Not at all. But it is an example of my negligence.

Sufjan Stevens has a song about the horrific serial killer named John Wayne Gacy Jr. The lyrics are haunting and disturbing. He tells the story of Gacy, then at the end says,

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

This song sticks with me. It would be entirely presumptuous of me to say that I am good and Holmes is evil. Holmes acted in a way that is completely incompressible to me, but we are both in need of a complete redemption.  I believe this redemption is possible, and I believe Romans 8 has a few things to say about this possibility.
I've thought about how to conclude this blog post. Frankly, I don't know if posts like these resolve. I guess I'm overwhelmed by my inability to do "enough" good. I guess I really am waiting for Superman. Or perhaps better stated, Superman to come again. Until then, I suppose we wait, not passively, but actively involved in reshaping this story.


  1. Awesome post, Keith. So well said.

    I love that Sufjan song, especially those lines!

  2. Thanks, Abram. That song gives me chills every time I hear it.


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