Last week, our country was shaken to its very core by the deadly theater shootings in Aurora, CO. It was the largest mass-shooting in America’s history, and its effects will be felt for years to come. Make no mistake—this was not simply an attack on the moviegoers in Theater 9, not just an attack on Aurora. James Holmes opened fire on our country’s psyche, critically wounding our presumption of safety, our collective peace of mind.
Friday morning, as details began to emerge, my heart hurt for the victims, the survivors, and their families. So many questions remained unanswered. And yet, the feeling was all too familiar. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, Oklahoma City, 9/11—all of these “where-were-you-when” moments of inconceivable violence, they all feel similar. But honestly, the Aurora shooting hits home in a way that is uniquely troubling. This attack could have happened in any theater, in any city in America. Unlike previous massacres, this one feels more familiar—more like it could have happened to you or me.
Like you, I also wondered what this would mean for America’s theaters. We have an unusual, if not unhealthy, way of dealing with crises of this magnitude. As a society, we are reactionary to a fault. (Ten years ago, would-be “shoe bomber” Richard Reid thought he could blow up an airplane with his shoes. Today, we still can’t get on an airplane without having our shoes x-rayed.) Naturally, I began to envision a future of heavily-fortified movie theaters, metal detectors and armed security guards with wands, a special branch of Homeland Security to oversee America’s movie theaters.
Fortunately, the response has been a little more measured. Yes, theaters across the country ramped up security this week, in varying degrees. AMC Theatres, which operates the Century 16 in Aurora and owns theaters across the country, issued a statement saying they would “not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable,” nor would they “permit face-covering masks or fake weapons” inside their buildings. In light of Friday’s attack, that seems wholly reasonable to me. Common sense would dictate that fear would adversely impact ticket sales, so putting moviegoers’ minds at ease should be made a top priority. Surprisingly, “The Dark Knight Rises” still did unexpectedly well. The movie took in $160.8 million in its opening weekend—a record-setting debut for 2D movies, and the third best debut for ANY movie. Perhaps we consciously fought back against the terror inflicted upon us. Maybe we were afraid, but went anyway.
20-year-old Chris Ramos bought two tickets last weekend. The first ticket was for a midnight screening in Theater 9 at the Century 16 theaters in Aurora. He went with his 17-year-old sister, Stephanie. When Holmes opened fire, he urged those around him to stay low, behind their seats. “A guy right next to us got shot,” he told reporters. Chris and Stephanie eventually were able to make it into the lobby, and out of harm’s way. On Sunday, Chris bought a second ticket, at a different theater—to see the movie he wasn’t able to finish. He faced his greatest fears. “As hard as it was, to enter a theater and re-watch the whole beginning, ‘til the moment the incident happened—I cried, I fell and felt so weak, but stayed and watched ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ for the ones that can never watch it again,” Chris posted to Facebook. And he loved the movie.
If Chris Ramos can overcome his fear—so fresh, and so unbelievably real, I suspect we all can. That spirit, that refusal to be broken, is what makes us great. This weekend, do something that scares you.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 07/26/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.