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Can You Blame the Movies for Aurora?

By David Denby, The New Yorker - July 22, 2012

May I add a few thoughts to what Anthony Lane and Adam Gopnik have written about the massacre last night at a screening of “Dark Knight Rises”? In recent years, there have been a number of mass murders—at an Army base, repeatedly at schools, at a family party, in post offices, in a shopping mall, at an Arizona meet-and-greet political event. No doubt I have forgotten many more; I’m too dazed and enraged to remember them. I won’t say that it’s inevitable that a fresh slaughter happened at a movie theatre—it could have happened any place in which crowds gather—but none of us, I think, can be entirely surprised.

As Anthony says, grief is our uppermost response—and sadness, and a hapless sympathy for the dead and their families. But we can’t avoid the awkward, misery-inducing question: Can any of the blame be placed upon the movies themselves—or on this movie in particular? Is movie violence a factor in the still-routine mayhem in American cities? I can’t tell you how many times movie critics have addressed this issue. The discussion in my professional lifetime got going more than forty years ago, at the time of Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie & Clyde” and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” and the usual response by movie critics, partly relying on psychological authorities, partly on our own common sense, was that those who kill systematically have a predisposition to kill, often one that has been building since childhood. It’s possible that a certain movie sets them off, but almost any stimulant or frustration might set them off. That is part of what Anthony has written about the event, and I agree with him.

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