The Denver Shooting

Death Imitates Art

07.20.12 12:18 PM ET

Last night I watched a bit of From Russia, With Love. What occurs to me every time I watch it is that, by today's standards, so little happens. Bond goes to Istanbul. Eventually he gets invovled in one shootout, at the Roma (gypsy, as they put it then) camp. He gets on a train. He strangles one man; no blood is drawn. Finally at the end a couple of boats go boom, or a boat and helicopter, and maybe a pickup truck. In between, luxuriant stretches of time pass in which there is no action at all.

And yet, there is suspense, although not as today's audiences would understand the term at all. It's quiet and understated, like a candle burning near your hand. But for its day, of course, it was a violent and action-packed movie.

This was among my first thoughts this morning as I read about the Denver Batman shooting. There's something really chilling about the fact that at first, the audience didn't even bat an eye at the noise, on the assumption that it was all part of the film, or maybe the movie being screened the next theater over.

We don't know much of anything yet about the shooter and his motivations, and maybe (indeed, obviously) he was mentally and/or morally out the door in some way or another. But I have a feeling he wouldn't have committed this crime at a screening of a romantic comedy.

I'm not lauching into a middlebrow sermon here about our violence-drenched culture. It is what it is. As it happens it's not to my taste. I haven't really liked the Bond films for a long time precisely because there are just too many explosions and spectacular deaths now--every scene is just a set-piece for more gore that will reliably arrive in no more than eight minutes. The slow-burning candle has become a fast-ticking time bomb. Audiences are like monkeys with cocaine.

Another problematic thing about these movies is the disposal-ness of everything; they must blow up (and this seems true of the Batman movies too) a million dollars worth of cars and boats and planes, three, four million, ten, who knows. Some future philosopher much smarter than I digging through the detritus of our culture might have something brilliant to say about it.

I can just report what I feel: It makes me vaguely sick to my stomach that the shooting seemed at first just another scene. I wouldn't doubt that some people in the theater may have initially thought, "Wow! Live effects? The coolest yet!" Hollywood will surely deliver that thrill someday, and something bad will happen, and moralists will moralize and cable hosts will wring their hands, and we'll all forget again.