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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Joker's Wild

The tragic legacy of insane gun laws and an insane hero

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 21, 2012 -- Yesterday the Washington Times wrote, in the aftermath of the Colorado movie theater killings, that “Batman, Bane, or the Joker did not shoot anyone in Colorado ... An individual (James E. Holmes) is responsible. No one (and, by implication, nothing) else.”

I don't agree with this shallow scapegoating at all. It lets too many people off the hook, people who belong on that hook right along with James Holmes.

When Mr. Holmes was arrested by police, he identified himself as “The Joker” and he had dyed his hair in a manner to resemble the Joker, as portrayed so brilliantly by the late Heath Ledger in the previous Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.” Mr. Holmes also chose the premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” as the stage for his mass murder and he acted in the same way that Heath Ledger acted in the movie, deliberately creating chaos and anarchy. He also built booby traps and bombs in the same way The Joker did in “The Dark Knight.”

When a man acts like The Joker and identifies himself as The Joker it is entirely fair to say that he has become The Joker in a very real, very deadly sense. Holmes didn't just say he was The Joker, he acted like The Joker. Take his words, and take the man, at his deeds.

This was a foreseeable consequence (partially foreseeable, at least) of the depiction of The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” The Joker, not Batman, was the real star of that movie. He was the most compelling, charismatic character in the movie, thanks to a twisted script and Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance. This made The Joker's cause of anarchy all the more appealing. Who knows how many murders, how much chaos and destruction has been inspired by The Joker? I suspect that Mr. Holmes is not the only one to follow The Joker's example; he is just the most famous one. I don't have a problem with “Batman Returns” or with “The Dark Knight Rises,” because the villains in those movies were ordinary by comparison. It was The Joker in “The Dark Knight” who was the Pied Piper, whose siren song made chaos and anarchy seem so attractive. In “The Dark Knight Rises,” we are shown just how ugly anarchy really is.

Roger Ebert wrote a July 20 column about the Colorado movie theater murders without ever mentioning the link between Holmes and The Joker. Ebert writes “I’m not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence.” In fact, Ebert has previously argued there is no such link. He is making basically the same argument as the Washington Times article did. I don't agree. Instead, I agree with cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead when she said, “No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded.”

Of course the gun industry, the NRA, and the media people who support them have rushed to the defense of guns, which they claim don't kill people (people do). The argument is that if you sell assault rifles with extended clips and bullets to crazy people you are not responsible for the people killed by those very same guns and bullets. How crazy do you have to be to be denied membership in a gun club? Holmes was denied membership in the Lead Valley Range, in Byers, Colo. less than a month before the shootings when Glenn Rotkovich was creeped out by a bizarre phone message from Holmes.

If a person who sells guns used in a murder could be held partially responsible for that murder (as a bartender can be held partly responsible for those killed by a drunk driver), there would not be very many legal gun sales. Probably all those thousands of gun stores would go out of business. There is a whole well-heeled industry, lawyers, pundits, spin doctors, advertising people and politicians devoted to making sure people who make and sell guns are not held responsible for the lives, families and neighborhoods destroyed by those guns. The same army of enablers works to make sure that guns designed to fire a lot of bullets in a short period of time, without the need for frequent reloading, remain legal, the exact kind of gun needed for a massacre.

For instance, Holmes was able to easily and legally buy an AR-15 assault rifle in Colorado. It would be illegal to sell that same weapon in California. Holmes also had a 100-round drum magazine for the rifle, which would have been illegal under the federal assault weapon ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. The politicians who made it so easy for Holmes to kill all those people in Colorado will probably never be called to account for legalizing this assault rifle and the clip which enables a person to fire up to 60 bullets per minute. At least people in the movie industry are making some roundabout attempts at apologizing and are doing something for the victims. I don't think any of these shooting victim will ever hear an apology from any Republican lawmaker responsible for laws enabling Holmes to buy an AR-15 assault rifle and a 100-round ammo drum.

Holmes was also able to buy some 6,000 rounds of ammunition from Internet sources without arousing the slightest suspicion. You would think that Homeland Security would take note of such purchases in the light of the 2008 Mumbai massacre in which 164 were killed and over 300 wounded by gun-wielding terrorists. If nobody's keeping track of large ammunition purchases, assault rifles and crazy people denied membership in gun clubs, what is to stop terrorists from executing a Mumbai-style attack in this country? The whole incident in Colorado and the events which led up to it are very troubling from a national security point of view.

The pro-gun argument is that more guns make us safer. I don't think the record bears this out. It seems to be the case that the more guns there are in society the more incidents like the one at the Colorado movie theater take place. In recent years laws making it easier to purchase guns and to carry concealed guns have spread across the land and these multiple shooting incidents have increased at the same time. There are places in the U.S. where you can legally carry a concealed gun into a bar and have some drinks, too. As we have seen, crazy people can and do buy guns. What could possibly go wrong with crazed, gun-toting drunks in bars?

As Americans, we laugh at danger (figuratively speaking). We drive around with our seat belts off. We ride on motorcycles without wearing helmets. We sell crazy people guns. We won't even deny guns to people on terrorism watch lists. We have a whole political party proudly running on a platform of reducing access to medical care for many people facing deadly medical conditions and this is actually an appealing message to millions of voters (a husband and wife, both uninsured shooting victims in this incident are facing medical bills in excess of one million dollars, costs which will probably be passed on to other hospital patrons).

We do all this, then we are surprised when people end up dead. There is a stain on the Batman movie franchise and there is a stain on all of us for our collective inaction to at least try to curb gun violence in this nation. This stain of this tragedy will always haunt us, but that doesn't mean we have to bow down to the gun manufacturers and the NRA forever. It also doesn't mean we have to heap ridiculous amounts of praise on movies like “The Dark Knight” and “No Country for Old Men” that celebrate nihilism, chaos and anarchy. We should demand a lot more of our movies than those that descend into the bottom of the deepest hole of darkness, contemptuous cynicism and despair. As Woody Allen wrote, “The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)