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Seeing 'The Dark Knight Rises' Before and After the Tragedy

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Jul 21, 2012 | 8:52am EDT

The Dark Knight Rises

If you caught a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, odds are you were treated to a long-awaited conclusion to a culturally significant, critically acclaimed movie series. Something you've thought about and predicted the ending of for years. You might have loved the movie; you and your fellow theater-goers might have cheered on Bruce Wayne, booed at Bane. You might have been disappointed; maybe it didn't live up to expectations? Maybe Bane wasn't the villain the Joker was? Maybe you saw the ending coming a mile away? But whatever your experience, it was the experience of seeing a movie. Nothing more.

If you saw the movie on Friday night, however, this would not have been the case. It would have been impossible to separate The Dark Knight Rises from the incredible tragedy that took place in Aurora, Colo., the night before. To enter the theater, sit amongst your fellow viewers, and engage in the story without incurring thoughts of the horrific shooting would have been unfathomable. However, the way in which this event might have altered your experience could, itself, have taken form in a variety of ways.

The Hollywood.com staff is a testament to this. TV Editor Marc Snetiker caught a midnight showing on Thursday night, entering the theater and the reality of the movie before the tragedy occurred. Staff Writers Aly Semigran and Michael Arbeiter, however, saw the film on Friday night, with the event quite consciously present all the while.

One final note before we get to the experiences of our writers: This is not intended to preach or instruct on the appropriate ways to feel or react to the tragedy in Aurora, but merely a sharing of our emotional experiences in the wake of trauma. We all react the way we need to. Some of us will feel the need to see the movie in theaters as an expression of our grief. Others will choose to stay home, for the very same reason. Neither is "right." Just as these accounts prove, we all need to do and feel different things to handle the overwhelming sorrow that comes with occurrences like this one.

Here are the reports of the experience of seeing The Dark Knight Rises from each of the above, illustrating the different ways the tragedy influenced the viewing of Christopher Nolan's Batman finale. Feel encouraged to share your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings below.

Marc Snetiker, who saw The Dark Knight Rises at a midnight showing on Thursday night at AMC Empire 25 in Times Square of Manhattan:

The midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises that I attended was, in all regards, the midnight screening it was expected to be: chock full of crowds standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the concession lines, costumed crusaders whose purpose at the early showing was to beat the pests of social media. (Twitter neither shows nor owes a filter for spoilers.) There were plenty of normal-dressed folks as well, of course, eager to see the film purely through the eyes of a casual moviegoer who enjoyed the first part of Christopher Nolan's trilogy, and wanted to be the first of their friends to see it to fruition.

Throughout the movie, there was an underscoring of excited chatter and about a dozen audience eruptions of cheers and hollers. This was a summer blockbuster audience, if I'd ever seen one, and certainly one that hadn't been tainted by an act of savagery, intrusion, and violence. No, my audience was the purest sample of a midnight movie crowd, eager to see The Dark Knight Rises without any other worry or concern on their minds. Which is what a movie should be. And which a movie may very well never be again.

Aly Semigran, who saw The Dark Knight Rises at 7 pm on Friday evening at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square in Manhattan:

Upon arrival at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square in Manhattan, a movie theater I've gone to countless times, something was noticeably different. Just hours after we all learned the devastating, horrific news that the alleged gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes, shot 70 and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., it was clear no one was taking anything to chance. Two police officers stood under the marquee, while news vans were parked in front of the theater, asking patrons why they decided to still go see The Dark Knight Rises, even after the terrible, unthinkable thing happened in Aurora. While I chose not to speak with them, my answer would have been that in spite of my overwhelming sadness for the victims and their loved ones, I wasn't going to let a menace scare me into submission.

From the inside of the theater, it seemed many people had the same sentiment that I did. The three-story multiplex was bustling with moviegoers. A line for the sold-out 7 pm The Dark Knight Rises rises show that I was attending started from the door of the theater, snaked down two flights of stairs, and had to be continued outside. People chatted about their days, got their popcorn, readied themselves for the movie they'd be looking forward to seeing for months. Everything was, shockingly, normal. There were no bag checks (as so many of us had speculated) or added security, or, heck, even a change in tact. (As evident by the woman that attempted to cut in front of me in line.)

It was only when my friends and I settled into our seats and the lights went low and the trailers began that my mind started to race. Everything felt amplified, from the loud sounds to the violent imagery. (Even with The Gangster Squad trailer removed, the gun-friendly flicks like The Bourne Legacy and Total Recall put an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach.) My eyes would occasionally dart from the huge screen to the red-lit exit signs. Not because I expected to see a figure emerge and do the unthinkable, but because I now was aware that, like going to work or school or getting on an airplane, I had to be hyper-aware of my surroundings.

I felt uneasy during the first 20 minutes. Not only because the Bane villain felt so heightened and terrifying in the wake of the news, but I couldn't stop thinking of the victims. These first 20 minutes were the last thing 12 of them saw, the last thing they experienced — from the reports, we're told Holmes' alleged rampage started during a shoot-out scene about 20 minutes in. By my calculations, that was the Catwoman scene in the bar, but I could be wrong. I was too anxious thinking about how loud those gun shots were on the big screen and how confusing and disorienting it would have been while those actual gun shots went off.

But eventually, I settled in. I let the story take me away. That is, after all, why we go to the movies. To escape the often scary world outside of a movie theater. Our theater was both intensely quiet (I don't even think I saw anyone get up to use the bathroom) and incredibly vocal. There were at least half a dozen times when my crowd cheered, the loudest was the final twist was revealed. There was something wonderful about that. Maybe our moviegoing experience will forever be altered now, but the sprit of why we go to the movies will remain the same.

As much as I enjoyed the movie (which I did) it was impossible not to be sensitive to what was going on on screen. While I enjoyed the movie tremendously, it was hard not to flinch at lines like: "No guns? Where's the fun in that?" And much like I did when destruction hit New York City in The Avengers, I felt uneasy at the images of acts of terrorism and smoke engulfing our Gotham in TDKR. That feeling may never go away with me, in the same way that shootings in movies may never go away for the people in Aurora. We sadly often live in a place where our lives can terrifyingly look like something out of a movie. But we also live in a place where, on a Friday night, we can gather with our friends and go to the movies and experience a summer blockbuster together. I hope, in the depths of my heart, that never has to change.

Michael Arbeiter, who saw The Dark Knight Rises at 9 pm on Friday evening at Farmingdale Multiplex on Long Island:

I wasn't entirely comfortable going to the film after what happened — not out of fear of something happening, but out of some weird combination of the connotations that the movie now had, and out of a desire not to disrespect the memory of the victims. (I don't really know what that means, admittedly, but it was more a visceral feeling than a logical one.) But I had an obligation to a friend who I had bought the tickets with, so I kept my plans.

We arrived at the theater about an hour and a half before the 9 o'clock showing time, expecting there to already be a pretty lengthy line. We were admitted into the theater shortly before 8, passing a policeman sitting in the corridor to the theaters, wondering on the way if all of the fans had already taken their seats.

We were the only two there. It was 10 minutes after 8, less than an hour before the movie was set to go on, and we were still the only two there. As the multiplex staff came in and out, cleaning up the theater floors and seats, we both felt very, very uncomfortable.

Eventually, people did start to come in, but the feeling didn't shake for me. The other moviegoers seemed to be in good spirits, and my friend admitted to feeling a lot better as the theater filled. The kids behind us joking about movies and playing iPhone trivia games — everyone in house seemed in good spirits. But my unease never really went away. This was weird. Being there felt very weird.

Every single time somebody got up in the theater, my friend and I (two very attentive movie watchers ordinarily), instinctively looked to see what they were doing. Every time a gun was shot in the movie, I was put on edge. During the first big shoot-up scene, the one that I have understood to be the point when Holmes allegedly began shooting in Aurora, my heart actually began to race. It was a very irrational, and extremely self-absorbed feeling, but I couldn't really help it.

In every gun scene, I was scared. And every time Bane spouted his philosophy, or Selina gave hers, I felt really palpably sad.

There weren't many cheers in my theater. A few "Ooh"s at the bigger reveals, some applause when Lucius Fox first appeared, and laughter at most of Michael Caine's humor. But the theater was relatively subdued, though not exactly somber, or anything like that.

At one point, a security guard came in to escort two kids out of the theater. Before my friend realized that the issue was that they had sneaked in a bottle of liquor, I was on the verge of freaking out. Again: irrational, selfish, stupid.

I was still able to look at it independently from the issue, although the overthrow of the rich (regardless of how connected that was, if at all, to Holmes' actions) and all sorts of "vengeance" themes hit a lot harder, emotionally.

My friend and I chatted about it on the way home, comparing the Bane unfavorably to the great Joker, debating a few details. Nothing too weighty.

Then he dropped me off, a little after midnight. I went inside, went upstairs, and bawled my eyes out for the next hour.

More:
'Dark Knight Rises': Warner Bros Won't Report Grosses Until Monday — UPDATE
Midnight Movie Screening Culture: What Happens Now?
Will People Head to the Theater for 'Dark Knight Rises?'

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