Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Movies and Real Life: Debate Rages On

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Movies and Real Life: Debate Rages On

Article excerpt

Many things came to a sudden, shocking end early Friday, when a gunman opened fire on a Colorado audience attending a midnight screening of the summer blockbuster "The Dark Knight Rises."

Most important and most tragically, 12 lives -- out of a total of 71 people shot. Also, in all likelihood, Hollywood's hope that this film would sail effortlessly into box-office record books.

It will be hard to argue, as Hollywood and cultural pundits often do, that movies merely reflect -- and don't promote -- violence, that viewers can distinguish between fantasy and reality, that violent movies have a cathartic effect and thus lessen, rather than incite, anti-social behavior.

"Does [violence] influence people? I would say absolutely," says Dr. Michael P. Gentile, a forensic psychiatrist in Ridgewood. "It desensitizes people, the way the military does. It just trains you in a way not to react when you're killing and shooting people. Video games [are] worse because it's more interactive and you're actually killing in a virtual reality. But on screen, on TV as well, there's an element of desensitization that will just remove your inhibitions and your doubts and your reservations about carrying something like this out."

The fact that suspected killer James Eagan Holmes chose the dark, violent "The Dark Knight Rises" for his rampage, that he reportedly styled himself after The Joker, that his ghastly scheme for public mayhem included smoke bombs set off in a theater where patrons would likely consider the chaos part of the show (as several did) -- a scenario right out of the playbook of Heath Ledger's Joker in "The Dark Knight" -- can hardly be a coincidence.

"This is unprecedented, and it's going to have ripples throughout the entire industry," said Jeff Bock, spokesman for Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box-office tracking firm.

Unprecedented -- but not unforeseen.

"Natural Born Killers," a 1994 movie about a serial-killer couple on a spree of violence, was viewed by Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darras in 1995, the night before they shot cotton-mill manager William Savage and a convenience store cashier, Patsy Byers. …

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