There’s going to be a lot of blame, and finger-pointing in the aftermath of what happened at the Century Theater, in Aurora, Colo., during the premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” when a lone gunman entered the theater, armed to the teeth and shot 70 people, killing 12. Already, amidst the anguished cries of the victims and their families, there are calls for tougher gun control laws. Others want something done about the level of violence today in movies and video games.
It’s true that the violence in most action/fantasy films today is at a level that would have shocked movie goers of past generations. It’s not enough to shoot the enemy down. Now movie heroes seem to be required to shoot them with automatic weapons and to keep shooting them until the ammo is gone. And it’s not enough for the villain to punch a victim once or twice. He’s got to punch him to the ground and pound his face into the pavement until it’s a pulpy mess. In some of the superhero films whole cities are destroyed as computer generated characters battle one another, knocking buildings over like dominos. Kids in their preteens spend endless hours playing games like Call of Duty where the goal is to rack up as many enemy kills as you can, and it’s all shown on screen in bloody realistic detail. And it’s equally true that guns, high-powered automatic weapons, are too plentiful and too easy to get, especially for those who have no business owning a gun in the first place.
It’s easy to point fingers at these issues and say they are the reasons that such a horrendous tragedy like the one in Aurora happened. And maybe you could outlaw violent movies and guns and video games. But would it really prevent future incidents of this kind?
When the gunman broke into the theater, some of the witnesses and victims said they thought it was part of the show. In a way, they weren’t wrong. In a way, it was like that film Woody Allen made a few years ago, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” when a character in the film Mia Farrow was watching, stepped out of the screen and started messing with her romantic life. In Allen’s film it was what psychologists call a romantic projection from Mia Farrow’s unconscious mind that stepped off the screen into the theater. Last Friday at half past midnight in Aurora, maybe it was a projection of an entirely different kind that stormed into the movie theater and wreaked such havoc.
Oh, come on, you say. It was a real living person who fired the shots and killed innocent people. He’s the one that did it, not some psychological phenomenon. But are things really all that simple?
By coincidence,Turner Classic Movies aired the classic MGM film, Forbidden Planet on the night of the tragedy. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe how parallel incidents and events that seem coincidental really aren’t. He thought there was meaning to be taken from concurrent, parallel happenings. So maybe it was no coincidence, then, that Forbidden Planet was aired the night of the rampage.
If you recall the plot of the movie a crew of astronauts visits the planet Altair where a team of scientists had disappeared 20 years earlier. They discover that one scientist, Dr. Morbius, survived with his beautiful daughter. We learn that an advanced civilization (the Krells) flourished 2,000 centuries ago, but perished, destroyed by some unknown, unseen monster. Morbius explains that the Krells were actually destroyed not by some monster outside themselves but by the outward manifestation of their own Id. The Id is Freud’s concept of the basis of the unconscious mind, which contains all the internal rage, hate, lust, and desire for power that our conscious minds cannot acknowledge.
Now that the astronauts have arrived, the invisible monster returns and begins killing the space ship’s crew, one by one. Dr. Morbius doesn’t realize until too late that it is his own Id, aroused by the threat to his power posed by the astronauts, that has surfaced and been projected outward and now is attempting to destroy everything and everyone. Morbius was a brilliant scientist and a good man, but he could not see the dark side of himself, until it took an outward form.
Just as Morbius couldn’t see the truth, maybe none of us can either. You can blame entertainment violence, you can blame guns and video games for what happened in Aurora and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. You can pass laws and lock up the maniac who pulled the trigger. And you might think you’ve solved the problem. But that’s a very questionable assumption. Maybe there’s something else responsible for the horror of what happened in Aurora, but we just can’t see it.
Those images of violence, death and destruction up there on the movie screen, and in those games—what are they but a projection of the things that lurk and lurch inside us but which we aren’t willing to admit to? Projecting them outward as entertainment has a cathartic value. That’s true. And we need that outlet. It’s a way to get it out of our system. But maybe until we begin to see the movie screen as a mirror that reflects back to us the dark part of ourselves, a part that’s waiting its chance in each of us to break loose and erupt— until we acknowledge the beast inside— the dark Id will rise again, as it did that bloody Friday night in Colorado.