Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on July 29, 2012
I have lived in Colorado most of my life. My home is a half-hour drive from the Century 16 theater in Aurora where so many people were recently murdered and maimed while watching a movie. Like most other non-psychopathic people, I felt immediate sadness, anguish, grief, and a myriad of other emotions as I read the unfolding news. In yesterday’s post by fellow Morlock, David Kalat, he says “I’ve lived most of my life in movie theaters,” and I feel the exact same way. I not only inhabit the film theater as a spectator, but as a film exhibitor and programmer I am also responsible for selecting the films that get shown in several venues. The films of Christopher Nolan that I’ve programmed are: Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Inception (which, despite being a blockbuster, had enough intellectual cachet for the arthouse crowd). I stayed away from the Batman films, those being out of my bailiwick. However, I was very impressed with Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight, in part because I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, a genre which is always, and predictably, rounded up and put up against the wall as one of the usual suspects when searching for scapegoats. Allow me to state the obvious: regardless of genre, movies can be joyous affairs that bring people together to share in the full range of emotions available to us. No matter how bleak their subject might be, they are ultimately collective acts of creation. What happened in Aurora is a senseless destruction and desecration of life, and my heart goes out to the victims and survivors. It was also a desecration of one of my favorite temples (the movie theater), and a desecration of one of my favorite art-forms (movies themselves).
Cinema is full of human psychopaths. Recent events remind us that, sometimes, the psychopaths are literally sitting among us.
Psychopaths are people who, whether because of nature or nurture (or both) have zero empathy or sympathy for their fellow human beings and, in fact, derive pleasure from inflicting pain. If the odds of personally being effected by a psychopath seem inflated, keep in mind that not all psychopaths make the front page. Most don’t. Some even make good money and live in gated communities. Hervey Cleckley, M.D., author of The Three Faces of Eve and The Mask of Sanity gives outlines in that latter book for “The Psychopath as Businessman,” “The Psychopath as Scientist,” “The Psychopath as Physician,” and many more. Which is to say, psychopaths are not limited to murderous cretins that arm themselves to the teeth with guns to cause maximum physical damage to other living beings. They can also be found in high-level positions, be it in banks that destroy lives via corrupted financial systems (American Psycho), or governments that use weapons of mass destruction (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), or executives amidst the fossil-fuel industry pushing our planet headlong into climate catastrophe (such executives are not singled out in An Inconvenient Truth, but that has been corrected by a long list of similar documentaries that have followed). My point for listing film titles within the categories above is to illustrate how movies of all stripes and colors (i.e., horror, comedy, documentary) provide us with tools by which we can try to make sense of the nightmares that humans inflict on themselves in reality.
My first experience with a psychopath occurred in grade school, circa the mid 70s. He lived up the street from me and tried to kill me three times. First with a giant rock, then with broken glass, and the last time I saw him he tried to drown me when we met at a public swimming pool. These incidents occurred within a span of about five years. He was eight-years-old on one end and 12 on the other. His father was a violent wife-beater, which leads me to, in this case, point to his so-called “nurture” to explain the cycle of his violence.
Later, in college, I knew another psychopath. This one threatened to kill two of my friends and I personally saw him run past me in a bar to punch a stranger in the face, for no other reason but to provoke a fight. We are now talking about a man in his late teens and early 20s. The last time I saw him he cornered me at a party and relished in making me very uncomfortable as he talked about the joy he felt in feeling like a god when he held somebody else’s life in his hands and they begged him for release. I later heard a rumor that he had killed someone, and I never saw him again. His parents were peace-loving hippies who had never done anyone harm, so I’d be hard-pressed to chalk up this deviant behavior to “nurture.” Maybe a skipped gene was involved and “nature” (in all its vague mystery) played a stronger hand in his violent predisposition. But, really, who knows?
Colorado has had more than its share of nightmares recently resulting in friends asking me, “What’s wrong with Colorado?” In some cases they were thinking of the Columbine High School massacre and the most recent shooting, while in others they were referring to the record fires that destroyed over 300 homes. But this is not about Colorado, it’s about all of us. We’re all in this together.
“If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States.”
The above excerpt is the first sentence from Bill McKibben’s horrifying article on global warming in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, which is full of madness. The fact that Rolling Stone can print an article “about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced,” (to use McKibben’s words) and then it puts Justin Bieber on the cover is another form of madness and disconnect altogether.
“Too little rain and too many guns.”
Colorado again? No. That’s a sentence from an A.P. wire service article by Jason Straziuso writing on the one-year anniversary of the famine in Somalia that claimed up to 100,000 lives. My reason for dropping that in here is because when I write that “we’re all in this together” (one of my favorite lines from Brazil, by the way) I’m not just talking about the U.S., I’m talking about everyone on this planet. We’re all connected, and yet as we get increasingly more connected via so-called social media platforms, cellphones, and laptops, there seems to be a growing disconnect regarding what it means to be a human being in the modern world.
On the Friday night of the shooting, I had to make a decision regarding an outdoor movie I had scheduled days before the Aurora massacre. Josh Trank’s debut film, Chronicle, concerns three teenagers who slowly develop supernatural powers. Despite its PG-13 rating, it gets pretty dark, especially toward the end when it becomes clear that one of the kids wants to use his powers to destroy things and kill people. The film can work as an allusion to the Columbine High School massacre, but it also works on many other levels. One very memorable scene shows us these three kids wielding their telepathic powers and levitating and constructing objects in mid-air. The entire time they are doing this they are also still playing with their cellphones, multi-tasking, texting each other, and video-taping (chronicling) everything they do. It’s as if their new awesome powers are no match for a growing and dangerous egocentricity. One of the markers of a psychopath outlined in Cleckley’s book is “pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love.” That theme gets played out to an extreme near the end of Chronicle. It was chilling to watch, and it carried extra weight given the context of events earlier that day.
Which is also another way of saying that, yes, I screened the film despite the fact that it cut too close to home in the art-imitating-life-imitating-art department. Was it too soon? Was it too violent? Would it make people uncomfortable? The answer to all of these questions was yes. The easy thing to do would have been to cancel the film and let people cocoon themselves at home. But, somehow, the act of going on with the show felt like an act of reclamation. Humans are social animals, but a lot of the devices we now surround ourselves with simply make it easier to hide in our homes and disconnect from the world at large. Reality is a messy thing, and it needs to be confronted head-on. That’s a task made easier when people work together, come together, play together, and connect, even if just for a moment, under that big screen that continues to tell our story.
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