Shouting Fire in a Theater – Gangster Squad

A hail of automatic fire rips into a theater audience in Gangster Squad, eerily predicting the events in Aurora, Colorado.

I originally wrote this just as the tragedy in Aurora was first breaking out, but like many others I chose to delay publishing it out of respect for those effected. I felt it was important for the initial wave of emotion to wash over the nation before working against the tide. While my sympathy for the families involved will always be, now that we’ve had some time to reflect on the event we can begin a discussion on the various implications this tragedy will leave in its wake. I will be discussing one example.

What happened in Aurora was, by no use of hyperbole, horrific. As many have said before me, these were people who were taking part in a great American past time enjoying the company of their friends, families, and even strangers in a collective appreciation of both Nolan’s Batman series and film itself. It will sadly go down in history as one of those events that brings us to a halt. Now, in the aftershock of the event, Warner Bros. has found themselves in an incredibly uncomfortable position. Just before the premiere of the anticipated The Dark Knight Rises they ran a trailer for their upcoming star-studded period piece Gangster Squad, playing in theaters all across the nation, including Aurora.  The timing seemed perfect, what better movie to showcase your trailer? The timing, however, could not have been more wrong. The crux of the issue is that this true-life story features a climactic scene in which men fire Thompson submachine guns through a movie screen into a crowd of panicked movie-goers.  Immediately following the news of the tragedy WB pulled the trailer from all theaters and even across online sites such as Youtube. As of this posting the below listing was still live, if it remains so you can watch the offending scene at the 2:00 mark.

I fully understand WB’s position in pulling the trailer. It makes absolute perfect sense out of respect and also fear of negative backlash. Despite their best efforts to remove the trailer, however, it has become a roaring debate that has the studio contemplating not only removing the scene from future trailers but removing or at least minimizing the scene from the film itself. Again, I completely understand the reasons why they would consider this. They might appear heartless, disrespectful, perhaps even mocking despite it not being their original intent. My personal belief, however, is that the scene should be left untouched.

The simple fact is that this story was never written nor produced to make commentary on the shooting in Colorado. There was no way the filmmakers would know. All they wanted to accomplish was to tell a true story in an entertaining fashion. The scene, regardless of what has happened, is a powerful moment on its own even in the trailer. A lot of care has gone into creating the look and feel of that moment which is also critical to the story itself. To remove it or even reduce it would rob the scene of its emotional power. Some argue passionately that the scene is too offensive, that it brings up too many emotions of a wound that’s barely days old, but isn’t the whole point of the artform to elicit emotions from the viewer? If anything the scene has gained incredible weight that it might not have otherwise. We, the audience, tend to live in a very sheltered environment in which this kind of violence is foreign to the point of novelty. When we watch a film like Saving Private Ryan we can’t really sympathize with the action on the screen unless we have either been to war or been close to someone who had. While we can enjoy the rush of action it’s all done vicariously through the lens of the camera, we don’t feel the real terror of being in a gunfight. This is why some scenes of romance really warm our hearts and other scenes of sorrow make us cry, because you’re able to relate to these moments and form a stronger attachment. By simple logic, most of us were not in that theater nor in Aurora, Colorado, we can only imagine the terror that those unfortunate people went through. Despite not being there, however, the event still has affected us even if in just a small way. This is something that happened in our time, and has opened our eyes that maybe it could happen again in the same venue. That’s what makes this scene hit harder now, and I think that by diluting that fear that it’ll cause it will actually show disrespect for those no longer with us. While WB’s intentions are good, it would be sheltering us from pain, and downplaying the events that happened. This doesn’t even touch the amount of hard work that has gone into the film that will be for nothing.

Leaving this scene in a film does not mean that the filmmakers are bad people. They are simply telling a story, and sometimes those stories hit closer to home than we would like them to, but we accept that we will censor something just because it makes the audience uncomfortable then what is the point of this artform? We should embrace all emotions that film gives us, be it good or horrific.

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