When the Movies Come Alive

Imagine you’re sitting at the premier of the biggest blockbuster hit all summer and suddenly the tear gas and the gunfire that was on the screen a moment ago is now four feet away with the barrel in your face. It sounds horrific, like the fodder of another Hollywood hit, but this morning, it was far too real for the twelve now dead and at least another fifty who were injured in the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

It’s amazing how a tragedy can transform the country in a matter of hours and have repercussions that echo across the world at the speed of light. A red-carpet Paris premier of the movie was cancelled in the wake of the shooting and both Presidential candidates have put a silencer on their doomsday rhetoric. The country stands again as one–one victim, one survivor, a single body supporting its own flailing limbs–united in a way only death can unite us.

I’m afraid for myself. Not too long ago I was at a movie theater watching another hit film that didn’t let us out until midnight, a few minutes shy of the shooting’s local time. Only on Monday I was at the theater again watching a different superhero movie. But it’s not the theater run-ins that startle me: It’s the news coverage.

From the moment I got my Wii with its News Channel and onward, I ate the Associated Press’s news reports for breakfast every morning. Only days after the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007, the coverage for the shooting was so intense that I gave up reading the news to not give up my own sanity. When I got my iPad in May as part of a local scholarship I’m receiving, I immediately downloaded the AP’s news app and lately I’ve been reading it every day. It’s how I learned about the shooting in Aurora. It feels like Virginia Tech all over again.

But now I’m older, wiser, and I can limit my exposure without becoming oblivious, and I can breathe without drowning myself in the depression events like this easily seed. This strength and fortitude can be my own weapon, my own response to this crime and the power that will lead me through it to the other side.

I know practically there’s not much I can do to help. I can pray and keep apprised of the story and listen for updates and potential calls to action, but there’s not much else I can do. However, I have a voice–a powerful voice–that I will not allow to fall into silence. I can reflect and I can question and doubt and find in this a deeper meaning than a mere reminder of how fragile all our lives are.

On Monday, after watching the movie so amazing they stuck it in the title, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of comic book envy. Even though I’m not a die-hard comic fan, I do enjoy the occasional superhero flick and I remember watching cartoons featuring heroes and villains every Saturday morning on TV. When I was younger, it never occurred to me the many lives in multiplicity superheroes have. There were at least three different Batmans, a couple Spidermans, and the X-Men had more personas than I could keep up with. It seemed every few years when one idea ran a little low on new material, they’d restart the genre and reinvent him once again.

It happened again with Batman Begins. I’ve not seen all the other Batman movies, though I’ve seen many bits and pieces of most of them, but I didn’t think any of the original films showed the superhero’s start and, therefore, I figured it featured an untold story of a single canon. I saw the film not as the reboot that it was, but as the next installment in a growing cinematic anthology of a respected and respectable superhero fandom franchise.

It happened again with the Amazing Spiderman. Now I’ve seen the first three Spiderman films, so when the actors changed, I was a little apprehensive. Yeah, there’s been a bunch of Batmans, but they’ve each played the same man in a different chapter of the tale. This movie was restarting it all together. At first, near the beginning, I thought this new kid was the older Spiderman’s son and it was going to be some kind of legacy building for a new generation of heroes. I was mistaken. Uncle Ben died a new death. Aunt May mourned the loss again. And ol’ Spidey got bitten once more.

After the film I was thinking of this phenomenon and thought of the Legend of Zelda video game series. In each game, the hero Link must save the damsel in distress, Princess Zelda (although she’s hardly a damsel in the latest games, just the unfortunate victim of world affairs). There are some theorists who claim each Link is the same Link, each story is the same story told to the tune of another minstrel’s lute. I’m of the opposing opinion that there’s a canonical timeline in which each Link is the next incarnation of the hero. I’m also a proponent of the less-held and often controversial unified timeline theory, but that’s a different discussion altogether.

They’re lucky, I concluded, these superheroes. If they get old and can’t act anymore, if they lose their bite if not their bark, they can just press a magical red button and be born again. New adventures await. New love interests, new enemies, new swarms of raving fanatics waiting for a front-row premier ticket.

We’re not so fortunate. We live. We die. We get no second chances. When I did poorly on my last Calc II test there wasn’t a pause button to study harder before the final. When I embarrassed myself and my boyfriend, there wasn’t a rewind button to undo my impulse-ridden wit-filled comment. When in a meeting I didn’t speak as thoughtfully as I could have and probably should have, there wasn’t a way to retract the words and leave them again unspoken.

We are not as fortunate as these heroes that can come alive a second time every time their popularity wanes or their reputations begin to fade. Once we’re gone, we’re gone. Whether we are broken alive or broken past the arms of life, blanketed by death or shrunken in the grasp of despair, our only option if we should be so blessed to have one is to keep moving forward, striving to climb up and out of this mess of life, or at least to fall no further.

We lack the ability to reboot ourselves. Even as I move into a new school, a new opportunity, my slate is not blank. My past has shaped me and narrowed the path I walk upon. Finances constrict my choices and closed sections threaten my schedule. Unknown roommates await. Faceless professors stand idly in empty classrooms. Textbooks with wordhoards more expansive than movie scripts remain unopened. The slate may seem an open canvas, but it’s just another layer of paint obscuring the view beyond it. We can delude ourselves with images of beginning anew–new jobs, new boyfriends, new houses and housemates–but we are never truly new again. We cannot just hit the restart button and clear the screen of all the things we have seen. They stick with us, and whether the world around us knows or not, our secret identities remain taped on our arms, another mask we hang before we hit the bed, the movies now alive.

Life is fragile and there are no second chances. My heart goes out to the families of the victims in Aurora and the others at the theater who were harmed by this, and my arms open wide to my brethren in the United States and abroad, an embrace that maybe can mask our humanity for a mere moment longer.

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