On July 22, President Barack Obama came to Aurora.
He wasn’t here to make a speech or cut a ribbon or host a $10,000-a-plate banquet. The visit wasn’t part of the campaign at all. He visited with those injured in the Aurora massacre, to give what comfort he could to the families of those who died.
It wasn’t a long stop in Obama’s campaign: More of a pause, really. But anytime a sitting president takes the time to visit with grieving families, the moment becomes a memorial—a time to consider what we’ve lost.
We Americans don’t get into a lot of ceremony. We’re just too busy to push pause that often, and when we do, we make it count. We set aside some time for graduation, a bit more for the occasional wedding. And when we lose someone—or many someones--we stop. We gather up our sadness and hold it to our bosom. We close our eyes and remember.
I think it’s interesting that Christopher Nolan concludes, or very nearly concludes, all of his Dark Knight movies with “memorials” of sorts, times of reflection. After two or three hours of tension and carnage, his characters, and we in the audience, need it: We have to take stock of the loss.
In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne shuffles through the ash of his family mansion. In The Dark Knight, there’s a brief scene of Commissioner Gordon leading a memorial service for the late, troubled, Harvey Dent. These scenes aren’t long. They’re not the moments we necessarily remember when we leave the theater. But they’re critical to understanding—to absorbing—what’s come before.
But there’s a paradox here. These pauses aren’t just opportunities to ponder loss: Our characters are bracing for the leap ahead—the leap into an uncertain but maybe not altogether gloomy future.
In Batman Begins, Wayne—still standing in the ashes—vows to rebuild his mansion “just the way it was” (after making a few improvements to the Batcave, of course). In The Dark Knight Rises, we learn that Dent’s death was the catalyst for an unprecedented clean-up in Gotham City.
Sure, we grieve. We mourn. But our world does not end. Eventually, we go on. It takes time, but we do. And sometimes, unexpected good can come of the worst sorts of losses. The word “aurora” itself—a bright, beautiful light found in the world’s harshest, coldest environs—even hints at that hope. And for Christians, our whole faith is predicated on that hope.
When Jesus was crucified, none of his followers thought it was anything less than a complete, soul-crushing disaster. The guy they banked on was dead and buried. He didn’t die a hero’s death, either, but a felon’s—full of torture and humiliation and pain. Anyone who dared tell Peter or John or any of the other disciples that any good could come of this horror might’ve gotten clobbered.
But then on the third day, we read about a pause: Women coming to Jesus’ tomb to mourn and anoint the body.
And in that pause, everything changed.
In The Dark Knight Rises , we see a very different Batman who straps on his cape and cowl when the film’s prime evildoer Bane comes to town: He’s a weary, fatalistic hero who thinks this could be it for him. For eight years, his legacy’s been beaten in Gotham. For eight years, this superhero’s been metaphorically crucified.
Alfred wonders why Batman bothers to go out again, what with the odds so stacked against him.
“You’re afraid that I’ll fail,” Batman says.
“I’m afraid that you want to,” Alfred answers.
I won’t say whether Batman actually dies in the film. But at the risk of spoiling a bit of the movie, I will say that he suffers a metaphorical death about midway through. He’s thrown into a pit of a prison (called “hell” numerous times).
In the days and weeks to come, victims of the Aurora shooting will pause. There’ll be funerals to say goodbye to loved ones. There’ll be moments of introspection for the injured. Those of us on the outside looking on, we’ll find time to grieve for ourselves and wish the best—or perhaps pray—for the survivors.
It seems hard to believe any good can come of any of this. And frankly, when the tragedy’s still so fresh, so painful, to suggest such a thing feels unseemly. Nothing can minimize what the world lost on July 20. Nothing can make up for it or make it better.
But that doesn’t mean that the cataclysm needs to be devoid of meaning. Good can come of it. Hope can rise. Our stories tell us so.
Paul Asay is the author of God on the Streets of Gotham: What the Big Screen Batman Can Teach us About God and Ourselves. He works as a movie reviewer with the Christian outlet Pluggedin.com.