The Dark Night Arrives: Tim Sutton Takes Us Back to the Aurora Massacre
It is still fresh in our memories the moment when, in 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Night Rises. Tim Sutton － the writer and director of two critically acclaimed feature films (Pavilion and Memphis) and professor of film at The New School － accounts the tragedy with a cinematic social critic.
Sutton’s cerebral approach can be perceived at once by the title of the film: a pun connecting Nolan’s “Knight” to the gloomy nighttime when the massacre occurred. The American director walks us through the lives of six potential victims of the massacre, within a timeframe that goes from sunrise to midnight. His storytelling does not bank on media spectacularization. By detaching himself from graphic infotainment, Sutton goes to the heart of society’s repression and displaced aspirations.
The horrific act of violence is not blatantly reenacted. Quite the opposite. The tension of Dark Night derives from the idea that there is no haven for leisure, in any corner of the globe. The news have shown us people dying whilst enjoying a concert at the Bataclan in Paris; relishing a walk along the Nice Promenade; pushing their limits during a marathon in Boston; and － as in this case － watching a Batman movie in a small town in Colorado. Cinema is a factory of dreams, to escape from wretchedness and dissatisfaction. People go to the movies to detach from the tediousness of their dull lives and, with tragic irony, Sutton’s characters (and the real victims in Aurora) find their promise is betrayed. Whether it is organized terrorism or emulation of violence done by civilians, no place is danger-exempt.
The singularity of Dark Night lies in the way it gradually builds up to that horrific act of violence, that is never restaged. The most disquieting aspect is the origin of that brutality. The slow-crescendo script utilizes the squalor of the small-town life as starting point, portraying the mundane acts of people’s daily routine.
The voice of French Canadian songstress, Maica Amata, introduces us to the provincial contemporary America of Dark Night. Once the music sets the high-strung tone, we see the eyes of a young girl looking somewhere in a dimly lit room. She could be gazing at a screen in a movie theatre or at something else. As we eventually discover, she is the first witness of the new American nightmare.
A young cast populates a contemporary Babel. Each character merely exists in its own bubble, but does not interact or connect with its neighbor. Each man for himself. A boy spends his days, as Robert DeNiro in The King of Comedy pretending to be interviewed by the press. His mother is his only supporter and listener, as the audience ignores who he is addressing his statements to － there is no imaginary Jerry Lewis here. Then there is “selfie-girl” who works out all day and take pictures of herself, but also in her case we ignore the drive of her efforts. We get a glimpse of more suburban lives, that in a larger picture may seem insignificant, but exemplify the DNA of mankind’s degeneration.
The desolate landscape of Dark Night enhances the utter isolation of the Internet era, where every deserted road has WiFi, but besides video games and virtual friends the community is humanly disconnected. However Sutton does not make a political movie, it’s an experiential one. You can perceive the culture where the story unfolds. You may sense what determines the fragility of the characters.
Sutton’s film does not try to explain why the Cineplex massacre occurred. It takes you to a place that could be the staging of that same event. The director demonstrates, with daunting simplicity, how close we are to the people who are on the screen, whether they are potential shooters, suspected shooters, or innocents.
Some will find the film shares a similar mood, pace and theme to Gus Van Sant’s mesmeric Elephant, that was inspired by the Columbine high school shooting. However Sutton’s depiction of the gun violence epidemic in the United States has a different soul.
The film gives a snapshot of how a civilization can be brought to implosion. As Sutton poignantly explains: “The audience witnesses the lives of isolated Americans with easy access to guns, allowing the film’s fragmented narrative to explore in fine detail how a shooting is the product of its people and their environment. When a violent act occurs, the first reaction is horror. Then comes blame. Eventually we’re left with apathy － until the next act of violence starts the process over because we’ve allowed ourselves to look away.”
Dark Night refuses to look away. Tim Sutton, with harrowing composure, allows to stare deeply into a landscape far from sensationalism or blame. His film creates an immersive experience illustrating how people employ their lives chasing a will-o’-the-wisp and ultimately get overpowered by the frailty of life.