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The Boston Globe


james carroll

Dark fantasy in action

Does hyper-realism break down the mental barriers to violence?

There was a widely read book in the 1950s called “Seduction of the Innocent,” which argued that the lewd violence of comic books was turning America’s youth into juvenile delinquents. The connection between comics and behavior was never proven, but the argument goes on. The recent Aurora shooting, explicitly tied to the Batman comic book spin-off “The Dark Knight Rises,” inevitably prompts questions about the link between big-screen mass violence and acts of mayhem by crazed individuals. The Colorado shooting suspect, who made himself up as “the Joker,” inserted himself into a fantasy world that was conjured as light escapism — forcing us to measure the true weight of such entertainment.

Apocalyptic fantasies have been a staple of creative expression at least since the Book of Revelation, which, in the West, defines much of the language of the genre: salvation through destruction, cities under attack, angels versus devils, the end of history, and so on. “The Dark Knight Rises,” with a plot hanging on the detonation of a nuclear bomb, efficiently follows the ancient form, with a 21st Century resonance. We bring our real-life anxieties into darkened theaters, so why shouldn’t movies pluck dissonant chords tied, consciously or not, to nuclear dread or 9/11? Perhaps bringing such doomsday anxieties into movie houses is a way of not unleashing them on the world.

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