Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seven dollars is a spectacularly fine price for a two-hour ride in a time machine.

A reprieve from reality.

An escape into the lives and emotions of people who never have to reach for the right thing to say.

We are, of course, talking about the movies, where we can cry and laugh in the dark, ostensibly for film characters, but perhaps just as much for ourselves as we connect what’s happening on screen to our own passions and pain. Maybe this is why movies get so much better as we age.

Carroll 5 Theatres manager Kim Daniel and I delved into this Monday. She’s in the business of getting people to love movies. I make it my business to love movies.

We agree with the conventional wisdom that the morning massacre at an Aurora, Colo., premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” is one of those awful episodes Americans call an “isolated incident.”

Kids still enroll at the University of Iowa even though a deranged former graduate student shot five students there and then killed himself in November 1991. I can vividly recall being in the newsroom as that story broke. Just a few weeks ago, I was in Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., where a gunman opened fire in December of 2007, killing eight people.

We drive the same streets and highways, most all of us, where people we know perished in accidents.

Resiliency is at the core of the successful human experience.

But with the movie-house horrors of last Friday, I’m not so sure. Can going to the movies be the same again?

“That scares me to death, obviously,” Daniel said.

The Carroll 5 had a strong turnout for the midnight Friday showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” — 300 people. It’s the film the movie industry is banking on for a bright summer box office. Nothing Hollywood sends our direction this season is expected to be bigger.

“No, there’s not,” Daniel said. “This is it.”

I’ve been looking forward  to seeing the movie, and as I pulled into Carroll around 11:30 p.m. last Thursday from covering an event outside of our community I considered joining the line for “Dark Knight Rises.” But fatigue stole the late evening and I headed to the office and home.

Daniel reports that “Dark Knight Rises” is a wonderfully entertaining movie. The Wall Street Journal tells me this. So does our weekly movie reviewer, Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune. But can we watch it without thinking that, “OK, now, about this point, 30 minutes or so into the movie, the Colorado gunman burst into a theater and shot 70 people, killing 12.”

Can we leave July 2012, and all its attendant facts of life at the door in exchange for popcorn?

“Now, where in America can you go where someone isn’t carrying a gun or wanting to hurt someone else?” Daniel asks.

In the short term, the killings are having an effect. As of press time for this column, Hollywood studios had not released box-office figures. But Daniel tells me she’s not getting big crowds for “Dark Knight Rises” in Carroll.

“We had people each show (over the weekend), but it wasn’t like I expected,” she said.

The large auditorium at the Carroll 5 holds 326 people. Keep in mind, though, Daniel said, that there were many other Carroll events last weekend: Kuemper’s baseball team played at state; Lake View held its Water Carnival; and the Carroll Men’s City Golf Tournament unfolded at both courses here. Then there was the heat. The movie theater is a great place to seek refuge from a hot night, but many people just don’t leave their homes when the mercury rises to 100 degrees, Daniel said.

“Frankly, I think it was all of the above,” Daniel said.

In the reaction-angle stories proliferating in the aftermath of the rampage we learn that movie theaters are likely going to educate theatergoers and ticket takers about evacuation and other emergency procedures associated with all sort of potential mayhem.

“I think I’ll have to do more training with my employees,” Daniel said. “The confusion I have is: How can you possibly know what to do?”

Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert has some advice for movie fans. Go to the show with enough pocket space to carry the cash needed to up-size your soda and stash a reserve of ammunition, should you have to return fire at a mad shooter.

“Well it does make me wonder, you know with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying that could’ve stopped this guy more quickly?” Gohmert said in a radio interview on Friday, as bodies of the Aurora dead still lay in the theater as police cleared the crime scene. “I mean in Tyler, Texas, we had – my hometown – we had a shooter come in over a domestic matter, and just start shooting people. And it was a guy with a concealed carry – he got killed, but his shooting at this guy caused him to run and no doubt saved a lot of lives. He was a real hero.”

What if someone would have fired back in Colorado last week, introducing crossfire into the chaos? Would we have more or fewer dead? Would the battle have steeled the resolve of the killer, motivating him to unleash more rounds into the seats? How many accidental theater shootings would we  have as edgy patrons, thinking they see murder instead of hormone-inspired teenage pranks and hijincks, shoot fellow moviegoers over the misunderstanding? How would the hero and villain math shake out if we were all armed at the movies?

As it stands, you can take a gun into the Carroll 5 Theatres for protection as long as you are permitted. Hundreds of people from the Carroll area have such permits.

Businesses can post signs banning guns from their premises, but if you bring a weapon with the correct paperwork behind it, their only recourse is to ask you to leave under threat of trespass. And as Daniel noted, someone intent on killing 50 people isn’t going to worry about a trespass charge or policy violation.

“I believe it’s not going to stop someone who wants to carry one,” she said.

Daniel did leave me with a more hopeful takeaway.

“We should be more appreciative of the fact that we live in Carroll, Iowa, and hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen here,” Daniel said.