Hope and excitement filled the audience members at the opening, midnight showing of one of the most anticipated movies of the last half-decade. But The Dark Knight Rises will not be remembered for its captivating action sequences, surprising plot twists, cinematic mastery, or its attentive and meaningful encapsulation of one of the most remarkable trilogies in film history. Instead, the film will forever be linked with the horrifying massacre of 12 people and injuries to 58 others in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, allegedly by recent graduate school dropout James Holmes.
Holmes's actions have experts—desperate to find comforting causation for such incomprehensible behavior—reaching for mental illness as a solitary explanation. Holmes apparently made claims connecting himself to "the Joker," a character with a psychopathic personality from the second film in the trilogy. News reports indicate he had been treated by more than one mental health professional, and various diagnostic labels have been suggested.
The violence perpetrated at the Aurora movie theater mirrors a common stereotype perpetrated in movies—that all people with mental illness are violent. In reality, people with a mental illness are much more likely to be victims of a violent crime than to perpetrate one. Choe et al. (2008) found that 2 to 13 percent of outpatients with a mental illness perpetrated violence in the previous 3 years, whereas 20 to 34 percent had been violently victimized.
As stories of mental illness and violence shroud the Aurora tragedy, equal weight should be given to the heroism, bravery, and self-sacrifice of many of the deceased and survivors of the shooting. In this spirit of reframing, the PsycCRITIQUES review of The Dark Knight Rises by Jeremy Clyman helps viewers focus their attention on the artistic and thematic merits of the film. Clyman highlights the science surrounding the character strength of hope as it is deftly portrayed in the film. If there was a strength of value for not only film-goers studying the movie, but also those afflicted with a mental illness and most especially those victims and families struggling to move forward, it would be hope.
What strikes you most about the film and the events surrounding the film?
What factors might most contribute to such extreme violent acts? To what degree do you believe mental illness played a role?
Choe, J. Y., Teplin, L. A., & Abram, K. M. (2008). Perpetration of violence, violent victimization, and severe mental illness: Balancing public health concerns. Psychiatric Services, 59, 153-164.
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