In the wake of the horrific massacre at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater during a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises last week, Warner Brothers pulled a trailer for September release Gangster Squad because it features a scene with mobsters firing on a theater-going audience through a screen. The studio appears poised to go a step further, though, as Variety reported on Monday:
Given the eerie association created by the Aurora shootings, Warner Bros. has since decided to remove the scene from the film, which opens Sept. 7, and is putting reshoot plans into motion, a source with knowledge of the situation told Variety. Warner Bros. would not comment.
The motivation here is obvious, and on many levels I appreciate the studio's concern for moviegoers who might have frayed nerves after a crazed gunman invaded one of America's "secular shrines," as Eli Saslow and Marc Fisher put it in the Washington Post, and shattered the sanctity of the theater in terribly infamous fashion. I'm not even all that jaded about the business side of things, which is certainly in play too. Of course it's in WB's best interest to appear sensitive to what happened in Aurora. And of course leaving this particular scene in the film could be a big turnoff to a small but not insignificant minority of movie fans.
But it still doesn't sit quite right with me.
Dumping a trailer hours after the shooting is one thing, but the decision to fundamentally alter a movie that isn't going to be seen for months seems awfully rushed, for starters. I was in a catatonic state on Friday as I dined on a steady diet of CNN and MSNBC for any shred of information that I could get about the Aurora shootings. And I was still a little rattled by everything that happened thousands of miles away when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises later that night, especially every time someone got up to go to the bathroom.
But human beings have short memories. We are resilient and able to compartmentalize horrific events and deep fears, both rational and irrational. No one should forget the victims of Aurora, nor should we let another golden opportunity to have a serious discussion about gun violence and gun laws slip away like we have several times already in the wake of other similar tragedies. But we also shouldn't go to the movie theaters in fear, and the guess here is that, by and large, we won't.
In that sense, pulling this particular scene from Gangster Squad seems remarkably devoid of meaning. The movie is rated R due to strong violence and it details the "LAPD's fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and '50s," according to IMDB. Anything with the Mafia usually translates into loads of violence on the silver screen. Presumably, WB is not going to disappear all the gunplay and death from the film, just the stuff that will remind many of what happened in Colorado.
All the other violence -- the blood and gore and murder -- is OK because it's not reminiscent of stuff that's fresh in our memory? Will WB add the freshly cut scene back in to the DVD since it might be less unsettling to watch a theater get shot up in the comfort of your own home than at the local AMC?
There's plenty of dissonance here, and that's because the catalyst for all these machinations, the mass shooting and murder of innocent movie fans, was so utterly dissonant all by itself -- so far outside the norm -- that it defies serious explanation or rationalization.
I understand the impulse behind recutting Gangster Squad. When tragedy strikes, most people want to do something -- anything they can, really -- to help. But sometimes there's nothing for most of us to do. In this case, us includes Warner Brothers.