Fantasy fiction author Lloyd Alexander was once asked in an interview, “Why do you write fantasy?” to which he replied:
“Because, paradoxically, fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level.”
I would like to push Alexander’s answer in suggesting that all forms of art are a form of fantasy. What we decide to listen to, to watch, to read are our intimate fantasies. We put ourselves in these worlds, and if it’s good enough, we accept the fantasy as actuality. The best art are makes us forget that we are not, in fact, part of the experience. We are mere members of an audience. But we escape, and want to escape. It is knowing the limitations that keeps us grounded in reality.
Later, we dream about what we experienced. We see ourselves at the heart of the fantasy, and we adapt it to make it seem more possible. Reality, for a brief period, doesn’t feel exciting enough. The every day of a common life might seem a little boring. But that’s part of the beauty of art. You can live out whatever that fantasy is, and return to the life you know easily.
Mixing reality with fantasy can lead to pretty devastating results. At the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, one man tried to imitate fantasy by terrorizing a theater, leaving twelve for dead and over fifty others wounded, while referring to himself as The Joker. What should have been an exciting and rewarding experience has been shattered, as many people are unwilling to go see the film. It has left those in Aurora, Colorado, as well as across the nation—and the world—scared to return to the theater. Why should we continue doing what puts us in danger? Why can’t we live without fear? Why is it important to see movies, or listen to music, or go to concerts, or visit a museum? This man appears to have been inspired by the very thing we are celebrating, so it would seem to be doing a disservice to the memory of the victims to continue being moviegoers. On the contrary, it’s doing a disservice not to take part in what we love to do: experiencing art. Because art is important.. The people of Aurora were taken while doing something they loved. What better way to honor their memory than to continue doing what they loved?
Bruce Wayne is a different sort of superhero. A spider does not bite him; he hasn’t fallen from a distant planet; he was not exposed to a gamma bomb that he invented. He is a man, as common as any one of us, and he has demons of his own. Since childhood, he’s been haunted even by the thought of bats, especially after the death of his parents. It takes him a while to become who we know him as, the Batman. He overcomes his fears because he stops running from them. He confronts them, and becomes bigger than what scares him the most.
Superheroes know better than many other characters what it is like to lose somebody they are close to, their origin stories often revolving around that theme. That loss is what gives them strength. It’s what makes them bigger than their fears. We need their loss so they can become what we know them as.
My point is this: we have a choice. It would be easy to run from what scares us. When I was seventeen, I was in my first car accident. It was minor, but an accident nonetheless. Upon returning home, I knew I had errands to run and asked my father if he would take me. He refused. He told me I’d never drive again if I didn’t deal with what I was afraid of, and so he sent me on my own. There may never be an end to those suffering in Aurora, Colorado. And as it seems to be a tradition, we grieve with them. But the best thing to do is not to give into our fears, but continue doing what makes us happy. Director Christopher Nolan put it best in his statement following the tragedy:
“I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
This event will change the movie-going experience. But we need to keep experiencing them. A superhero’s strength comes from that which they fear the most. Those of us in reality are capable of a similar strength, more palpable than what you see on screen because it will be real. The ultimate triumph over evil is love and a belief that there is good out there. Continuing to do what we love, despite setbacks, is the greatest reward, which in part answers what Bruce’s father asks him, staying with him throughout his transformation: Why do we fall?