The Dark Knight Rises

By Jared Young

Mailed on July 27, 2012

Dear Recipient,

Rumor has it that you recently asked one of the prison guards how The Dark Knight Rises ends. You haven't seen the film in its entirety (and hopefully never will), so I thought I'd tell you a bit about the movie with which, for obvious and appalling reasons, you will forever be associated.

Does it live up to expectations? Of course it doesn't. It couldn't. Sitting in the theater last Thursday, as the impatient throng fidgeted and twitched and laughed too hard at their own jokes, I had the strange sense of having been there before, of remembering a future memory. In retrospect, I know why. From bits of hearsay and gossip, trailer clips, score samples, set photos, and two decades of reading Batman comics, I had already constructed the movie in my head. And it was perfect. Indistinct, but perfect. Or, more accurately, perfect because it was indistinct.

I was set up for disappointment. At every moment the film onscreen diverged from the one I'd unconsciously contrived, I found myself bitterly unsatisfied. Which doesn't make The Dark Knight Rises a bad movie. In fact, it's a very good movie. Just not the one I'd been expecting.

And that's the big spoiler: for all the grittiness and verisimilitude and ripped-from-the-headlines class-warfare equivalence that Christopher Nolan brings to it, The Dark Knight Rises is still just a movie.

Yes, just a movie. With actors, and props, and a musical score. A screenplay that predetermined every line of dialogue. A crew of computer artists who added false substance to it all. A craft-services table somewhere behind the camera, where, between takes, Christian Bale angled a Panini through the Bat-mask and Tom Hardy, biceps pulsing, buttered a low-fat carrot muffin. In a way, The Dark Knight Rises is disappointing solely because it exists. The tangible expression of a thing can never live up to the perfectly indistinct version one composes in forethought.

And you know all about disappointment, don't you?

By all accounts, you had every opportunity to be a happy and healthy member of the human race (or at least as intermittently happy and healthy as most of us). And while I realize it's unfair to hold such high existential expectations based only on your ethnic and socioeconomic background, I have no doubts, as a fellow middle-class white boy raised in the comfort of the suburbs, that we were born several lucky steps ahead of the roughly 15 Million children in the U.S. currently living in poverty. Unlike them, we're not defined by what we don't have, but by what we do: good schools, good grades, parents who were present, scholarships, degrees. Not a recipe for compos mentis, necessarily. But certainly not a recipe for mass murder.

Whether it was an insurmountable pressure to succeed, some failed secret ambition, or just a general dissatisfaction with sensory reality of day-to-day existence, it's clear that your life didn't turn out the way you expected it to. I'm sure you didn't aspire to drop out of the PhD program at the University of Colorado. I'm sure you didn't dream of being evicted from your student apartment. I'm sure, with a BS in Neuroscience in your pocket, you didn't expect to find yourself working at McDonald's.

We all know from personal experience that the world rarely conforms to our idealistic projections of it. The exceptional life you hope to live is always imperfect in the act of actually living it. Growing older is all about the narrowing of life's possibilities and broadening of life's responsibilities. It's a pretty disappointing truth, and some people deal with it better than others. Some avoid responsibility by living with their parents well into adulthood. Some fight the reductive nature of aging by refusing to commit; to a career, to marriage. And some, like you, try to exert control over fate through violent force.

But as much as you hoped it would be, the cowardly act perpetrated last Thursday was no metamorphic feat. Whatever romantic disagreement is rumored to have prompted your actions surely wasn't resolved in your favor. Whatever spree-killer hysteria you hoped to inspire has been expressed, instead, as a national debate over gun laws. Whatever infamy you hoped to gain is obscured by passing days; the world chugs relentlessly along.

How disappointing for you.

In the coming weeks, I'll likely see The Dark Knight Rises a second time. I imagine it will be a lot more satisfying now that the beats and breaks and chorus are familiar enough for me to sing along. Hopefully I'll be able to appreciate it for what it is, not for what I wanted it to be (I'll see the film I deserve, not the one I need).

You, though--you don't get a second chance. You made your choice. Your disappointment led you to throw away any future opportunity you might have to experience the good things human beings are capable of experiencing: to love, to be loved, to be thrilled, to be surprised, to know the joyous burden of being a husband or a father, to be decent to the indecent, to show compassion for the uncompassionate, and, far down the list, to sit in a dark theater among friends and fellow geeks, absurdly excited to witness a thing as frivolous (and momentous) as a new Batman movie. Life's small pleasures become apparent only when you accept that they occur in wholly unexpected ways. And, in that manner, they're never disappointing.

Oh, but you wanted to know how the movie ended, didn't you?

Okay, well, goodbye.



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