Hollywood is certainly no stranger to exploitation. With a business model that teaches studios to follow the money, the consumer’s should be accustomed to the growing number of films that manipulate and routinely prey on our empathetic nature. For the most part, this is met with acceptance even if it’s cautious optimism, but when and where are lines drawn in the sand. How Do we proportionately and agreeably decipher when the movie industry has gone too far? Does such a thing exist in today’s day and age? Or have we simply become desensitized to extremism and exploitation thanks to a never ending news cycle riddled with tragedy, in real time? You don’t have to think too hard when attempting to secure an example of Hollywood trying to profit off of real life chaos. Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day is the prime example of the exploitation machine at play. That said you would be hard pressed to find individuals who have seen that film, who say that it is anything but tasteful and respectful. After all, the focus of that narrative lies largely with the strong sense of community that sprouted from senseless violence, instead of narrowing the focus on the actual events. It’ a very human story, and an important one in American history, as “Boston Strong” is well deserving of historical iconization.
In fact, Peter Berg has arguably made his career on the positive and tasteful exploitation of human tragedy that results in a display of spiritual and communal triumph, with films like Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor. That said, would anyone be comfortable with Berg announcing a film, fictionally documenting the events leading up to and following Sandy Hook? Or Orlando Rush? These are tragedies bred from malice and evil that are deserving of mourning, but not fame. So when the trailer dropped for Dark Night, a movie that loosely chronicles the events that lead up to the terribly tragic cineplex shooting in Aurora Colorado, which left 12 dead and 50 more wounded, it raised some hairs for me.
The distinction between a tasteful homage to heroism and an insensitive perversion of real and painful adversity, seems lost in the fray here. This is the line that needs to be drawn in the sand. The attempt to bastardize victims of a cataclysmic event from which families are still struggling to recover, seems beyond reprehensible.
The sentimentalization of true and sincere hardships that befell real human beings is distasteful in every sense of the word. No matter the deftness of the vision or the care claimed to have been taken to underline the ominous undercurrent of anxiety and alienation, there is no excuse to be made for attempting to profit from, exploit, or even artfully recreate such events. This isn’t taking one step too far. One step too far is exemplified in films like World Trade Center or United 93. No, this is leaping with reckless abandon, mercilessly over the line and off of a cliff. Director Tim Sutton seems to have done his best to eulogize the victims, and their assailant, but to what end and for what purpose? This is not a story deserving of infamy, preserved in film and archived. There are certain movies form which we are so close to the characters that an air if discomfort approaches, and then there is this–A fictionalized version of a real life struggle that does not allude to a sense of community, or victory of the human spirit. There is no upside to this portrayal to the victims, their families or the community that still feels the effects of this every single day.
Dark Night seems to be everything we have come to hate from Hollywood. At what point do we stand firm and uphold our societal values. Is nothing sacred? Not even grief in the face of great and unspeakable acts of villainy. This is not fiction, this has no business on a screen in a theater. This is not an educational telling of a historical event from which we are meant to learn anything of substance. This is a dark spot that is deserving of mourning and remembrance, but not like this, not by giving a face to the sick individual that incited sadistic mayhem that night. Part of me hopes that this will transcend the events from which it is based, but that would seem equally egregious. Perhaps this will find a way to create a conversation about a subject that does deserve to be addressed, but certainly not this way. I’m sorry hollywood, but there are limitations you should place upon yourselves, and this is an instance where restraint and better judgement should have won out, but then again, that’s Hollywood. They worship everything and value nothing.
Check out the trailer and synopsis for Dark Night below and decide for yourself if a line has been crossed.
A haunting, artfully understated critique of American gun culture, Tim Sutton’s third feature is loosely based around the 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado that took place during a multiplex screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Employing a mesmerizing documentary-style technique and a cast of non-professional actors, DARK NIGHT follows the activities of six strangers over the course of one day, from sunrise to midnight, the shooter among them. Shot in Sarasota, Florida and lensed by veteran French DP Hélène Louvart (PINA, THE BEACHES OF AGNES), the dream-like visuals articulate both Sutton’s carefully crafted landscapes and the characters’ sense of alienation and suburban malaise. Winner of the Lanterna Magica Award at the Venice Film Festival following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, DARK NIGHT is essential viewing, not only for art-house filmgoers, but for anyone invested in the debate over gun violence in America as well.