Dear Warner Bros (and Dot),
You guys really handled this shitty Aurora situation well. I can only imagine what it's been like over there; what was supposed to be a great, celebratory weekend turned to ashes in the worst way possible. While you know in your head that Batman had nothing to do with the shooting there's surely that nagging feeling of guilt in your heart. You dealt with the box office in a classy way, and your decision to donate money to the victims of the shooting is generous in the best, least condescending and least grandstanding way.
But now I'm hearing that you're getting skittish about a scene in Gangster Squad, which is set to open on September 7th. You already pulled the Gangster Squad trailer, which includes a snippet of the scene, and now you're talking about cutting the scene out, or going back to do reshoots to work around it.
The scene, of course, is a gangland massacre where shooters stand behind a movie screen and fire into the audience. The parallels to Aurora are impossible to miss. The imagery is strong and bold, and now somewhat tainted by what happened. There's no way for us to watch that scene without it taking on a different feeling than director Ruben Fleischer intended. On some level the obvious choice is to take the scene out and pretend like it never happened.
But that's the wrong choice. It feels like good taste, but I think it's actually a bit of cowardice. And what's worse, it's giving in to a madman. If you edit that scene out of the movie, you're essentially taking notes from the Aurora shooter. You're allowing him to decide the content of your movies.
In the days after 9/11 we thought there was going to be a seismic shift in our culture. Never again, we thought, would we see the wanton destruction of cities in our movies. Never again, we thought, would we approach the world with cynicism or irony. But it didn't take long for things to get back to normal, and over the last couple of years we've seen New York City and other great metropolises attacked, flattened, destroyed and overthrown. Sometimes the imagery is purposefully related to 9/11 - like Spielberg's War of the Worlds, the most impactful fictionalization of what 9/11 felt like that we've seen - and sometimes it's unclear if we're meant to draw connections - the climax of The Avengers, for instance. And sometimes, like in Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it's just a bunch of special effects taking place against a familiar cityscape with no deeper meaning at all.
The Aurora shootings, while horrific, are not 9/11. They're not even Columbine. We live in a country where, sadly, mass murders are almost commonplace. In a few weeks we'll be moving on (and when I say we I mean, of course, the larger population. The people impacted directly and in the local community will, without a doubt, feel the aftershocks of this terrible day for years to come). The better option, I think, would be to move Gangster Squad back a bit to get it out of the psychic fallout of the shootings. This way the film can be shown as it was intended to be seen, and not have to suffer at the brutal editing scissors of a lone lunatic.
While your instinct to be respectful is completely the correct one, your instinct to be respectful by altering the film is wrong. The Aurora shooter has done his damage. We must not let his savage actions change the way we live. Just as it's important that we keep going to the movies to reclaim that space, it's important that our movies not buckle in response to madness. Move the film to retain a respectful distance, but please don't cut one frame of it.
Your pal in Christ,