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Don't Let Aurora Tragedy Cause Cinemaphobia

By Barbara Reynolds


( - Despite reports of copy-cat threats, my suspicions that there is something inherently evil about the last Dark Knight trilogy and despite a you-tube public service announcement on how to zig-zag out an exit if shooting begins, I am going to be the hero of my own drama. I am going to drag myself into the movie to see the latest Batman trilogy with the expectation that I can emerge alive.

I am going to fight the villain in my own mind that warns if I enter a darkened theatre to see Batman, I just might end up a casualty in a real-life scene of a crazed shooter like James Holman, the alleged killer who announced he was the “Joker’’ before gunning down 12 people in a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.

I am going to fight the feeling that the creepy movie itself is cursed, a state which hopefully is not transferable. Heath Ledger, who played the role of the psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic Joker in 1989, died of prescription drug overdose before the debut of the film. Morgan Freeman, who played Lucius Fox in the film, was seriously injured in a car accident in Mississippi in August 2008. His co-star, and the star of the franchise, Christian Bale, hit the headlines in July 2008 when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister shortly before the London's premiere. Several other stunt persons were injured.

For anyone who has ever suffered from phobias (irrational fears that feel real) panic attacks of doom dread of death or nightmares from over-identifying with victims of horrific crimes, you know we have to beat down every menacing scary thought before it becomes a full-fledged horror that can take over our lives and push us away from friends, familiar places and the ordinary pleasures of life.

In years past, movie themes like The Birds, a 1963 suspense/horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock where flocks of violent birds attacked a town and a murderous shower scene in Psycho, left some of us still queasy about feathered creatures  flying overhead and still keeping a watchful eye for intruders while showering. If those scenes can produce such phobias, imagine what the mind can conjure up when murderer leaps from the screen into the movie seats.

In fact, phobias which are irrational fears that prevent people from carrying on ordinary activities can result from something far less cataclysmic than a massacre of innocents attending a movie.

I suffer from gephydrophobia, a fear of bridges, for example. The cement paved Wilson Bridge is a breeze, but the tall 4.3 mile Bay Bridge, one of the world’s largest when it opened, exposes drivers to a watery abyss that is so terrorizing that scores of people like me pay drivers to take us across.

This fear of bridges all started because of a joke. In 1983 I was driving across it and my friend joked that she thought I was going to drive off the bridge like news reporter Jessica Savitch. When I heard that, I looked at the water and my heart pounded, my knees shook and my foot froze on the accelerator.  I had virtually an overwhelming desire to get out the car and start running. Someone else had to take the wheel and drive me across. To this day, I still can’t drive across it and a recent accident where a driver did drive off the bridge only confirmed my worst fears.

There are about 520 types of phobia. At least 20 million people have them. There  are football players who are petrified at the sight of a little mouse, office workers who would rather walk up 20 flights of steps than ride an elevator, people who won’t  touch others for fear of germs and people who the very thought of leaving their house induces shaking and overwhelming anxiety.

We must not allow enough craziness to creep into our minds where an alleged gunman like Forman can imbed another phobia in our mental lexicon, such as the irrational fear of movie-going, a source of positive escapism and family entertainment. Psychiatrist Dr. Jan Hutchinson says, “It is natural to feel some anxiety or nervousness about attending a movie after such a disastrous event like Aurora but to vow never to attend a movie because of one event is irrational, what we call a phobia. And the only way to rid yourself of a phobia is to do whatever you are afraid of. Ninety nine percent of the time you will be fine.”

So, according to Hutchinson in the last 29 years I could have rid myself of bridge fear simply by driving across it, which in my mind still means driving off of it. Too late for that. What I can do now is aggressively resist this creeping anxiety each time I think about the massacre in the Aurora theatre, which, if prolonged could turn into full-blast cinemaphobia. Dark Knight is a must-see for me; only because what it means not to see it.

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