WASHINGTON -- The suburban city of Aurora east of Denver seems the most unlikely place for evil -- true evil -- to come marching into our lives. Residents are browned from the sun or ruddy from skiing. Colorado has always been a center of good health and outdoor activity.
It's the kind of place where, on a summer's eve, young people would get their best friends together and go to a movie -- a favorite American pastime. How even more exciting it is if there is something new and titillating playing, like "The Dark Knight Rises" -- a smoldering mythic drama where the heroic Batman arises, after voluminous failures, to beat the latest and most evil threat to Gotham.
Surely none of those innocent folk in Aurora Friday morning could have had even the wildest idea that a real-life villain -- uniformly described afterward as a "nice, quiet boy" -- would apparently invade the theater, perhaps as the orange-haired Joker, armed to his very teeth and dressed like a medieval black warrior, to destroy a town's sense of itself.
No one, of course, will know much about the motivations for this act until the trial unfolds. But let's do some informed guessing now.
"The Dark Knight Rises," according to all the reviews, is the culmination of the Batman trilogy by Christopher Nolan. It is here that evil is defeated, but imperfectly, as in the United States today. Not everyone who surrounds Batman is "good," but everyone who surrounds the villain) is bad.
The audience was almost surely attracted by the fact that Batman always has to win in the end. But the suspect, that "quiet boy" James Holmes, whom nobody seemed to know (perhaps his parents at the top of the list), was not attracted by the victory of the Good, something the American spirit has always believed was predominant in mankind. Holmes somehow became obsessed, as he reportedly prepared his killing machine for months and months, with the Evil in the world.
Part of evil, of course, is always excessive ego, the burning desire to be recognized in public. He would be SOMEBODY afterward, no matter who. How grand he would be, in his own mind, showing the punk town of Aurora who really ruled -- the Joker and not Batman -- and they would fear him.
The prayer vigil afterward was touching. Speakers talked about "evil" and "true evil" (remember in the '30s and '40s when there was no evil, only troubled people). One speaker talked about "a dark and evil presence in the theater." Others talked about "forgiving" (thanks, but no thanks) and "healing" (isn't it a little early for that?). Meanwhile, killing remains a major theme in television and motion picture entertainment.
President Obama told a beautiful story about a young lady named Ali Young, shot when she stood up to warn others. She collapsed, blood spurting dangerously from the hole in her neck. But her good friend, Stephanie Davis, had the presence of mind to put her fingers on Ali's wound to stanch the blood, while phoning 911 with her other hand. In the end, Stephanie carried Ali across two parking lots to get her treatment. Both lived.
This justified Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan telling the thousands of people present it is acts of love that define who we are.
By curious coincidence, this was the same weekend that Norway solemnly remembered its own "Holmes," the strange young man who killed dozens of young leaders exactly a year ago on a recreational island near Oslo. So it is not only us. This is happening across the world, in rich countries like Norway and in poorer countries in the Third World. But we always set the style.
What I would like to see -- at least what would help me -- would be for some brilliant social scientist or psychologist to travel around the world and interview in depth all these young men who kill multitudes. I want to know not the color of their hair, but what created this terrible wound in them that they must wound others. I yearn for psychological sense to be made of the whole thing.