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After any major, violent tragedy in the United States, the easiest and least constructive response is to blame the media. It happened after Columbine, it happened after the shooting in the theater playing The Dark Knight Rises this summer, and it's at least being suggested now, after the horrifying massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. No one's been able to prove any link between Adam Lanza's monstrous behavior and violent media, of course, but that's not stopping some people from bringing it up, eyeing posters for movies and video games that prominently feature weapons and saying, well, that's got to be a connection, right?
And with questions like that still out there, a lot of movies have to step back for a second and reassess just when it's appropriate for them to get back to their usual business of promoting themselves. That's an especially tough challenge for Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, two movies set to come out in the next week, and both of them with plots based heavily on gun violence. Each film was scheduled for a splashy premiere or screening early this week, and now both have been cancelled-- a tribute to Tom Cruise at New York's Lincoln Center, which included a screening of Jack Reacher, was postponed indefinitely, and tonight's premiere of Django Unchained is now a friends-and-family screening, with no media invited.
It's not quite the same as the position the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises found themselves in this summer, canceling foreign premieres and issuing letters of sympathy to the victims who were watching that film when the shooting began. But it's a strong reminder of the way that our culture of violence is woven into our films, and how things that are entertaining can become ghastly when real life catches up to them a bit too much. Like many Tarantino movies, Django Unchained ends in a bloody massacre; it's hard to imagine even the people seeing the film tonight will be in the mood for it. And though Jack Reacher isn't quite so gory, the plot begins when a sniper kills five people at random-- and narrowly misses killing a child.
There are signs that the Newtown tragedy won't play out like other awful instances of gun violence in the past, given how fervent the conversation about gun control has been. But odds are it will still have the same result in Hollywood-- days or weeks of respectful quiet, and then back to the same guns and explosions as before. After all, Warner Bros. is releasing Gangster Squad-- the movie whose movie theater massacre scene was reshot after the Aurora shooting--in just a few weeks.