If you saw The Dark Knight Rises before learning of the opening-night shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., then you're one of the lucky ones—and not only because your screening was uneventful.
For you, the film will always be a film first. But for most moviegoers, for those who will see the film this weekend, and maybe long after, it may not ever be just a film.
A look at some of the ways The Dark Knight Rises, post-Colorado tragedy, may haunt:
WARNING: Do not read further if you don't want to see certain plot points revealed.
1. Bane's Mask: It's not a gas mask, but it looks enough like one to take your mind to the tear-gas canisters dropped in the Aurora theater by suspected shooter James Holmes, 24. Beyond the mask, Tom Hardy's villain is a relentless, muscle-armored, one-man terror who suddenly seems more and more of the real world.
2. Batman and Selena Kyle's Gun Talk: As Christian Bale's Caped Crusader offers Anne Hathaways cat burglar crime-fighting tips, he notes that the good guys, like them, or like him, anyway, don't use guns. It's the No. 1 rule, in fact, he says. Later, Kyle rescues Batman from Bane's clutches with some fire power, and a line about (roughly paraphrasing here), "I don't know if I feel the same way about the no-gun policy."' Can the banter still play as banter, or will it serve as a debate, or, worse, a reminder?
3. Batman's Guilt: One movie removed from the innocents killed by the Joker (Heath Ledger) in 2008's The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (also Bale, natch) remains conflicted: Did Batman bring pain to Gotham by simply existing? The answer's no. Batman didn't kill the people, just as The Dark Knight Rises didn't hurt anyone in any movie theater anywhere, but there the hero and the new film stand, tragic figures both.
4. The Happy Ending: After the gloom and doom and pain of the Nolan trilogy, it's supposed to be a treat to finally see a happy and apparently well-adjusted Wayne. And it is a treat. But can the ending ever seem as happy as it did in the moviegoing world that existed before Aurora?
5. The Whole Movie: You can't hear Columbine without thinking school shooting. You can't watch Ledger's Dark Knight performance without thinking of the actor's sudden death. And for as long as this collective memory holds, you can't watch The Dark Knight Rises without some explosion, some line, some image taking you back to what was, for its time, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. It is perhaps the heaviest baggage a film has ever been asked to carry. It is perhaps the first movie that barely got a chance to be a movie. It got pulled into a nightmare instead.