Watching Watchmen

8
Mar
2009

I went to go see the Watchmen movie today with my friend Barrett. Overall I thought it was really amazing visually, and there were some very interesting elements of the superhero genre that were being critiqued.

1. Sex and violence – There were many points in the movie where you understand that the violence of the superheroes beating up people (good or bad it seems) is quite the aphrodisiac for them. At one point in the movie one of the characters can’t get it up during sex, but after he and his super-heroine partner go out and rough up a few bad guys, they return for some amazing sex. There are also some disturbing parallels in a rape scene perpetrated by one of the “heroes”.

2. Gayness – It was all over the movie, in good and bad and ambiguous characters, and in obvious and subtle forms. Outside of one of the initial characters being a lesbian (and subsequently killed), the character of Ozymandias has gay written all over him, although they never come out and say it. Still, there are about a million cues.

3. The nature of good and evil – Comic books have dealt with these themes for a long time, but Alan Moore, who created the series, really was one of the best at muddying the waters between good and evil, realizing not only that the capacity for good and evil exists within all of us, but that often it isn’t clear which is which.  His characters are rich in moral contradictions, and are capable of some pretty gruesome acts in the name of the good (or feeding their super egos).

4. The nature of power and humanity – One of the characters is so powerful, that he is in danger of losing his identification with humankind, and thus ability to empathize with or care about human suffering. One realizes that action (in the service of humanity, for example) is entirely based on scale, that is to say, too far a distance from being human all suffering looks irrelevant. The character even remarks at one point that “at a molecular level” a living body looks identical to a dead one.

One of the other great things about the film was that one of the characters (Dr. Manhattan, the powerful one) is naked throughout much of the film, turning the sexist convention that women are always the objectified, naked ones on its head. He is naked because (as stated above) he is less and less concerned with a human sense of shame or propriety and sees no reason to alter his “natural” appearance.

There were also a lot of pure camp moments in the film, like when two of the characters are having sex with the song Hallelujah playing in the background. Much of the music chosen for the film was evocative of various eras, which was interesting because most people already have their own imprint for these songs, and I am sure that hearing them over a number of scenes caused some varied and odd associations. As a meditation on the superhero genre and what it tells us about our society, the film was really top notch. The only thing that felt a bit odd was that, because the film (as with the graphic novel, released in 1986 and 87) is set in the mid eighties, its concerns with the cold war and world nuclear destruction no longer seem as relevant today as we confront global warming and environmental destruction, terrorism, and the like.