Vox Nova At the Movies: Watchmen

Vox Nova At the Movies: Watchmen March 7, 2009

Who watches the Watchmen?


Many, many people. That is who. But, for those unitiated to the story, they need to realize: this film is vulgar, it is violent, and it portrays heroes whose personal qualities make them to be more like villians than heroes. Indeed the main villain of the story is one of the Watchmen; his desire is to save the world by destroying much of it, causing the rest of the world to come together to rebuild and deal with a common threat (of course, one could say he is a deconstructed form of what we find in Western ideology, exaggerated for the sake of making the viewer question their own ethical code). And the Comedian, the one who is killed at the beginning of the movie? He’s a murderer, a rapist, someone who thinks life itself is a joke, and yet, because he has worked for the government, he was given the freedom to live out his darkest desires and use them for the sake of the “greater good.” Other heroes have their own foibles; perhaps the central, and most important of them, Doctor Manhattan, is becoming godlike, and he is used to show how remote a God must be to humanity, and to ask why any God would care for us.

As one can see, much of the story is morally questionable. This is not to say there are not elements of true beauty and grace within it; there are, but they are hidden in a residue of filth that it would be difficult for one to find it without aid. And the trouble is, for the general audience, I wonder how much they would be able to wrestle with the issues and find that good; I expect most would take out of it the bad.

Despite being a “superhero” film, it’s not for kids. Rape is treated here, and is a significant thread throughout the film. How it deals with rape is complex, and disturbing (although, it also offers a place where one could, if one worked with the story, find a point of grace, which is why what comes out of it is seen by Doctor Manhattan to be a miracle).  But I think worst of all about the film is its image of humanity, which is dark and sinister; the image of God within is nearly wiped out and lost, turning everyone into animals of one sort or another. In one important scene, when a crowd of protesters is taken out by a couple of the Watchmen, the Comedian looks to the carnage and cheers it on, saying, “The American Dream.” While trying to offer a critical idea of what is wrong with America, the movie fails, because, as with the story itself, it has difficulties in showing us what is good within it as well. Not very uplifting, is it?

How do I rate this film? I will have to do so with many different categories.

Visual imagery, I would give it 8/1o (though, one has to beware, Doctor Manhattan is nude for much of the film).

Direction, I would give it 7/10. It’s not bad, not great. A bit slow at times, but acceptable.

Morality: 4/10. Very poor morality, though a couple places leave room for possibilities, and as such, not entirely without merit. But again, it would require someone to think things out and reject the message of the film itself.

Complexity: 8/10. It’s a complex story, and that makes it much more difficult for someone to deal with the issues within.   

Story: 6/10 While complex, there is something lacking in the telling of the plot. I found much of the dialogue wooden, and, much left out.

Overall, I could not say I would recommend this film, but I do think, if one is interested in it, and one knows full well what they are getting themselves into, it is worth seeing once.

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