Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #13

Re: Watchmen (2009)

In your review of Watchmen you wrote:

The graphic novel has a horror-stricken young Rorschach, snapping after making a grisly discovery, chain a human monster inside his apartment, splash kerosene around, drop a match, and walk away, leaving him to burn to death offscreen. In the movie, after chaining him up, Rorschach splits his skull with a meat cleaver, then continues to whack at the skull again and again, all in closeup.

I think the movie scene is far less violent than the graphic-novel scene. In the original graphic novel, while you don’t see this, the implication is far more cruel and violent; the killer has to saw through his arm or get burned; he burned.

In this version he’s dead in the first blow; I thought the film treatment of the child killer is much less violent and kinder since he died instantly. You see gore, but it doesn’t mean as much as the guy is dead and Rorschach is clearly crazy. In the graphic novel the guy’s death is agonizing and makes Rorschach seem crueler.

By the way, I understand some people don’t like depressing works, but I found Light in the story; I found Light in Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Jupiter. I like and sympathize with those characters.

The graphic-novel scene = character development.

The movie scene = grossout / shock value.

In a visual medium like comics or film, what the story asks us to look at is at least as important critically as what happens.

I can understand liking and sympathizing with Dreiberg and Jupiter. I’m not totally sure Alan Moore sympathizes with them. Be that as it may, they may be sympathetic characters, but they don’t bring a genuinely heroic dynamic to the story. Watchmen — in either the graphic novel or the film version — is a super hero story without heroism.

Dreiberg is the most traditionally heroic (by disposition) character in the story, and the only one of the half-dozen major male characters who doesn’t have a nihilistic worldview. Tellingly, he’s also the most benighted and ineffectual.

Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach and Ozymandias are each in their own ways more “enlightened” than Nite Owl, and they all have some sort of nihilistic worldview. Veidt debunks heroism — and then his vision is debunked.

Not shades of grey, but stark black and white — in meaningless patterns, onto which we only project meaning. There is no meaning, no fate, no God; just us, and the horrors we visit on ourselves. Ultimately, we are all in the dark — and there’s plenty of pitch-black darkness (child rape and dismemberment, etc.), but little if anything that could be called light. Well, maybe if a woman has consensual sex with a man who once tried to rape her, someone might contrive to see some sort of light in that.

The story is about a countdown to doomsday. One character has a horrifically nihilistic plan to avert it, and in the end he succeeds in enacting his plan — yet the outcome is ultimately thwarted by an unforeseen consequence of the actions of another nihilistic character. The most unimaginable of sacrifices is enacted, to no avail. The fate of the world turns on a meaningless chain of events, and continues it career toward annihilation. If that’s not nihilistic, what is?

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