Watchmen: uglier than I would have admitted

March 23, 2009

Remind me to take myself less seriously when i drone on and on unironically. I’m referring to my analysis of Watchmen. In scrutinizing the story on its own terms, I may have missed a large chunk of the point.

Here’s Anthony Lane in the New Yorker: “The problem is that [director Zack] Snyder, following [author Alan] Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon.”

So, authoritarian? Check. But what about misogynistic?

You want to see the attempted rape of a superwoman, her bright latex costume cast aside and her head banged against the baize of a pool table? The assault is there in Moore’s book, one panel of which homes in on the blood that leaps from her punched mouth, but the pool table is Snyder’s own embroidery.


[N]either author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race—a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity—to be bothered with lesser plights.

To dwell any longer on why this is gross would be to grant it too much power.


10 Responses to “Watchmen: uglier than I would have admitted”

  1. A blog I just discovered yesterday, but think I might love:

  2. Patrick Says:

    I’m not a big fan of the film, but I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. This overlooks the important fact that the main struggle between characters is between those who care about the fate of the “human race” and those who care about individuals. The hero of the story (to those of a certain political/philosophical bent) is Rorschach. For all his problems, he is entirely concerned with individual human behavior and the suffering that he knows can be caused by the moral failings. He doesn’t give a damn about the fate of humanity (arguably he does, but doesn’t think he can change it). He explicitly argues against individual suffering even for the sake of bettering the fate of the human race. (“What’s another body stacked up against the foundation of your new world?” or something to that effect)

    It can be argued that he doesn’t actually feel any pity (I disagree… he does seem to pity the victims of violence, e.g. that murdered child), but that is a failing of the character- NOT the film/book that contains the character.

    (Also, there is a scene in the book that is not in the film in which he pities the child of his whorish landlady.)

  3. Jeremy Says:

    ok… so i just read your “mega” review of the movie, and this addendum.

    essentially i feel that the movie is some kind of crazy crass over the top version of whatever Snyder decided the book was about. it feels like he “got” at least part of the book, but missed a huge portion of the subtext? i consider it an odd choice for him to take a subtle look at power and free will and such and give it the 300 treatment. 300 sucked, mostly because it was a direct translation of source material which was pretty juvenile and over the top. granted i never saw it, but from what i gathered the preview is enough to get the point.

    i was excited when i heard that Snyder was using the comic as storyboard aid, but what i wasn’t thinking about in my excitement at the project finally moving forward was that there is much more to the story than some nice looking pictures and a cursory story to back them up.

    i didn’t HATE it, but there were definitely parts of the movie where you were cringing at directorial choices. that Night Owl/Silk Spectre sex scene was pretty silly, and i’d consider the soundtrack less a subtle knife and more a sledgehammer.

    for me the whole thing boils down to Snyder making the movie your average fat slob basement dwelling fanboy wanted and not the one that really honored the material that told a pretty decent story. i am curious to see the whole version when it hits dvd, but i am not holding my breath. i can’t imagine it really taking away from the visceral suckitude that crops up a bit too often.

    p.s. that New Yorker story is hilarious in that it should have researched the story more before droning on about it like some kind of Ivy League douchebag.

  4. JR Says:

    @Jeremy: I’m not convinced yet. I think it’s a mistake to totally dismiss the movie as a caricature of the book. Basically I think you can’t ignore the way Moore approached his subject matter. But I’m open to persuasion.

    To be more specific: like, why did I need to see the original Silk Spectre get beat up by the Comedian? Was it (a) to show he was a bad guy? Or (b) because Moore likes to draw chicks getting beat up? Assuming it’s both, then why does (b) not count for something in the way we interpret his project?

  5. JR Says:

    @P_Doodly: I actually agree about Rorschach – i.e., that he is the hero of the story and that he feels pity. I think his character is so sensitive, so empathetic, that the suffering of others drives him insane because he can’t shut it out. Kind of like when a telepath first discovers her ability to read minds but then doesn’t get placed in Xavier’s school.

    Given the scope of the story – the fate of humanity hangs in the balance – I think it’s noteworthy to point out that the varieties of heroism deemed possible. If the point is there’s no good outcome in a world like the one Moore depicts, well, then I want to ask why he’s trying to tell us that.

    If the author wants us to feel or think a certain way about a subject – if he’s in fact being very heavy handed with his finger pointing – then I’m not sure what’s so different about applying similar standards to him and pointing the finger back. In other words, have some imagination, Alan Moore.

    But see also what I wrote @Jeremy above.

    Now, recognizing the other thing that @J_Hole is saying, and that @K_Flat implied, I think it’s also pretty silly of @ALane to waltz in and take the fanboys to task as if his own shit didn’t stink, too.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    well my whole point is this… when Moore does a script it is this ridiculously detailed monster of a script. every little shred of visual information is described in endless detail for the artist. in fact in interviews it has come out many times that the comic was micro-managed down to the dust on the tabletops.

    he purposely leaves out a lot of the overt-violence for you to put in yourself. or to gloss over, which either way you are making a statement about comics and violence. for me the real punch in the Watchmen story is it’s allegory about superheroes and their place in a society. it’s that idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely. he doesn’t have the violence against Silk Spectre drawn because in our heads we add that in there automatically. the reader being acourse beast with base thoughts and desires. that is much more interesting to me than reducing the moment in time to some hyper-real slow mo reel showing off the power of fantastic computer graphics.

    well more importantly and another level of subtext the book carries on is that the violence not being there in minute detail makes that moment less about the violence and more about the relationship between the characters and how their lives are effected by what they are doing and how they think of themselves as a part of this make believe world.

  7. John Pavlus Says:

    Lane doesn’t know what he’s talking about on this, but I also found Snyder’s up-ante-ing of the violence in that scene kind of pointless. But in the book, what, we’re not allowed to depict repugnant shit like that? The Comedian is a mysoginist, not Moore. Why did he put that scene in? Because when it came out, Watchmen was nonpareil– the exploration/depiction of superheroes as damaged/deranged/angst-ridden/complicated humans was not as ho-hum as it has become in the 20 years hence–in fact it was groundbreaking. Every “super” character in Watchmen is a common (shallow) superhero archetype given extra depth by exploring the question, “what sort of real human might be drawn to this kind of thinking and action and way of life?” (answer: humans with big fucking problems) In the Comedian’s case, it’s a power-tripping cynical sociopath. But the interesting thing about Watchmen is that *every* “super” is really messed up, because if you didn’t have some kind of screw loose, why would you dress up in a costume and believe you had the power or the right to do any of that sort of shit? As some reviewers have noted, Moore draws an active and poignant counterpoint between the screwy “supers” and the innocent bystander “normal people” who intersect with them. Watchmen is comics criticism (demythologizing the mythologies in comics) and like any work of criticism it is really tied to its own peculiar time/place zeitgeist. The interesting things about it are cultural/historical… which is why the movie is empty and pointless, because the zeitgeist that its story resonated with is so far gone.

  8. JR Says:

    my mind is officially blown. 2x!

  9. This reminds me – anyone who enjoys the “what kind of a person would be drawn to this kind of life — fucked up ones” angle of Watchmen should be reading SF author Peter Watts post-haste. Cannot. Get. Enough.

  10. […] Maybe you remember when I questioned the themes expressed in Alan Moore’s seminal comic book, Watchmen, back when the film version was in theatres? Something I could have made more hay over was the […]

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