In Vain Do Ye Watch, O Watchmen

Last night I went to a late showing of Watchmen with my brother and a friend.  I'm not sure why I was so adamant about seeing it; I've never been a fan of superhero movies or graphic novels, except for the excellent Maus books, where I think they're a better vehicle for discussing a historical event that's hard to grasp in human terms.  I think I thought it was going to be culturally significant, maybe a little like the Matrix.  Man, those were the days.  I remember walking out of the theater in Union Square and thinking, "Movies will never be the same."  And, for better or for worse, they weren't.

So I didn't know what to expect, and thus I couldn't be disappointed: a good place to be in if you're going to fork over 12 bucks for a couple hours' worth of entertainment.  Some of my friends had loved it; some had decried its extreme violence.  I was prepared to close my eyes for a couple of scenes, and I did.  But overall, I don't think the movie was nearly as violent as others I've sat through (Kill Bill) or turned off (Natural Born Killers.)

If the violence was bearable, though, the sex was not.  I lost track of the number of times Dr. Manhattan, also known as Blue See-Through Guy, wandered around naked.  Yes, he was a blue cartoon.  But still, full frontal male nudity is not my idea of a good time.  (It was also totally uncalled-for, as the character appeared many times in partial or full clothing.  Did he just like to work naked?  We never found out.)  And there was a human sex scene that was so grossly pornographic that the audience (diverse in both age and nerdiness) laughed through the whole, absurdly long, thing.  I fervently hope that Leonard Cohen's glorious "Hallelujah" has not been ruined forever.

So, there's the controversial part.  I happen to believe, however, that quite a lot of sex and violence can be overlooked if there's enough redemptive value elsewhere -- in the form of a lesson learned, a truth affirmed, etc.  But I didn't really get any of that.  I had heard from friends that the central theme is that not all "heroes" are good -- clearly, as some are capable of rape and mass murder.  So where was the thesis?  Well, the ending implies that Paul Hill was a hero.

Did I like it?  It was okay.  Parts were interesting: the back story on the characters, for instance, which we all felt should have been fleshed out more.  Parts were boring: just about any scene with Dr. Manhattan contained innumerable ambiguous platitudes that never formed a coherent worldview, and I don't think the parallel-reality explanation constitutes a cinematic Get Out of Jail Free card.  It had a significant amount of eye candy in the artistic direction, which would be enough for me to like a movie that had moreempathy for, but the interesting characters didn't get as much screen time as the sexy ones.

At the risk of blasphemy, I'd like to quote a passage from the Canon for Holy Saturday, which we chant on the Friday before Easter as we commemorate Christ's victory over death.  This section compares Christ, who spent three days in Hades, to Jonah, who spent three days inside a giant fish (and, if you've ever kept a fish around for three days, you know that's not an unfair analogy.)

"Verily, Jonah the Prophet was caught, but not held, in the belly of the whale; but being a sign of Thee, O Thou who didst suffer and wast delivered to burial, he came out of the whale as out of a chamber, and cried unto the watchmen: In vain do ye watch, O watchmen*; for ye have neglected mercy."

Mercy.  That's exactly what this movie was lacking: mercy for friends, for enemies, and for all of humankind.

*High fiiiiive to Steve, tmatt, and the rest of the Choir Boys . . .