Watching Watchmen

On Saturday afternoon I caught the Watchmen with a bunch of guys from church. Having not read the Graphic Novel I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having caught the movie I now want to catch the graphic novel.

The movie was violent. Graphically violent. And had a fair bit of sex – so it’s hard to “recommend” to Christians if that’s likely to cause you to stumble.

But it was eye-poppingly rendered. A beautiful, dark, film noiry feel – complete with a fedora wearing trench coated detective like protaganist narrating entries into his diary.

It also asked questions of the human condition and asked questions about the nature of an omniscient almost omnipresent, omnipotent “god” in the form of a blue supercharged superhero. It certainly generated conversation amongst our group – and most of us enjoyed it, despite some of us not being entirely keen for a thought provoking cinematic experience.

The film has divided Christian movie critics. Movieguide is a pretty terrible “family centred” (think Focus on the Family) film review centre – and this movie is not “family centred” in content or intention. Here’s their list of reasons not to see the movie (I love how they open with “anti-capitalist” as though that’s unChristian:

“Strong anti-capitalist content with a strong environmentalist conclusion and homosexual references; 44 obscenities and 27 profanities; hyper-extreme, gory, bloody violence includes lots of gore with fingers cut off, arms cut off by a rotary buzz-saw, man’s head graphically cleaved with a meat cleaver, pointblank shootings, boy bites into boy’s cheek and takes out hunk of another boy’s cheek, woman beaten savagely, people electrocuted, people dissolved, people shredded, pregnant woman shot pointblank, people cut with broken bottles, women raped, people poisoned, martial arts fighting, man’s body transforms in gory ways, etc.; very strong sexual content includes several sex scenes, lesbian kiss, prostitute exposes her breasts, rape, character fornicates with his girlfriend by dividing into two characters, heroes fornicate, little boy’s mother is a prostitute, overt suggestions of sadomasochism, and discussions of sex; extreme nudity and strong sexual nudity includes major male character walks around nude showing his private parts throughout the movie, upper female nudity and upper male nudity; strong alcohol use; illegal drug use by one of the criminals; and, vigilante beliefs are carried out, revenge, idolatry, Egyptian pharaoh worship, false gods, blackmail, etc.”

Upper male nudity? Oh no. Head for the hills. I wonder how they’d mark the Old Testament. Anyway. I can’t say I noticed the lower male nudity of Dr Manhattan as much as many reviewers critical of it did.

There’s a shining review of the Watchmen from the “Gospel and Culture” blog that balances out Movieguide’s response:

“Inviting a Christian audience to consume either version of Watchmen may seem irresponsible, especially to pop culture-weary brothers and sisters in Christ. While the story does contain more than its share of sexuality and violence, it simultaneously wrestles with important and weighty theological and philosophical issues. Countless sermons could and should be preached on Watchmen’s nuanced and allegorical treatment of predestination, miracles, the existence of God, human depravity, justice, and salvation. Few mainstream artistic texts so inventively grapple with these many important questions.”

They make the same criticism of Christian criticism that I just have too:

“And how exactly did the depiction of sex and violence become the third rail of Christian criticism? While not for everyone, certainly not for children, Watchmen goes places familiar to the grittier passages of scripture. Nothing in Snyder’s film, for example, equals the bleak sexual violence depicted in “The Rape of the Concubine”(Judges 19). This is not to suggest that the film is blameless. Snyder crosses the border into gratuitous territory by making the love scene between Silk Spectre II and Night Owl more sexually explicit than in the discrete, shadowy panels of the graphic novel. The same could be said of the frequent, if admittedly, humorous reappearance of Dr. Manhattan’s glowing blue genitals. Unnecessary. But, like the horrific passages from Judges in which a young woman is raped and dismembered, Watchmen deserves to be considered within its larger narrative context.”

Amen. A worthwhile movie – if not a wholesome one. It certainly raises more questions than it answers and is a conversational launchpad. Kudos to to Flickr minifig creator Sir Nadroj for his lego rendering of the Watchmen characters.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

12 thoughts on “Watching Watchmen”

  1. I loved that ‘character separates in two…’ gets a separate mention. That must have really stuck with them.
    Not for me I think. I’ll just read the wikis etc and think of the themes myself. Unless the martial arts fighting was particularly noteworthy.

    Well you can hardly be a socialist/communist and be a Christian. :)

  2. I’ve read quite a few blogs/opinion pieces talking about this movie being particularly mysogenistic [sic] – in terms of the violence against women, both sexual and non-sexual, and also the sexualisation of the women in costumes etc. I am certainly not going to see this movie but would be interested if this was something you noticed.

    1. It was hard not to notice. It wasn’t celebrated though – it was included in the guise of social commentary.

      There’s a character called “The Comedian” whose extroverted violence is a “satire” on human nature. There’s a couple of nasty scenes involving him that are almost inexcusable – but again, they’re a portrait of misogynism not a celebration.

      When have women in costume not been sexualised?

  3. You can be socialist and Christian but communism sort of bans religion Tim. That was one of the main points. Didn’t I teach you better :)

  4. When does ‘satirising/representing’ these things become just glorification? I would make a similar point about The Passion – despite arguments that it was trying to be realistic in its depiction of the violence, it really was just violence for the sake of violence as far as I could see.

    When have women in costume not been sexualised?
    True, but it would be nice to have characters not reduced to a set of breasts in a leather suit, fighting in high heels.

    And just because it is how it has always been done, doesn’t make it right.

    1. No, I wasn’t arguing that it made it right – just that it was nothing outside the norm. But I don’t think costumes are limited to leather suits – it can be any uniform.

      I don’t think it was glorified – if it’s left blurry as unstated satire it’s probably borderline – but the point was specifically made (ie in the script) that this character had invented himself as a satire. It wasn’t left up to the imagination – and you were meant to feel uncomfortable with his conduct.

  5. Except school uniforms. They are designed specifically to make the wearer look as much like a sack as possible.

  6. I disagree that supporting communism excludes Christianity. I do know that indeed the Russian/USSR model did in the end. But I don’t think the concept itself does. Certainly churches existing separately with their own assets etc is. But not the concept of personal religious belief.

  7. socialism |ˈsō sh əˌlizəm|
    noun
    a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

    • policy or practice based on this theory.
    • (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.

    The term “socialism” has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market.The socialist parties that have arisen in most European countries from the late 19th century have generally tended toward social democracy.

    communism |ˈkämyəˌnizəm| (often Communism)
    noun
    a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs. See also Marxism .
    The most familiar form of communism is that established by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and it has generally been understood in terms of the system practiced by the former USSR and its allies in eastern Europe, in China since 1949, and in some developing countries such as Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea. Communism embraced a revolutionary ideology in which the state would wither away after the overthrow of the capitalist system. In practice, however, the state grew to control all aspects of communist society. Communism in eastern Europe collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s against a background of failure to meet people’s economic expectations, a shift to more democracy in political life, and increasing nationalism such as that which led to the breakup of the USSR.

    Hmmm. I really don’t feel like reading Marx right now. This may have to be saved for a later date.

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