“I am tired of earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives…”
I was sat on my sofa browsing through the TV channels the other day when one of my favourite films came on. As I watched, I started to see it in a whole new light: this wasn’t just an amazing film, this was a deep, emotional picture that really struck a chord with me, especially in this day and age.
At the moment, the world is full of war, inequality and dictator-like figures who are driving our countries into the ground — we are just being dragged along for the miserable journey. The Watchmen demonstrate these same issues.
Director Zack Snyder helmed the 2009 film adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, set in 1985, during the Cold War. The film focuses on some extremely topical issues such as war, god-like figures and mental health issues. The main plot, which is slowly revealed throughout the film, is that the cause of our own destruction will inevitably be ourselves.
The group of hero vigilantes named The Watchmen are attempting to the save the world, but before they can do it they need to save themselves from the horrors of their pasts. As the story progresses we carefully examine each protagonist and discover that their tragic pasts and numerous flaws are the fuel that keeps them fighting for a better world.
After the mysterious murder of an ex-vigilante, the narrator and anti-hero of the story, Rorschach, investigates the case. Rorschach has no obvious superpowers, just like the majority of his ex-vigilante team. He does, however, have a strong will, epic strength and an ability to turn household objects into weapons of his choice. His dark and pessimistic outlook heightens the grim plot and, as his past is revealed, we see that his prior trauma has transformed him into a pessimistic realist who commits murders without remorse — he truly believes that his actions are bringing justice to his city.
We are then introduced to the god-like figure of Dr. Manhattan, who had his humanity stripped from him when he was caught in a field experiment test chamber. Although he was torn from his human body, he eventually re-formed into a blue phantasm. However, this slowly caused him to disconnect from his emotions and strained his relationship with humanity. He then begins to question humanity’s intention for war and separates himself from the relationships in his life, both with friends and lovers.
The two characters who have retained their human traits are Nite Owl and Silk Spectre ii, and they both represent what it means to be human. Nite Owl knows the emotional struggles of his endeavours and he is terrified of being a masked vigilante; however, he is now living in a shell of what it means to be alive. He is “…tired of being afraid” and relives the past by talking to ex-vigilantes and trying to remember what it means to be free.
Silk Spectre ii was forced to become a vigilante by the original Silk Spectre — her mother. She was in love with Dr. Manhattan but slowly learns his love is no longer directed at her, but at his life-saving work. However, their relationship still demonstrates that, even in difficult times, the strength of love will endeavour any storm.
Throughout the entire film there are unsettling scenes of violence, with body parts being fought over by rabid dogs and hot oil scalding prisoners’ faces. But these scenes of realism are what makes the film come alive — they convince you that the human world is not what it claims to be by opening our eyes to the dangers that are all too real.
In the film, President Nixon has condemned all vigilantes to jail if they step out of line. However, Rorschach continues to fight for the innocent whilst Dr. Manhattan aids the government in preventing nuclear war. The heroes are oppressed and there is nobody left to save the world when war breaks out in the city. At the end they choose to rise up and sacrifice themselves in order to save the world. They are the unseen heroes that save humanity.
Of course, the original graphic novel is able to focus a lot more on the moral issues that the whole story presents. Although the film adaptation was three hours long, it still couldn’t fit all the nitty gritty details that would have specifically highlighted humanity’s downfall.
I recommend you watch the film for yourself or, if you have the time, read the graphic novel. The most important question that arises from this film is, if The Watchmen are our saviours, then who watches the Watchmen?
— Sophie Ogden