Who Should Be Watching Watchmen

Dr ManhattanNo Spoilers.

The movie is very human and adult. Christians might think I’m referring to the violence, or the sex, and I should address those things up front because I’m really not talking about those things at all.

It was exceedingly violent; don’t expect otherwise. The violence was on par with a zombie flick or Grindhouse. The sexual content was graphic. Not Basic Instinct graphic but pretty darn close. You will be exposed to full frontal male (non-sexual) nudity.

The movie was long.  Clocking in at two hours and forty five minutes total film time (that’s to the end of the scrolling credits) a person needs to realize that they’re not merely watching a story, they’re watching the formulation of a question.

The movie isn’t about someone like Batman (that everyone knows the back story). It isn’t Ironman (which we quickly understand). This isn’t even X-Men which allows you to focus in on a couple of characters while the rest add some special effects filler. These characters are completely new, completely human, with their own back stories generating their very human flaws.

Alan Moore (author) didn’t think that his comic book series (which incidentally is listed as one of Time’s Top 100 must read books) was adaptable to movie format. Director Zack Snyder, after the victory of adapting 300 to film format, decided to carry on and transport the book to the new medium. Snyder decided to do it anyway and I think he succeeded marvelously.

The movie (like the book before it) goes about setting up a scenario with humanity at the very brink of destruction by its own ability to do so. And yet, while having the means to perhaps settle this thing because a meta-human (Dr Manhattan—the only one with powers), we quickly realize that their vision of god is horrendously flawed, inhumane, disconnected and ultimately something to be feared. His nudity is nothing more than molecules arranged a certain way while approaching interactions with people as the wisps of smoke they are to his own existence.

And that’s where we really start getting to the Question being asked.

The story occurs in an alternate timeline with people (regular people) who decide to fight crime by wearing costumes. The idea was novel but eventually becomes painful. What started off as a smile quickly becomes the gritted teeth of a person keeping up the façade realizing that they are the ideology of a humanity doing the same. They, in effect, wind up being humanity’s flawed answer to the Question “What should we do?”

The story looks no further. The ultimate solution is totally man-centered which is (without spoilers)  a yawning blackness waiting to envelop the entire human race and all it thinks it stands for. The only works that I think embody this same sense of despair, this exultation in emptiness and this dive into man’s godless destiny would be Nietzsche’s Parable of the Mad Man or Munch’s The Scream.

That’s not a bad thing.

The world (and Christians) needs to be exposed to this sort of emptiness, a sounding board resonating with the echoing death knell of a world without God.  What Watchmen does is ask a question which it doesn’t seek to answer. Essentially the story of Batman The Dark Knight comes through: There is no answer. There is no hope. To fight the bleak shadow, become even darker in the hopes at keeping man’s inner darkness at bay. Their message seems to be “We have to stop this” but they quickly ask themselves “What should we do? And for how long?”

I think it’s a shame that Christians, who have the full picture, didn’t (or won’t) come up with this story, nor even approach it’s depth. The Generals of the past, the Chestertons and Tolkiens and Lewises , are all gone and Christians have (for no reason) left the battlefield of the arts, retreated into the high mountains waiting for God while ignoring humans who ask their grown up questions to only-humans-full-stop. Where is the Christian’s answer in the arts? How long should we allow them to wallow without an answer? Where is the Christian’s hope in film saying “Yes, this is humanity without God: but God exists! There is hope!” while firmly placing humanity back on firm ground.

Why can’t we point at the chasm which we’ve crossed?

From the mountains, we illustrate birds and flowers or lighthouses in forested woods. We paint pictures of families which their biggest problem is the internet and while the depravity of life-without-God is left for testimonies to the like-minded. We build our mansions in the sky, sometimes forgetting we are on the ground, and paint our own version of The Scream; instead of a silent scream of despair we paint with white washes of heavenly choirs, the silence singing “Hallelujah!” to no one but ourselves.

The Gospel, we have forgotten, is not merely an entrance into a better life. The Gospel is the very foundation under our feet, the very hope in the heavens, the pulsating life in the present, the glory of God in the future resonating back through time to The Now. There is no reason why we Christians should fall silent at the Watchmen’s bass when we should be allowing the soprano, alto and tenor of the Gospel to sing the counterpoint.

Watchmen was a solid movie that many will come to hate and be appreciated by a select few. It left a very adult question unanswered because it can only be properly answered by those who have long retreated from the battlefield of the arts.

That being said, I think Christians go watch the movie. Many will disagree with me at that point. I don’t think all of them should go watch it—I’ve already made qualifications about the violence and the sex—but the ones willing to have some intentionality about going. Plans to take back even this battlefield with the Gospel. That shouldn’t be used as an excuse. I would rather you stay home and read the book if it’s just an excuse. But if you plan (or can) do something about this I pray you (and I) do.

(Incidentally I posted elsewhere on who is actually watching Watchmen.)

Here’s Focus on the Family with a different conclusion than my own.

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2 thoughts on “Who Should Be Watching Watchmen

I think Rowling comes close to fitting the bill for what you’re asking. Her Christianity is unclear to me. I have a feeling it’s mainline liberalism without much content that she’s sure of, but I suspect it’s closer to orthodox Christianity than, say, Barack Obama’s purely secular religion. She at least has hope of an afterlife.

But you’re right that there aren’t a lot of people getting hope for deeper meaning to life appreciated by a wide audience. Maybe you could count the few Christian-themed books by John Grisham. Stallone’s last couple films have something like this. But excellent artistic quality doesn’t seem to be common most of the same works that emphasize real hope.

Rowling is much closer, you’re right and it’s a shame that her work has been largely anathematized from the more conservative energized (I don’t think minded) Christians. Her post-publishing commentary on Dumbledore probably fueled the fires of self-justification in that respect.

I’ve been wondering if I should read Anne Rice’s recent books on the life of Christ just to see what’s going on there. I don’t know what her writing those says (if anything) save that anyone Out There can make in roads (or try to make in-roads: I don’t know if the books are successful) This Way but we from this end of the field, our Players keep balking.

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