“But it’s too late, always has been, always will be too late”
In the central apocalyptic scene of the film, not one of the Watchmen is in sight. As the hand on the doctor’s watch stops ticking time seems to be at a momentary standstill. As an eerie gust of wind blows, a moon-like nuclear bomb is formed and executed in the midst of the city’s constructed landscape. Electrical current flood the streets as civilians look on in an anxious sense of disbelief.
As hazardous sparks careless fly, a stand of newspapers, with the capitalised headline ‘WAR?’ is blown away. Ironically this tragic disaster is not war related, but was initiated to bring peace upon society; which does not seem logical as millions are to die. As this cyclonic electrical current continues, the doctor’s briefcase opens and inkblot tests fall out and orbit him in the air.
The immense static sphere descends further into the heart of the city as more papers questioning the imminent war follows onwards into the magnetic light. As the sphere rolls on, it shrinks into a spec before exploding into a blue nuclear tidal wave, this time destroying the city into falling dominoes. The urban skyscrapers which dominate the city instantly resemble tombstones in a cemetery.
As the city turns into debris, all that is elevated in the path of the nuclear currents explode into a ghostly mist of non-existence. This image also resembles that of an ink-blot test; which emphasises the important factor of personal identity in relation to what the tests represent. With regards to the theme of time, the recurrence of the full moon in the sky throughout the film, and in the shape of the bomb is an indication of lunar time. The moon is the Earth’s natural clock watching down on us in the sky until the sun rises. Additionally, it could be read that the Watchmen are personified watches, just as a watch has a face and works to every minute of time until it stops. However, as none of the Watchmen were able to help the catastrophic occurrence, it goes to show that Superheroes, anti-heroes, are not perfect and can also cause damage regardless of good intentions. From a socio-political perspective, one could ask: ‘Who watches The Watchmen?’ – With the answer most likely steering towards the fact that we are all subjected to the power of Ideology, as Dr. Manhattan states: “Sadly, being aware of ideology does not mean one is free of it”.
In the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, the city skyline of New York City is portrayed as an urban wreck. The sea of grimy grey and brown undertones reflects the tragic outcome of the aftermath, although the floating air balloons suggest that life will still move on as yesterday’s news is old news. The brown tones can be read as resembling sepia pigments used in old photography to indicate the past, whereby the coloured posters reflect the truth of the infinitely evolving politically-influenced future. The only glimpses of colour, as the camera continues to zoom out, are the patriotic national colours red white and blue from the political propaganda posters on the surviving buildings…
A small publishing house (Pioneer Publishing Inc.) is introduced, whereby life is shown to be back to normal with people working and walking down the streets together minding their own business with cars driving. As the camera sits for a few seconds, we are able to adapt to the new-found sense of normality and detach ourselves from previous events as new secondary characters are introduced. An extreme close-up of a green t-shirt with the iconic ‘Comedian’ yellow smiley face logo is followed by a drop of ketchup dripping down one eye. This figuratively parallel re-enactment relating to the death scene of Edward Blake at the beginning of the movie re-familiarise us with the key character again, and enables us to make that symbolic connection. The junior journalist, carelessly eating his burger, is confronted by his middle-aged superior by the doorway, whilst looking at the newspaper and commenting “Seymour, we got nothing to write about anymore”. He continues to express his frustration towards this new-found peace as “like living in a god-damn hippie commune”. His, and arguably America’s, hypocritical mentality indicates that humanity has not changed and bad news is profitably good news. This brings up the question of whether we like to continuously be unsatisfied, and whether having an imbalance is how society is truly balanced, through inequality and hierarchical structures.
As Seymour tries to resolve the situation by suggesting a written piece on the future presidency of Ronald Reagan, his boss replies “Seymour, don’t disguise absurdity with coverage! This is America damn it! Who wants a cowboy in the White House?” Ironically the American citizens did vote for the cowboy in the White House and arguably continued to do so. We can identify with the view of the public’s worries of political rule with regards to the recent President of the United States George W. Bush (in office from 2001-2009), who has been notorious for his uninformed decisions concerning affairs relating to the war in Iraq (2003-2010), along with many costly errors in his leadership. However, George W. Bush has finally been succeeded by Senator Barack Obama in 2009.
Back at Pioneer Publishing Inc. Seymour is left to use his initiative to run a compelling piece and proposes to look for something in their crank file basket. Seymour’s face is shown in a close-up low angle shot with the basket blurred in the background. As he turns to look at it the camera changes the focus onto the basket as it zooms into it. As the basket is now in a close-up shot it is clear that Rorschach’s journal is lying on the top of a bed of unopened letters waiting for his silenced voice to be heard as his husky voice-over ends the shot with: “Rorschach’s journal, October 12, 1985. Tonight, a comedian died in New York”; which is how the film began. This revelation signifies the ongoing cycle of life, whereby the whole experience of the film can be relived. Yet we are not supplied with closure as the future controversies of his diary being revealed are not exposed. Although the beginning of the film presented us with the end, the end brings us back to the beginning. Therefore, with regards to looking at the future regarding social anxieties, the concept of peace in Watchmen (2006) is short-lived as a result of Rorschach’s journal disclosure.
However, can a new peaceful world be created from a Ground Zero? Or do we live in a constant cycle of living and waiting for the latest tragedy to strike? ‘Zero’ can imply either a beginning or an end, so we shall wait to live, see and survive the next beginning of a new end…
This article was first posted on October 21, 2012