Aka- Not another Watchmen post!
Unsurprisingly, it seems like all the critics and blogs are talking about Watchmen. I have to admit that I was planning to refrain from comment because of this to avoid being repetitive, but, instead, I’m doing a slightly more brief post and focusing on slightly different issues. Watchmen, by nature of its cult following (meaning that the movie had a ton of hype), and the considerable violence and moral ambiguity present in its story line, inevitably has generated controversy and many questions. Is it still relevant? Is it filmable? Is it liberal? Is it conservative? Is it misogynistic? Is it homophobic? Should they have marketed it as a superhero movie (actually, I’m curious as to why people don’t talk about how movies are marketed, since this more-or-less helps us guess at whom they expect their target audience to be)? In a novel which chooses not to have a character acting as its moral center, preferring instead to imply judgment, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Does this make it dangerous?
I’m actually not going to attempt to answer any of those questions, though all of them are interesting (What happens when you take a story by a most decidedly not homophobic writer and give it to a director who seems to have masculinity issues? Adrien Veidt has a folder marked “boys.”). Instead, I’m going to focus on one aspect of the media coverage. What boggles my mind almost as much as the fact that the director made scenes even more violent than they were in an already very gory graphic novel (and that does boggle my mind) is why everyone is so hyper-focused on the fact that in a few scenes you can see Dr. Manhattan’s penis. It’s not erect. It’s not even commented upon within the film. It’s just there, as if he were a male model in a figure drawing class.
It’s not even in the movie for shock value (unlike much of the amped-up violence)–it’s an important demonstration of how Dr. Manhattan has lost his humanity, and, along with that, shame in his nakedness (to be slightly Biblical about it). While, as the critical/public reaction to the penis has proved, we are incredibly uncomfortable with our “bits,” Dr. Manhattan sees the world on a molecular level, rendering such things fairly irrelevant. And while I can’t necessarily criticize individuals for being uncomfortable with seeing a penis, and possibly being made more uncomfortable by the fact that the film refuses to comment on it, I do have to wonder at why it’s getting so much attention considering the movie that it’s in.
In both the movie and the novel, Watchmen is a disturbing story of moral ambiguity, violence, rape, war, fear, and anger. It lacks a moral center amongst its main characters, which, by its nature, makes it difficult to read/watch. The movie had a brutal attempted rape scene (note- I understand that this was integral to the plot too–I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been in there.). It had a sex scene that was bizarrely pornified. In the midst of all of this, I cannot fathom why an exposed penis deserves the uproar it’s getting. Personal discomfort, sure, but public uproar?
Is it because there’s still a taboo about men looking at other men’s genitals? Is it because we have a difficult time detaching our bodies from sex? Is it because we portray sex as being at once glamorous and taboo, and this particular penis takes out that glamor? Is it because people are thinking of it as being Billy Crudup’s penis and not Dr. Manhattan’s? I’d do a cliché comparison with naked breasts in films, but, the fact is, I don’t think we’re even as comfortable with breasts when removed from sexual context as we claim to be (see: breastfeeding.)
Discuss: What’s with the ado over blue genitalia?
(For the record, I didn’t think it was a particularly good movie for various reasons that I’ve discussed ad-nausium all weekend, and therefore don’t feel like writing them up yet again. If you are brimming with curiosity over what I thought, email me about it. I do like the graphic novel, though. I’m not a rabid fan, but I like it.)