Watchmen: The City is Afraid of Me. I’ve Seen It’s Face.
This was one of the more surreal experiences I have had in a theater in a long, long time. Partly, this is due to the nature of the film’s topic. Partly, this is due to the nature of my twenty year relationship with the original work. Partly, this is due to it being a midnight showing – and the film is long.
But mostly it had to do with the cocktail of chemicals that were vibrating through my spinal cord.
I’ve been fighting off a pretty heavy chest cold for the past couple of days. Respiratory infections are, for me, a terrifying thing. A history of spontaneous pneumothorax means that every cough is examined thrice: is there pain that shouldn’t be? am i feeling a bubble along the lung wall? is that translocated pain along my shoulder?.
Deep coughing sessions can (and do) initiate asthma attacks. These then lead to panic attacks, which is a hellish cycle. Panic introduces the fight-or-flight response; this increases the heart rate, which increases blood oxygenation demand, which increases respiratory demand, which can’t happen since we’re having an asthma attack. So I end up feeling like a goldfish flopping around on the floor after a five year old knocked over its bowl.
This evening was a perfect storm for many of these things. I had been having panic attacks all day long. Just before we left the house, I took a heavy dose of Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that has side effects that include dissociative hallucinations.
Charity gave me a Xanax to combat the panic attacks. I had never taken one before.
Turns out, not a fan of the Xanax. It performed as advertised: the panic attacks subsided. Instead, I was filled with a cohesive, dripping, existential anxiety. All of the mental filters which are in place to protect me from my hyper-active perception vanished, leaving every tiny moment more brilliantly important than the last, all things fightingformyattentionatONCE HEYLOOKAT THAT NO THAT NO THAT NO THAT NO THAT NO THAT NO THAT…
Then someone has grabbed my hand and created something for me to focus on and I’m able to think.
It was in this mental state that I was audience to the film made from one of Time Magazine’s top 100 novels of all time.
Hollywood in general has a really bad habit of fucking up Alan Moore’s work. So I was apprehensive that this, the magnus opus, once called “unfilmable” by Terry Gilliam, would be castrated, butchered, and sanitized.
I am happy to say that my fears were unwarranted. Zack managed to pull it off. It was shot with a great deal of love and respect for the source material. In fact, most scenes were obviously storyboarded using the panels from the comic.
Some material from the comic – beloved material, for me – did not make the cut. We have a generous two and a half hours to look in on this alternate version of 1985. This requires some surgery in the story. Hollis Mason’s death is given a lumpectomy. The Tales of the Black Freighter is amputated. The story of Rorshach’s psychiatrist: an excised tumor.
Sadly, there is a depth to the comic that simply cannot be placed on screen. How exactly would one express excerpts from Under the Hood, or Dan’s essay about owls, in the medium of film? We cannot. There are little things that I miss (Laurie’s smoking out of the strange pipe, or the fact that cars are electric), but I forgive them.
There is a change to the story – one that has some fans of the comic freaking out. I am speaking of the removal of “The Squid.” Take a deep breathe: It’s okay. It works, and it works better than the Squid. The Squid is, honestly, a hokey product of the year 1985; today’s audiences are a bit more sophisticated. The change doesn’t alter the core plot in the slightest. In fact, it brings the story whole.
You may notice that this review is heavy on “experience of” and thin on “discussion of” the film. There is a reason for this: Watchmen is an experience – in any media. Each successive reading of the graphic novel has revealed to me new facets of its experience.
Likewise, I expect that successive viewings of the movie will show new things to me as well. I will definitely be seeing this movie again.
Probably this weekend.