Posted by: Mark | March 12, 2009

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

When I was a junior in high school we had to read “Song of Solomon” by Tony Morrison. I was not the most intellectually curious high school junior, more like a grade-obsessed do-gooder, and so I didn’t really appreciate the book like I could have. I was also totally weirded out when at the end, the character Milkman flies away. Like jumps really far and basically flies. The rest of the book was otherwise totally normal and realistic. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the flying.

In class, my English teacher, who was definitely much better than I gave him credit for being at the time, told me and the other frustrated kids that Morrison was writing in the genre of “magical realism,” in which almost everything is realistic but every now and then something weird and magical happens. If you read my post about the magic batteries you’d realize that I currently love magical realism and kind of think that it applies to our way of moving throughout the class can only be accurately described as prancing, urged us to “willingly suspend our disbelief.” In other words, know that it’s fake, but tolerate its fakeness.

I write about this because last week I went to the Watchmen midnight premiere. I loved it. I love the hype of a midnight premiere, and seeing all the rabid fans show up early to get good seats, be in costume, the works. I also loved the movie. I thought it was wonderfully committed to staying true to the novel (with one notable exception called THE ENDING) and visually stunning. Totally awesome.

But there were moments during the movie when I kind of got a sense of what some of the critics were eager to criticize about the movie. At times it was just unbelievably fake. This is maybe more a product of the graphic novel, but the movie is equally guilty of not explaining a lot of things that might need some explanation. For example, Dr. Manhattan, in his moment of frustration with life on earth, teleports himself to Mars. Like what the hell is that about. Mars huh. There’s a couple things wrong with this. A) the choice of Mars. That in itself is kind of goofily old-school. Why not some unexplored planet that is totally sweet? Or how about a deserted island? but then there’s B) Dr. Manhattan can see the 4th dimension of simultaneous time. If that’s the case, then why would he ever get frustrated? Why would an angry mob surprise him? Why would the cancer of his former lover get him all riled up? He should already know about that stuff, and already know its outcome, and therefore be totally at peace with it.

In another key example, maybe the most frustrating, Dr. Manhattan then takes the sexy Silk Spectre (who is very sexy I should add) out to Mars with him to have a big, end-of-the-movie heart to heart. This was a moment when as an audience member, the un-reality of the moment was almost too much and almost broke the spell that the movie had otherwise cast on me. You’ve got a naked blue dude, and a hot chick in uncomfortably tight latex clothes, hanging out on MARS, and the chick realizes that a superhero named the Comedian was her father and breaks out in tears as the naked blue dude kind of comforts her. It was that moment of the movie, above any other, that my disbelief was at its greatest.

So my point is, that I get it. All you smarmy critics who have picked apart Watchmen to the degree that it’s only get a 64% on have a point. It’s confusing, it’s long, and it’s totally unrealistic. So what. Deal with it. It’s still an awesome story, it’s a challenging philosophical treatise on the nature of power and authority, it’s a beautifully shot movie. It’s mostly set in the real world. So just like I had to do as a junior in high school, just give up your obnoxious insistence that weird, unexplained things need total explanation. Let your disbelief go. You’ll have a helluva lot more fun watching the Watchmen if you do.

The Review part of this review:
The Movie Itself.
10. Too much fun to not give it a 10.
The fans at the movie. 10+. Half the fun were the guys who were there. And believe me, it was the audience was overwhelmed with males. Highlights included the fact that two guys showed up dressed like Rorschach and pantomimed a fight in the front row before the movie. After the fight, one of the Rorschach’s led the crowd in a sports-stadium-esque wave. A guy behind me said to his buddy “This guy’s lame. I can’t believe he’s breaking character.” Maybe it should be 10++.
The sex scene. 0. A big fat awkward, despite Silk Spectre. The weird version of “Hallelujah” that was in the background just made it worse.
The violence. 7. Some of it was really pretty, in the way that the scene from V for Vendetta in which he takes out like 20 dudes in a train station is more pretty than gruesome. But some of it was just over the top. Aka Rorschach chopping up a dude’s head with a butcher knife, the intense JFK assassination scene in the opening credits, etc etc.
The music. 6. Some cool songs, but do you really think that Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” will now be associated with “Watchmen” instead of “The Graduate.” I mean come on, reality check time, soundtrack dude.

Overall, it gets a billion on my scale, despite some of its lackluster performance in some of these review categories. It’s really fun and awesome. Go see it on the big screen, it’s way too cool to see on a little TV.



  1. I can’t decide if I’m excited enough about this movie to watch it. I’d have liked to see the midnight premier, that sounds like the most fun way to do it…bummer.

  2. I loved “Watchmen” too. 🙂

    Miscellaneous thoughts…

    Really? Knowing that something is coming puts you at peace with it? Not sure I agree. Death is coming to us all; many people are *not* at peace with it.

    “Ok well you don’t know the /manner/ of your death. If you did, then surely you’d be at peace with it,” and that doesn’t sound right either. It made sense to me that Dr. Manhattan might know his future reactions, but be unable to stop them as they came. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean a change in behavior, right? “I *know* this cheeseburger is bad for me, for the planet… I’m still going to eat it.”

    Don’t usually like stylized violence, but same as with you, it didn’t deter me this round.

    I didn’t mind that the world was so astonishingly inconsistent, because the world of “Watchmen” was never what drove my interest… Instead it was the same message as the one I got from the novel, that freaks are all the same. Whether perv, queer, superhero, omnipotent god-like being, brainiac—they’ll all be cut down, indiscrimately. Saw this especially in the Silhouette’s story (painted so nicely in brief, broad strokes right in the opening montage), in Moloch’s story, also in the reveal of the relationship between The Comedian and Sally Jupiter.

    With time, you realize your friends, your enemies, you’re all bound together, you’re all in the same equivalence class. Rancor melts into nostalgia, fondness even. You are shaped by those that got to you, and by those that you got along with, and because they shape you, there’s love for them.

    Freaks unite!

    Totally with you on the music choices. Terrible, just terrible.

  3. I’m not sure if the cancer of the Doc’s former lover is real, but his vision of time has been blocked with some Tachyon stuff by the uber-bad smart ass. That is, of course, just as old school as choosing Mars as exile, and just as old school as you would expect in a graphic novel from the 80s.

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