A Week of Watching THE WATCHMEN! Day Four

by Doug Smith

Welcome back! This is day four of our week of watching the Watchmen! Today, you can grab the grappling hook and pass the popcorn, because we’re going to get into the head of the character who emerged as the most popular of the Watchmen…the vigilante known as Rorschach!

It can be dark and scary inside Rorschach's head. Do you dare to go there? If so, strap on those SPOILER WARNINGS! Here we go!

Let’s lead off today’s discussion with one of our U.K. members; take it away Yassir!

Yassir: Although I think Rorschach was hella cool in the film do you think they missed the tragic nature of the character?

The General: How so? I do feel like they messed up his defining flashback scene, but other than that, I feel his character was pretty true to the comic's version.

Jon Quixote: Yup. I even thought some of their choices played up his human and tragic elements more so than the book did - the scene where he tells Dan he's a good friend and appreciates how he puts up with him, as well as going for sadness instead of anger in his "Do It!" scene.

But, going back to our previous conversation about the violence in the movie, and Tyler's comment about Rorschach's flashback scene - I think I know what Snyder was going for (with the amped-up violence in the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre scenes); "real world" superheroes would have to be pretty brutal if they wanted to last. But there should be a difference between Nite Owl's approach to justice and Rorschach's. Toning down the latter's (child killer scene) and amping up the former's really blurred that distinction, perhaps entirely.

Yassir: You think that scene (saying to Dreiberg that he values his friendship) worked better in the film? It was more of an open question than what I felt. I think the film played up the cool aspect but that's not a bad thing, really.

Betsy: The scene in which Rorschach tells Nite Owl that he knows he is a hard person to be friends with is one of my favorites in both the book and the movie. It showed that Rorschach, despite his incredible awkwardness, has some degree of self-awareness.

Jon Quixote: It seemed more prominent. Also, Movie Rorschach would make some choices that weren't as I interpreted them in the comic - I read them as more aloof. Like in that scene. Another example is when he's set up: "No, No, No No!" I read it like "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" but it was played with more desperation than deprecation.

The General: Yeah, I definitely agree with Jon about the "No! No! No!" scene. That was very self-abusive in a way. Like the nerdy kid who just realized he'd done something dumb in front of the cool kids.

Tim: This is actually not a bad way at all of looking at the character. Given the history we know - son of a whore, fostered, bullied - the adoption of Rorschach as an identity in the first place would have a lot to do with acceptance etc.

I actually think the film added a little bit of depth to the character for me. Not in making-stuff-up way, but its interpretation of him making me think again.

The General: Yeah, Rorschach actually reminds me of a lot of the more extreme fanboys we've stumbled across on message boards, where you get this odd mix of wanting to be accepted and even sort of fawned over, but also being judgmental and unable to keep themselves from saying and doing things to anger and offend people.

Tim: Yes. An interesting analogy there. I think this is actually one of the interesting things about the film as a whole. It's almost as though it really is an individual's interpretation of the source material, so in many ways it's like having a conversation with someone else about the book. What they saw something as, how you read it. Comparing points of view.

Doug: I'm no expert on Ayn Rand, but isn't her view on the world, that everything is black or white, with no gray, very much the same as Rorschachs’? "No compromise, even in the face of Armageddon." I see a lot of people on message boards with that mentality.

Also, Rorschach is usually noted as the most popular character (by far) with comic book fans. Methinks it’s because so many of us can identify with him in certain ways.

The General: Yeah, well, I was referring more to generic examples of "online fanboys" than anything. And, while Ayn Rand and Objectivism (and Rorschach by default) are focused on good and bad, black and white worldviews, I think I was talking more about the psychology behind someone who would embrace that sort of view. And, how, in a way it is a defensive mechanism used to order a life that otherwise seems unordered.

Sure, Rorschach is this objectivist character, but what I thought the movie did a good job of emphasizing is that behind that is a very battered and neurotic person (the type of person how would berate himself if he was surprised, and the type of person who actually secretly wants to be friends with Nite Owl)...and that ultimately, hiding behind the extreme black and white world view was just a way to defend himself against and make order of the word he lived in.

Yassir: Agreed. But the thing is, me personally, I got all that from the comic.

I think it was cool in the comic when he didn't have his mask on he didn't have his 'voice'. They didn't do that in the film, which admittedly, would probably come across as weird.

Mark: I got that from the comics too. I was eagerly waiting for the "Do it!" scene in the movie, because that was always my favorite scene in the book. It really defined Rorschach clearly for me. I was pleased they filmed it pretty closely to the way I read it.

Funny that Jon brought up the "No no no" scene, because that was the one that stood out for me way more in the movie than it did in several reads of the book.

The General: Then you (Yassir) are a better comic reader than I am. Personally, I got bits and pieces of that through his "origin" issue, and through little character moments. But, I don't think that the character crystallized the same way for me until I saw it in "real life."

But, part of that might be that Gibbon's art was never really that expressive to me. And, another part of it might have been that while I like Moore's writing in terms of ideas, I sometimes find his dialogue a little cold.

Yassir: I don't think I'm a better comic reader than you, I'm just better than you, full stop.

Joking aside, I'm not sure how recently you read the comic (I read half before watching the film and half after) and I got all of what you said about the character from the comic. His reaching out for friendship was loud and clear in the comic, and his neurosis was pretty obvious to me. I mean the guy was meticulous to the point of neurotic, he was paranoid, he was capable of extreme violence and his attempts at empathy were clumsy.

The General: See, I reread the comic in the week leading up to watching the movie, and still only got about half that picture. All the things you mention in your last sentence ("...meticulous to the point of neurotic, he was paranoid, he was capable of extreme violence and his attempts at empathy were clumsy...") I got, but the last piece of the puzzle was still missing for me. I think, in the comic, I sort of breezed over the scene with him and Dreiberg where he sort of apologizes for his behavior, so I never really got this sense that he desired respect from the superheroes (even though he would claim he didn't). And it was only when that final shoe dropped that he came together as a character and I realized "he's every anti-social fanboy on the internet I've ever encountered." (I'm not saying it wasn't all there in the book, especially since you obviously got it all from the book. Just that I didn't see it.)

Mark: Another thing I was thinking about Rorschach. In the movie, his alter ego, carrying the "The End is Near" sign, is pretty much just a cover for Rorschach's undercover activities. When I read the book, I knew he was doing covert work while hiding in plain sight with the sign, but I guess I also thought that was something he might do if he wasn't a superhero too. Like, that's how he spent his weekends. So I guess the movie separated it a bit more than I had, which is probably the way it was intended. I'm about ready to break the book back out and see. I haven't even flipped through it since watching Watchmen.

Rory: Also, the guy looking towards Rorschach's journal at the end - appearance wise, he is a fanboy, too. The typical guy who would work at that magazine as an intern, and who would love Rorschach's journal.

Jon Quixote: When I was rereading Watchmen last week, I noticed that the end might be a bit of a fake-out. When the cops capture Rorschach, they also get his journal and they describe it as illegible.

The General: I guess we'll just have to wait for the sequel: Watchmen 2: Rorschach's Revenge.

Dan: The cops never get the journal. It ends up at The New Frontiersman. The first time we see it there, the fanboy type guy starts reading the first page to the editor, who says "Who is this guy, Son of Sam? Throw it in the crank pile."

We don't see it again until the end of the series when the fanboy has to go through the crank pile for stories since the world is such a happy go lucky place now.

That always left me with the feeling everything was about to be exposed because the journal does get into detail. No fake-out there at all. Unless I'm not understanding your point.

Jon Quixote: I think you may have misunderstood my point. I'm not saying the New Frontiersmen don't get it. But you're wrong to say the cops don't get it. The cops get it first - or they get a previous volume - when he's arrested. And the writing is described as "an elaborate cypher or handwriting too cramped and eccentric to be legible." And the New Frontiersmen aren't going to decode it. Unless they know what it is. Which they probably can't without decoding it.

Tim: Unless he wrote the last page or so in a non-cypher for exactly that reason?

Jon Quixote: Even if that was remotely likely under the circumstances, that's still a puzzle box that the intern is going to have to have a reason to solve. Although I guess now I see that Rorschach later says the police only found his notes. And later he says he's done his best to make things legible for his final entry.

Of course, when he mails it, he still doesn't know what the plot really is.

Tim: I think the basic point is: the plot could still be discovered. Perhaps the intern will get intrigued, or flick open to the correct page. Or perhaps he won't, but the book will still be there.

It's continues the same basic theme; nothing ever ends.

Jon Quixote: Yeah, I'm pretty sure that this was supposed to be the basic take away from the final scene. I think that anything beyond that is just speculation.

The General: I think Jon's theory is interesting. But, at the same time, I almost wonder if that's an inconsistency that Moore didn't catch.

Jon Quixote: I think he caught it more than I realized. Even though it says the cops found the journal and it was illegible, Rorschach later says that the cops only found his rough notes and that he tried to make the real journal (at least, the final entry) legible.

Still, while I'd agree that it's possible the plot is discovered (as opposed to definitely not or definitely yes), and that's basically the point, I'd still argue that the way it's set up makes it incredibly unlikely, foreboding end panel or not.

Ye Olde Editor: And now we’ve reached the “foreboding end” of day four. Join us tomorrow us we finally wrap up our week with the Watchmen, get our final review, discuss the musical merits of the movie, debate the heart of the film character-wise, and talk about…“the big blue one”.


james said...

Thanks for the in-depth coverage. I enjoyed the film so much I basically had to make up an excuse to cover it on my Defenders Fansite!

Doug Smith said...

Thanks James!

What's the link to your Defenders Fansite? I'm a big fan of the original team, especially the Steve Gerber and J.M. DeMatteis eras.

Matte said...

I really enjoyed Rorschach in this movie, it was really true to the comic and I believe they did a great job, I believe the mask was impressive in every aspect, but I was told there was a scene with a little subliminal message for Generic Cialis but i never got to figure it out.

Matte said...

Thanks to my dear old friend Caverta I missed the premier, but I am not going to wait any longer.

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