Friday, March 13, 2009

The Tales of the Black Freighter Factor

I ended up seeing Watchmen the day after it opened, and I am intrigued by all the comments about it put through the World's megaphone. The ones I see mostly are along the lines of, "It's an excessively violent mess, something only fanboys would like." I'm not averse to being called a fanboy since I did enjoy the graphic novel -- and I should add I also enjoyed the film -- but the condescension that reeks from these kinds of remarks is a bit annoying.

My response: while I am not fond of the extreme violence like that in Watchmen, the violence is kind of the point. You can't deny that Rorschach, so devoted to uncovering the truth that he casually breaks fingers, represents our visceral desires to "choke the living shit outta some asshole who desperately needs it," as it is said on that T-shirt. Sure Bernard Madoff deserves many years in prison, but when the judge sent him straight to jail after his guilty plea, I didn't see anyone who did not cheer gleefully.

The film has been also criticized for following the novel too fastidiously. Um, excuse me, but I don't know what book these people were reading. Whole scenes did not appear at all. Some characters' appearances were a wisp of those in the novel. And the dialogue was trimmed so much that the profound meaning within the interactions was clouded. I understand that time constraints made these necessary, but don't fault the movie because it was too close to the novel, which it wasn't. They even Disneyfied some of the plot elements, most notably what Adrian Veidt did at the end, the most important thematic element of the whole story.

(By "Disneyfied," it doesn't necessarily mean they made it lighter or sweeter. It means they changed things around to make them more palatable for more mainstream sensibilities.)

One critical thing that was pulled whole cloth was the comic book within the comic book, "Tales of the Black Freighter." They said they've got it as a special animated short that will be added to the DVD issue. A cartoon completely removed from the Watchmen film -- sorry, but this is missing the whole point.

At first, as I was reading the novel, I was mildly irritated with "Tales." What is this doing in here? I thought. It was just so perversly morbid. But as I thought more about it, its inclusion was just another genius move by the author.

The whole meaning of Watchmen is no matter what you do to try to spread sweet vanilla frosting over things, the World is an abjectly ruthless place. It is harrowing in the deepest sense of the word, from the gutter to the penthouse. Even the most noble superhero potentates in Cain's service humbly know that the answer to mitigated violence is hyperviolence for imaginations catastrophized.

We nervously laugh and joke about things, with what amounts to turning that valve in our soul a bit to let some of the oppressive fear out. Insightfully understanding this truth was arguably the most repellant character in Watchmen. For all his bluster, the Comedian tearfully confesses it is all a joke. The joke is that the violence never abates no matter how much we think it will.

Yay!! -- Bernard Madoff is in jail! And that's going to keep others from doing the same thing? Really? Doing the same thing with more innovative forms of rank deceit? Really? And you think the Powers-That-Be who say they're going after these guys aren't routinely doing all of this themselves as a matter of sworn duty?

How naive people are. What a joke.

"Tales of the Black Freighter" amplifies this truth in a phenomenal way. Alan Moore puts this comic book rendering throughout Watchmen's exposition of World designs to highlight the fact that we ourselves are reading this comic book in the midst of the those designs being executed all around us.

This kid is engrossed in "Tales" while the Watchmen world is falling apart setting up the horrifying climax, while we are that very kid reading Watchmen and the same thing is happening in real reality. The repulsively gruesome events depicted in"Tales" merely showcase the bitterly cold darkness of the human heart in the same way Watchmen reveals in splendid colors that same condition of the World.

I can understand why "Tales" was removed from the film. Sure there're time constraints, but the key is that the comic book-within-a comic book device simply can't be rendered as cartoon-within-a-movie. Still, without it a key aspect of the Watchmen message is missing, and most will then surely deny Watchmen has anything to say to us except that it is a long rambling movie with far too much gore.


It is much, much more than that, but you wouldn't really know it from the abridged version that is the film. No one wants to live in a world like that depicted in Watchmen, but they so mindlessly live in one with so many adept at smothering it with the sweetest yummiest goopiest vanilla frosting. I'm just someone who kind of thinks that if someone does see the World System as it is, they may then think about turning to Someone who offers the only truly viable way out.

For more of a take on Watchmen, I wrote about it with a little more depth in this piece.

Some thoughts on the Someone Who is The Way Out is here.