CINEMA REMEMBERED: Watchmen (2009) and the MEMORIES ON MARS Moment
HOW IT STARTS: Dr. Manhattan brings Silk Spectre to Mars, where she tries to convince him to return to Earth and save the human race.
THE PREFACE: Zack Snyder directs one of the best comic-book adaptions of all time. It’s not just because of Snyder’s hyper visualization–story-boarded by Alan Moore’s comic-book–or because of the most excellent musical choices. WATCHMEN is such a faithful and successful adaption because of its dense subject matter, which somehow remained in tact despite being a big budget Hollywood picture.
WATCHMEN is intended for adults. Its complex themes, theoretical science, and dark philosophy create a universe based on realism. There’s also intelligent deconstruction on the concept of time. Basically, this comic book flick is complicated, but it’s also well worth your participation. I’m not going to analyze the science of That Moment, I’m here to talk about the emotional experience.
THE SET-UP: Quantum physics = quantum confusion = quantum brain-ache.
Dr. Manhattan was once a scientist studying the intrinsic field, trying to figure out if something besides gravity binds all matter together. After an experiment gone wrong, he transforms into an all-powerful super-being capable of leaping through time, disassembling matter, teleportation, and the quantum ability of being in multiple places at one time. Like he says best, “We’re all puppets. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.” To put it simple, Manhattan is God-like.
First, a little set-up. Manhattan is confronted during an interview broadcasted on live television. He is told that all those close to him have died from Cancer. Furthermore, he caused it. He loves Silk Spectre (a fellow Watchmen) and knows this could happen to her next. Manhattan is so furious, he yells out in anger, and de-materializes the entire television crew and audience. They’re all instantly vapourized.
Later, after an amazing origin story montage, accompanied by a completely mesmerizing and haunting score (Pruit Igoe and Prophecies), Manhattan teleports Spectre to Mars. He’s abandoned Earth since Spectre ended their relationship. He no longer has any personal connection to our planet; so he abandons us, spending time in isolation on the red planet instead.
Spectre is taken to a large castle-like structure Manhattan has constructed. It suggestively looks like the face of a clock, with hour-glass shapes (especially in the original comic). This structure also resembles a snow-globe castle from Specter’s childhood. This moment examines how an object can hold so much power because of memories.
While on Mars, Spectre must convince Manhattan to return before the Cold War ends with Nuclear Winter and humanity is doomed. She says, “Everyone will die.” He bluntly retorts, “And the Universe will not even notice.” Manhattan basically comes to the conclusion that whatever will happen, has already happened. And there’s no way he can prevent what’s already happened. He says, “It’s always been too late.” Confusing enough?
THAT MOMENT: Manhattan tries to demonstrate the insignificance of humanity to the Universe. He shows Spectre how Mars’ landscape slowly formed over the eons. It’s like a metaphor for memories, which slowly shape us over time, like mountains rising through the ages. In order to better understand one another, the two also hop through time by revisiting pivotal memories. Manhattan knows all, but allows Spectre to arrive at a major revelation on her own.
Their entire conversation is That Moment. Guided by Manhattan, wading through years of memories, the identity of her father is finally revealed to Spectre. She’s so angry that she throws an object (representing her emotionally fuelled memories) at Manhattan’s castle. The unbreakable structure shatters. The only thing powerful enough to destroy it was an emotional memory.
THAT MOMENT REMEMBERED: I love this sequence so much because it forces us to re-imagine our concept of time, thus re-imagining our concept of life. Whenever we think about the past, we effectively time travel. Our brain doesn’t know the difference.
When Manhattan sits on Mars reflecting on his origin story, he is in 1986. Alternately, he is also in 1959 (meeting his first love), 1966 (arguing with his lover), and 1981 (in a relationship with Spectre). The photo poetically represents our concept of memories. Manhattan is the metaphor for us. We can always relive moments of the past, while we’re stuck in the present. This moment is a beautiful; if melancholic, moment.
In effect, it’s also Spectre’s memory that saves humanity from extinction — a seemingly meaningless moment (from an outside observer’s point of view). It could seem especially meaningless to one who can see the smallest of particles. Manhattan understands the insignificance of humanity to the entire vastly infinite universe. However, Manhattan comes to understand that human life is a miracle itself.
This scene is a moment because we illuminate our understanding through art. This fictional tale examines the human condition. Cinema is an amazing art-form that is rarely utilized to its full potential. This Moment in WATCHMEN lets us think while we’re entertained. This is a comic-book movie, don’t get me wrong. There’s lots of stylish action in here too. However, This Moment stands out because it’s so compelling, more like the stuff reserved for Arthouse Cinema.
I’ve described this moment as spoiler-free as I could. Hopefully, those who’ve seen it connect to this experience and are reminded of how great this Zack Snyder is. For those of you haven’t seen WATCHMEN; well, now you have something to queue on your Netflix account.
David’s Angle: Nice insight, Dan. This movie has a lot of flaws, but the characters are very well-defined and the relationship between Manhattan and Silk Spectre is one of the highlights. This moment on Mars is visually stunning but as you note, also very emotional. I also like Rorschach’s story. Looking forward to next week.