Who Watches The Watchmen?
After watching Watchmen, I felt compelled to read the original comic book. The title sequence in the film masterfully condenses the expansive backstory, including the tale of the Minutemen, into a brief yet engaging introduction. It has quickly become one of my favorite title sequences, filled with subtle references and nods to historical moments.
The premise of the movie (or comic) revolves around a “parallel” universe where superheroes genuinely exist. The would-be heroes of Watchmen possess remarkably intricate psychological profiles, exhibiting more human-like traits than the standard superhero. They have a wide range of weaknesses and twisted mindsets, making them neither “good” nor “evil” in the conventional sense but rather, ambiguously nuanced.
In this narrative, one of the characters assassinates JFK, while another aids the U.S. in winning the Vietnam War by quite literally tearing the enemy apart. The title sequence is also noteworthy for its frequent use of cameras, photographs, or televisions in nearly every scene.
These historical moments, punctuated by iconic images, take on a performative quality that influences our memory and understanding of history.
Throughout the comic book, there’s a character constantly reading a comic, with short sequences from his reading paralleling the main story. He reads a pirate tale, as superhero comics are passé in a world where superheroes actually exist. At times, the pirate comic’s text overlaps with the Watchmen storyline, blending the narratives seamlessly. This creates an enjoyable sense of depth, with the Watchmen storyline harmonizing with the reader’s reality.
The title sequence evokes a similar feeling, as each scene features a camera slowly moving around the action while another camera within the scene captures the moment. Often, these instances reference real historical events and iconic images, resulting in a beautifully multilayered narrative.
The spared lives of Bruce Wayne’s parents
The title sequence’s opening shot, set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing,” sparked a wave of online speculation. This is because the couple on the left side of the image, near the opera house’s back entrance, bears a striking resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Wayne (see the third picture). The presence of Batman posters (more visible in the second picture) makes the reference to Batman rather apparent.
Additionally, the words “Gotham Opera House” are displayed on the announcement board, accompanied by a mention of “Fledermaus” (bat). The implication is that Nite Owl, the first member of the Minutemen, prevented Batman from emerging in their universe by saving Mr. and Mrs. Wayne from a villain’s fatal shot.
There seems to be a logical inconsistency here, such as the presence of Batman posters before Batman’s “birth,” and the fact that, as far as I recall, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne didn’t attend an opera called “Fledermaus” (or perhaps I overlooked something). Nevertheless, the reference remains intriguing.
The Enola Gay Reimagined
The fifth scene opens with an aircraft bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Enola Gay, the infamous B-29 bomber responsible for dropping the first atomic bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima during World War II. The real Enola Gay was piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr., and the devastating event on August 6, 1945, marked a pivotal moment in history, leading to the eventual surrender of Japan and the conclusion of the war.
In the Watchmen universe, however, the aircraft is adorned with an image of Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre and a founding member of the Minutemen. This alteration is a testament to the film’s penchant for weaving its alternate reality into the fabric of actual historical events. The depiction of Sally Jupiter on the aircraft’s fuselage highlights her significance within the Watchmen world, suggesting that she, like the Enola Gay, played a crucial role in shaping the course of history.
This scene not only demonstrates the movie’s commitment to blending fact and fiction but also underscores the complex moral landscape inhabited by the characters. By associating Sally Jupiter with the Enola Gay, the film invites viewers to consider the duality of heroism, as well as the consequences of actions taken for the greater good.
V-J Day in Times Square
The iconic photograph “V-J Day in Times Square” (Victory over Japan Day, August 15, 1945) was captured by renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. In his book, The Eye of Eisenstaedt, he recounts the moment he took the picture: “I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, searching for images. I spotted a sailor approaching, embracing and kissing every female he encountered—young girls and old ladies alike. Then, I saw the nurse amidst the massive crowd. Focusing on her, I hoped the sailor would come along, seize her, and lean in for a kiss. Had she not been a nurse, dressed in dark clothes, the image would not have been as striking. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor’s dark uniform lends the photograph its exceptional impact.”
In the film’s opening sequence, The Silhouette, a member of the Minutemen, assumes the role of the sailor, with a perspective that incorporates Eisenstaedt taking the famous photograph.
In the original comic, The Silhouette is expelled from the group to mitigate the PR fallout after the press exposes her relationship with another woman. Tragically, six weeks later, she and her lover are found murdered. The film’s introduction alludes to this event by depicting the crime scene, where yet another camera captures the unfolding drama.
The Last Supper Meets Watchmen
When you first see the Watchmen movie’s nod to Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned work, “The Last Supper,” it’s quite easy to spot. The scene replicates Jesus and his disciples’ arrangement, with the superheroes stepping in as their counterparts. But a more in-depth look uncovers subtle details that weave together the themes from the legendary painting with the Watchmen story.
Take, for example, Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. As key members of the Minutemen, they’re seated close together on the right side of the frame. This placement gently emphasizes their intricate relationship, further explored in the graphic novel. Involved in a long-lasting homosexual love affair, the duo is often portrayed as quarreling “like an old married couple.” As their relationship develops, concealing their connection becomes increasingly difficult, reflecting the broader challenges many LGBTQ+ individuals faced at the time. By weaving this touching subplot into the scene, the filmmakers not only honor da Vinci’s work but also delve into the vulnerabilities of these seemingly invincible characters.
JFK Assassination and the Comedian’s Involvement
The Watchmen movie’s opening sequence offers a chilling portrayal of the JFK assassination, with a slow pan revealing the Comedian as the gunman responsible for the tragic event. While the graphic novel only hints at the possibility of Edward Morgan Blake, aka the Comedian, being involved in the assassination or being privy to the plot, the film takes a more direct approach in implicating him. Following this dramatic moment, the scene shifts to police officers investigating the Comedian’s own murder in his apartment, where a framed photograph of him shaking hands with President Nixon is prominently displayed. Given the Comedian’s known affiliations with the government, these images could lead viewers to infer that there were individuals within the government orchestrating the assassination.
The filmmakers’ attention to detail in recreating the JFK assassination is particularly striking, as the third image in the sequence bears a remarkable resemblance to the original footage of the event. By drawing on this historical moment, the Watchmen movie adds another layer of complexity and intrigue to the Comedian’s character, as well as deepening the political undertones of the story. This creative choice highlights the movie’s exploration of power, corruption, and the blurred lines between heroes and villains, adding depth and dimension to an already captivating narrative.
Buddhist Monk’s Self-Immolation
The Watchmen movie features a scene referencing the tragic act of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in Saigon. This reference is first presented through Laurie Juspeczyk’s (aka Silk Spectre II) snow globe, which rests atop a television. In the original graphic novel, each “superhero” has their own storyline, delving into their motives and exploring the complexities of their characters. Although not every detail could be included in the movie adaptation—even with a 186-minute director’s cut—subtle nods to these stories are woven throughout the film.
The scene also alludes to a significant historical event that took place in 1963, when Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, set himself on fire to protest the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s administration. This act of self-immolation captured the world’s attention as photos circulated widely, highlighting the plight of the Buddhist community and the turmoil within Vietnam. By incorporating this reference, the Watchmen movie connects the characters and their stories to the broader historical context, emphasizing the complex interplay between individual actions, societal issues, and political strife that shaped the world during that time.
Anti-War Protests in 1967
In the Watchmen movie, a scene captures the essence of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era, specifically referencing the gathering of thousands of activists in front of the Pentagon on October 21, 1967. These protesters united to express their dissent against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a conflict that deeply divided the nation. The film’s inclusion of this historical moment serves as a reminder of the broader social and political climate that formed the backdrop for the Watchmen story.
The original photograph that inspired this scene, taken by renowned French photojournalist Marc Riboud, has become a symbol of the struggle for peace and non-violent resistance. The image features a young woman, Jan Rose Kasmir, holding a chrysanthemum as she confronts a row of armed soldiers, embodying the power of peaceful protest in the face of aggression. By incorporating this poignant visual reference, the Watchmen movie connects its fictional characters and events to real-life social movements, further enriching the narrative and underscoring the themes of power, resistance, and the cost of war that pervade the story.
Doctor Manhattan and the Apollo Moon Landing
The Watchmen movie cleverly weaves together historical events with its fictional narrative, as demonstrated by a scene featuring Doctor Manhattan’s presence during the Apollo Moon Landing. This iconic moment, when humankind first set foot on the moon, is playfully reimagined in the film with Doctor Manhattan, the blue-skinned, god-like being, effortlessly taking a “small step” alongside the astronauts. The scene captures the awe and wonder of the historic event while adding a unique twist that reflects the alternate reality of the Watchmen universe.
The original Apollo Moon Landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, was a monumental achievement for humanity, epitomized by Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” By incorporating this event and Doctor Manhattan’s participation, the Watchmen movie showcases the character’s unparalleled abilities and his detached perspective on human endeavors.
Ozymandias at Studio 54
In a memorable scene from the Watchmen movie, Ozymandias, also known as Adrian Veidt, is depicted at the iconic Studio 54 nightclub, surrounded by a glittering array of celebrities from the era. To his left, two figures bear a striking resemblance to the legendary musicians David Bowie and Mick Jagger, while on his right, the unmistakable presence of the Village People can be observed. This moment captures the vibrant, hedonistic atmosphere of Studio 54 during its heyday in the late 1970s, as well as the diverse tapestry of cultural icons who frequented the famed club. By placing Ozymandias within this setting, the film underscores his status as a powerful, influential figure, all while drawing connections between the Watchmen’s alternate reality and the rich cultural history of the real world.