[A blast from the past which I originally posted back in 2009 on my old site, preserved here for the benefit of at least one pingback that links to it.]
What do I mean by Meta-Review? Not sure I know myself. Probably because I’m less discussing the movie itself here, and instead discussing the experience of it.
Almost a week ago, I watched the Watchmen. I did not love it without reservation, and there were portions I had an almost visceral disagreement with. Then there were other moments that almost moved me to tears, including one I was pre-warned about and prepared to hate; or if not hate, ambivalize (Ambivalize: to make “meh”).
Looking back at the previous paragraph, I see nothing but qualifiers and near-miss adjectives; like I can’t trust my own experience, or at least am incapable of expressing it in coherent, distilled form. That has been my fate since I left the theater. I cannot stop thinking about this movie. Not in terms of “IT WAS AWESOME!” or “THAT SUCKED BALLS!” but really trying to wrestle down the experience and what it meant for me. I can’t classify that as a situation I haven’t been in for some time, since I felt it fairly recently when I finally got around to seeing No Country for Old Men. But No Country for Old Men is safe ground… it adapted a book I haven’t read, it’s made by guys with a track record for turning out complex, dramatic character films, and its chock full of gritty realism. If I can’t figure out how or if or why I enjoyed it, or if it’s a good film, I have hundreds of reviews waiting for me declaring it fantastic and enthralling. Gritty realism, even with Coen Brothers quirks, is safe ground for critics. No one looks at you funny.
I have no such safety net for Watchmen. It’s based on source material I have read at least half a dozen times, cover to cover, since I first picked it up as a collection back in the 90s. It’s made by a guy with almost no track record, and what record there is was not particularly character-driven. It’s a movie delivered in a package critics sharpen their typewriters in slavering anticipation of taking to pieces… the over-hyped Summer blockbuster. Minus the Summer this time, but that’s how it was marketed regardless. Big Superhero Movie. The problem of this is underlined, as an example, by a recurring complaint from people new to the material that they were ripped off, because only one character had actual superpowers and the rest were just normal people dressed in funny costumes. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s being taken apart for being too shallow, overblown, and exploitative. Before I set foot in the theater I was bombarded with a full range of reactions from worship, to dismissive disgust, and everywhere in-between, although the most common theme seemed to be one of damning with faint praise. Or as one of my pre-digital age TV guides would put it: “Flawed, has moments.”
Once I saw the movie, I could probably have gone with that. Flawed, has moments. But it’s days since then and that was not satisfying me. I cannot simply dismiss. As the experience percolates I find more and more things I thought were poor choices, and yet just as many that seem to be elevating above mediocre first impressions. Just what the fuck did I see last Saturday? FLAWED, has moments? Flawed, has MOMENTS? FLAWED, has MOMENTS? Is this a movie like Blade Runner or 2001 where I love it and can’t stand it at the same time? Did I watch a 120 million dollar art house film?
Cut to Wednesday, March 11th, and I stumble across an Open Letter to fans from David Hayter, the main scriptwriter. His plea for people to give the movie a chance, or if they liked it to go again, seems to run a range of emotions and strongly hints, if not outright admits, that even the people who made the film aren’t sure what they’ve birthed. It ends with something that could easily read as smug, presumptive, and even outright offensive.
“You say you don’t like it. You say you’ve got issues. I get it.
And yet… You’ll be thinking about this film, down the road. It’ll nag at you. How it was rough and beautiful. How it went where it wanted to go, and you just hung on. How it was thoughtful and hateful and bleak and hilarious. And for Jackie Earle Haley.
Trust me. You’ll come back, eventually. Just like Sally.”
It was those last three words that brought *something* crashing in on me. They summed it all up somehow. They gave voice to my feelings in a way “Flawed, has moments” couldn’t approach. I had such an immediate Eureka! reaction I linked it right away on Facebook. Then, ten minutes later I was cringing again at the thought of being misunderstood and posting a follow-up indicating I wasn’t saying rape is genius. I believe Hayter also wrote it fully aware of all the dark irony of the statement, including the negative aspersions it cast on his own work. Otherwise I would hate him for writing it, despite how it clicked in.
[EDIT: Yep, in a follow-up comment he confirms it: “My sole intent was to reference one of the most complex, controversial and interesting issues in the story imho — The nature of the relationship between Sally and the Comedian, and likening that complexity to some people’s reaction to the film.” ]
Even so, it’s a dangerous statement to exalt… several people have already roasted him for it. I could easily be roasted by association. What can I say, except: “Oh Laurel, I’m so sorry. What must you think?”
And there it is.
This movie is the Comedian.
There are plenty of reasons I should hate it. And yet, it does draw me back. Why? Was it because Zack provided a tender moment (“You know what gentleness means in a guy like that? Even a glimmer of it?”)? I feel on some level like I can’t talk about it openly, like it’s something to be ashamed of. Writing this, I wasn’t even sure about going through with posting it. But I want to see the movie again, despite that I sometimes felt assaulted. Maybe on some level it’s because I’m convinced Watchmen the Graphic Novel is all about being in the shadow of the Comedian… so if the filmmakers even accidentally stumbled upon some of that essence, well… even the grimy parts are getting brighter all the time.
Oh Laurel, what must you think.