Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Does It Make Me a Mega-Nerd to Think About Things Like This?: Feminism in The Watchmen.

I remember when the cast of Watchmen, Alan Moore's "unfilmable", grandiose, and damn near perfect graphic novel, was announced. In fact, I remember when the project was green lit and Zack Snyder signed the proper documents to become attatched as the director. I also remember reading Watchmen for the first time and being absolutely blown away by the fact that superheros could be real people with real problems. But all of that information is neither here nor there because what's important was the hubbub that erupted on the internet forums this lady nerd frequents when the cast was announced.

I, naturally, was one of the people typing up a storm on Ain't It Cool News. Having read the comic at a young age, I had an A Plus vision in my head of exactly what each character should look like and, in some cases, who should play them. Despite my adoration of Patrick Wilson in Little Children and the epic, gripping Hard Candy, I had really wanted my captain, Nathan Fillion to take the role of Night Owl if only so I could look at Nathan Fillion on screen. Everyone, it seemed, had something to say about the casting of the characters: Jeffery Dean Morgan as The Comedian (Pitch perfect, in my opinion. Just look at that sweet 'stache!), Matthew Goode as Ozymandias (Homosexual or not homosexual? Still up for debate.), Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach (It was doubted early on that he could get the voice right. He managed, however.), etc. Surprisingly, the response was fairly positive and as cast photos and trailers began to make their way into the stream of the nerd popular consciousness, the kudos for the gentleman of Watchmen only began to increase as it was made apparent that the men cast as the anti-heroes actually cared: about the characters, about the book, about the fans. They cared. And that, from a female nerd's perspective, is fuckin' awesome! What no one seemed to care much about, however, was the Silk Spectre or the actress chosen to play her.

Let's just pause for a second and talk about how absolutely mind blowingly perfect that trailer is. Frame by frame, each shot shown is a specific recreation of comic panels. I first saw the trailer for Watchmen at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight and it was all I could do from having my way with the nearest gentleman in the theater but only if he let me call him "The Comedian" while doing it. Yes, Watchmen has that affect on me. No, this probably isn't normal.

It's the opinion of near everyone I know that's seen the Watchmen, both in real life and on these here interwebs, that the Silk Spectre is more or less the "cum dumpster" of the Watchmen and really, this is an almost inarguable fact. What's the point of her character? It's to serve as a sexual object for Dr. Manhattan and then, a solid minute after the dissolution of their pairing, as a sexual object for Dan Dreiburg, the second Nite Owl. Couple that with the fact that the first time you see Laurie Juspeczyk, the girl behind the Silk Spectre's yellow latex, she starts bitching like a middle aged harpy at Rorschach, the only character the audience has actually "gotten to know" at this point in the film.

But the interesting thing is that Laurie Juscpezyk isn't actually a one dimensional slut. She's just an underdeveloped slut. It's not actress Malin Ackerman's fault that Alan Moore can't write women worth crap, something I say with the utmost respect for Alan Moore. I've been reading Moore's comics since I was 13, starting with Watchmen and, after developing a very intense love for the characters he invented, moving on to V For Vendatta, From Hell, and League of Extraordinary Gentleman, the last of which is the only of his pre-Lost Girls graphic novels that shows any female character as more than (quite literally) a whore of some kind. As a woman with such an incredible knowledge of Moore's back catalog, I feel as if I have every right to say that he can't write women worth crap. Consistently, his male characters are more lovingly developed and fleshed out, leaving Evey (V for Vendetta's poor excuse for a heroine) and Laurie (of Watchmen fame) cast by the wayside.

I loved what the Wachowski brothers did with Evey's character in the film version of V For Vendetta, making her real and relateable and, you know, less of a whore. It's almost a shame that David Hayter and Alex Tse felt the need to brilliantly adapt the Watchmen page for page, leaving no room for Laurie to go the way of Evey. Miss Juspeczyk has a wealth of untapped potential as a character. In a nutshell, she grows up hating the Comedian after finding out he attempted to rape her mother, Sally Jupiter, the woman who forced Laurie into a career as a crime fighter she never wanted so that Sally could continue to live out her superhero fantasies. This career involves Sally dressing up her 14 year old daughter in yellow silk (in the comic book) and latex (in the film) that often results in Laurie's side vagina being in full view. After thirty or so years of hating her life, resenting her mother, and despising the now-murdered Comedian, Laurie finds out that her mother, later in life, forgave the man who tried to rape her, fell in love with him, and that the Comedian was Laurie's real father. Talk about a mind fuck.

Rorschach even, at one point, wonders if Laurie is behind what he refers to as "the mask killings" (The murder of Eddie Blake's Comedian, the attempted murder of Adiran Veidt's Ozymandias, and the exile of Dr. Manhattan to mars). She did, after all, publicly despise the Comedian for his attempted rape of her mother. Perhaps, Rorschach muses, that she orchestrated getting Manhattan out of the way to get to Dreidberg. This, coupled with his earlier assessment of her mother, the original Silk Spectre, being a "bloated, aging whore" makes it laughably apparent that Rorschach sees little to no worth in the women. This comes as no surprise after learning that Rorschach's mother was a neglectful prostitute. Why should he see worth in woman? What is shocking, however, is the fact that Rorschach's entire life as a crime fighter was interestingly enough inspired by a woman. No character in Alan Moore's world is completely one dimensional.

The humanizing of every character in the Watchmen is developed in a more real and in depth way than Laurie, something that, given the above revelations about her complex relationship with the original Silk Spectre and The Comedian, is a shame to say the least. Laurie's first boyfriend, Dr. Manhattan is perhaps given the most affecting and in depth storyline: The Comedian was at least partially responsible for what he became. Jon Osterman, the physicist who became Dr. Manhattan after a freak watch-fetching accident, was not given a choice. (Speaking of his watch-fetching accident, wasn't it alot more affecting in the book when it was Janey Slater's watch Jon was fetching out of the chamber, as opposed to his own? Thus making the accident not his fault at all.) The only character that's left as underdeveloped as Laurie is Dan Dreiberg, but even he is made to be sympathetic and lovable, shown as an overweight schmuck who used to be something great.

It's not that it matters, really, that Laurie was incredibly underdeveloped. It's just sad the light that she's shown in. I've never heard a single person say positive things about Malin Ackerman's performance as the Silk Spectre but let's be honest, she did alright with the material she was given. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that her audition went something like this "Alright, you're a hot girl so you're already in the running. How are you with showing your tits? Good? Sweet, you've got the job!" The fact of the matter is that Watchmen the film was a close-to-perfect recreation of an unfilmable comic book. I doubt Alan Moore has seen it. After the brutal butchering of League of Extraordinary Gentleman, I can't blame him for not wanting anything to do with his works being adapted into films but Watchmen got the job done right. Even the major overhaul that happened to the end was done well and was an understandable change. Laurie Juspeczyk's sorry fate is Moore's own doing but even that isn't as bad as what could have been...

Amber Valentine is the girl behind The Hot Half Life and the Features Editor of TRACER Magazine. She's currently on the lookout for her own personal Rob Sheffield.

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