This post is a discussion of the issues and ideas presented in the 2009 movie “Watchmen.”
“Watchmen” is a super-hero movie set in an alternative 1985 where the United States won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon was still President. The Watchmen are investigating a murder mystery, and also trying to stop a nuclear war.
The problem with the super-heroes in the movie is that they never actually rise above the evil world from which they came. They were still only human. For example, at a demonstration the Comedian was shooting protesters at random, and said of the Watchmen: “We’re society’s only protection.” In disbelief the Nite Owl asked, “From what?” “From themselves,” replied the Comedian. Indeed. These “heroes” were a part of the society from which they came, and no better. Who watches the Watchmen?
Even Dr. Manhattan, who because of a scientific accident had super physical powers, was guilty of the sin of indifference. He could have saved many lives, but he did not. “Why would I save a world I no longer have any stake in?” he asked.
In the end, the Watchmen’s “pacifist,” Ozymandias, murdered millions, and framed Dr. Manhattan in a preemptive bid to avoid total nuclear holocaust. He figured that if the world were threatened in such a way by a “god” like Dr. Manhattan, then men would stop trying to kill each other. Afterward, Richard Nixon did appear on TV to assure the world that the two sides in the Cold War had pledged to work together to rebuild their cities and oppose Dr. Manhattan.
After discovering what Ozymandias had done and seeing the results, the other Watchmen concluded that the world would be better off not knowing the truth. The world would be better off alive, at peace, and living in fear of Dr. Manhattan.
Much of their conclusion is true. Threats and fear can be powerful motivators. In fact, the real world probably did avoid nuclear war in part due to the fear of nuclear war. But if that is true, all the Watchmen really did was murder millions and substitute one fear for another.
Because the Watchmen were sinful, they had nothing to really offer the world. They may have had super physical powers, super intellect, and even super dedication to the truth, but they did not have super morality. Dr. Manhattan could promise the world an unlimited supply of electrical power, and he could threaten the world with destruction, but he could not change the human heart, not even his own. Although he could reassemble himself physically, he could not change himself spiritually.
In a world without God, there are no real heroes. There are only sinful men, some with more physical power than others, but still sinful nonetheless. Some refuse to use their power to help, others use their power to hurt. Rorschach was the only character in the movie fully committed to the truth, and he said, “The world will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’ and I’ll whisper, ‘No.'” His conclusion was that the world did not deserve to be saved.
As a result, “Watchmen” is a cynical movie devoid of joy. If God did not exist, it would be the whole truth.
Thankfully, a true Hero and a true God named Jesus came to earth to rewrite our history, he came to conquer our sin and change our hearts and give us eternal life. He was able to do this, not because he had super physical powers, but because he had super moral powers: He was without sin. No hero who is sinful can defeat sin.
As fantasy, the Watchmen symbolize the best that sinful man has to offer. They took the lives of many to save the world physically, but the world was not worth saving. Jesus gave his own life to save the world spiritually, not because the world deserved it, but because he is the true Savior.
The “Watchmen” aren’t really worth watching: for a true hero, look to Jesus.