Sunday, April 1, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter IV - thematic overview


Thematic overview: 
This chapter focuses on Dr. Manhattan, the only true super-being in Watchmen.  Dr. Manhattan is a unique character in that he can see the universe on a quantum level.  Nothing, or almost nothing, is hidden from him, not even the future.  That is because Dr. Manhattan experiences all time at once – past, present, and future.  Time, like humanity, is irrelevant to him, a concept that has no meaning – which is why time is such a central theme in this chapter.

Moore & Gibbons attempt to offer us a glimpse of what it must be like to perceive things in the fashion Dr. Manhattan does.  They construct this chapter with that quantum perception in mind, and do a brilliant job of conveying, as best they can, this sense of uber-consciousness.  This chapter is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping from past to present to future from one page or one panel to the next – similar to the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu or TV shows like LOST – while managing to propel the narrative forward.  It is a masterful job that rewards with subsequent readings, which offer insights into earlier portions of the chapter and reveal the rich tapestry produced by Moore & Gibbons.

Another element of this chapter that heightens our understanding of Dr. Manhattan’s world-perception is the repetition of panels, whether in full or in part, that accentuates this sense of seeing everything at once (because if Dr. Manhattan does see all times at once, it only stands to reason that all of these images are on a continuous loop).  I don’t know if Gibbons utilized a photocopier to achieve this.  If not, his background in architecture, where plans and drawings must be precise, certainly helped. 

Many of the elements repeated hearken back to this time motif.  We see the falling cogs of the watch Jon worked on the day after the Hiroshima bombing – an act that prompted his father to push Jon into being a scientist.  The image of the broken watch – both Janey’s and the one salvaged from the rubble of Hiroshima after the United States dropped the atomic bomb – is seen many times.  Both of these watches symbolize, in different ways, the birth of Dr. Manhattan.  And the photograph of Jon and Janey at the circus – a frozen moment in time – which is left in the red sands of Mars by Dr. Manhattan, repeats many times, symbolizing the loss of a life Dr. Manhattan may have wanted when he was still human.   

Ultimately, Dr. Manhattan is the demarcation line in this alternate world.  Like Jesus Christ, there was “before” Dr. Manhattan and there was “after” Dr. Manhattan.  His time brought about a revolution in the world, and his exodus from our planet ushered in yet another new era.  Dr. Manhattan is the ultimate watchmaker, creating reality by either being, or not being, present on the world of Watchmen.

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