Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Watchmen: Who cares about female characters, anyway?

What does it mean that this woman is able to convey a hundred times more depth, emotional expression, and humanity…

….than this woman?

It means Hollywood can suck it.

By the way, in the above image, Laurie is pleading with Dr. Manhattan to save the world from nuclear annihilation. Can’t you just feel the urgency? Granted, it’s probably hard for her to act without eyebrows.

I finished reading Watchmen a few days before seeing the movie. I don’t recommend doing this, unless you want to be able to recognize where they take dialogue word for word from the book, and wonder why they changed a specific word/setting/conversational participant. The film tries very hard to be faithful to the book, even leaving little visual homages to portions left out of the adaptation. It’s conscious of the enormity of the original work, and that it will have rabid fans to answer to. The casting is so focused on physical resemblance that they did this to some guy’s ears:

I wasn’t a huge fan of the character of Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II in the comic, but Malin Akerman, her screen counterpart was a travesty. Even though in the comic book she was a somewhat archetypal female character, she was real and she was relate-able. Her mother began grooming her at a young age to become a superhero so that she could live vicariously through her. However, Laurie hated all the training, hated her costume, hated being a superhero, and felt like a total idiot most of the time running around in a yellow latex costume. She began dating Dr. Manhattan at sixteen, and when we meet her in the book, she’s living with him at the military base on the government’s dime. She’s lonely, she’s isolated, she’s a kept woman. She has no idea who she is.

Laurie’s character gets a ton of screen time for being nothing more than foil to the other characters. We know nothing of her attitudes about being a superhero, how she hates her costume (god knows I hate her costume), and it’s not important. She looks pretty and moves the plot along. The only thing in her past that’s even brought up as being of any relevance is her parentage. She exists completely in relation to others, with barely any thoughts or feelings of her own. Maybe they didn’t have time to go into her back-story (though I managed to in about three sentences), but a good actress would have been able to convey Laurie’s confusion, dissonance, and vulnerability with the timbre of her voice. Akerman delivers every line with the same flatness, whether she’s leaving her boyfriend (and source of home and income) of fifteen years or asking him to save the world.

The thing that really pisses me off about this is that had I not read the book, I wouldn’t have even noticed anything wrong with this character. My mind probably would have just glossed over her and paid attention to the men—the characters that mattered—just like I was supposed to. Except when Silk Spectre’s wearing her latex leotard, then I would think about her nice ass and all the crotch wedgies that thing must give her when she does a high kick. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the shitty position of women in comics, but apparently, it gets a lot worse in Hollywood. And let’s face it. Hollywood reaches a wider audience. So Hollywood’s cast its vote, and Laurie is reduced to nothing more than a sexy, high-kicking babe, and probably no one cares but me. But I think reducing Laurie’s humanity reflects on a failing of the movie in general—it makes her too much like the one-dimensional superhero figure that the book tries to challenge. Each character must have complexity that makes them human, things that illuminate the absurdity of the superhero genre in general. Without that element, it’s just superhero allstars to the rescue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh wait no, Frank Miller's the guy who wrote the novel from 300, not the director. Who is the guy who directed Watchmen.

I wonder if he knows he's gay as a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide? Well, or to be fair, if he is, and if he's officially "out" as such in places where his Hollywood career is concerned. 300 certainly had enough homophobia in it to fill a dungeon full of venom-spitting Freudian pit vipers.

No, no wait, Frank Miller wrote Dune!

8:23 PM  
Blogger archipelagic said...

Zack Snyder directed Watchmen and 300, Frank Miller wrote the comic 300, Frank Herbert wrote the novel Dune, and was in Wild Things with Kevin Bacon.

Okay, I made up that last part. But I actually had to look up who wrote Dune, because I had no idea.

1:29 AM  

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