Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deconstructing "The Watchmen": Dr. Manhattan

This will probably be one of the last Watchmen articles I do, as I don’t think that characters like the Night Owl or the Silk Spectre II are very interesting.  Dr. Manhattan might be the most interesting of all the Watchmen characters simply because of his powers.

For those that are unfamiliar with The Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan was a physicist that was involved in an accident during an experiment.  The experiment basically dissolved his matter.  I think the device was called an intrinsic field generator.  It didn’t so much dissolve his matter as it did sort of make it exist in a different way.

Anyway, over time he eventually is able to piece himself back together, through the power of his will which apparently exists beyond his physicality, and once he reassembles himself, as it were, he has the powers of a god.  He is able to manipulate time and space and alter reality to his will.  He can be anywhere, at any time.  He is omnipotent, nearly omniscient, and can be omnipresent.  He has the power to destroy life through thought and to create it from nothing.

At one point, one of his colleagues was quoted to have said “Superman exists, and he’s American.”  The man corrects the misquote and says “what I actually said was ‘God exists, and he is American.’” 

Manhattan has a quantum perception of time instead of linear.  He basically sees all time—past, present, and future—simultaneously.

So what does this mean?  What would it be like to have god-like powers?  What is interesting is that Dr. Manhattan, for all his ability, never once tries to take over the world, rule it, or re-shape it into his image.  In fact, one story line shows that Manhattan meets President Kennedy, and at the time of the meeting he knows that Kennedy will be assassinated.  Although he knows this, he doesn’t tell Kennedy and doesn’t try to stop it.

When the Comedian shoots a Vietnamese woman carrying his child, Manhattan was with him and stood idly by.  “Why didn’t you stop me,” the Comedian asked.  “We both know you could have turned that gun into snowflakes if you wanted, but you didn’t.  You’re losing yourself doc.”  Because of his power, Dr. Manhattan begins to become uncaring to anything.

How could you are about the matters of humanity when you’re omniscient?  Manhattan knows that humanity is only a fraction of a tear in the bucket in the grand scheme of the universe.  As he says “humanity can completely destroy itself, and the universe will not even notice.”

He’s right.  We’re small and relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  I mean think about it: if there was an alien race out there somewhere that obliterated itself a thousand years ago would you give a shit?  How about if there was one that annihilated itself yesterday?  Would you give a shit?

Maybe if we knew about such an event we might be moved to compassion, but the point is that the universe is so huge that we don’t know, and it’s reasonable to assume that other races wouldn’t know and/or care about our self-destruction.  Existence will go on existing whether humans are in the equation or not.

That sounds fairly nihilistic and depressing, but the story ends on a positive note.  **SPOILER ALERT**  When Manhattan learns that Silk Spectre II is the daughter of the Comedian, the man who tried to rape her mother, Manhattan understands why life is valuable.  Out of such chaos, out of such horrifying conditions, something beautiful still manages to grow and flourish.

Manhattan still doesn’t try to change anything in the course of human events, but he at least understands that humanity is worth saving.  He regains his sense of humanity, the sense that all life is somehow precious, and that life itself is a magnificent gift that is not to be squandered.

How would you handle being a god, or to be less blasphemous, how would you handle having god-like powers?  Would you become uncaring about humanity?  Dr. Manhattan raises a very important question: is humanity even worth saving, and if so, why?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie, so i only have a slight insight into the world of the watchmen.

Since they also portray him as you have, had they gone into if he could also witness alternate timelines? is it possible that killing kenedy (in the serries) was the best thing that could have happend? If kennedy reighned maybe nuclear war would have errupted....

so i guess there is my point. analysing somethign that is omnipitant is... like asking a retorical question.

~ Smitty

Jack Camwell said...

He couldn't see alternate timelines, only what was already set.

He didn't interfere with anything because he didn't care.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like when he re-constructed himself, he fucked up his endocrine system.

Chemicals = emotions.

~ Smitty.