A better Watchmen than Watchmen

Being a Watchmen fan since I first read it circa 1990, I think it is but fair to offer my honest opinion about the film version:

  • This is a brilliant film that captures the atmosphere of the graphic novel in one of the best possible ways the audiovisual medium could do.
  • The script has managed to retain those plot elements that best contribute to the story, enhances those that make the story more robust, and has the courage to do away with those elements that served more Alan Moore’s auteur ego than the story.
  • Most remarkably, the superlatively elegant simplification of the story’s ending is so appropriate to the story that it simply makes it better. Honestly, if I was Allan Moore I would have thought: “Oops, why didn’t I think of it myself?”. The new ending is way more solid, it does not strecht suspension of disbelief to the point of fracture like the original ending did, and not only it eliminates an enormously redundant, innecesary element, but it serves to make one of the existing elements more meaningful.

Kudos to the script writers and the director. It is a pity when the flow and consistence of a story are weakened here and there by an excessive presence of the narrator. When I read Watchmen, the thing I disliked most was those unnecessary details that, instead of serving the story, seemed to be there just to remind us of how smart the storyteller was. The guys in charge of the film had the honesty and courage to wipe those away, and man, do I love the result. Yeah, the film does have one or two “aw, come on” moments, but then, ladies and gentlemen, the graphic novel had ten or twelve!

Sorry about the “inverse rant”, but after reading other opinions on the subject, I just felt obliged to make my point. The guys making the film found they had to make the choice to either serve the story, or serve the author. And they chose well. I just feel we are not thanking them enough.

Fleeting conjunction

A few days ago, while we were at the countryside, I was watching my daughter standing in the sun. And out of the blue, I started to think that she together with her shadow defined a plane, and I saw that plane cut the sun in half. And then I could see the plane stretching past the sun to the limits of the universe.

Such is the power of human mind that we can define a mental construct that is imaginary, is infinite, and yet is also real. Geometric entities have that beauty. Because if I thicken the plane a little –say, an eighth of an inch— then that plane really exists. And it includes a gigantic volume of interstellar space, and it includes the sun’s core, and it includes my daughter’s sternum and that strip of dirt that was being momentarily framed by her silhouette. And with the power of my mind I was selecting exactly that subset of reality, and for a moment, that slice of the universe belonged only to me and my daughter.

So I couldn’t help but sit down on the dirt in the precise spot where I could see my daughter’s head covering the sun, and then I could see not only the plane, but enclosed in it, the infinite line that was piercing the sun, my head, and my daughter’s. And I felt oddly yet overwhelmingly honored to be a part of that fleeting conjunction.

We as a wave

Ghosts in the city (fragment)

Let me start by translating this poem from the recently deceased Asturian poet Ángel González:

Anniversary of love

How will I be
once I am no longer me?
once time
has modified my structure,
and my body is another,
another my blood,
other my eyes and another my hair.
I will think of you, maybe.
my succesive bodies
—prolonging me, alive, towards death—
will be passing on from hand to hand,
from heart to heart,
from flesh to flesh,
the mysterious element
that determines my sadness
when you go away,
that drives me to search for you blindly,
that takes me beside you
beyond hope:
what people calls love, that is.
And the eyes
—it does not matter they are not these eyes—
will follow you wherever you go, faithful.

(original Spanish here)

Each time I read this poem, I can’t help but ask myself: “What’s the author exactly referring to when he says «me»?” and then I feel kind of seasick.

Ángel González captured beautifully the material, scientific fact that our selves may use matter, but are not made of matter. As Bill Bryson puts it, most of the atoms that constitute our body have been in place only for one year or two. Even more, millions of them belonged to other people first. Actually, it’s an statistical fact that thousands of your body’s atoms, in this very moment, once belonged to Alexander the Great.

Our own self, the continuity to our identity, clings to existence not the way a rock or a pencil or a car does, but rather, the way a poem, a religion or a bad habit do —because this extremely improbable phenomenon we call life keeps on convincing new atoms to conform to the same superior structures as they continuously replace the old atoms that leave us. Not only you can’t touch the same water twice, but the very hand that touches the water can’t be the same hand twice either.

When we see an ocean wave coming to us, it may look like it is the water what is coming, but what comes is actually the message that tells the water to rise (exactly the same that happens in a stadium wave). Much similarly, we are but a wave of identity over matter.

Hey, it feels a bit like an existential roller coaster.

When you think of it this way, few things sound more silly than oneself telling things such as “I was born that way”, “I’m too old to change”, or “people can’t change”. The only reason why we conserve any resemblance to the guys we were two years ago is because we actively remember how we are supposed to be, and constantly rebuild ourselves to that model.

Must it really be that hard to change the model at least a little?

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, believed the self is a task. Otl Aicher, the German designer, believed the self is a project (a design project, actually). I’m not sure how happy they were about the results of their respective efforts, but at least they had the courage to choose that attitude.

How would you rather see yourself? As the spectator and passive object to superior forces that keep you tumbling around —or as your own maker, constantly struggling to build yourself on and on against these forces? This is not just a philosophical choice. It determines how you will live with things such as responsibility, luck, fortune and misfortune.

For me, the choice is clear. We are our own makers, and should behave as such. We are not here to search for the answer to questions such as “what’s the meaning of life”. We are here to be the answer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.