ABBOT GENSER/MIRAMAX FILMS
April 1, 2009: They don’t see me as I slip through this multiplex, down shadowy troughs of aisles that reek of the corruption of butter topping gone sour in perverse imitativeness and price inflation. Someday they will cleanse these aisles. Someday the bonelike crunch beneath my shoes, the viscosity like drying blood, will stop crying in my ears like the anguish choked back by an abused boy, the kind who’s alone and smashes people and narrates highly regarded graphic novels. But not tonight. Tonight, in what we’ve made of America, even the dark rain that has been falling for hours in this theater won’t wash away the sick popcorn of human depravity, because there are only three people left who are willing to buy tickets for Watchmen, and as I sink into a shame of lumpish upholstery the other two avert their eyes. One of them looks like Nixon.
So this is what we’ve become: a sparse and flaky excrescence on the surface of mass-market culture, like dandruff in the thin hair of an aging character actor. Soon the show will begin, and for 162 minutes I will witness the truth of Watchmen. Not the false truth of “a movie,” which the others will see, but the true truth of a significant pattern in contemporary thought and social life, visible only to me and my dying kind. Freak, they call me. Psycho. Vigilante. Film critic.
For weeks, months, I’ve monitored this target. I’ve tracked the split between the authors of the graphic novel, the lawsuit between the owners of the movie rights, the argument among Watchmen observers over the plan to release this film with an R rating. (Yes, one of the superheroes has a big blue penis, and it’s all over the trades that grasping moneymen want to expose this thing to teenage boys, but with their rancid, hypocritical R rating they’ve trapped themselves, because now teenage boys aren’t allowed to walk down these mean aisles. They watch for free on the Internet.) I can already smell irony waft off the ideological forces, the economic imperatives, the currents of history thick with the past’s nameless and forgotten plankton, all of them about to clash in this site of contention called Watchmen–and yet I know the others will see nothing of this, nothing except stop-time kung fu rumbles on the rain-slick nocturnal streets of a parallel-universe New York.
The movie starts. Immediately, I see the blue penis, and the special effects are staggering. It walks on its own. It speaks. I suddenly realize it is Clive Owen, clean-shaven for a change, striding up to inspect Julia Roberts’s cleavage at a garden party. This is not Watchmen. It is Duplicity.
So once more I’ve underestimated them. In their hideous determination to maintain, at any cost, their monstrous order, they are even prepared to show me the wrong movie. “Wrong movie,” I write in my critic’s notebook; but I refuse to leave my bucket seat of refuge in this stadium-rowed arena of perpetual night. I will find the pattern, no matter what Rorschach blot they fling at me.