Watchmen: The Triggering

By way of follow-up to the previous thread, I saw Watchmen this weekend, and I wanted to share my assessment of the sexual assault content.

Please note two things: 1. This isn't the general geek thread. That's below. Go there to talk about the film generally, its adherence to the graphic novel, etc. 2. There will be SPOILERS aplenty in both threads, so consider yourself warned. For that reason, the rest of this post is below the fold.

So, there was some debate in the original thread about whether The Comedian actually raped Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre or just attempted to rape her, with some people suggesting it had to be a "completed rape" for the reason that The Comedian is revealed to be Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II's father. This is the deal: It is an attempted and non-completed rape, and, in flashbacks, we learn that Sally had what appears to be a consensual sexual encounter with The Comedian, which resulted in her pregnancy.

Though Sally's husband classifies the second encounter as The Comedian "finishing the job" of the attempted rape, he says Sally "allowed him" to "finish the job." And Sally does not say, "I didn't allow him" or protest in any way that it was nonconsensual, but instead insists, "It was only one time." Sally also later admits a fondness for The Comedian, based on his having been the father of her child—which seems bizarre if the child was a product of rape. A woman generally don't develop a fondness for a rapist just because he's fathered a child she loves.

Of course, women generally doesn't develop a fondness for attempted (or actual) rapists and have consensual relationships with them later, either—despite what pop culture and literature would have us believe. The rape victim falling in love with her rapist is a pervasive narrative, and probably my most loathed theme in mainstream entertainment. It's a soap opera favorite; one of the most popular daytime soap couples of all time, General Hospital's Luke and Laura, were married in one of the highest-rated soap episodes of all time—having fallen in love after he raped her. The entire premise of Ian McEwan's Atonement is centered on an eyewitness misidentifying a rapist, while the rape victim keeps schtum and marries her rapist. It's absurdly ubiquitous, and I was especially disgusted to see the narrative included in a movie that will be popular with young men.

Many of whom in the same theater as me, by the way, laughed uproariously during the attempted rape scene. In fact, the two biggest laughs of the movie, in the sold-out IMAX theater in which I saw it, were the scene of a woman being brutalized and almost raped and one of the very few people of color in the film being doused with boiling oil. Hilarious!

The attempted rape scene, which was extremely difficult to watch, was not the only sexual assault content in the film. Rorschach identifies his click moment as coming face-to-face with a murderous pedophile, and Ozymandias is clearly suggested to be a pedophile when Nite Owl II discovers a file in his office labeled "Boys."

But the most triggering scene for me, which I've not even seen mentioned in any discussion of the sexual assault content of Watchmen, is the scene in which Dr. Manhattan and Laurie are having sex, and the camera is on Laurie's face as Dr. Manhattan's hands caress her—two hands, then four, then six… Laurie suddenly realizes what's happening and jumps up, then yells at Dr. Manhattan that she hates it when he does that. It is in this scene that we realize Dr. Manhattan can replicate himself, and he has sent several versions of himself to fuck Laurie while he works in his lab. Laurie makes clear that she has expressed her rejection of this version of sex, has made clear she does not consent to it, and Dr. Manhattan merely shrugs and notes he doesn't know what turns her on anymore.

[Huge laughs!]

I not only found the scene not funny, but felt that it was rather explicit rape apologia and victim-blaming. Dr. Manhattan was evidently violating Laurie's trust and expressed wishes in a sexual context, and then justified his actions by pointing to her alleged failure. That this scene was played for laughs between two people in an existing relationship with an otherwise consensual sex life is deeply upsetting to me—again, especially in a movie that will be popular with young men, and especially in light of my earlier post which includes a graphic noting filly 49% of Britons feel a woman is totally or partially responsible for being raped if she "does not clearly say NO to the man."

Very upsetting stuff.

Iain and I were talking about the inappropriate laughter (and framing) after the film, and he recalled seeing A Clockwork Orange in the theater soon after it was uncensored in Britain. There was much laughter at the infamous rape scene, much to his chagrin, which haunts him still.

I noted the irony that it's often sitting in the audience of films about how fucked up humanity is that one really gets a sense of how fucked up humanity is.

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